June, 17th 2021


From September 12th 2013 to November 3rd 2013  / 

Continental Divide

Essay on the shape of a continent from the sound transcription of its watersheds

Website of the project: http://www.klong.ca


This project holds from utopia and documentary; very little from fiction. It imagines an ideal observer whose gaze could both encompass the entire continent and observe it's every detail. To achieve this, it uses the means of art : video art and sound art. However, its aim being knowledge, it could take claim in a form of intuitive science ...

Continental Divide is also a roadmovie. It has the vantage point of an observer not limited by the constraints of functionality (land use) or scientific (Earth Sciences), but who can benefit from this knowledge. The project has an advantage that comes from the fact of relying solely on a pure desire for knowledge, relative to its point of view and its scale, that is to say in the direct relationship of an observer included in the landscape.

This difference, however trivial, may have remarkable consequences when translated in the form of questions : What is the time of a large space? And that of an image? What is the sound of a continent? One of the objectives of Continental Divide is to convey the actual experience of the form and nature of the continent (its northern part), which can not be conveyed by the abstraction of cartographic representations.

If beyond this knowledge, it awakens the desire to go see for oneself, may the reader be reassured : he will find something other than what I saw during my acoustic and visual journey of seven months and 41,000 km across the three major watersheds in Canada.

Near and afar, the viewpoints of the onlooker

Let’s think of the visible surface of the continent as organized matter. An expanse on which time has sketched, scribbled, written, embedded and erased signs which tell a history of matter and beings. A landscape is a History which may not allow its form to be directly revealed (burried under the the proliferation of images), but which may manifest it differently.

Natural divides

In geology, a continental divide indicates the demarcation according to which rivers flow in different directions towards the oceans bordering a continent. The discovery, development and the oldest divisions of space are entirely conditioned by these natural constraints. The Canadian territory is thus divided into three major water systems : the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific watersheds.

Each basin has highly contrasting characters and landscapes. New branches of study in Earth Sciences, which rethink in perceptive terms the analysis of a territory, gave me the tools to translate the concepts and find bases of equivalence between the analysis of a landscape and its possible representation in sound.

The huge amount of images (film and stills) captured along the 41,000 km journey through the landscape was added to equally impressive amounts of research material produced by various government offices or independent institutions. With these in hand, it became possible to corroborate numerical data to visual characteristics and undertake the sketching of the score that contains and describes the major events of a boundless and fascinating land.

Sound transcription

The score of Continental Divide follows the three-part structure of the watersheds. Within each basin, natural divisions (ecozones) constitute sequences of variable length. An ecozone is defined by a combination of five categories : Relief, Water, Forest, Cultures, Urbanisation. Each category is described by several parameters, the notation of which provides a framework for the transcription to the individual layers of sound.

It is on purpose that the referential sounds of "nature" were largely avoided. Indeed, they are always a manifestation of a unique place and time. Less referential, electronic material is better suited to the plotting of lines and shapes, without imposing an image.

The particular nature of Continental Divide holds to the functions which sound and image take and to the relationship they maintain. They are organized like a six-voice polyphony. The audio portion, consisting of five layers, is a faithful transcription of plots and dynamic profiles. The sound reveals the shape of the landscape. The image, the sixth voice of this polyphony, has for function the anchoring of these forms in
the matter of the landscape.

A warning : it is not so much a question of space, but one of time. Nor is it about sound or image, but rather listening and seeing.
And if, against all expectations, of these geomorphological transcriptions, something emerges that resembles music, it is that it was already present in the matter, waiting to be revealed.

Christian Calon

With the support from:


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