Humboldt’s Historic Water Tower is becoming more widely recognized across Canada for its unique historical and architectural features. One of only four such towers standing in Saskatchewan, it’s the only one in Canada known to have been refurbished both inside and out. Now it’s about to become known for another amazing property – its acoustics.
Jen Reimer is a sound artist and musician from Montreal who explores audio architecture, and the specific sounds produced in natural and man-made environments. She began as a French horn player, and her interests in sound characteristics saw her migrate into recording sounds that reverberate and create resonant frequencies in natural spaces. She records the sounds that naturally occur in unique spaces that present possibilities for creative use. Using specialized equipment, including surface microphones that can pick up the vibrations in solid objects, Reimer listens and studies the music of the natural and man-made world around her.
“It’s kind of all about the space and its resonance - the sounds surrounding the place and creating music or sound from that environment. It’s taking sounds from a natural space and hearing music to bring it out from what’s already there in the environment.”
Like the early pioneers of analog synthesizers such as Jean-Michel Jarre or Keith Emerson, Reimer plumbs the possibilities of sound, only with a much larger instrument - the world around her. Reimer’s work has taken her to tunnels in Montreal, cathedral sized spaces in Portugal, and a railway roundhouse in Hanna, Alberta. Now Reimer has made her way to Humboldt, speculating that the Water Tower holds untapped musical magic. Her Water Tower discovery is thanks to online research for unique and accessible venues with potential for being an audible oddity. The Historic Humboldt Water Tower popped up on a Google search, and a quick call to Cultural Services Director Jennifer Fitzpatrick with the City of Humboldt kick started the process.
“We were absolutely thrilled when Jen reached out,” says Fitzpatrick. “We were so excited that she found us. Listening to Jen talk, an artist explores the space in the way that an historian explores a space. We have to get to know these heritage structures. There are a lot of idiosyncrasies to every historic space, and if you listen as you work with historic structures, they will tell you what is right and wrong about what to do with them.”
Jen Reimer understands more than most about the concept of listening. During the summer, the Historic Water Tower is open for tours and guests can ascend the interior spiral staircase to one of the area’s most beautiful views. While the echo in the tower is pronounced, few stay silent to listen and absorb the amazing qualities of the sound - the resonant base, the secondary harmonics, the attention to the wind and outside. That’s the music that Reimer attends to. On her first day of a three day project, she was already making discoveries.
“It’s a beautiful sounding space. It’s very reverberant, and I’m going about it very intuitively by walking around and recording from different spots. I notice from certain spaces there’s more low frequency. The sound changes depending on where you are, and that’s pretty interesting.”
This new project is different for Reimer who often records in collaborations and produces music or sounds to hear the interaction. This time, she is simply entering into the space to capture ambient noises. She then modifies the natural sounds using a digital synthesizer to filter and enhance the inherent sound.
“Right now, I’m in the exploratory phase, but hopefully sometime in the future, I could come and do a performance with the final work. Part of the residency I’m doing is exploring spatial sound, so recreating the experience in a speak dome or other space with many speakers surrounding the audience could give that feeling.”
Reimer runs an acoustics lab, matralab (sic), located at Concordia University. Her current project is supported by the Canada Council. The work bridges science, and a deeper understanding of its impact on human response, and art in a space where the listener can actually physically feel the low vibration frequencies. Find out more at jenreimer.com.
Reimer has exposed a new, surprising and exciting element to a historic building that has steadily been gaining attention. She has helped introduce the prospect of Humboldt becoming a destination for a revolutionary approach to hospitality - sonic tourism.
Enjoy a video visit with Jen Reimer and the full interview with Reimer and Jennifer Fitzpatrick.