Toronto noise, private conversations part of art exhibit

An experimental new art exhibition that aims to challenge how Torontonians interpret city sounds, and may even include some of their own private conversations, opens Friday night in the gallery district.

The Noise Project aims to examine how urban dwellers interpret and filter sound

An experimental new art exhibition that aims to challenge how Torontonians interpret city sounds — and may even include some of their own private conversations — opens Friday night in the gallery district.

Presented as outdoor performances and installations in the neighbourhood around 99 Gallery (which is at 99 Sudbury Ave., near Liberty village), The Noise Project brings together a collection of recordings from a group of contemporary artists at Labspace Studio.

Co-director and curator Laura Mendes told CBC Radio's Metro Morning host Matt Galloway that she envisioned the project after hearing the daily sounds of a condo being built outside of her live and work space.  

"It got me really thinking about how we are affected by the sounds of our city and how little control we have over these sounds," Mendes said.

"That just got us spiralling into a discussion: how interesting it would be to connect people, connect artists, connect like-minded people to really take the time to explore the sounds, and the city, and then create a show."

Fellow co-director John Loerchner said the project is unique because it challenges how the public interprets some noises, but filters out others.

"A hundred years ago most of what you would have heard would have been information of some sort, would have been useful noises, you know someone dropping mail in your mailbox," Loerchner said. "In this sort of urban soundscape, there’s so much we've just sort of filtered out and I think we're losing something there by just cutting off just so much of what's around us."

Recorded conversations

But perhaps the part of the exhibit that will be most controversial is a collection of private conversations there were secretly recorded by artists roaming around Toronto.

Headphones with secret microphones were used to covertly capture snippets of conversations from unknowing chatterers.

"There's so many – I don't know if I want to say inappropriate conversations – but just things that you wouldn’t expect people to be saying in a public domain, especially when they're on their cellphones," said Loerchner.

Mendes recorded an animated man at the corner of Dundas and Parliament streets shouting angrily into his cellphone as he defends his brother’s trouble with the law.

"My brother's allowed to be anywhere, he's not under investigation with nobody or nothing," said the man. "They had no right asking any information on my family – they have no right at all."

The co-directors didn't ask permission before pressing the record button and say their exhibit will make people question how they see their own privacy.

"I mean it's a subversive project and I think it calls attention to the fact that we don't have privacy as urban dwellers," said Mendes. "We're in such close proximity to people that we really don't have control of what people take from us."

The Noise Project opens at the 99 Gallery on Sudbury Avenue tonight and runs through to Saturday.