This post includes:
Musings: Sound and Perception: A message from director Leah Cherniak. Contains multiple audio players between 20 seconds to 1 minute in length.
Our Audio Logo... Yes!: An audio logo for Perceptual Archaeology. Contains an audio player 8 seconds in length, with accompanying audio description.
Archaeology of Sensory Perception: A conversation between Alex Bulmer and Suvendrini Lena. Contains and audio player 6 minutes and 49 seconds in length, with accompanying downloadable transcript (Word doc).
Links: A list of external articles and references.
Musings: Sound and Perception
A message from Leah Cherniak, director of Perceptual Archaeology (or How To Travel Blind).
So first… Alex
Many years ago, I first met Alex Bulmer after her performance in an outdoor Winter show on a cold snowy night. There was a certain moment in the show where she gathered up her voluminous skirt and ran across the park, fast and fearless, snow all around. There were two others, running with her, ostensibly there to catch her if she stumbled. Apparently, Alex never fell throughout all 19 performances; while the two others apparently fell quite regularly. So… Alex… I have come to understand over time, is a performer and writer with a distinct sense of theatrical physicality.
Reading Alex’s original travel essays, which are the roots of the play we are making and of this digital space, spawned a broad curiosity to more deeply understand Alex’s relationship to travel. And of being blind. I started digging around in the dirt so to speak, to reflect on assumptions about sight and blindness, and the ways we perceive and make meaning of the places and spaces around us. And of course, sound was central to much of the digging. Following strands of thought, I read, researched, listened, and of course shared many satisfying, rambling conversations with Alex.
At first, thinking personally about perception and sound in particular, I noted that I’m fairly sensitive to sound. I respond physically and dramatically to hearing loud, sudden or suspicious noises and sounds. Even when I see where a sound is coming from and what’s making the sound, I generally still jump or flinch.
At the same time, I love hearing; the musicality of spoken words. Even ideas have a sort of music to me. Sometimes I don’t hear what people mean when they talk, I hear more the sounds and the rhythms of talking, of conversation, of thoughts.
And… what exactly is perception?
How exactly do we perceive sound?
I discovered there is a difference between sensation and perception.
Sensation is a physical process.
Our sensory organs, like our nose, our ears, our fingers etc. respond to external stimuli, like heat from the stove or the scratching sounds in the wall.
From that response, there’s a very quick conversion of one form of energy to another.
From sound waves to electrical stimuli in the brain.
Then once you start making sense of stimuli, begins the more psychological process of perception. Perception involves our experiences.
Our experiences actually influence how we make meaning of sensations.
I was in Stratford with Alex, in the summer of 2021 and on a particular street, late at night we heard a very loud, insistent, large community of crickets. We stopped for a long time to listen.
It was beautiful. It was also funny. Just imagining hundreds of crickets rubbing their insect legs together, chanting in unison, sounding like a collective meditation on the universality of night-time.
Or perhaps it was a wild and drunken cricket anthem.
A little more research and I discovered it’s of course the sound of male mating calls to attract females. Of course!
Also found out that all crickets hear from ears located on their front legs!
And finally, there are cicadas. Have a quick listen here to the cicadas we hear in Southern Ontario summers…
Anisa George, American playwright, director and poet, followed the 2021 emergence of the Magicada cicadas called Brood X, after they’d been living underground for seventeen years.
Here is a quote from her story found in Emergence Magazine:
“Each of the three species of seventeen-year periodicals that will emerge with Brood X has its own uniquely percussive song… Together they create an orchestral complexity of alarm calls and mating croons described as simultaneously terrifying, obnoxious, and sublime—akin to the landing of a UFO (as if we know what that sounds like). There is a mythical, almost prophetic dimension to the emergence of cicadas that one cannot help but feel. What is all this incantation? Why together? Why now?”
Listen to the sounds of the Brood X Magicicadas here:
I encourage you to read and/or listen to her whole story. Below are 2 links: one to her full story and the other is an excellent audio version of the story, read by the writer, with excellent sound and music added.
At the end of this post, there are several other links to some evocative writing that have sound as a central theme or investigation. Hope you enjoy listening to or reading them.
Final note… About Alex… and Leah… and Sound
I’m not sure how it started, but Alex and I began sending each other sound clips that we’d make for each other. Sometimes they were long, almost sound compositions and we’d have to guess what we thought was going on in the clip.
Here’s a short sample:
We also often made quick ones, with the instruction to make guesses, like: “What am I doing?”
Or… what am I eating? Try it!
Our Audio Logo... Yes!
Introducing our Audio Logo!
When we started defining this digital space we thought about a logo. Doesn’t everything have a logo?
Stuck in our sighted imagination, we started with a visual image. What? Wait!
We came to our "senses" and concentrated on making a sound logo.
We talked, imagined music and what sorts of sounds and why... (footsteps? Sound of a cane? The beep beep of the audio traffic lights… a cow… travel sounds…) And then Alex… Ms. Musical, sat down at her piano and yes… she made up an audio logo right there on the spot! We crafted it collectively for a few weeks then it went to River, our Sound Associate and they worked it in miniscule detail with all of us over Zoom.
And now… Here it is!! Have a listen!
Hope you enjoy our new audio logo for Perceptual Archaeology (or How To Travel Blind).
Archaeology of Sensory Perception
A conversation with Suvendrini Lena
Suvendrini Lena is a rare and extraordinary person, who has been crossing the boundaries of science and theatre as both Neurologist and Playwright.
In 2012, Suvendrini began working with me, Leah, on a play she wrote over a span of 6 years rooted in schizophrenia and race, called Here are the Fragments. It was an epic, immersive theatre piece that filled all of the second floor of Toronto’s Theatre Centre with sound, video, art installations and live performance.
As a neurologist, Suvendrini’s primary focus is the human nervous system.
We asked Suvendrini to speak with Alex about neurology and sound. Here is a part of that conversation:
Play Sound Creatures with Us
We are nearing the end of our second digital post!
We hope you have enjoyed our second digital post in the Perceptual Archaeology: A Blind-led Digital Art Space, a companion piece to our show Perceptual Archaeology (or How To Travel Blind) by Alex Bulmer - playing at Crow's Theatre in Toronto, Canada in June 2023. We will be sending out a third post in May.
Now that we are nearing the end of our second digital post, we are offering you another chance to play Sound Creatures with us.
In case you missed the first post, here is a short refresher to the Sound Creatures game:
The idea of "perceptual archaeology" came to Alex while swimming, as she collected pieces of information to form an impression of a pool.
Now we offer you this game, or challenge - to make meaning from sounds and form an impression of what you hear.
Here's how it works:
Listen to the audio player below for the Sound Creature.
Bring the creature to life using words (a day in the life, a biography, a list, a poem), or bring the creature to life two or three dimensionally (a drawing, a painting, a puppet, knitting, sculpture).
And then, send them to us!
Definition of "creature" - a living being, something that has been created, animate or inanimate, a creature of the imagination.
Here are things you might think about as you listen and imagine:
What is its name?
What does it like to do?
How does it move?
Where does it live?
And now, listen here to the Sound Creature:
Please send us your imaginings of the Sound Creature via email. We'd love to get them! Whether you spent a minute, an hour, a day a week - we're excited to get them and will respond to all your creatures!
If we choose yours, we'll get in touch to seek your permission to post them. You can say, "yay" or "nay".
Email your creatures to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This first link is referenced in Leah's Musings: Sound and Perception, at the beginning of the post.
Here's a list of articles and references mentioned other places in the post or as a suggestion to listen to or read.
When the Earth Started to Sing by David G. Haskell, Emergence Magazine, 28 February 2022. Listen to When the Earth Started to Sing on Apple Podcasts.
This sonic journey written and narrated by David G. Haskell brings us to the beginning of sound and song on planet Earth. Spoken words combined with terrestrial sounds invite our senses and imaginations to go outward into an experience of the living Earth and its history.
Brenda Peterson Reads “Wolf Music” by Brenda Peterson, Orion Magazine, 18 July 2017.
Did you know that when wolves howl, they harmonize with one another? Or that if a human imitates a howl, nearby wolves will modulate their voices and chime in? Listen to author Brenda Peterson read ‘Wolf Music,’ a chapter from her new book, Wolf Nation: The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves.
Sanctuaries of Silence by Adam Loften & Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Emergence Magazine, 19 May 2020. Listen to Sanctuaries of Silence on Apple Podcasts.
In this immersive listening journey, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton guides us into the Hoh Rain Forest — one of the quietest places in North America — to reconnect with the silence of the living world.
Studiokamp by David Kamp, 2011.
Studiokamp is David Kamp's sound design and music studio, the creator of Sound Creatures.