talks + seminars

SOUND LANDSCAPE MEMORY (Toronto 2013)Subtle_Tech_brochure

subtle tech


A sonic pitch is immutable – the note C, for instance – if the conditions that give rise to that pure frequency are maintained; it is an ideal carrier wave for cultural memory.

SOUND NEVER DISAPPEARS; like a river that goes underground, it can pop up in unexpected places. I will describe how ancient landscape architecture is infused with sonic memory, and how it plays back over time – speaking directly to the human central nervous system; the recordings I have made in situ of ‘songs in the land’ serve as a potent demonstration.



ACOUSTIC ECOLOGY tends to be overlooked by modern planners, designers, and architects. The European Union, however, is keeping an eye on urban racket as a possible ‘unfunded liability’ with future consequence for insurers and public health care. In Canada, there is no equivalent monitoring.

Modern HVAC (heating ventilation & air conditioning) systems while super efficient, cost effective, and ‘green’ nevertheless can be a source for unusual and persistent sound. For instance, infrasound (below the range of hearing) silently affects physical matter. Infrasound can also create the conditions for ‘standing waves’ of audible sound that can be a nuisance, or worse, harmful to human health.

Don Hill demonstrates a sound fix to remediate unpleasant noise—if you can’t fix it, feature it!


A few years ago, I gave a keynote speech to the annual convention of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (the professional folks who design and shape the outdoor space between buildings).

One thing that has always puzzled me (and I said as much to the audience) is why so little attention is paid to the sound of public spaces; as an example, I complained about the acoustics of a nearby civic square (think of Berlin’s Alexanderplatz).

To my ear and despite extensive remodeling (at significant taxpayer expense), the audio image of the public gathering place was still uninviting; passersby tended not to linger long unless, of course, there was a special event that kept them there.

“The most interesting thing,” I said, about the downtown square “is how the carillon bells echo and bounce off buildings.”

And then I got an idea.

A self-directed residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts—an investigation of 3D kunstkopf field-recorded audio—taught me that you don’t have to put up with ugly sound in the environment; it’s possible to offset the overall pitch by adding frequencies to harmonize with persistent urban noise.

I had it in mind that the bell tower beside Edmonton’s city hall was perhaps useful in ways that were never imagined for the public (more on that in a moment).

To comply with the Environmental Noise Directive (2002) Germany is “required to produce strategic noise maps in their main cities” to formulate policy to clean up neighbourhoods blighted by sound pollution (typically associated with motorways and nearby industrial activity).

In 2011, I was funded “to remediate the unpleasant sound of a large public square in the downtown of a major Canadian city by creating the conditions for acoustic standing waves, noise-cancellation effects,” by strategically adding sounds from a carillon to create a “harmony of the square”.

For the talk: I will present excerpts from what I have published recently—magazine articles, recordings, scientific papers and so forth (inclusive of my new research in southeast Asia)—that describe and tell of a ‘sonic architecture’ that shapes human perception of public spaces. I will also draw attention to overlooked ‘acoustic scaffolding’ that I have found in nature (how purposefully placed trees, for instance, can filter urban racket).”

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