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The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

Summoning the ghosts of a Yellowknife mall
By Samia Madwar
Dec 15
From the December 2015 Issue

Inside the gutted cavern with its paint-splattered floor, missing ceiling panels, leaky pipes and only two functioning outlets, everything is vibrating. It sounds like a mix of a ship’s horn blasting, the click of a call connecting, a plane preparing for take off, a dentist’s drill, the distant rumble of an oncoming storm.

Amidst it all, skot deeming waits for an audience. Surrounding him are his gizmos, his body of work from a summer-long artist’s residency in the Northwest Territories. There are metal coils connected to lightbulbs; hanging circuit panels; metal bowls suspended from a rack. All of them, in some way or another, pick up and amplify low-frequency radio signals in the space around them.

Some people believe the mystery sounds are the manifestations of spirits. deeming doesn’t. He’s an artist and an academic (who doesn’t capitalize his name), studying how sounds linger, haunting our memories with their vibrations. And this space, in the corner of a desolate Yellowknife mall, just happened to be free.

It once housed a bank, and beside it, a CD store. That was years ago, when this mall was alive and vibrant, when school kids plunked down change to buy treats at Grandma Lee’s coffeeshop, tested out the latest sneakers at Athlete’s World, wore out the patience of mall patrons with whoopee cushions from the gag shop. But when the city’s mines shut down so did many of the stores, leaving only a handful of survivors.

There’s supposed to be a reception for deeming’s exhibit starting at 6 p.m., but nobody shows up then. An hour later, one man strolls in, looks around a bit, chats with the artist. He doesn’t stay long.

Outside, beside the mall, there’s a food festival with live music. Otherwise, most of downtown Yellowknife has emptied out for the evening. The buses have rolled away and footsteps echo through parking lots.

The city was unnervingly quiet for deeming when he arrived two months prior for his residency. He was staying in a house a half-hour’s walk from downtown, where his surroundings didn’t hum the way other cities did. But then, he’s used to Montreal and Toronto. On his second day, he bought a fan for background noise. Now, he says, he’s grown accustomed to the quiet. And he’s actually starting to hear a faint hum.

By 8:30 p.m., only one other visitor shows up. deeming calls it a night, silencing the contraptions one by one, turning off switches and pulling plugs. 

Music and voices from a local radio station, pulsing through unseen speakers, follow him through the mall’s hallways, past the lone security guard and to the exit. The food festival has long cleared out, leaving behind a low, dull hum.