Sound Symposium XV Blog: Day 3 – Ships!

Prepare your ears! Morgan Murray will be blogging about the Sound Symposium XV for The Scope from July 2-12.

Over the first few days of the Sound Symposium I have seen and heard some crazy and wonderful things. But perhaps the craziest and most wonderful has been the Harbour Symphony (everyday at 12:30 during the festival). THEY ARE MAKING MUSIC WITH FREAKING SHIP HORNS!

And not just any music, but surprisingly catchy music. Saturday’s piece composed by Frank Pahl (who also has a variety of other things going on at Sound Symposium), for instance, is still stuck in my head. Yes, a song made by ships blowing their horns in a harbour is stuck in my head (BWAAAAHHHH-bohmp-bohmp).

My girlfriend and I listened to the Pahl’s Saturday Harbour Symphony from Harbourside Park, which might be why it stands out so much. I could actually hear it clearly.

One of my projects for the this week is to listen to the Harbour Symphony from a variety of different places to try and find the best seats in the house. So far, Harbourside Park is better for pure acoustics than sticking my head out my apartment window on King’s Bridge Road because of all the car traffic. But the car traffic did add something to the experience. A sort of reminder that we aren’t listening to a concert in a concert hall, but ships in a harbour in a city. Not that you really need much of a reminder of that, sitting in Harbourside park, but it drives the point home that hearing ships making music in the harbour at all is just as important as hearing it well.

Which is why, if I had a say in the matter, there would Harbour Symphony happen everyday of the summer in St. John’s, not just for a week every two years during Sound Symposium. The city and the province do all sorts of things to make St. John’s the province’s tourist hub. There are the TV commercials that look like ads for some new eye-popping paint, there is the [HERE]SAY project (featured in The Scope last summer) where you call special numbers at special spots along Water Street and you’ll hear a special story about the special spot where you’re standing (like this one about a guy getting crabs from trying on sexy undies in the old Piper’s), there are the signs that go up in shopkeeper’s windows welcoming whatever cruise ship or conference might be in town this week (this week you might notice signs welcoming the Sound Symposium), and any number of other things. These are all fine. They all add to the richness of experiencing St. John’s.

But the Harbour Symphony is so much more badass than any other existing or potential tourist quirk I can think of.

Let me sell it to you, like the CFA that I am…

I’m from the prairies, and as far as impressive giant humanmade things we’ve got to look at, there are a few remaining grain elevators and tractors. The grain elevators used to be cool, but they are quickly disappearing. And while the blowing up of a grain elevator might be a spectacular sight, it leaves little more than bald prairie to stare at afterwards. The grain elevators are being replaced with behemoth concrete things that look like the behemoth things we’ll all be living in when we finally colonize Mars. It is like knocking down an beautiful old stone building and replacing it with a shiny shopping mall.

Then there are tractors. Which are cool until you either turn five or have to drive one, whichever comes first. Then they become slow moving hazards on the shoulders of roads or something you hardly ever think about because they aren’t really that giant or impressive after all.

I suppose a case could be made by city dwellers in any city anywhere that skyscrapers are something to be hold. Even the odd tower, like the Calgary Tower with its revolving restaurant at the top can be something pretty neat. But the problem with skyscrapers in any city anywhere is that they all look the same–glass, metal, concrete, yawn. And the problem with the Calgary Tower is that it has been surrounded by skyscrapers that are taller than it is. Now, when you are in the revolving restaurant you don’t look out over the city, instead you get to look out at the people on the 33rd floor in a board meeting across the street in any old anonymous skyscraper that looks like all the other ones.

I come from a part of the world with a dearth of anything humanmade that is awesome to look at (the prairie sky, on the other-hand, or the Rockies in the West, they are pretty damned impressive).

Then you get to St. John’s and see the ships.

The ships are some impressive for someone who has never seen them this close before. In spite of the never-ending construction, I purposely make a detour down to Harbour Drive whenever I am downtown just so I can check out the ships. Sometimes you even get lucky enough to get to go aboard, as was the case several weeks ago when there was a handful of NATO ships in the harbour.

My sister and her family recently came for a visit from back home, our first stop was to get her boys, two and four years-old, some pancakes after a marathon red-eye flight from Calgary. We went to Smitty’s in the Courtyard Marriot on Duckworth Street which overlooks the harbour, and tot that she’s particularly adverse to causing a scene in public, God love her, but when my sister saw the ships she yelled “HOLY COW! LOOK AT THE SHIPS!” Our pancakes went cold that morning while we watched the ships sit motionless in the harbour.

The harbour, raw sewage aside, is a magical place. Far more intimate than most other harbours, it’s a rare place where landlubbers like myself can go and get up close with these massive marvels that take people out to sea. It lets us get closer to the sea, without actually going to sea. Which is important because we aren’t all cut out for the sea. When I took my prairie family on a whale/puffin watching tour most of the scenery was missed while we held our progressively-getting-greening heads in our hands trying to keep from tossing our Ches’s overboard. And getting to know the sea and our relationship to it is something that needs to be done if you want to even so much as begin to understand Newfoundland.

So celebrate the hell out of the harbour. Fill it with amazing ships. With giant ships. With tiny ships. With red ships, blue ships, white ships, brown ships. And then make them make music!

I look forward to trekking up Signal Hill and listening from behind Dead Man’s Pond, as well as on top of the parking garage on Water Street, two of the best places to listen to it according to the Sound Symposium organizer who spoke prior to the opening night performance. I’ll see you there!


Thanks again to One With Knowledge for letting us know that Radio Wonderland will be performing another show, this time with a dance floor, on Wednesday night at CBTG’s on George Street.

Sound Symposium XV, an international festival of new music and performing arts, continues from July 2-12 in St. John’s. You can find more information at their website.

One comment

  1. Tam · February 9, 2011

    That sounds AMAZING!!!!!! I would love to hear the ships in harmony!! Lucky ducks! And thanks for the mention :) Smitty’s does have a pretty kick ass view!