The Silophone

A few years back I tuned into the Silophone - somebody had the neat idea of using an abandoned grain silo's natural echo chambers as a sonic experiment, piping sound into the empty building and then playing it back to the user. That the site was based in Montreal's Vieux Port was a bonus to me. On the web there's a list of sound files to choose from, and anybody can add sound clips to that list - I'd added a few fun sounds long ago and then forgotten about them until I booked this trip. Then I pulled up the website and discovered I'd have to click through two hundred pages of new additions each time I wanted to find my old sound bites.

Now that I think of it, I could have just added those sounds back to the silo and they would have shown up at the top. Shut up.

I'd just finished a tutorial on the Perl programming language (popular for website form processing) and decided to get in some practice. So I pulled up the Python website robot I'd built right after learning that language, walked it through the 13000 sound files (name, author, trigger id) in the silo server, created a couple of database tables on my personal server (the one you're reading right now) and rolled out Silodex: the Silophone search engine. If you want to find all the Simpsons or South Park sounds in there, go to the Silodex. Click & enjoy.

I spend a fair amount of time waiting for people to phone into the silo to hear their words echo back. Then I unload a torrent of pre-recorded burps and foghorns on them. Life is good.

Tom lives in Old Town and has known about the Silophone for years, but didn't realize that a) you could access it via the internet and b) I put a sound clip of him in there years ago. He met me and Melanie for lunch on Sunday and led us to the site.

What I didn't realize is that there's a public microphone podium across the canal where people can hear their own echo in real time without dialing in. This thing was clearly better funded than I thought.

It's a neat effect, but sure enough I found myself at a loss for what to say. I began to empathize with the lost souls who place phone calls to the silo just to say "Allo?



Just because I empathize it doesn't mean I'm going to stop with the foghorn.

There's an explanation printed on the podium.
Speak into the microphone of this sonic observatory to hear the echo of your voice inside the enormous cylinders of Silo #5.

Constructed in four stages between 1903 and 1958, Silo #5 was used to store grain which arrived from Western Canada and departed by sea. The most recent part of the building is made of reinforced concrete and comprises 115 vertical chambers, each 30 metres deep and up to 8 metres in diameter...

Microphones and loudspeakers have been installed inside four of the storage cylinders. Sounds collected from around the world by telephone (844-5555), by internet ( and from this sonic observatory resound inside the cylinders and are sent back to their points of origin.

I didn't realize we could walk right up to the structure, and around it for that matter. It really is a monster, but the main section is only three cylinders wide, making it a very skinny box of concrete. Did I get a picture emphasizing how narrow it is? No.

I emailed the guy who set up the Silophone to ask if I could get a tour while I was in town. Didn't realize you could look right in. Feel like a chump now.

Word is they're going to revamp the official Silophone website over the summer, maybe put in their own search engine. I hope my little site still works when they're done.