1 A Sonification of Pembroke's Industrial Past

The Pembroke Soundscapes Project explores the relationship between sound and memory through the decline of industry in Pembroke, Ontario from the 1950s to the present day. The project, hosted at pembrokesoundscapes.ca, is a work of open access, digital public history. It was developed using open source software and through community collaboration on- and offline.

The website is a multi-media experience containing an interactive map and timelines for each industrial company. The left side of the map shows Pembroke with markers locating factories, mills, and plants. The right side contains each company with a general history, link to the company's timeline, and sound clips of Pembroke residents commenting on the industry. Listeners can also select two historical maps to overlay the current map. As the listener scrolls on the right side, the map scrolls and zooms to the appropriate company's location.

Each timeline contains sound clips that trigger when the listener hovers over an image. I use sounds of factory machinery, logging, and strikers. I highlight the uneasy history of workers striking because it is consistently part of Pembroke's past, but rarely discussed in the industrial narrative. I used image-triggered sounds throughout my website as an experiment with the Proust Effect. Marcel Proust was the French author of the series In Search of Lost Time. The series is a meditation on memory. Proust is well known for his literary comments on the relationship between memory and the human senses. In his aptly title book The Proust Effect, Cretien Van Campen states that the Proust effect is when sudden sensory stimuli invoke involuntary memories.1 By "delivering the sensory stimulus at unexpected moments, we can approach the Proust effect."2 Cosana Eram shows in her article "In Search of Lost Soundscapes" that "noises both separate and connect Proust’s subjectivity to what he calls 'la vie extérieure.' Even a banal hissing of a pipe has value in constructing and deconstructing memory in the text."3 For Proust, the experience of sound and its sudden, unanticipated triggering of memory is more important than the authenticity of sound (see section 4).4 After I built the website, I shared my project with Pembroke residents, local heritage stakeholders, and relatives, and interviewed them to determine if industrial sounds (a) triggered immediate reactions, (b) encouraged them to discuss their memories of sounds, and/or (c) shaped their memories of Pembroke's industry (see section 3.3). I added these interviews to the online map.

1.1 Public Collaboration

The 'public' is a place word for a myriad of fluid, intersectional communities that are neither cohesive nor necessarily aware of their place in my project's 'public'. For this project I consulted a popular Pembroke Facebook group "I'm from Pembroke Ontario, and I'm not ashamed to admit it on Facebook," local Pembroke historians, museum stakeholders, residents, and relatives. I am therefore digitally, academically, and historically part of the publics I interacted with developing this project. My family has deep historical and contemporary connections to Pembroke and the Ottawa Valley. In fact, this project was inspired by familial ties. My ancestor, Edward Arunah Dunlop founded several businesses in Pembroke. E.A. Dunlop is praised in Pembroke for establishing the town's industry. Other family members also worked in Pembroke's industry over the past several decades. But I was constantly reminded of the fact that I never lived in Pembroke, and my only prior knowledge of its history comes from family. Because of my simultaneous connection and distance to Pembroke's industrial past, I sought to collaborate on this project and share authority with Pembroke social media groups and local heritage stakeholders by creating an ongoing relationship with them of shared historical information and resources (see section 4).

1.2 Open Access

Open source means sharing all the source code files of a project online. This includes code, sound recordings, notes on process, images, etc. I use GitHub, an open, online version control repository to make the code of my website open source. Open Access means permitting anyone to view, copy, and use the files, under various licensing terms. My project is open under the MIT License which allows the complete reuse and repurposing of code without attribution. Peter Suber, a leading scholar of open access, notes that any instance of open access should at least require "an obligation to attribute the work to the author [since] there’s no legitimate scholarly purpose in suppressing attribution to the texts we use."5 Suber thus argues for a particular open access philosophy offered by the Creative Commons CC-BY license that waives all rights other than the author's attribution.6 The MIT license leaves attribution to user discretion. It is thus essential to understand that the two terms are entangled because however open source I make this project, it is not necessarily accessible. As Suber argues, "[open access] isn’t universal access" because of different limitations such as institutional access, personal handicaps, language barriers, and the digital divide 7. Entangled with the website both explicitly and implicitly are my attempts towards an open access project. For instance, the National Film Board footage used in the home page video contains watermarks and timestamps. Clean footage is a paid-for service which would have cost $18 per second of footage. The marked-up footage is free to use but is only a fraction of the original clips and remains a subtle reminder of the limits of open access: it may be free to use, but its use is limited.

1.3 Tying it all together

I started this project with little knowledge of where it would go. I recorded woodworking sounds at the Ottawa City Woodshop to experience industrial sounds in place and to collect somewhat 'authentic' sounds to represent sounds of Pembroke's industry. I was left with a lot of great theory, different projects for influence, and ways to approach sound in my project. The biggest struggle was incorporating sound studies theory with my audience's expectations. The ideal form of my website would communicate the following ideas:

  1. The industrial soundscape of Pembroke in a more literal sense (i.e. creating industrial soundclips).
  2. That sound, landscape, and task are entangled in a historically imagined "cacophony" of noise (see terminology in section 1.4). Landscape is a process made through tasks which produce sound. In my project, industrial tasks produce specific sounds. We can never disentangle this cacophony, nor should we, for that would render it meaningless and flat. To expand the analogy, how could you hear in a vacuum? Variations in landscape allow for silences as well and thus for remembering and forgetting.
  3. That sound is an important historical phenomenon and, while ubiquitous, has complex, ever changing value through cognition and memory.

But my interviewees reacted to my project in unexpected ways. Proust writes that he was driven insane by the constant clamor of construction workers outside his house. But "once these workers are gone after having become part of his routine noises, he would feel the ensuing silence as abnormal and would regret their ruckus as some sort of 'lullaby.'"8 Sound is an aspect of everyday life, as it is heard, felt, imagined, discussed, and remembered. Proust's experience makes me wonder how memorable sound remains to my interviewees. The ubiquity of industrial sound in an industrial culture makes it difficult to appreciate the meaning of sound. As Jonathan Sterne writes, "[t]here is no knowledge of sound that comes from outside culture."9 Therefore even my critique of sound's historical relevance is culturally and historically motivated. Indeed, as Sterne argues, sound is an experience and thus a priori to methodology.10 Sterne's argument became apparent when I interviewed local heritage stakeholders and residents in Pembroke about my website (see section 3.3). More than being triggered by sound at all, people just wanted to tell me their memories. I often had to prompt my interviewees to discuss sound. In fact, the most excited response I received about senses and memory concerned the smell of Pembroke's fibreboard plant. This apparent failure of the Proust Effect, however, does not necessarily challenge soundscapes theory or the power of sound in shaping memory. My inteviewees still recalled important memories from growing up and living in Pembroke.

The affective experience of sensory input towards memory depends on the platform of the project and its audience. This project only describes my findings from an initial set of interviews with a small audience. Perhaps as my interviewees and the wider Pembroke community interact with my map repeatedly, the Proust Effect will become more salient. Tim Causer and Valerie Wallace of University College London experienced similar issues with their Transcribe Bentham project in 2010. The project was a website that crowdsourced transcriptions of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham's writings. Causer and Wallace tried to build a dedicated user base of academics to the wider public, but noted how their numbers dropped significantly after the first week the project went live.11 Several months later the New York Times published an article about the project that immediately caused a spike in traffic to their website.12 Although the act of submitting this research to complete my Masters degree represents an end-point for this research, it also represents a starting point, where the real value of the work to the community comes through prolonged engagement and contributions. Community based projects require long term commitment. I thus intend to keep the project alive for as long as possible. By sharing authority I must continue to interact with my interviewees. Since I own the project domain, I will continue to update the website as people contact me or submit stories and feedback through the website form. I will submit the website to the Internet Archive each month to archive older versions of the site and to show that it is a living project.

1.4 Terminology

Throughout this reflection I use terminology borrowed from different disciplines. Below I define several important terms.

Soundscape: A general defintion used to describe sound in an envrionment. An explicative term that categorizes sound over other phenomenon and 'senses'.

Landscape: The anthropologist Tim Ingold defines landscape as process: the reworking of the tangible and intangible environment by humans dwelling in space through daily tasks.13 Landscape is neither tangible land or an object of our cognition to be captured in painting, photograph, or map.14 Landscape and the human body imply each other since sounds result from our daily work. The taskscape is the patterns of dwelling, or the tasks of humans reworking the landscape.15 Temporality is essential to the taskscape because human dwelling in landscape is a temporal activity 16. Temporality is not chronology or even history, but the movement of the taskscape. I use Ingold's definition of landscape as a placeholder word to represent spatial reality as it is phenomenologically experienced.

Phenomenology: Phenomenology is the philosophical study of consciousness as experienced in the 'first-person'.17 The archaeologist Stuart Eve states that the phenomenologist's charge is explaining past mental states of 'they' in the present since he is the 'I'.18 But the phenomenology of the 20th century German Philosopher Edmund Husserl introduces bracketing which "asks us to cut away certain" social an cultural presuppositions.19 We thus focus on the relationships between objects that allow for emergent experiences rather than what composes experience. For instance, when I grab a hammer, I can describe the sensation of the event to a degree that aligns with reality (see section 2.1.1).

Sonification: The deliberate use of sound made by humans in landscape through task. Bringing sound to the forefront of a historical narrative/adding sound to digital environments.

Entanglement: The archaeologist Ian Hodder states that "[h]umans work within webs of meaning that often seem arbitrary, symbolic, and representational... the webs and networks in which humans live are as much symbolic, meaningful, spiritual, religious, conceptual as they are practical and technical, economic and social... the web is seamlessly material and immaterial." Within webs of human entanglement, societies are formed "by the contingent ways in which the many strands of entanglement are tied together."20

Synchresis: The process of using any number of associated sounds with a visual action to create a seamless interaction between auditory and visual elements.21 For example, adding a stock sound of a hammer to the filmed action of a hammer (see section 3.1)

Transduction: The process of inputing sound to one medium and transforming the output back into sound.22 For example, inscribing sound onto the cylinder of a player piano and hearing the sound being played (see section 3.2).

1.5 Tools

As an open access project, I used several different open source materials to build my project.

  1. GitHub is a website for version control of open source code. GitHub is based on Git, a piece of software that saves the current state of one's project, rather like a snapshot; one can then restore a project to an earlier state by flipping through the snapshots. GitHub adds a graphic user interface to Git so different users can merge their snapshots together using this system, thus enabling open access / open source collaboration.
  2. This book was written with GitBook, an online platform based on the Git workflow described above, and allowing much the same functionality. GitBook is written in markdown, a simple markup language. Markdown files are simple text files that use conventions like # signs to indicate headers, * to indicate emphasis and so on, much like in email or web forms.
  3. My open notebook is built using Pykwiki. Pykwiki uses the Python programming language to convert markdown files to an online website.
  4. The project website is hosted through Reclaim Hosting, a web hosting company with an open access philosophy that gives me total control over my webspace and how I set it up.
  5. The Pembroke Soundscapes website was built with Bootstrap a free, open source framework for developing responsive websites and Leaflet, a javascript library for interactive maps.
  6. Loudlinks is a small javascript library that marks HTML elements with the ability to play a specified sound by hovering over or clicking the element.
  7. Free Sound is an online community for free, crowdsourced, downloadable soundclips.
  8. Soundcite for playable sounds within text.
  9. Audacity is a free sound editing program.
  10. I used Open Data Kit to collect audio recordings and tag them with metadata. ODK is a mobile database that uses Google's AppEngine service to host your data. (My own server is here). I used ODK in conjunction with a paid-for app RecForge II Pro (there are free versions of RecForge, as well as other great free recording apps). You will find that a smartphone is your biggest asset to field work.
  11. I recorded several sounds at the Ottawa City Woodshop.
  12. I uploaded all sound clips that I recorded to my Soundcloud account. These are free to download, use, and remix.


1 Crétien van Campen, The Proust Effect: The Senses as Doorways to Lost Memories, First edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1.

2 Ibid., 16.

3 Cosana Eram, “In Search of Lost Soundscapes,” ARCADE, http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/search-lost-soundscapes.

4 Ibid.

5 Peter Suber, Open Access, MIT Press Essential Knowledge (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2012), 8.

6 Suber, Knowledge Unbound: Selected Writings on Open Access, 2002-2011 (MIT Press Essential Knowledge. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2016), 171.

7 Suber, Open Access, 26-27.

8 Eram, “In Search of Lost Soundscapes," ARCADE, http://arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/search-lost-soundscapes.

9 Jonathan Sterne, ed., The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 6.

10 Ibid.

11 Tim Causer and Valerie Wallace, “Building A Volunteer Community: Results and Findings from Transcribe Bentham,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 6, no. 2 (2012): 10. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/2/000125/000125.html.

12 Ibid., “Building A Volunteer Community," 31.

13 Tim Ingold, "The Temporality of Landscape" in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London ; New York: Routledge, 2000), 151, 153.

14 Ibid., 152.

15 Ibid., 162.

16 Ibid., 172.

17 Stuart Eve, Dead Men’s Eyes: Embodied GIS, Mixed Reality and Landscape Archaeology (BAR British Series 600, 2014), 11.

18 Ibid., 11, 13.

19 Ibid., 11.

20 Ian Hodder, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 97.

21 Michel Chion, Walter Murch, and Claudia Gorbman, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 63.

22 Stefan Helmreich, "Transduce and Record" in The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 209.