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Wildurban: a Multi-channel Sound Installation as Public Art


Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, Session 4: Soundscapes / Installations
Friday 8 August, 15:30–16:30. Faculty of Music, University of Toronto
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In 2007, artist/curator Ellen Moffat commissioned seven artists to create six contemporary public media artworks for the City of Saskatoon. The project, titled Aneco, was a suite of artworks that utilized contemporary artistic methods and ideas normally not made available in public art. Further, the artworks in Aneco specifically responded to concerns about the ecology and social dynamics, with the intension of creating awareness and dialogue about the interactions between natural and constructed environments.

My commission became an eight-channel immersive soundscape for playback in the block-long outdoor Saskatoon City Transit bus mall. The commission, which remains in continuous playback mode for three years, presented many technical and logistical challenges. Presenting a repeating, two-hour soundscape composition that is meant to be heard within the extreme range of noise generated by the coming and going of buses, while also embedded in the daily and seasonal transitional range of the urban sonic environment, became a real compositional challenge.

The soundscape for Wildurban was composed from recordings made in wilderness locations in various parts of Saskatchewan: the wilderness was being brought into the centre of urban Saskatoon. The recorded samples that were chosen reflect a diversity of ecological communities that are fast disappearing from Saskatchewan. The recordings include large groupings of waterfowl, songbirds, insects and mammals. In forming the composition, the sounds remain unmanipulated or are simply pitched downward to a speed that more closely matches human metabolisms; the complexity of these vocalisations then truly speak for themselves. The compositional considerations of the soundscape were generated mainly by perception of activity cycles in the wildlife populations, the ebb and flow of interactions, the fervour of life. Through the resulting mix, Wildurban invites those who encounter the installation to listen in on the recordings and — perhaps — consider the origins and possibilities of human behaviour when exploring these natural forms of relationships, communication and wild urbanisation.


Since 1973, Charles Fox has created and presented audio art, experimental film, video art and multimedia installation in Canada and abroad. Directly involved in the growth of the media arts in Canada, he has been integral to the founding of several media arts centres. A multidisciplinary artist, he has also worked in theatre, music, the visual arts and directed cultural documentary productions for broadcast. Charles Fox’s research into new forms of immersive audio has received wide recognition, including the Banff Centre for the Arts, Centre Pompidou Paris and Tate Britain. With multichannel immersive audio, he has created interactive installations, invented multichannel recording methods and participated in symposia, conferences and forums devoted to immersive audio art. Currently, Charles Fox is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Production and Studies at the University of Regina, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in film and video, sound and new media production.

Paper originally presented at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium 2008, August 2008.

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