One Visitor's Portrait of Banff

A series of Radio Pieces (1992)

for "Radio Rethink: Art Sound and Transmission", The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada. First Broadcast: March 12, 1992.

My Image
My Image

One Visitor's Portrait of Banff is a radio programme created during the four-week radio art residency "Radio Rethink: Art, Sound and Transmission" at the Banff Centre of the Arts in Banff, Alberta, Canada, February 1992. It listens into the community of Banff and its surrounding soundscapes, consisting of differing formats: soundwalks, collages, earwitness accounts, sound object studies and short compositions. It is about a place I have visited and to which I am a stranger. I, the recordist, am the visitor to Banff. The visitor's acoustic perspective is audible through the perspective of the microphone broadcast on radio. It is the perspective of an outsider. A visitor brings fresh ears to a place and may be alert to sounds that local inhabitants have become accustomed to. Knowing little about the place, the visitor needs to decode the meanings of sounds in an umfamiliar environment and tends to approach a new place with a searching and curious ear.

The visitor with the microphone may also be interested in understanding the relationship that exists and evolves between individuals and their environments. My relationship to Banff, for example, is shaped by connections through my family history. In 1911 my grandparents came to Banff by train, moving on a few days later to Glacier National Park to go mountain hiking and staying in a grand hotel. In 1959, after my grandfather's death, my grandmother invited my two older sisters and a cousin to retrace that memorable trip. Only 13 years old, I was left behind. From Banff they sent me souvenirs, including a postcard of Mount Rundle. They went on to find the grand hotel but it had long gone and they ended up finding another place, where my oldest sister met her future husband, which led to her subsequent emigration to Canada. In 1962, when I was 16, my parents invited me on a trip to Canada to visit my sister. We travelled, again, by train. When we got to Banff I recognized Mount Rundle and made a drawing of it from my roomette in the train. On that trip I met my future husband; six years later I emigrated to Canada. Banff has been part of some life-changing journeys for my family.

I now have an audio portrait of Banff shaped in part by these memories. I used to think of a portrait as something definitive, framed, static, a face from a certain angle, something that captures a person in totality. This audio portrait tries to consider many aspects of Banff with opens ears. At the same time, listeners are left to construct their own portrait of the place.

All materials were recorded during the residency, were edited and mixed in the Banff studios with the assistance of Frank Lockwood.

My Image
My Image
My Image
My Image


In a soundwalk I record the environment in which I am and my own voice. My voice forms the link to the listener who is not physically present. I speak about the sounds or soundscapes that are audible, but also about aspects extraneous to the recording, i.e. commenting on the weather, time of day or night, the "looks" of the place, the "architecture", about my experience of the place. The voice transmits information about the place that would otherwise not be apparent from the raw environmental recordings. It assists in transporting the listener into each specific soundscape that is broadcast. This is to be explicit about the recordist's presence in the environment and about the fact that that presence creates a specific acoustic perspective for the listener. It makes explicit that this particular microphone, this particular recording presents one truth only about the environment, but in doing that, it hopes to create an awareness or at least a curiosity in the individual listener about what his or her own unique acoustic perspective might be.

Banff Soundwalk
A walk from the Banff Centre through a small forest into the centre of town.
Length: 5:45

Bow River Soundwalk
A walk along this river on a sunny morning in February. Along with the water sounds one can also hear occasionally small ice flows crashing together as they rush downriver on the water’s surface. Later, on a small side arm that has frozen over the sounds of ice are explored in detail.
Length: 19:11

A Walk through the Banff Springs Hotel
This is one of the monumental hotels that the Canadian Pacific Railway built along its cross-Canada railway line. It is located near the town of Banff on a mountain slope just above the Bow River. I am accompanied by Peter Grant as I walk with my microphone through the various public spaces inside and outside of the hotel. At one point we are joined by an elderly and curious lady from the United States who apparently stays at the hotel every year for several months. She functions as our guide for a while: with her voice added and her ways of speaking, the soundwalk’s pace and atmosphere shift significantly and our listening perspective is altered in a most interesting way.
Length: 24:10

The Water Reservoir
This soundwalk leads from behind the Banff Centre part-way up Tunnel Mountain to explore the soundsape above the town. On the way, I encounter some pipes sticking out of the ground. Any metal pipe is potentially an interesting acoustic instrument and so, out of curiosity, I point my microphone into the pipes’ openings. To my surprise a large underground space, a water reservoir, is revealed with its very own resonant frequencies and many water drops plopping into the water. It is a gorgeous acoustic space that encourages additional soundmaking, like banging on or plucking the metal pipes, singing or talking into them and simply listening to how the resonant space transforms external sounds like the train horn or bird song. I never make it up the mountain as this underground space becomes a sonic playground for my musical exploration. And with the microphone moving in and out of the metal pipes at irregular intervals, the listener is suspended between the two acoustic spaces of the comparatively dry-sounding forest soundscape above Banff and the deeply resonant cave-like soundscape under the ground.
Length: 25:50

Short Sound Pieces:

Etude on Ice
A sonic exploration of the various ice sounds encountered in the frozen part of the Bow River.
Length: 5:00

Contours of Silence and Banff Razzle Dazzle
two short vignettes highlighting Banff as a relatively old Rocky Mountain community on the one hand and as a modern tourist centre on the other hand.
(Length: 3:52) and (Length: 3:48)

Louie Trono's voice appears in both pieces. He was born in Banff and represents the voice of those who have lived in Banff for a long time and have seen it change from a small, isolated mountain village to a busy tourist centre. In Contours of Silence he remembers and is accompanied by the sounds and silences of winter during his childhood. Intimate minuscule sounds of ice, which were recorded by moving a small sheet of ice along the contours of large ice sheets on a lake, are outlining the boundaries between silence and sound throughout.

Banff Razzle Dazzle is a satirical comment on Banff's shopping environments, which look and sound like any North American shopping centre, which cater to tourists and carry the names of animals and places in the mountain landscape surrounding Banff. The piece is framed by Louie Trono's voice remembering his shopping experiences as a child.

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