Soundscapes (572 College Street) is for all intents an art gallery that treats cover-art like Pollocks and Mirós. Step through the ever open front door (10AM-11PM daily) and notice how books, records and CDs are stacked vertically so your neck doesn’t tire from looking down. Observe the two kinds of light, the fluorescent rectangles across centre-ceiling, spreading their mellow glow as if coating a canvas, and the spotlights focused on vinyl and hardcover volumes propped up as if aware of the customers. And when you’re done noticing and looking, ask anyone on staff (from Carly to Phil) for some help and feel that their answers come from a lifetime of lighting guitars on fire in adoration of music. This is how, with a little attention, color and design become supplements to the works they illustrate.
Founded by Greg Davis in 1999—back when streaming had nothing to do with music, and the internet hosted only 40 million people—Soundscapes’s philosophy is one of holism and history: to carry the best of music. Though a gargantuan task, with rising import prices and lack of label interest in reissues, the result fit right into Little Italy’s reputation for nightlife and gourmet food.
Scan Jazz for your favourite 1940s duets by Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton, but also for recent strides like Terrence Blanchard’s intertextual Magnetic. Go to Soul and see Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings sitting pretty, in ever better health, with classic imports from the UK’s Kent Records. In Blues pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph keeps close to his Slide Brothers and his mentors Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s the specialized sections—African, Classical, Latin American, Canadian Independent—each as thorough as the next, that render Soundscapes a reflection of Toronto’s cultural heterogeneity. And it’s by stocking local talent, like Stark Naked and the Fleshtones, and organizing regular in-store concerts that the shop stays true to its storied openness towards fledging musicians. Buck 65, Feist and Of Montreal are among those who hauled their gear in for gigs before enjoying mainstream triumphs.
Merchandise aside, there are other sources of aesthetic delight to consider. The listening stations are collages, exercises in geometry and empty space with the added benefit of widening the room. Printed cutouts over cork board explain who’s in the 3-disc players with an endearing DIY outlook. Then there are artist Sylvie Smith’s window displays. Her subtle and reserved homages to specific albums suggest wider narratives and seem to move in one’s peripheral vision. The rest shall go unmentioned, why ruin the surprise.
Ultimately, Soundscapes is a place of reverence. Paraphrasing Davis on his relationship to music, it is a place where you will be provided with moments of joy and helped to survive moments of pain. If there’s a better business plan for the arts, I’d like to hear it.
Visit them here.