The Ghost Station

Lower Bay Station, Toronto’s ghost station, is used as a vessel to contain sounds that are within and below the threshold of human hearing – infrasound and tactile sound – where sound is felt rather than heard. Low frequencies created by cars and subways are contributors to the cacophony of infrasonic noise that exists deep below the rumbling of the city. These tactile sounds have also been associated with paranormal activity and ghost sightings.

video of the installation process


History of the Ghost Station

Below the main platform for Bay station is an abandoned platform, which was used for only six months in 1966 when the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) experimentally ran trains whose routes included portions of both the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines.

This abandoned platform is sometimes referred to as The Ghost Station or Lower Bay by the general public or Bay Lower by the TTC.

(click here for more info)

1966 subway map:

current toronto subway maps showing lower bay

Sound Installation

The Infrasonic Zoo

Far from being an exotic phenomenon, infrasound is with us all the time. We continually bathe in a sea of barely perceptible, ambient infrasonic noise. Sometimes described as the 'infrasonic zoo', most of this is generated by natural processes and events: thunderstorms, earth tremors, ocean waves, volcano eruptions and curious phenomena such as meteor impacts, aurora and 'sprites' (sudden electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere).

Human activity also contributes to background infrasound. Deep below the rumble of city traffic, there is a cacophony of very-low-frequency noise from factories, lorry engines, fireworks, passing aircraft, distant quarrying and many other human sources. In 1957, the French physicist Vladimir Gavreau highlighted this overlooked noise pollution, citing it as a possible cause of city dwellers' stress. (Gavreau, Condat and Saul, 1966)

- infrasonic experiment


The installation in lower bay station uses recordings of the subway, which contribute to the "infrasonic zoo" that exists deep below the city. The attendees will hear a composition which uses the sounds of the subway to vibrate objects in lower bay station. This "tactile music" will often be layers of poly-rhythms, due to inspiration from minimalist composers (Steve Reich, etc) as well as African drumming and traditional Shona Mbira music (Zimbabwe). Shona culture views the low frequencies that cause the bottle caps on an Mbira to vibrate sympathetically as a way to talk to spirits. Infrasound is also increasingly being viewed as the cause for ghost sitings.

Yes, low frequencies will be heard, and there will be sounds that border the threshold of human hearing (20 HZ) as well as sounds that can only be heard through the vibration of objects in the ceiling of the platform, and the subway cars.

sound routing :

8 outputs from my laptop correspond to 6 separate tactile transducers in the ceiling, and 2 subwoofer arrays (3 subs either side) in the subway cars.

Each output could be looked at as a part of an eight piece rhythm--take a drum kit as a metaphorical example--the subway cars are the kick drum, the various metal vibrations in the ceiling are the snare, hi hat, toms etc. so the entire station becomes an instrument.

Sounds will be amplified using a combination of :

  • subwoofers attached to subway cars, which will turn the subway cars into resonating chambers and create the low resonant vibrations of the metal and plastic train cars.
  • Tactile transducers in the ceiling which vibrate pieces of metal that hang down (such as threaded rod with bolts that shake and vibrate). This isn't major earth shattering vibration, but more of a buzzing rhythmic vibration--similar to how bottle caps on the Mbira sympathetically vibrate.

The creation of this installation has been possible due to financial support from :

infrasound and talking to the dead

I have been researching ideas surrounding low frequencies and the paranormal, as well as cultures who use low frequencies to talk to the departed.

For example the Mbira—an African thumb piano—the low frequencies created by this instrument vibrate and distort bottle caps which are nailed to it. These low distorted sounds are used to talk to spirits.

Infrasonic sounds are also linked to ghost sitings, from a more scientific/acoustic research perspective.

My research has lead to a realization about cities, and the low frequencies that are so predominant in urban centers. This came as a sonic vision of the urban soundscape prior to European contact. For the most part this was a space with very few low frequencies (besides the occasional thunderstorm), and most likely no infrasonic soundscape.

This vision went on to fast forward through time, with the soundscape changing in stop motion--so one could listen to the past 600 years in a single sound file. The low frequencies increased and dominated the soundscape, until finally I was left with our current urban soundscape--a low drone. When I stood back from this vision I realized that the stop motion sound file was the sound of the natural world dieing.

Cities can be looked at as dead places as far as nature is concerned. I don't mean to sound negative, but if we compare the landscape of, for example, a Northern Gulf Island off the coast of BC (where I am currently living) with downtown Toronto, well... nature looks extremely controlled and sculpted in the parks and other green spaces in the Toronto landscape (this isn't to say that one is better than the other, I enjoy what both spaces have to offer).

But... to say that nature is dead, I mean that nature as itself does not exist in cities. And the soundscape of nature is almost non existent due to the predominant sounds--infrasound and other low frequency sounds--created by engines, subways, etc.

So..let's assume for argument sake, that the natural world is dead in downtown Toronto, and lets also assume that infrasound did not exist in the pre-settler urban Toronto soundscape. Then, having assumed this, could the introduction of tactile sound be looked at as the sound created by the dead natural world--the ghosts and spirits?

We live in a wash of low frequencies that are looked at as the sound of the spirit world in many Indigenous cultures, and are beginning to be looked at as the sound of the paranormal in scientific research.