WLD2015: Water - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

July 18th, Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer's birthday, is commemorated as World Listening Day. This year its theme is Water. This page is my collection of soundscape projects related to water, and will be updated as new ones are completed.


Municipal Water

Toronto has been building its municipal water infrastructure for well over a hundred years, and the High Level Pumping Station has been around for most of it. Nestled into an expensive neighbourhood at the base of the Lake Iroquois shoreline it is one of Toronto's twenty-two pumping facilities, which house one hundred and twenty pumps between them. 

The High Level station was open to the public during the 2015 Doors Open architecture festival, which allowed me to record the sound of electricity being converted into the water pressure that sustains the city. Only a single pump was running that day, perhaps out of deference to the visitors, but there are many more waiting to work. I hope to be able to hear them in this space some day.


Recreational Water

The town of Bobcaygeon, Ontario, sits at lock #32 of the Trent Severn waterway that connects Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. This lets recreational boaters take advantage of eastern Ontario's long string of glacial lakes.

There are two recordings on Soundcloud from a summer weekend: Lock 32 and Sturgeon Lake.

Lock 32 is a busy place. The waterway cuts through the middle of Bobcaygeon, and on a sunny Saturday watching the boats pass by is a popular way to spend some time. The main commercial street crosses the canal just downstream of the lock, and its mesh-decked swing bridge adds a distinctive soundmark to the town.

Sturgeon Lake becomes the Bobcaygeon River as it splits around the islands that the town sits on. Following the main retail street away from the lock brings us to a watery cul-de-sac where small waves can ripple against the rock-armoured shore, trees can rustle in the breeze, and pontoon boats and jet skis alike can motor about in whatever way suits them. As snow machines have transformed the iconic stillness of the northern winter, the power boat has replaced the paddle splash and the call of the loon as the distinctive sounds of the Ontario summer lake.


Domestic Water

World Listening Day doesn't need to be about the exotic – water is all around us, every day. Canadian households use a tremendous amount of water, as they do with all resources, and my ward has some of the highest consumption per household in Toronto. So in anticipation of WLD I've been paying more attention to how much I consume, and of course, what it sounds like.

The sounds are of routine domestic water: sinks recorded from above and below, bathtub, shower, toilet, and washing machine. The images are of water from the bathtub faucet, freezing the water in place with a cabled speedlight. And all of it recorded specifically on, for, and because of World Listening Day.


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