Acoustic ecologist Kaitie Sly explores unheard world of ambient sound

We’ve all heard the old proverb: “What we don’t know can’t hurt us.” But, as the research of emerging acoustic ecologist Kaitie Sly shows, what we can’t hear might indeed be hurting us.

Kaitie Sly in front of her interactive map

Graduating in June with a master’s in music and a specialization in music technology, the Vancouver Island born-and-raised Sly has developed a research creation project focused on the impact of inaudible human-generated sound in Greater Victoria. By creating an interactive map of the region, she has highlighted specific areas showing the location of infrasonic and ultrasonic noise.

“The point is to communicate the significance of these frequencies in our everyday lives by allowing people to experience and hear the inaudible noise that’s around us all the time,” she explains.

The sounds of silence

Infrasonic sounds exist below the human ability to hear (20 hertz and less), while ultrasonic sounds soar above our listening range (20 kilohertz and up). And while there are naturally occurring frequencies of both infrasonic (thunder, strong winds, earthquakes) and ultrasonic (tropical rainforest, bats, mice), we’re more likely to encounter them through human-generated activities like aircraft, wind turbines and ventilation systems (infrasonic) and industrial tools, wireless chargers and vehicle parking sensors (ultrasonic).

“You may hear the audible frequencies, but there’s a lot of sound happening above or below that,” she says—and therein lies the problem. “Developments in neuroscience indicate that sonic stimuli can significantly affect the human body without our awareness, which is why I wanted to study infrasonic and ultrasound specifically. There’s this assumption that what we can’t hear can’t affect us—but my research suggests that, depending on different frequencies and pressure levels, these sounds actually produce significant effects on human well-being.”

An easy comparison, says Sly, is the carbon monoxide detector. “Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless but it’s very dangerous, so we’ve created carbon monoxide detectors to protect ourselves. But why haven’t we done the same thing for these types of inaudible frequencies? If you have a headache, you won’t automatically attribute it to inaudible sounds—but that’s worth questioning that if you live near a highway, wind turbine, industrial centre or anti-loitering device.”

Consider wind turbines, which are known to produce infrasonic sound. “A lot of people who live near wind turbines have experienced adverse health effects—insomnia, anxiety, hypertension, panic attacks—but the turbine industry says infrasonic sound is below the audible threshold, and therefor of no consequence,” she says. “More research is needed to explore the connection between inaudible sounds and health concerns.”

Tools of the trade

Sly in the field

Sly uses a specific high-definition omnidirectional microphone that records both the infra- and ultrasonic ranges, then runs those recordings through software that reveals a spectrogram analysis of the resulting sound.

Her map project focused on data collection and analysis over a four-month period, using field recordings of specific Greater Victoria locations: the airport, the McKenzie interchange, a construction blasting site in Colwood and an antiloitering mosquito device in Sidney. The resulting map uses an interactive ripple effect to display the type and intensity of the inaudible sounds.

“One of the scary things about infrasonic sound is that we can’t really protect ourselves from it: even if we use hearing protection, it won’t stop it from having an effect on our bodies, as the soundwaves impact the entire organism,” she explains.

As an acoustic ecologist, Sly hopes to raise awareness about the impact a soundscape can have on both humans and the wider ecosystem. “Acoustic ecologists work with urban planners or landscape architects to be more aware of both the adverse and beneficial effects sound can have on our health and well-being,” she says. “It’s a field where you’re trying to find ways to harmonize humans with their acoustic environment.”

Ultimately, says Sly, we all need to be more aware of what we hear—and don’t hear—around us. “It’s not just about the risks; sound can have a very beneficial impact on our life. Whatever your profession, think about sound in everything you do.”

Congratulations, Class of 2019!

June 14 is convocation day and the Faculty of Fine Arts is very excited to welcome 224 new graduates to our alumni family! Here is a quick glimpse into our diverse group of graduates:

Together with the new class of grads, you are part of an expansive network of over 8250 alumni. Given that you’re graduating on the cusp of Fine Arts celebrating our 50th anniversary as a faculty, there are many reasons to stay connected.
We are always interested in hearing about alumni accomplishments—please do keep in touch as your career develops, and let us know if you have any events or honours to celebrate.

We had another creatively inspiring year in Fine Arts. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Alumni success

Nathan Medd (photo: Andrew Alexander)

A cultural non-profit leader whose work is devoted to developing the performing arts in Canada, Nathan Medd (BFA ’01) is currently Managing Director of Performing Arts for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the nation’s largest arts training institution and incubator of new works. This year, he was honoured with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award. Read more

Celebrated novelist and Writing grad Esi Edugyan (BFA ’99) soared to new literary heights this year by becoming only the second author in Canadian history to win two Giller Prizes — first for 2011’s Half Blood Blues and now for 2018’s Washington Black, which is also currently in development as a limited run TV series. Read more

Student success

Laura Gildner in her studio

Graduating Visual Arts student Laura Gildner was shortlisted for the Lind Photography Prize, mounted a solo photography exhibit at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery and staged work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She also won the Victoria Medal for the highest undergraduate GPA in the faculty. Read more

Members of the School of Music’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble were thrilled to have the opportunity to sing the music of iconic rock band Queen when the Victoria Symphony presented their Best of Queen concert this spring. Read more

Faculty success

Kirk McNally (School of Music) oversaw the installation of the new CREATE Lab and recording studio for music technology students, dedicated to the art and science of listening. Read more

Carey Newman (Visual Arts) made history twice this year by seeing his Residential School memorial sculpture The Witness Blanket entered into the permanent collection of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and in seeing the piece designated as a living entity that honours the stories of the survivors. Read more

Bill Gaston (Writing) won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his story collection, A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage — one final honour before he retires at the end of this academic year. Read more

Cast of The Drowsy Chaperone

Jacques Lemay (Theatre) led the student team behind The Drowsy Chaperone to create a smash hit show that resulted in a sold-out, held-over run — and one of the most popular Phoenix shows in recent memory! Read more

Carolyn Butler-Palmer (Art History & Visual Studies) consulted on the new $10 bill featuring Canadian civil rights leader Viola Davis, which means you can see the influence of our faculty whenever you get one of the new bills. Read more

Donor impact

Our generous donors gave over $1.8 million in 2018/19, with 45% of that coming from Fine Arts alumni. Overall, we distributed $709,621 to students last year via donor-funded scholarships and bursaries.

Theatre student Emma Leck became the inaugural recipient of the Spirit of the Phoenix Award, named for the late Phoenix student Frances Theron.

With the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Fine Arts coming up in 2019/20, we would love to hear your thoughts on how we can continue to engage with our alumni in significant ways. Convocation is a day for making meaningful memories—we hope that the culmination of your student years marks the start of our new relationship as alumni and colleagues.

Visual Arts student Laura Gildner wins Victoria Medal

No question, Department of Visual Arts undergraduate student Laura Gildner has been having a great year: not only was she shortlisted for the 2018 Lind Photography Prize—for the second year in a row—but she also had a solo exhibit of recent work at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery, participated in artistic residencies in both Italy and Ontario, and had a solo exhibit locally at the fifty-fifty arts collective. Better still, she was just announced as the recipient of the Victoria Medal in Fine Arts, which is awarded annually to the Fine Arts undergraduate student with the highest GPA during their period of study, and presented during the Fine Arts Convocation ceremony on June 14.

Gildner’s “Tell Me What You Know I Want To Hear” at Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery

An intermedia artist from Ottawa, Laura Gildner creates works that exist primarily as performative events and are later translated into video installations, photographic documents, and archives of the makeshift communities that develop as a result of their creation.

In the four years she has been in the Visual Arts program, Gildner has participated in over 30 exhibitions—including three solo exhibitions outside of UVic—as well as produced several live art events and public performances. Throughout this time, she has shown in Canada, the US, the UK and Italy, including recent exhibitions and performances at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Open Space, the fifty-fifty arts collective and Xchanges Gallery. She has also taken part in residencies and projects in the US and Venice, Italy, and regularly curates and organizes community-based art events in and around Victoria.

Laura Gildner in her studio

“Within my artistic practice I have increasingly become fascinated by the idea of social choreography,” says Gildner. “I’m drawn to bringing unexpected groupings of people together to collaborate on works that reveal themselves as relationships between otherwise strangers are formed. I’m fueled by the exchange of trust and power that can develop from these interactions, while constantly negotiating how ethical lines inherent to lens-based media inform both my relationship with the subjects of my work as well as the works themselves.”

Her fascination with social choreography has been highlighted during her performance at the AGGV exhibit The Changing Landscapes of Emily Carr, and at her “Public Displays of Affection” piece during the 2017 Integrate Arts Festival. “Public Displays of Affection” was a participant-driven performative walking tour between selected Integrate exhibitions in Victoria’s downtown core; fueled entirely through anecdotal recollections sourced by interviewing strangers throughout Victoria, the piece examined layered intersections between the body, identity and art as they relate to urban geography.

In addition to her studies, Gildner presented her work as part of UVic’s competitive Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Awards fair in February 2018, and assisted Visual Arts chair Paul Walde on his recent Ontario-based intermedia projects, The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim and “Of Weather”. Her two-week residency at Ontario’s Luminous Bodies in June 2018 saw her working on a project that would stage a participatory event resulting in a photo/video installation focused on a piece of investigative social choreography specific to Toronto Island, the site of the residency. She also staged a living installation at Victoria’s Pretty Good Not Bad Festival in May 2018 and presented video work as part of a group exhibit at the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Scotland in spring 2019. And she was recently announced as the recipient of the Karl Spreitz Legacy Award at the annual Victoria Visual Arts Legacy Society Awards.

A still from Laura Gildner’s “Informer”, her 2019 8-channel audio-video installation

“What intrigues me perhaps the most about social choreography is its ability to directly confront our languages and patterns of viewing in relation to the human form,” she says. “Can understandings of aesthetic value become challenged through interactions between multiple bodies? Is judgement cooperatively rehearsed just as much as it is performed?  Why do we tend to fetishize the body as the ultimate bearer of the truth?”

Definitely watch for more to come from Laura Gildner in her final year of studies—we can guarantee it will always be something fascinating!

Posthumous international award for Patrick Lane

The late award-winning poet and novelist Patrick Lane will receive one final honour when he is posthumously presented with the European Medal for Poetry and Art on June 7. Beijing-based poet Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award, will make the presentation at a small private gathering of poets. Lane’s wife, Department of Writing Professor Emeritus Lorna Crozier, will receive the award in the garden of their North Saanich home.

Patrick Lane

Commonly referred to as the Homer Prize, there has only been one other Canadian recipient in the award’s short history: UVic Writing professor Tim Lilburn, in 2017.

“This is a significant honour,” says Lilburn. “Patrick’s stature as a poet is international as well as national. His work has long been of interest to translators in China and a large ‘selected poems’ collection is now being prepared for release in Beijing in 2020, as a result of the Homer Prize.”

Initiated in 2015, the Homer Prize is a relatively new international award administered by an international chamber with representatives from Poland, China, North Africa and elsewhere. Previous laureates include Ataol Berghamoglu (Turkey), Tomas Venclova (Lituania), Juan Carlos Mestre (Spain) and Tim Lilburn (Canada). Plans to present Lane with the Homer Prize had been underway prior to his passing on March 7.

Woodcock Award

It was a full house for Patrick Lane’s memorial on April 20

Lane was also posthumously honoured with the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award on April 20 at his memorial service at UVic. With nearly 300 people gathered at the memorial event, Howard White—president of the Pacific BookWorld News Society and a longtime friend of Lane—presented Crozier with the award, a $5,000 cheque and a civic proclamation in honour of Lane. Crozier received the same award the previous year.

“Although our timing with this presentation was just a little too slow, I was able to deliver the news to Patrick while he was still with us,” said White at the event. “I remember his first response: ‘Are you sure you haven’t given me that one already?’ He was really very moved, however, and wrote [the following email] the prize administrator Alan Twigg.”

“It is nice to be associated with George [Woodcock],” noted Lane. “He wrote a chapbook summary of my poetry back in mid-career and compared my verse to poets such as Yeats, which, God knows, was excessive in the extreme, but still nice to imagine it might echo some small qualities of such a master, a poet I admired when I was young and still do . . . . Thank you for this award. It is most kind.”

Remembering Lane

Described as “one of Canada’s most renowned writers,” Lane’s death made headlines in media outlets nationwide. His distinguished career spanned 50 years and 25 volumes of poetry, as well as award-winning books of fiction and non-fiction, published in over a dozen countries. Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, the Canadian Authors Association Award, among others, he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2014. Lane with a long association with UVic and received a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) in November 2013 in recognition of his service to Canadian literature.

“Patrick has been celebrated in this country for many decades,” says Lilburn. “Soon a full range of poetry lovers in China will be able to feast on the brilliance and compassion of this extraordinary writer.”

Diving deep: meet the alumni driving Hakai Magazine’s sea change

Whether it’s jellyfish in space, sloths in the water, hidden Hawaiian birds’ nests, shell money in Papua New Guinea, or a catch-and-release community aquarium on Vancouver Island, the world of water conjured up by Hakai Magazine is rich, complex and highly readable.

The online magazine is dedicated to exploring science, the environment and society from a uniquely coastal perspective—and it’s powered by an energetic team of UVic alumni, including a computer engineer, a marine biologist, an anthropologist, a historian, a composer and a writer.

Hakai Magazine was started up by two UVic grads and launched in April 2015. “Nobody else was doing this, focusing on an ecosystem that ties half the world’s population together,” says editor-in-chief Jude Isabella (MA ’13).

Hakai: rhymes with “sockeye”

Hakai’s alumni editorial team: Garrison (far left), Isabella (2nd from right)

Part of the Tula Foundation—which also finances the Hakai Institute, a scientific research centre based out of a former fishing lodge on Calvert Island (about 400 kilometers north of Vancouver)—Hakai Magazine remains editorially independent. Both the magazine and the institute are named for the Hakai Pass, located within the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy, one of the largest protected marine areas on Canada’s west coast, and made possible by BC tech entrepreneur, multimillionaire and Tula founder Eric Peterson and his wife. Dr. Christina Munck—who received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from UVic in 2017.

The ad-free online magazine mixes long-form, science-based journalism aimed at a general readership with news and video features into one glorious digital package that is updated weekly, filling a gap for readers—and writers—left in the cold.

But it’s not like Isabella simply stepped into her job as Hakai’s editor-in-chief. She was managing editor of the popular Canadian children’s science magazine YES Mag before it was unexpectedly shut down in 2012. Indeed, prior to a prescient conversation between Isabella and Tula’s Peterson, Hakai Magazine didn’t even exist.

“I was working on my book [and UVic thesis] Salmon: A Scientific Memoir during the first few years of the Hakai Institute, and I kept crossing paths with Eric and Christina,” recalls Isabella. “We had zeroed in on the same scientists who were doing really great work on the coastal margin, and they liked what I’d been writing for The Tyee. But it was getting hard to get your story told when there are fewer outlets to tell it.”

In 2014, Isabella was visiting the Hakai Institute while writing a story for the UK’s New Scientist magazine and was talking to Peterson about the number of media outlets that were shutting down. “Most of my own freelancing was for American and British publications at the time,” she says. And although the Tula Foundation had supported other writing initiatives in the past (“they believe in journalism as a cornerstone of democracy”), it was still a surprise to Isabella when Peterson proposed a new venture. “He said, ‘Let’s start our own mag’—or something like that—so I said, ‘Sure, if you’re serious, I’ll get a proposal to you’.”

Who ya gonna call?

Her first call was to long-time colleague Dave Garrison, publisher of YES and KNOW for over 16 years. “Who else was I going to go to?” she chuckles. “He’s a great organizer and a great publisher; you really need someone who’s good at the process side of things to get a magazine off the ground.” They quickly put together a pitch “and pretty much the day after they read it, [Peterson and Munck] said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Garrison—who started his publishing career as a Martlet co-editor in 1994—was working for the Victoria-based activity-listing site, Chatterblock, at the time, but didn’t hesitate at the idea of starting up another magazine. “It’s rare to have the opportunity to start something from nothing,” he says.

With Garrison and Isabella filling out the slots of publisher and editor-in-chief, they quickly recruited Shanna Baker (BA ’06) as senior editor, Adrienne Mason (BSc ’88) as managing editor, Tobin Stokes (BMus ’89) as manager of social media and marketing, plus Shannon Hunt (BA ’90, MA ’93) as proof-reader—meaning half of the current Hakai editorial team are UVic alumni.

Garrison and Hunt had already enjoyed success starting up the children’s science publications YES and KNOW together—and received UVic Distinguished Alumni Awards in 2006 to recognize their achievements. Mason had been managing editor of KNOW (aimed at younger children), so along with Isabella, much of the new team already had years of experience in producing science news together.

History inside and out

Hakai’s “Death of a Modern Wolf”, written by former UVic student JB MacKinnon, won a National Magazine Award

Based out of an open-concept office on the ground floor of Victoria’s historic Customs House overlooking the Inner Harbour, the Hakai team exemplify both the ethos and concept of the magazine itself: passionate, coastal people who are working together to tell important stories that could potentially change the world.

“Christina and Eric believe in journalism, so we were given a job to do and we’ve done it well,” says Isabella. “We aim high . . . if you don’t have to worry about constantly fundraising, you can put all your efforts into making excellent product.”

Excellent is right: over the past four years, Hakai Magazine has won over 25 Canadian and international awards not only for what they publish (including two prestigious National Magazine Awards) but also for their chosen medium (17 online and digital publishing awards).

Now on his third magazine start-up, Garrison clearly feels Hakai offers something special. “Hakai is more of a calling, almost a creative pursuit,” he says. “Anything can be called a business, in the sense of pulling people together and getting things done, but we’re not trying to make money; we’re just trying to put our stories in front of as many readers as possible.”

And it seems to be working. Freed from the limitations—and expenses—of a traditional print product, Hakai Magazine is attracting a global readership: 2018 saw a monthly average of 95,000 visitors, up from 39,000 per month when they launched in 2015. Seventy percent of their readers hail from Canada and the US, with the UK and Australia the next biggest audience, followed by India, Germany, France, Philippines, New Zealand and the Netherlands. “In fact, Google Analytics reports at least one visitor from 237 different countries in 2018,” says Garrison, “so arguably we had a visit from every single country in the world.”

The magazine has also earned fame for their puns, with headlines like “Hey, Beacher, Leave Those Fish Alone,” about reckless beachgoers in California who disturb little fish called grunion—because who says getting informed can’t be fun? Readers can also expect professional-quality videos and comics on subjects like a “Cuttlefish Brawl.”

As sea levels and temperatures continue to rise, the idea of creating an accessible, sustainable, paper-free magazine dedicated to coastal peoples and science worldwide seems less of a risky idea and more like a necessity. No surprise, then, that Hakai Magazine was the brainchild of two UVic graduates—and that the magazine regularly features UVic research.

“All you can do is put the stories out there,” says Garrison. “Raising awareness makes a difference.”