PhD Oral Exam - Eric Powell, Communication
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
This dissertation frames and describes my research-creation project, which involved building three interactive sound-based mapping interfaces that challenge how we listen to and make meaning from urban sounds. Old Montreal’s Acoustic Labyrinth is a marble-maze game that allows listeners to explore a simultaneous recording of the Basilica Notre Dame’s bells from six different locations. Street Ears, a GPS-enabled smartphone app, gives listeners the opportunity to navigate the acoustic environments of two Montreal neighbourhoods—from anywhere in the world. Finally, 168 Hours is a large clock-like interface that encourages listeners to remix time by playing with snippets of a continuous, week-long recording from a single location in Montreal’s Milton Park. Each of these interfaces draws listeners’ ears to a different aspect of the aural environment: how sound is shaped by architecture, how space creates points of sonic transition, and how durational listening reveals unexpected patterns and textures that give new meaning to familiar sounds.
My project makes contributions to theories of mobility, space, and place by developing an approach to listening that challenges presumed hierarchies surrounding “good” and “bad” sounds. I interrogate institutional representations of urban sound as they relate to questions of power and authority, advocating for more grassroots approaches to sound-based mapping. The introductory sections to this document establish the theoretical and methodological frameworks for the project as a whole; the three main chapters detail the conceptual and practical aspirations of each mapping interface. In the conclusion, I consider the relationship between maps and stories and encourage my readers/listeners to embrace a new approach to urban sound. Drawing from the fields of Sound Studies, Cultural Studies, and Critical Cartography, this dissertation refigures the role sound has in shaping our sense of place and demonstrates how the acoustic environment structures our daily lives.