The Electroacoustic Music Store

Transformations Hildegard Westerkamp

  • Total duration: 67:10
  • UCC 771028103102
  • Canada Council for the Arts
  • This item is a reissue of IMED 9631.

… captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.

— Joyce Hildebrand, Encompass, Sunday, October 1, 2000

She has changed the way I listen to music…

— Brian Marley, Rubberneck, no. 30, Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Transformations

Hildegard Westerkamp

IMED 1031 / 2010

Some Recommended Items

Notices

Text of A Walk Through the City

a walk through the city,
sunlight edge
and the cymbal crash

follow the burning signs,
the trail of bullets,
the embers dying

discarded shoe
like an open mouth,
a burn on the pavement

a house
containing three children
flashes once
and is gone

a single robbery

somewhere a man
is carving himself
to death
for food

day like an open wound

in the instant of the newsflash,
in the terror of the merchant,
in the gleam of the coin,
the child's eye

it occurs at gunpoint,
the barrel
laid across the heart

murder, the judgement,
assault
with a lethal instrument

the whole city staked out
with eyes
like a giant crystal

catching the angles of light

the city borders the skin

Norbert Ruebsaat

In the Press

  • PiT, Gonzo Circus, no. 47 B, Friday, December 1, 2000
  • Joyce Hildebrand, Encompass, Sunday, October 1, 2000
    … captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.
  • Brian Marley, Rubberneck, no. 30, Wednesday, December 1, 1999
    She has changed the way I listen to music…
  • Katharine Norman, Array Online, Monday, March 1, 1999
    … carefully wrought sonic forms…
  • Patricia Lynn Dirks, Computer Music Journal, no. 23:1, Monday, March 1, 1999
    … tickles the ears and stimulates the mind to anticipate the unexpected.
  • DR, Whole Earth, Monday, March 1, 1999
    … some of the most thoughtful environmental compositions ever recorded.
  • Dan Warburton, Art Zéro, no. 14, Friday, January 1, 1999
  • Andra McCartney, eContact!, no. 1:1, Sunday, February 1, 1998
    … a particular source of insight and inspiration.
  • Thomas Beck, Odradek, no. 3, Saturday, January 3, 1998
  • Elliott S, Splendid E-Zine, Monday, September 22, 1997
    The care given to these compositions is so delicate that you can’t help but feel as though you’ve entered a marvelous world of sound.
  • Ear Magazine, Tuesday, July 1, 1997
    Excellent — Among the Best of the Genre
  • Philippe Tétreau, La Presse, Saturday, June 14, 1997
  • Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, no. 20, Sunday, June 1, 1997
  • Andra McCartney, Musicworks, no. 68, Sunday, June 1, 1997
    … a particular source of insight and inspiration.
  • SOCAN, Words & Music, Tuesday, April 1, 1997
  • Jérôme Noetinger, Revue & Corrigée, no. 31, Saturday, March 1, 1997
    Elle réussit parfaitement à créer des paysages sonores imaginaires…
  • MP, Vital, no. 67, Saturday, February 1, 1997
    … a brilliant shimmering exploration of minuscule sounds…
  • Brian Duguid, Ios Smolders, Electric Shock Treatment (EST), no. 6, Wednesday, March 1, 1995
    Listening to everything. So that listeners begin to become conscious of the soundscape’s role in their lives…

Kritiek

PiT, Gonzo Circus, no. 47 B, Friday, December 1, 2000

Transformations van Hildegard Westerkamp kon ons meer boeien. Westerkamp is een Duitse die eind de jaren zeventig in Vancouver strandbe. Haar opnames schipperen altijd tussen stad en natuur A Walk Through The City documenteert op een vrij conventionele wijze een wandeling door de achterbuurten van Vancouver. Interessanter zijn’Kits Beach Soundwalk’, Cricket Voice en Beneath The Forest Floorwaar Westerkamp haar natuarexploraties (krekels, kraaien en zeepokken) registreert en becommentarieert.

Review

Joyce Hildebrand, Encompass, Sunday, October 1, 2000

Remember that afternoon on the beach just a few months ago? The flash of sunlight on water, the feel of hot sand under your feet, the tang of lemonade on your tongue. Chances are the sounds of children laughing and icecubes tinkling will come to mind last, if at all. Why does hearing so often take a back seat to vision or taste? Have we been suppressing unwanted noise for so long that we have dulled our capacity to hear? Vancouver-based composer Hildegard Westerkamp offers our ears a wake-up call, reminding us that sounds are as much a part of place as images and smells.

Westerkamp records whatever reaches her microphone in a particular place and then transforms and combines those sounds electronically. Her “instruments” include everything from creeks and ravens to truck brakes and train whistles. “I transform sound in order to highlight its original contours and meanings,” she says in the extensive liner notes of her CD Transformations. “This allows me as a composer to explore the sound’s musical/acoustic potential in depth.”

If you are thinking “Solitudes” music, you’re on the wrong track. The first composition on the CD, A Walk Through The City, explores the sounds of Vancouver’s Skid Row’ carhorns, jackhammers, voices. Although perhaps the most challenging of the five works on this recording, it captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.

In Kits Beach Soundwalk the “intimate sounds of nature” like clicking barnacles and sucking mussels are set against the pervasive hum of the city, blurring the line between nature and non-nature. Beneath The Forest Floor offers an opportunity to experience the deep peace that the composer felt while recording the sounds of BC’s Carmanah Valley.

Cricket Voice emerged from a Mexican desert region called, strangely enough, the Zone of Silence. The cricket’s high-pitched trills become the desert’s heartbeat when slowed down in the studio. Cacti spikes, dried up roots, and the echoes of an old water reservoir provide the instruments for background percussion.

Westerkamp thinks of sound as a part of ecological systems and is careful not to overmanipulate it. “I feel that sounds have their own integrity and need to be treated with a great deal of care,” she says. She also recognizes that her compositions, played far from the places in which they originated, become part of another “soundscape.” Indeed, my dog spontaneously howled through Fantasie for Horns II, adding his voice to those of foghorns, train whistles, and a French horn!

More recently, Westerkamp has been working with photographer Florence Debeugny on At the Edge of Wilderness, a sound/slide installation about ghost towns left by industry in BC. It opens as part of a larger exhibition on September 8, 2000 in Vancouver. She also travels widely, giving workshops, lectures, and concerts, and she plans to put out a double CD in the next year with works based on her experiences of India.

… captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.

Review

Brian Marley, Rubberneck, no. 30, Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Hildegard Westerkamp is famous for her soundwalks — audio recordings documenting a particular place at a particular time of day. Found material — out of which, using studio-based manipulations, she fashions a unique sonic event. Thus, the environment is reshaped, subjectivised, revealed anew. This extraordinary CD contains several examples of her work. Kits Beach Soundwalk begins with a description of what we can already hear: waves lapping in the foreground, bird calls, background city roar. Then Westerkamp demonstrates some of her filtering and equalising techniques. By employing several ellipses, literal description is transformed into one dream narrative affer another, each illustrated with variations on the multiple, random clicking noises made by barnacles. Eventually, the city is allowed to return (in the guise of a flapping, flailing, playful rnonster).

Westerkamp reveals the subtle, interactive music in the hidden or unheeded sounds which surround us. She has changed the way I listen to music, and what I consider music to be.

She has changed the way I listen to music…

Review

Katharine Norman, Array Online, Monday, March 1, 1999

The pieces on this CD provide a powerful retrospective of Westerkamp’s work with environmental sound sources. And it is ‘work’ that we hear: these are not unadulterated soundscapes—pristine aural documents of time and place—but carefully wrought sonic forms in which the composer performs a subtle non-invasive surgery on our listening. Sometimes her intervention is more overt; as in Kits Beach Soundwalk where her speaking voice becomes the guide that leads us through a transforming world, suggesting her own sonic dreamscapes and depicting them in sounds along the way. Here we travel together through the shimmering chatter of barnacles to birds, beeps, watery tricklings and even a ghostly thread of Mozart before the low-pitched ‘monster’ of the city returns. This is perhaps the most didactic journey on the CD, but in the most forgiving and imaginative sense of that word.

Another piece, A Walk Through The City also includes speech, but this time as a poem spoken by its author, Norbert Ruebsaat. His voice, sometimes confined in short-wave radio timbres, sometimes real and reciting, sometimes whispering in the listener’s ear, is the central all-knowing presence in this tale of urban sounds. Westerkamp did not record all the original sounds herself (many are from the World Soundscape Project’s admirable collection) and it sometimes shows in some obviously ‘archival’ recording perspectives. But perhaps this kind of distancing is appropriate in a piece which veers from personal to impersonal, taking the listener on a swooping flight above the real city, where layered children’s voices, reminiscent of Gesang der Jünglinge or evocative mouth-organ strains, emerge unexpectedly from evolving traffic sounds and sliding drones and glissandi. The closing gesture, three separated descents—a tough and final punctuation—is inspired, while the use of spoken poetry in conjunction with such a rich sonic world makes for challenging and ultimately rewarding listening. This is a piece that asks, and deserves, to be heard again and again.

An earlier piece Fantasie for Horns II, dating from 1979, is for live horns (Brian G’Froerer) and tape; the tape using the sounds of other horns: cars, trains and whistles. An harmonic world characterized by slow drones and filtered timbres becomes the background for a surprisingly Mahlerian horn part.

Cricket Voice begins with looped rhythmic patterns that are almost minimalist in character, but soon the layered sounds, derived from the cricket’s call, weave a peculiarly tactile fabric. This is a composer who loves beautifully sculpted timbres, often focussing on high frequency and carefully ‘hand-tinted’ spectra, or using low and high pitched sounds in an almost metaphorical sense. Many of the sounds have the clear, crisp hyper-reality of the acousmatic world, but Westerkamp has different stories to tell.

The final piece on the CD, Beneath the Forest Floor is the most recent, dating from 1992. This forest grows from a low-pitched rhythmic drone and blooms as a primeval world in which birds cross the densely populated space suddenly and without warning. In the other pieces Westerkamp seems, to me at least, present and accompanying the listener: her words, or her musical processes, travel with us. Here, I felt comfortably lost—abandoned in an only occasionally familiar world which rose into an ecstatic sunlit reiteration of piping tones, birdsong and watery oscillations. Just when kitsch-ness was on the cards the music shifted a gear upwards and became a more abstract, transcendent encounter. Reading the liner notes I see this work is, for Westerkamp, about peace and the ‘inner forest’ in each listener. As with all the pieces here, she suggests a signposted listening path. But one gets the feeling that it’s fine to walk around in the woods awhile.

… carefully wrought sonic forms…

Review

Patricia Lynn Dirks, Computer Music Journal, no. 23:1, Monday, March 1, 1999

Canadian composer Hildegard Westerkamp’s works have centered around environmental sounds, acoustic ecology, and the creation of soundscapes since the mid-1970s. Her latest release, Transformations, is no exception. This disc contains a collection of works that transform ordinary sound events into unique creations. Westerkamp provides a new way of listening to organized sounds, at times processed, by highlighting the minute details of individual sonic events. This technique attracts attention by making one aware of specific sounds and the environments in which they naturally occur. A Walk Through The City (1981) focuses on the people forgotten and unnoticed in today’s urban society. This work was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio program Two New Hours, and was first broadcast in April 1981. The opening three minutes of A Walk Through The City sounds more like a walk through the airport due to the nature of the material presented. The aircraft sounds suggest the listener is about to depart on a journey; more particularly, a listening adventure. A Walk Through The City is a depiction of an urban soundscape based on a poem of the same title by author Norbert Ruebsaat, who is heard reading his poem throughout. The sounds featured in this work come from the skid row area in Vancouver, British Columbia. Everyday occurrences like low car sounds pulsating, squealing brakes, sirens, pinball machines, and street music are transformed into rhythmic gestures and lyrical passages. Homeless, drunken men, singing children, whispers, and distant shouts are present while the inanimate sounds of the city fade in and out. This composition effectively creates a vibrant aural canvas that immerses the listener in the real surroundings from which these sounds originated. A Walk Through The City forces one to face sometimes disturbing material, people on the streets, without the chance to quickly dismiss or ignore their sad experiences.

Less heart-wrenching subject matter is found in the composition Fantasie for Horns II (1979). This work presents a variety of horn sounds, beautifully woven together, featuring Brian G’Froerer on the French horn. The tape part, Fantasie For Horns I (1978), received an honourable mention at the 1979 International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France. Both pieces feature a collection of various horn sounds and their echoes. Each horn is distinctly recognisable: the Doppler effect of a train horn, the distant call of a fog-horn, a boat-horn along with the gentle lapping of water, an alphorn with its grand echoes. The echo dialogue between the tape material and the French horn draws the listener into the sound experience through Westerkamp’s use of repetitive material. Fantasie for Horns II wonderfully blends the richness of the French horn, both muted and unmuted, with the recorded horns each from their separate environments. Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989) is a work for spoken voice and tape featuring Westerkamp as narrator. In this composition, the voice acts as a commentary to the sound material presented. While this soundwalk includes the sounds of birds, ducks, cars, planes and splashing water, its primary focus is the intimate sounds of barnacles. According to the narrator, the high frequencies of the barnacles increase brain activity, thus stimulating our dream experiences. When the voice is present in this composition, it adds to the peaceful soundscape with its soothing tones. Kits Beach Soundwalk contains varying ostinato patterns of faint birdsong and sparkling barnacles producing a calming and meditative composition.

The electroacoustic work Cricket Voice (1987) is a sound exploration of a desert region in Mexico called the ‘Zone of Silence.’ In this composition, the cricket’s song is transposed, created into short themes, and looped at varying speeds. Elaborate rhythms result from the cricket’s song being played in and out of phase. The sustained high frequencies in Cricket Voice create a rich sonic canvas in which the listener’s sense of time can become blurred. There is never a dull moment, as subtle variants are always present during repetitive passages. Wonderfully playful panning tickles the ears and stimulates the mind to anticipate the unexpected.

The final track of this CD is entitled Beneath the Forest Floor (1992). This electroacoustic composition was also commissioned by CBC Radio’s Two New Hours. It was recommended for broadcast by the International Music Council’s Rostrum of Electroacoustic Music in 1992, and received a special mention at the Prix Italia in 1994. The sounds were recorded from various forests on British Columbia’s westcoast, particularly in Carmanah Valley. This region is known for containing some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. Clearly audible in Beneath the Forest Floor is the enormous vastness of the forest soundscapes, (punctuated only occasionally by the sounds of small songbirds, ravens, jays, squirrels, flies and mosquitoes). It is not the preservation of sounds alone which captures and transmits the desired soundscape but the imaginative placement of these sound events. It is this creativity that allows the formation of new, attractive, and stimulating acoustic environments. In Beneath the Forest Floor, there are three present. The first adds little or no processing to the recorded samples while the third adds the most processing to the sounds. The second environment fluctuates between the first and the third, representing the shadow world of the forest. Processing effects in this section act as the sun and shadows would, playing with the sound objects in the forest, hiding some in darkness while exposing others to light.

Hildegard Westerkamp’s concern for acoustic is evident in all of her works on this disc through her selection, preservation, and imaginative placement of the sound events. This allows the sounds she records to be transformed into a new listening journey of discovery while retaining the level of magic first experienced in each particular soundscape. Transformations is an enjoyable disc and a wonderful creative accomplishment.

… tickles the ears and stimulates the mind to anticipate the unexpected.

Review

DR, Whole Earth, Monday, March 1, 1999

Westerkamp began working with R Murray Schafer’s soundscape concepts in the 1970’s while recording the environments surrounding her Vancouver home. Her work is remarkable for its careful and exact transformations of natural sound into musical material. These are some of the most thoughtful environmental compositions ever recorded.

… some of the most thoughtful environmental compositions ever recorded.

Critique

Dan Warburton, Art Zéro, no. 14, Friday, January 1, 1999

Le souvenir du Presque rien #2 de Ferrari — l’idée d’un commentaire non sans ironie du compositeur sur l’action — est évoqué dans Kits Beach Soundwalk de Hildegard Westerkamp; en filtrant les sons de la ville de Vancouver, nous découvrons le monde sonore des bassins d’eau, le souffle des bernacles. Ailleurs sur l’album Transformations [IMED 9631], Westerkamp explore les possibilités timbrales de la nature (des cigales, des corbeaux…), mais son portrait de la ville, A Walk Through The City, est un peu moins convaincant — on se demande si elle n’aurait pas pu choisir un texte plus intéressant que le poème de Norbert Ruebsaat.

In Review

Andra McCartney, eContact!, no. 1:1, Sunday, February 1, 1998

Hildegard Westerkamp says: “I hear the soundscape as a language with which places and societies express themselves.” Her Transformations CD presents five of her soundscape compositions, reflecting work composed from 1979 to 1992, each sounding the depths of a different place, creating a different inner landscape each time I hear them. She works with the sonic and sociopolitical potentials of each place, recording, mixing, and subtly transforming sounds to heighten listeners’ awareness and appreciation of these sites. She is a skilled and careful interpreter of their languages.

You make it with the skin of the desert night

Cricket Voice is a musical exploration of a solo cricket song, recorded by Westerkamp at night in a Mexican desert region called the Zone of Silence. The acoustic clarity of this place frames the cricket song, accompanied by soundmaking with the spikes of cacti and other plants, and electroacoustic transformations of these sounds. This composition is as expansive as the desert, intimate as the voice of a single cricket.

Listen to our cities

Two of the works, A Walk Through The City, and Kits Beach Soundwalk, are both based on urban soundscapes. In the downtown core, I can become numb to the constant sounds. These works challenge me to listen, to transform, to make quiet places in the city. A A Walk Through The City takes us through Vancouver’s Skid Row area, guided by Norbert Ruebsaat’s poem of the same name. Kits Beach Soundwalk begins at Kitsilano Beach, in the heart of Vancouver, yet at the same time a border. I hear the throb of the city balanced with the tiny sounds of barnacles feeding in the lapping tide. This piece explores many borders—between dream and waking, city and country, water and land, documentary and composition. When it enters the dreamworld of high frequencies, I remember where quiet places in the city can take me.

Soundmarks and Sitka

Fantasie for Horns II is the earliest piece in the collection, composed from the sounds of Canadian trainhorns, foghorns, factory and boathorns, and a live part for French horn. Horns are especially evocative soundmarks that give us a sense of place. Each time I hear this piece, I remember growing up by the sea and listening to the moan of the coastal foghorns, reminding me of the awe-inspiring power and energy of the sea. The latest piece on the CD is Beneath The Forest Floor. Most of the sounds for this piece were recorded by Westerkamp in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, and the piece evokes the stillness and peace of this old-growth rainforest, home to Sitka spruce and cedar trees over a thousand years old.

I have always found Hildegard Westerkamp’s work to be a particular source of insight and inspiration. It takes me to familiar and new places, encourages me to listen to the sounds around me, and to “transform through listening,” as Pauline Oliveros also notes about Westerkamp’s work. Her music urges me to listen to the language of the soundscape and to express my own relationship to it by working with soundscapes myself. I hope it does for you, too.

… a particular source of insight and inspiration.

Kritik

Thomas Beck, Odradek, no. 3, Saturday, January 3, 1998

Was soll ich über Hildegard Westerkamp schreiben? Wir haben sie im letzten ODRADEK vorgestellt, und ich bin ein ausgesprochener Bewunderer ihrer sehr sinnlich erfahrbaren Musik, deren Ausgangspunkt oft Umweltklänge bilden, die im Studio bearbeitet werden und dort zu Klangreisen visionärer Schönheit generieren. Es finden sich insgesamt 5 Stücke aus dem Zeitraum 1979-92, die teilweise schon auf Cassette erhältlich waren, wieder. Dabei fällt auf, daß sie es immer wieder hervorragend versteht, den Klängen das Geheimnissvolle zu lassen und die Hörerschaft in eine Aura des sinnlich Fremden zu tauchen. So auch beim Kits Beach Soundwalk, einem zentralen Stück der CD, eine Hörreise in das akustisch Wahrnehmbare, all die Techniken vorgestellt durch die Stimme Hildegards, die zu den längeren und intensiveren Stücken der CD führen. Hier finden sich Cricket Voice, basierend nur auf dem Klang einer Grille oder das dichte A Walk Through The City, das, ergänzt durch ein Gedicht von Norbert Ruebsaat, tatsächlich einen dichten und intensiven Höreindruck dieser Stadtlandschaft vermittelt. Den Höhepunkt bildet allerdings Beneath the Forest Floor, wo die Geräusche meist in ihrer Natürlichkeit belassen werden, und in einer physisch wie sinnlich rasanten Schnitttechnik entfaltet werden, als wäre man tatsächlich in diesen verzauberten kanadischen Wald gefangen. Mir bleibt nichts anderes übrig, als all denjenigen diese CD zu empfehlen, die keine Unterschiede zwischen elektroakustischer Musik und sinnlicher Erfahrung machen, wie auch dernen, die sich gerne einen Eindruck von den Möglichkeiten der Sparte geben lassen möchten.

Review

Elliott S, Splendid E-Zine, Monday, September 22, 1997

Normally I’d take the sounds of the city over the ambience of a forest as the urban soundscape is more eventful and full of the unexpected. Westerkamp, though, is so gentle in her use of environmental sounds that the opening track, A Walk Through The City, doesn’t as convincingly find the composer in her element as Cricket Voice or Beneath the Forest Floor. The care given to these compositions is so delicate that you can’t help but feel as though you’ve entered a marvelous world of sound. What’s peculiar is that these sounds are nothing new to our ears, but the manner in which they’re assembled makes us more aware of the surrounding environment. On Kits Beach Soundwalk you can hear the faint sound of the city in the background, but as the narrative progresses the sound is filtered out in favor of magnifying the small sounds barnacles make. If DJ Shadow can be labeled the Jimi Hendrix of the sampler than it makes perfect sense that Hildegard Westerkamp is the Pauline Oliveros of such devices.

The care given to these compositions is so delicate that you can’t help but feel as though you’ve entered a marvelous world of sound.

La musique électroacoustique résiste au temps

Philippe Tétreau, La Presse, Saturday, June 14, 1997

Écoloacoustique

Les frontières de l’électroacoustique n’ont jamais été très délimitées; on y met souvent ce que l’on veut, on y entend de tout. Le genre rappelle à l’occasion ce que sont devenus l’essai et le roman: des fourre-tout. Avec Hildegard Westerkamp, établie à Vancouver, il y a bien cette dimension qui rappelle le calepin de voyage où sont colligées diverses trouvailles faites au cours de ses pérégrinations. Son disque intitulé Transformations propose des évocations de la nature ainsi que des échantillons croqués sur le vif qui se rapportent au bruits urbains (A Walk Through The City). Avion, voiture, sirène, arcades, faubourgs populaires, itinerants, pollution sonore, etc. Dans les autres plages du disque, nous reconnaissons bien les vertus écologiques propres à la sensibilité des gens de l’Ouest. Traitées puis montées, les séquences de Westerkamp forment un lyrisme verdoyant. La encore, on opte pour les sons ténus: la douceur confine parfois au romantisme.

Review

Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, no. 20, Sunday, June 1, 1997

Like the Wende Bartley CD also reviewed, this one [Westerkamp’s] is diverse enough that it seems like a compilation disc. On the whole, it is also no less wonderful a release than that of Bartley, though there is not the vocal theme. Westerkamp’s trademark seems to be the use of location recordings… or does this only seem to be so? The effect of being transported is everpresent whether the piece be one involving first person narration, beat poetry collage, or a Fantasie for Horns II. This disc culls works from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s. Fans of old-definition “ambient” like Ferrari’s Presque rien should be dazzled.

Sociopolitical Sonic Potentials

Andra McCartney, Musicworks, no. 68, Sunday, June 1, 1997

Hildegard Westerkamp says: “I hear the soundscape as a language with which places and societies express themselves.” Her Transformations CD presents five of her soundscape compositions, reflecting work composed from 1979 to 1992, each sounding the depths of a different place, creating a different inner landscape each time I hear them. She works with the sonic and sociopolitical potentials of each place, recording, mixing, and subtly transforming sounds to heighten listeners’ awareness and appreciation of these sites. She is a skilled and careful interpreter of their languages.

You make it with the skin of the desert night

Cricket Voice is a musical exploration of a solo cricket song, recorded by Westerkamp at night in a Mexican desert region called the Zone of Silence. The acoustic clarity of this place frames the cricket song, accompanied by soundmaking with the spikes of cacti and other plants, and electroacoustic transformations of these sounds. This composition is as expansive as the desert, intimate as the voice of a single cricket.

Listen to our cities

Two of the works, A Walk Through The City, and Kits Beach Soundwalk, are both based on urban soundscapes. In the downtown core, I can become numb to the constant sounds. These works challenge me to listen, to transform, to make quiet places in the city. A Walk Through The City takes us through Vancouver’s Skid Row area, guided by Norbert Ruebsaat’s poem of the same name. Kits Beach Soundwalk begins at Kitsilano Beach, in the heart of Vancouver, yet at the same time a border. I hear the throb of the city balanced with the tiny sounds of barnacles feeding in the lapping tide. This piece explores many borders—between dream and waking, city and country, water and land, documentary and composition. When it enters the dreamworld of high frequencies, I remember where quiet places in the city can take me.

Soundmarks and Sitka

Fantasie for Horns II is the earliest piece in the collection, composed from the sounds of Canadian trainhorns, foghorns, factory and boathorns, and a live part for French horn. Horns are especially evocative soundmarks that give us a sense of place. Each time I hear this piece, I remember growing up by the sea and listening to the moan of the coastal foghorns, reminding me of the awe-inspiring power and energy of the sea. The latest piece on the CD is Beneath The Forest Floor. Most of the sounds for this piece were recorded by Westerkamp in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, and the piece evokes the stillness and peace of this old-growth rainforest, home to Sitka spruce and cedar trees over a thousand years old.

I have always found Hildegard Westerkamp’s work to be a particular source of insight and inspiration. It takes me to familiar and new places, encourages me to listen to the sounds around me, and to “transform through listening,” as Pauline Oliveros also notes about Westerkamp’s work. Her music urges me to listen to the language of the soundscape and to express my own relationship to it by working with soundscapes myself. I hope it does for you, too.

… a particular source of insight and inspiration.

Review

SOCAN, Words & Music, Tuesday, April 1, 1997

Vancouver composer Hildegard Westerkamp is treated to a complete CD of her works in a new release on the Montréal label empreintes DIGITALes (DIFFUSION i MéDIA). All four pieces derive their raw material from environmental sounds (car horns, construction noise, bird song, foghorns), which are then mixed and electronically manipulated in various fascinating ways. One work feature readings by poet Norbert Ruebsaat.

Critique

Jérôme Noetinger, Revue & Corrigée, no. 31, Saturday, March 1, 1997

Membre elle aussi de la Communauté électroacoustique canadienne (CEC), Hildegard Westerkamp s’intéresse aux sons de l’environnement et à l’écologie acoustique. On retrouve très bien ces preoccupations dans Cricket Voice (1987) ou Beneath the Forest Floor (1992). Elle réussit parfaitement à créer des paysages sonores imaginaires à partir d’environnements sonores réels comme le désert ou la forêt. Des pans entiers d’espaces dissimulés s’ouvrent à nous. Nous y plongeons ou sommes happés au passage d’un oiseau ou du chant d’un criquet. C’est la même chose avec A Walk Through The City (1981) sauf qu’ici les sons proviennent d’un environnement urbain agité et agressif. Dans son travail Hildegard Westerkamp se situe par rapport au monde dans lequel elle vit et nous fait découvrir sa dimension sonore.

Elle réussit parfaitement à créer des paysages sonores imaginaires…

Review

MP, Vital, no. 67, Saturday, February 1, 1997

Well, I’ve been waiting years for this one… ever since I heard the unbelievable Cricket Voice on the first Aerial compilation released on Nonsequitur ages ago. Hildegard is, as it pointed out by Pauline Oliveros in her brief introduction, sensitive to soundscape. She calls herself a sound ecologist and handles her subject with a great deal of care. She’s included a bunch of technical notes which explain some of her procedures. The CD starts with A Walk Through The City, which in addition to natural and processed sounds also includes a bit of spoken voice. Not my favourite thing in this kind of music, but after a few listenings I discovered that it fitted perfectly. The idea behind the inclusion of a voice being that it symbolizes the human presence in the urban soundscape. There’s carhorns, brakes, sirens, aircraft, pinball machines, construction and a couple of hoboes, one of whom insists on not knowing why he can’t stop drinking.

This is followed by Fantasie for Horns II, for French Horn and tape. Sound sources on the tape are trainhorns, foghorns, boathorns, factory horns and even alphorn! Loadsa horns, in fact, which remain intact with their natural modifications as modulated by their surrounding landscapes. It beautiful—a trip, quite reminiscent of the stuff by Pauline Oliveros in the Cistern Chapel (which far exceeds anything I have yet heard by Stuart Dempster and his trombone ensemble recorded in the same place).

Next up is Kits Beach Soundwalk, an extension of Hildegard’s radio plays called ‘Soundwalking’. Fortunately this track is just less than 10’00 long… I say fortunately with some reluctance as I did try my best to assimilate Hildegard’s voice which accompanies this soundtrack. She explains in mildly poetic terms what is going on and then displays some technical tricks which come across as a sort of lesson at the School of Audio Engineering. I found this piece most annoying, but all is not lost because she saved the best till last. Cricket Voice is included here too—it is a brilliant shimmering exploration of minuscule sounds recorded in the silent desolation of a Mexican desert region. The cricket’s chirp, slowed down, becomes the “heartbeat of the desert, at its original speed it sings of the stars.”

And finally, Beneath the Forest Floor, which is composed from sounds recorded in old-growth forests on British Columbia’s westcoast. It includes the sounds of small songbirds, ravens, squirrels and flies which move in and out of the forest silence like the small creek that meanders through it. This piece creates a wonderful sense of peace in the listener, which is the intention. It glides slowly into a world of processed sound which is as close to the sound of a tree growing as I have ever heard. Never mind track 3, just get this thing!

… a brilliant shimmering exploration of minuscule sounds…

Interview With Hildegard Westerkamp

Brian Duguid, Ios Smolders, Electric Shock Treatment (EST), no. 6, Wednesday, March 1, 1995

I first encountered Hildegard Westerkamp’s music on the compilation CD Aerial #2, where her piece Cricket Voice appears. This uses recordings made when on a trip to the so-called “Zone of Silence” in the Mexican desert, most prominently a cricket’s night song. There are also various percussive sounds, created using desert plants such as dried up roots, dried palm leaves, and cactus spines. The cricket recording is played at various speeds, sounding like a cosmic heartbeat in places, and like peculiar birds in others. The piece has tremendous clarity of sound, and is beautiful in a very straightforward manner, but it’s the context, the concern to reflect the spirit of the sources in the music that stands out.

Hildegard is a prominent member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (see this issue’s Directory), being coordinating editor of its periodical, The Soundscape Newsletter. She grew up in post-war Germany and emigrated to Canada in 1968. She has taught courses in Acoustic Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She has composed a number of film soundtracks and has produced and hosted radio programs such as Soundwalking and Musica Nova on Vancouver Co-operative Radio.

You work with environmental situations. What’s so exciting about working in outdoors situations?

I work with any environmental situation, outdoor or indoor, urban or wilderness or rural. I work with environmental sounds exclusively. Sometimes I add a live instrument and/or voice. What’s so interesting? The meanings that environmental sounds hold for us. In other words, I am bringing into the concert/radio/gallery situation “instruments” that are familiar to the audience in one way or another, with which the audience has some kind of association or relationship (both personally or shared culturally). These meanings — as well as the actual recording experience that I have while gathering the sounds — play into my compositional process and usually give the pieces life (for me and the audience). I hardly ever use anyone else’s recordings, because I am not interested in recordings per se, but in the experience while recording.

Am I correct in saying that sound ecology is about making people aware of their auditive environment? How do you do that?

Yes, listening, “ear cleaning” is usually the first. Listening to everything. So that listeners begin to become conscious of the soundscape’s role in their lives, begin to discriminate between what is acceptable and what is unbearable, what is exciting, what is boring, what is low frequency, what is high frequency, what is quiet, what is noisy, what is relaxing, what is unsettling, what is acoustic, what is “schizophonic” (i.e. electroacoustic). This usually means that people will become aware of the acoustic imbalances in urban environments and can begin to rectify that, design their life in a more balanced fashion.

Asking people to make recordings is another step. As soon as we compare what a microphone “hears” to what our ears hear we inevitably sharpen our hearing sense.

Is there an aspect of protest in your sound projects? Against environmental pollution, for example?

Yes. His Master’s Voice is an angry satirical protest against the male macho voice that one hears so relentlessly here in the media. Cool Drool is a satire about Muzak. Other pieces may not necessarily be outright protest, but they will always comment on existing social and cultural situations.

My newest piece, Beneath The Forest Floor, takes listeners into the coastal forest of British Columbia, where one can still find a few ancient tree-stands. It also hopes to take the listener further into the inner depths of such a forest experience, into the forest in us.

There’s much technology involved in sound ecology, and also, I guess, in your music. Exactly how important is the technological aspect?

Of course, I need audio equipment for my work. Good quality equipment is absolutely necessary to be at all effective in what I want to say with my compositions. I also need good studio equipment. Much as I hate this dependence on technology (I do! Because it tends to have a life of its own. It can break down. It is expensive. It is always changing) I do like the direct aural interaction in the studio. Musical/acoustic decision making is completely aural and has a strong improvisational element to it. And this process appeals to me very much.

When your music is released on LP/CD/cassette you bring outdoor sounds into living room situations. I guess you give that transition a lot of thought. What are your considerations? What difficulties do you meet?

Once my pieces are on cassette or CD they take on a new life in the world. They become a new listening environment. They will have to put up with bad playback equipment and noisy living rooms, car radios, or distracted ears. I cannot control that situation and do not want to. I can try to make sure that my pieces somehow reach ears even through tiny speakers. I find it very important that my pieces are able to interact with any environment in which they happen to be played. A forest piece in an apartment by a freeway… well, can it draw the listener into the forest?

Do you prefer the outdoor environmental performances?

I have no preferences in that respect. They are two very different things. Outdoor performances are more nerve wracking usually if they involve equipment and I like to avoid them for that reason. I do like outdoor performances that do not involve electroaoustic technology. The Harbour Symphony that I was commissioned to compose for the Canada Pavilion here in Vancouver for EXPO ‘86 was a crazy piece with over 100 boat horns playing in the harbour of Vancouver. It was an exciting social event but as a composition in its own right really does not quite make it. The Globe and Mail was right when it commented that the piece sounded like “a bunch of happy elephants in a traffic jam”.

Gayle Young mentioned that as a woman, she has learned to work with her music in between ten other activities (like doing the dishes, feeding the children). What is your experience?

After my daughter was born, I became very aware of my time limitations. I realised that I had very little time to devote to myself or my work and learnt to take advantage of the little bit that I had. That’s when I realised I was a composer and became more serious about my compositional work. But, as opposed to some of my women composer colleagues, I was never good at composing between ten other activities. I had to make sure to have longer stretches of time in which I could close my studio door and just work. This was possible because my husband and I tried as much as possible to share the responsibilities of child-care evenly.

Do you think that you focus attention on other aspects of life, musical issues, environment, than men do? And does it show?

I find this very hard to answer. Yes, I do focus on other aspects of life beyond composing, for example, on environmental issues, cultural issues, on children and education, teenage issues as my daughter is a teenager now, on women’s issues, on my garden, my house, etcetera. But whether I do it more than men do I really do not know. I know a lot of women and men who have their fingers in many different activities and aspects of life, especially here in North America, where it is a way of life to do more than one thing.

Why do you think the number of (known!) women working with electronic music is so much smaller than that of men? There are all kinds of (male chauvinist) ideas that immediately come up (e.g. women fear technology, women don’t care about worldly matters, keep their thoughts closer to home), and a few examples that I have experienced in my environment: women start a career but break it off when they long for a child and become pregnant.

Again, this is hard to answer. In your question you have already suggested some of the possible reasons. I can only answer for myself. I like technology because it allows me to work aurally in the studio, to record the soundscape, etcetera. I don’t like it because in order to do my type of composing I have to spend too many hours in very inhuman, airless, dark studio environments, unhealthy places. This is enough of an issue for me to keep me from doing a lot of fancy stuff with technology.

I am particularly sensitive to the conditions of my work environment (and have become more so as I grow older) and perhaps, as a woman, have been allowed to acknowledge that sensitivity. Men have been taught to keep a “stiff upper lip” and to bear hardship. Women have not. So, I can only speculate — along with articulating my own experience — that because it itself is constructed in an alienating way but because the environments in which it exists are usually inhuman, inorganic and the furthest away from natural environments.

“If you’d like to hear her music, Hildegard has a series of five cassettes available, including tape pieces using urban sounds and vocal fragments; collages of spoken word, poetry, environmental sound and the music of other performers; and a document of the Harbour Symphony discussed above. Her music can also be found on the What Next and empreintes DIGITALes labels.”

Listening to everything. So that listeners begin to become conscious of the soundscape’s role in their lives…

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