Andra McCartney

Swimming the Reef

Ice Melody

In Transit

When and how did your interest for sound research start?

This is a hard one to answer. In one way I think it began when I spent a lot of time in hospital as a small child. Being unable to walk, I wanted to hear what was outside of what I could see, to extend my world through sound. Then perhaps because of my interest in music, in playing piano as I grew up; and in languages, which I always loved studying at school. Then writing poetry in my twenties and being fascinated by how the sounds of words affect how we hear their meanings. Finally, it was listening to community radio in the late 80s and early 90s, where I heard a wide range of experimental music and sound work, including soundwalking, which really excited me. That was when I decided to start doing soundwalks, and to go to graduate school to study in this area.
You have written extensively on – and collaborated with – other Canadian composers and researchers, for example with Hildegard Westerkamp, who took part to Helicotrema since the first edition. Why does the “Canadian context” seem to be so special for what regards sound research?

i believe that Canadian sound artists and researchers had an advantage because of government policies in the 1970s and 80s in particular (less so in the present) that encouraged the development of research centres such as the World Soundscape Project, the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and a wide established network of community and campus radio stations. I did a research project about women sound artists and designers in Canada, and found that 40% had got their start in sound as producers at community radio stations. This was true for me as well. Unfortunately with the present Conservative government, much support for the Arts (among many other areas) is being slashed But there is an election next year. Out with them!
Could you tell us a few words about Swimming the ReefIce Melody, and In Transit, the works you will present during Helicotrema 2014?

In Swiimming the reef, I was attempting to translate the names of fish and corals, their movements and colours, into vocal sounds. It is like a transitional piece between poetry and soundscape. The background is surf recorded at Palmiste Grenada, during a working visit there for several months in the winter of 1990-91. This was one of my earliest field recordings. After the scene is set,the dreamlike rocking feel of the underwater environment is evoked through continuous panning of a slower version of the surf sound. Over this is layered vocal tracks where I said the names of fish and corals while thinking of their forms and movements and their effect on me as a visitor to their habitat, snorkelling. For instance, the tomtates flashed by so fast and in such profusion that I only glimpsed parts. This sonic element was cut and layered many times to make a virtual school. Other parts were treated in similar ways that reflected their motions and shapes. I also included some fragments of a poem about the experience.

In Transit is based on field recordings done during daily travels in the Toronto transit system in the late 90s. I had recently decided to live without a car, and enjoyed the time in transit which seemed to invite an in-between space of possibility. Sounds of buses, streetcars and trains were processed to emphasize this openness.

Ice melody, Gananoque is an almost-untouched field recording of a remarkable sonic artifact related to spring breakup of ice on a large river (in this case, the St. Lawrence in eastern Ontario, Canada). I had first heard this kind of sound while living in Lachine, Quebec, also on the St. Lawrence. It is made by the breaking ice being flung by the wind next to the shore. The pieces of ice are quite small, a bit bigger than ice cubes but not much, and as they bash against each other, create a sparkling melody. This was recorded in March 2012. When I returned to the same spot in 2014 at the same date, during this very cold winter the river was still completely frozen, with ice fishermen standing silently on the ice.

Thank you for listening!