Culture | Sound surroundings

“"Ghost Acoustics” explores our relationship with the background noise of our lives

We generally don’t attribute any significance to the sounds that surround us in our daily lives. If we do happen to pay them any attention, they are often dismissed as “background noise,” “noise pollution,” or the like. But for the members of artist collective AKVK, they are “ghost acoustics.”

On display at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA) Gallery until March 21, “Ghost Acoustics” is a perpetual work-in-progress by Concordia graduate and post-graduate students Steve Bates, Joshua Bonnetta, and Douglas Moffat. By exploring the spatial and temporal transience of sound, the artists delve into the domain of acoustic art. The result evokes R. Murray Schafer’s soundscapes, addressing our embedded nature in our surrounding acoustic ecologies.

“Ghost Acoustics” transforms FOFA’s classic gallery layout. There are a limited number of physical artifacts in the space, which provide an ideal ground for the customary perusal and interpretation of gallery work without the constrictions of a standard gallery setting. Vinyl Kiosk displays a “reworked” LP, damaged by the artists to manipulate the sound of the grooves. Their intervention subverts the intention of the original music contained on the disc, suggesting the tangible notion of “site specific sound.” For another installation, “soundFIELD (coyote),” the gallery floor is covered in a tangle of thick black wires. The wires connect empty glass jars containing semi-functional speakers, a few of which emit garbled sounds whose source is left to speculation.

The exhibit also includes two small viewing rooms, labelled “Departure Points,” where the artists explore the relationships between sight and sound. In one of the rooms, a film plays a continuous loop of vanishing images, reminding the viewer of the impermanence of both aural and visual stimuli on the senses.

The minimal explanation provided for each display emphasizes the theme of sound’s immateriality and transience, and similarly implies the exhibition’s “work-in-progress” dynamic. Necessarily, however, it also leaves some questions unanswered. To complement and clarify the installations in the physical gallery space, AKVK developed a series of workshops, films, and performances. In an email Bates said these are intended “to enlarge the conversations we have with each other, to bring others into it, and to complicate the idea of the finished work of the artist.”

Explaining the function of the workshops, Bates referenced the concept of a “brief” in architecture school, “where you’re given a challenge, a scenario that you have to respond to in a creative way.” The first workshop, “Thrift Store Radio,” took place on February 24 as part of Montreal’s Nuit Blanche festival, with participants using “records sourced from thrift stores as the material to make radio programs.” The night also included a performance by AKVK in collaboration with Montreal artists Charles Stankievich and Kathy Kennedy. The second workshop, on March 5, recycled the title of “soundFIELD (coyote),” and sought to demonstrate “the appropriation of a mongrel sound system to explore different acoustic spaces in the city.” Though acoustic art is an unfamiliar medium for many, “Ghost Acoustics” demonstrates that sound resonates as both a transcending and unifying factor in our relationship to art and the world at large. Bates emphasizes, “I don’t think sound is any more critical or important than any of the other senses…. To experience our show, it obviously involves sound, but we made an installation film, there are sculptural elements, and if you touch the glass vitrine we’ve turned into a speaker, there’s touch. Which, in the end, is really what sound is.”

“Ghost Acoustics” will be on display at FOFA (1455 Maisonneuve O.) until March 21. For more information about the exhibit and film screenings, visit