The Sounding Museum fuses anthropology, acoustic ecology, soundscape composition, and trans-cultural communication inside the context of museum education.
Based on the piece “Two Weeks in Alert Bay”, it supplies researchers, practitioners, and audiences with an instrument to gain an acoustic image of the contemporary cultural and everyday life of the Kwakwaka’wakw of Alert Bay, BC. The project mediates intercultural competence thorough the affective agency of sound.
With the coeval Session Musician’s Approach, introduced and analysed in text, audio, and interactive form, it also bridges the gap between art, science, and education.
The Box of Treasures contains a book, 2 DVD’s and 1 CD:
Two Weeks in Alert Bay, 2nd edition (audio CD), with the main piece and 9 supplementary tracks
Two Weeks in Alert Bay (audio DVD in DVD-video format); the original piece in surround sound (full, medium, and short version)
Raven Travelling (DVD-ROM); a flash application with extensive supplementary materials, such as raw field audio, recording logs, photography, a little bit of video footage etc., accessible on an interactive map, and
Four Worlds (book, 419 pages), which discusses theory and practice of the Sounding Museum by the example of “Two Weeks”.
With a foreword by Barry Truax.
Track list DVD:
01 One Day in the Life of Raven (full version)
The original composition, made from 35h of field recordings. From this one, all abbreviated versions were cut, as well as the edited version for the NONAM.
02 Four Worlds (workshop edit)
During the Das Tönende Museum workshop at the NONAM there would not have been the time to play the full version, and it would also have been much too long to keep the children’s attention. For didactic reasons the atmospheric entry here has been enhanced by snippets from the four worlds, each coming from one of the four speakers of the quadraphonic array
03 Short Trip (walk-in edit)
The maximum length feasible for regular museum use. The four movements are barely distinguishable, it is more of a medley. At least the four snippets in the beginning give you a hint.
Track list CD:
01 Port McNeill – Sointula – Alert Bay
From Vancouver you take a small plane to Port Hardy. A taxi takes you to Port McNeill, which takes about an hour. From there you take the BC ferry, which stops at the Finnish expat community Sointula before arriving in Alert Bay. The coast view is breathtaking.
02 Welcome by Vera Newman
I thank Vera for sharing her thoughts in this wonderful introduction. A reciprocal inspiration feedback loop with endless opportunities.
03 How Raven Stole the Sun
One of the most prominent stories on the Northwest Coast and the narrative basis for the main piece.
04 Two Weeks in Alert Bay – One Day in the Life of Raven
The full 42’ version, NONAMised. My acoustic rendering of my impressions of two weeks in the Bay. On the audio-DVD you will find the original with my dialogue with Beau Dick.
05 Lahal, pts. 1 & 2
Lahal is a traditional gambling game, also known as the bonegame or stickgame, played all over the western part of North America. Two teams gamble over sticks, which they can win by guessing the right bone, held by the other team. It is a game of speed and deception. The singing generates a lot of energy, but is also used to distract your opponent. Before Christmas 2011 Wa arranged Lahal sessions in the BigHouse for the kids. I took some time to even grasp the rules, let alone follow the course of the game. They were having a lot of fun.
06 Rain at Woss Lake
My second trip with Wa and friends to the ‚Namgis band cabin at Woss lake, my family also came along. This time I got my rain recordings.
07 Fighting over the Crumbs
Shortly after New Year 2011/2012 we took the bones of my first stuffed turkey to the seashore close to the U’mista, to attract some birds. They came in large numbers and fought fiercely. It was over in a wink. I got my first bald eagles.
08 Bald Eagle
The frustrating part of being a sound hunter. I saw eagles circling; apparently someone had more bones to dispose. It tried to get isolated eagle cries; this is the result (well, there’s one…).
09 Leaving the Bay
On the return trip the ferry does not stop at Sointula.
13 Tracks (incl. bonus track (149′22″)
CD, DVD, Book (500 copies)
Audio CD / 2nd edition
Audio DVD (formatted for DVD-Video players; AC3, 448kbps, 4.1)
Recordings for main piece made in October 2009, all other Alert bay recordings made winter 2011/2012. Tracks 01and 05-09 are unprocessed found sound pieces (one cut between pts. 1 & 2 and careful equalising in track 05).
Soundscape Series by Gruenrekorder
Gruenrekorder / Germany / 2014 / Gruen 137 / LC 09488
Duncan Simpson | Musique Machine
This is the third release from Germany’s Gruenrekorder label that I have reviewed this year after Christina Kubisch and Eckehard Guther’s Unter Grund and the startling collection of pieces collected under the Landscapes of Fear project. Despite the bar having already be set high this weighty release presenting what is in effect the doctoral project of Hein Schoer easily surpasses those other two releases in complexity, depth and intellectual rigour. The basic question that Hein poses and which provides the orientation and occasion for the recordings, book and multi-media features that are included in the Box of Treasures is stated at the outset of the text: „How do I make a good cultural soundscape composition for museum-didactic purposes“. The culture that he chose to document were the Namgis/Kwakwaka’wakw, a North American first people based around Alert Bay British Colombia.
The Box of Treasures is extensive in its material documenting Schoer’s work at Alert Bay. It includes audio material in raw and „composed“ form spread across a CD, an audio DVD and a DVD-ROM which also includes supporting materials and interactive features. In addition to the audio material the box includes a 400 page book by Schoer presenting the work and building his case for a new kind of sound art that combines traditional field recording techniques with anthropology and what he calls eco-acoustics, all with the museum and didactic function in mind. As he states in his own biography it is the ’soundscape‘ that is his main object of concern in the technical sense that this term acquires in the work of R. Murray Schafer whose The Soundscape (1977) set the terms for the field. It would take a serious academic review to do justice to all the intentions and findings that Schoer presents. So since this is a music website I will primarily focus on the audio material while referring to the text occasionally.
The most straightforward access point to the work is the regular audio CD which includes the major composition of the audio part of the project, the 42 minute long Two Weeks in Alert Bay – One Day in the Life of Raven. For Schoer this composition presents his own experience of the Kwakwaka’wakw community during those two weeks and does not attempt to take an objective stance that would provide a kind of „true“ representation that would be authentic for everyone. As he says it is not the story they would choose to tell, rather it is a personal atmospheric experience. In his own words; „A good cultural soundscape composition is to convey essential information about a (foreign) culture via the utilisation of the emotional/atmospheric quality of sound“. The piece itself is multi-facetted and features recordings not only of the Kwakwaka’wakw themselves in various everyday situations but the surrounding environment and animals. Recordings of machines, blend into those of animals, then a close mic recording of a stream before what sounds like a lesson in a local school. There are plenty of recordings of traditional rituals and songs as well as more everyday conversations and light hearted moments. The overall effect is exactly as Schoer seems to have intended in that it gives a summary of his personal experiences with the Kwakwaka’wakw highlighting essential exchanges in their social life, and their environment. There are several shorter edits of the original piece included on the Audio DVD.
The regular CD also includes a wealth of other material recorded around Alert Bay or being inspired by the project. Welcome by Vera Newman is a straight monologue by a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw community initially speaking in their language before switching to English. She talks about the oppression the Kwakwaka’wakw have suffered over the years of European colonialism including the forcible suppression of the potlatch and other such gift-giving economic activity. She talks about the heritage of her people being passed down from her grandmother and how the situation has improved recently with traditional dances and songs now being practiced more frequently. It’s a oddly moving recording and does a fine job of giving Schoer’s soundscape a direct human context. The following track How Raven Stole the Sun recounts a myth originating in the Northwest Coastal region which provides the narrative basis for the main 42 minute piece. Strangely it’s read in animated fashion by Schoen himself which after the sincere heartfelt testimony of Vera Newman I can’t help feeling would have been better told by a member of the community rather than Schoen in a studio with his very Northern European sounding accent.
Lahal pts. 1 & 2 are recordings made at Lahal sessions in The BigHouse on Vancouver Island in 2011. Lahal is a kind of gambling game involving bones and sticks and it would seem a lot of singing. The recording is full of drumming, joyful voices and the sense of people having a good time. The track opens amusingly with the players belting out their own version of Bob Dylan’s Somebody Touched Me before fading into more traditional songs. Four environmental recordings follow on capturing various aspects of the sounds of the area around Alert Bay. There is Rain at Woss Lake, an interesting recording of birds including some bald eagles fighting over the remains of a Christmas turkey, a very short recording of a bald eagle in flight and some sounds onboard a ferry returning to the mainland.
The final piece on the CD is a mix of multiple recordings not related to the Alert Bay material. It’s a more run of the mill collage work of field recordings some of which have been processed. The aim of this piece Schoer writes is to provide an artful answer to questions posed by the fact of dislocating sounds from their original context and the concomitant risks of objectifying those sounds up to point of allowing orientalism and other perspectival prejudices to arise. His solution it seems is to compose the material in such a way as to obliterate any possible standpoint from which to make a judgement on the context of the recordings, effectively creating an artificial world in which all perspectives would be equally valid. This is a very liberal solution but doesn’t seem to have much to offer to the ongoing struggles of American first peoples for restitution, political rights and autonomy, where the context and history of their community is vital.
The third disk of the set is the DVD-Rom which contains a huge wealth of material presented through an interactive application. We are able to navigate around a map of the areas where Schoer took his recordings and hear the full raw audio as it was collected. This amounts to hours of unedited recordings many of which are only dipped into for the main pieces on the CD. There are also photographs of daily life and the people who appear in the recordings and Schoer himself reads extracts of his book which is useful for those who are a little reticent about diving into the full text. One especially useful track has him reading a condensed synopsis of the project over the full 42 minute version of Two Weeks in Alert Bay. And if this wasn’t enough the interactive map extends into Canada’s arctic region where Schoer made recordings for the North American Native Museum (NONAM) which include gems featuring tolling bells, howling dogs and the sound of crunching snow. The quality and shear amount of material on this disk amply justifies the release title of „Box of Treasures“.
Summing up, The Sounding Museum is a remarkable piece of work with a depth and scope of presentation exceeding anything that I have encountered in the area of sound art or field recordings more generally. The audio and photographic material presented is enough to occupy someone for weeks and that’s before one takes in the accompanying book. As a work of acoustic-anthropology it is a triumph both fascinating to the ear and highly thought-provoking. One might take the view that any project that grounds itself in the notion of a museum will always lead to a degree of „museumification“ that will exclude access to the living culture that is studied. Although Schoer is at pains to reflect on these issues and others around orientalism ,the political life and present struggles of North American First peoples don’t appear in the work to any significant degree. The focus on mythology and preservation of tradition is at the expense of seeing the communities studies as present, adaptive and continuing to contest their place within Canadian society. These are not minor points however they don’t detract from what is still a hugely powerful resource and a pioneering work in this emerging field.
Holger Adam | testcard #24: Bug Report. Digital war besser
[…] In Bild und Ton (und Schrift) ist HEIN SCHOERS The Sounding Museum: Box Of Treasures, das Ergebnis einer Klangforschungsreise nach Alert Bay in Kanada, dokumentiert. Ein Pappschuber enthält mit zwei DVDs und einer CD sowie einem knapp 400-seitigen Buch die multimediale Vollbedienung, um in die Welt von Alert Bay vor der Küste Vancouvers einzutauchen. Das Paket stellt eine Art audio-visuell anthropologische Studie dar, die eine Fülle von Material bereithält, dem ich kurz vor Redaktionsschluss nicht mehr Herr wurde, das aber zur weiteren Erkundung einlädt. Abschließend noch zu drei weiteren CDs, die sich aber nicht durch reine Field-Recordings auszeichnen, sondern die elektro-akustische Kompositionen beinhalten. […]
Review | By textura
Hein Schoer’s The Sounding Museum: Box of Treasures expands upon the cultural soundscape producer’s 2010 release Two Weeks in Alert Bay in about as dramatic a fashion as could be imagined. In contrast to the single-CD presentation of the earlier release, the new edition features a CD, 2 DVDs, and a 400-page book. As described in the earlier review, Schoer’s project presents a captivating sound portrait of the Kwakwaka’wakw, a First Nations community situated at the northern end of Vancouver Island on Canada’s West Coast, and its activities, myths, and ritual dances and chants. During his two-week visit to the site, Schoer recorded more than thirty-five hours of soundscape material that he subsequently distilled into the forty-two-minute “One Day in the Life of Raven,” which makes a natural return appearance on the box set.
On the CD, that long-form setting is joined by nine other tracks, all but one of them sequenced to reflect the trip from arrival to departure. The opening piece documents physical movements from Vancouver to Port Hardy, Port McNeill, and eventually Alert Bay. Vera Newman’s welcome, an oral presentation of the “How Raven Stole the Sun” story, and the forty-two-minute centerpiece appear in turn, with the earlier review’s description of the latter still applicable: “After opening with the croak of the titular bird, ‘One Day in the Life of Raven‘ assumes the form of a long-form travelogue through the Pacific Northwest Coast. Schoer fashions it as a work in four movements (‘The Natural Soundscape,‘ ‘The Artificial Soundscape,‘ ‘The Human Soundscape,‘ ‘The Cultural Soundscape & Spirit World‘) that begins with arrival at the site, followed by sound samplings of the natural landscape (rushing waters, wind, woodpeckers, drizzle, fire) and those made by residents of the locale (drum chants, conversations, an elementary class in session) heard against a backdrop of radio music (a Rod Stewart cover of ‘Street Fighting Man‘) and construction noise (hammering, drilling, fishing). ‘The Spirit World movement,‘ not surprisingly, turns out to be the most arresting section due to the ritual chants and calls that emerge, but the piece as a whole—especially when it never stays in one place for long—holds one’s attention throughout the trip.” After “One Day in the Life of Raven,” male singing forms an ear-catching part of “Lahal” (the term refers to a traditional game that involves teams gambling over sticks), rains fall amidst seagull cries at Woss Lake, and bald eagles circle, after which departure from the bay occurs. (A bonus soundscape, “Schizophonie 8,” surfaces at the CD’s close.)
“One Day in the Life of Raven” also appears on the audio DVD followed by two shorter edits: as per the earlier review, “‘Four Worlds (Workshop Edit)‘ re-assembles the original’s elements into a half-sized version that feels comparatively more fragmented and experimental, the focus less on coherent narrative and more on collage-like design. Overlapping conversations emerge amidst car noises, bird caws, radio tunes, fireplace crackle, phone rings, drilling and wood hammering, and chants. Predictably, the six-minute ‘Short Trip (Walk-In Edit)‘ offers a mere snapshot of the original, though it does convey the character of the original at a micro-level. In essence, the edits are purely supplementary to the full version.” The DVD-ROM, Raven Travelling, is archival content that’ll be of interest to those wishing to dig down into the research-related materials (raw field audio, recording logs, photography, etc.) associated with the project.
Its text written by Schoer, the 2010 release’s booklet provides detailed background about the project as well as documentation about sound sources used in the recording and the locales visited, among them the U’mista Cultural Centre and T’lisalagi’lakw Native School. But as informative as the booklet is, it’s dwarfed by the new edition’s Four Worlds book, which presents the theory and practice of the Sounding Museum. The text’s scope is wide, including as it does Schoer’s experiences at the site as well as thoughtful ruminations on sound art, ethnography, and what constitutes effective soundscape composition. As an indication of its level of detail, the “World Two: Into the Sonic Wild” section dedicates over seventy pages to content associated with “One Day in the Life of Raven.” It’s also heartening to see Schoer acknowledging in the book the critical contributions made by R. Murray Schaefer to the soundscape phenomenon and the field of acoustic ecology.
Taken as a whole, Schoer’s unique, multi-dimensional project constitutes a remarkable accomplishment. Even if one isn’t able to visit the site as Schoer did, one comes away from the work better informed about the people within the community and their culture, values, and way of life. It’s also well-titled: it lives up to its billing as a Sounding Museum, and the set as presented is equivalent to a Box of Treasures.
Richard Allen | a closer listen
The Sounding Museum: Box of Treasures is perhaps Gruenrekorder’s most elaborate production to date: a CD, audio DVD, DVD-ROM and softbound 419-page book, all enclosed in a black cardboard sleeve. It takes an entire day to peruse, but one would not be surprised to see it included in a college curriculum.
Box of Treasures is the physical manifestation of The Sounding Museum, an exhibition at the North American Native Museum in Zürich. Aware that many might never be able to travel to the exhibition, Herb Schoer created this comprehensive physical reflection. The exhibition is centered time spent living with and recording the traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw of British Columbia. During these two weeks, Schoer became concerned with a number of issues involving authenticity and exploitation; suffice it to say that the breadth of this multi-media release is evidence of his honesty.
Schoer writes, “At the core (of The Sounding Museum) lies the question, “How do I make a good cultural soundscape composition for museum-didactic purposes?” This is a valid question, especially when it comes to the common consumer: the person who may or may not visit a museum, who may or may not spend time at an exhibition, who may or may not attempt to digest a soundscape. Much of the world is blind to field recordings for the simple reason that the world itself is a giant unrecorded field. In order to draw attention to a particular soundscape, one needs focus, and often sculpture. On “Two Weeks in Alert Bay”, the primary piece around which the rest of the venture unfolds, Shoer demonstrates the importance of choice. 35 hours of field recordings – a longlist – are whittled down to 42 minutes – a shortlist. The piece is layered, structured, shaped: at every juncture, the artist (who must also be called a composer) decides what to include, where to include it, and most importantly, how to keep the attention of the listener. As a public piece, this means that the piece must include numerous sections of “action”; in other words, as lovely as a segment may be (a classroom, a workshop, a tribal drum, a storm), it cannot be allowed to last for long. By tumbling from source to source, Shoer does indeed keep the listener’s attention; the tapestry reveals more as metaphor than as direct aural artifact. Other audio tracks include ferry recordings, recited folklore, gambling humans and squabbling birds, but as a collage, “Two Weeks in Alert Bay” is an altogether immersive experience.
When an earlier version of the disc first appeared in 2010, online journal The Sound Projector commented, “this project would have been much better done as a combined DVD/CD package”. While in one sense this is true – and of course, now we have it – in another, there’s great value in the use of one’s imagination. While listening, one intuits many characteristics of the Kwakwaka’wakw ~ hard working, humorous, playful, diverse. While these assumptions may be inaccurate, we doubt that they are. The addition of photos, video, and other interactive material can only enhance one’s initial impressions. Those who wish to view “the full monty”, as Schoer puts it, are invited to open each file in turn, to experience the sights along with the sounds.
Even more impressive is the scholarly tome, The Sounding Museum: Four Worlds, Cultural Soundscape Composition and Trans-Cultural Communication. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but the internal prose is far more accessible. Beginning with the history of soundscape (church bells, the sound of war), Shoen then progresses to modern discussions, relying on Schafer for many of his observations. But a real connection is made in the book’s center, which revolves around the author’s experiences in Alert Bay. “I cooked for them, they cooked for me. I walked with them, they walked with me.” All scholarly observations aside, this is simple humanity, stripped of pretension. Chapters dedicated to local anthropology, sound selection and (most entertainingly) the author’s workshops follow. The most endearing section contains a chart of students’ “relished and despised sounds”, which range from “rustling of Leaves” (sic) to “when a pig is slaughtered” and “when teacher says ‘test”, the last two lumped at the same level! In the end, one not only enjoys the presentation, one likes the presenter. This is not something Shoen could have planned, but certainly something most teachers hope for.
Much respect to Gruenrekorder for realizing the value of this project and for helping the artist to achieve his dream of an expanded release. This is indeed a box of treasures.