The Electroacoustic Music Store

Artists Claude Schryer

Claude Schryer’s electroacoustic and environmental compositions focus on spiritual, artistic, and social aspects of acoustic ecology. His work is influenced by the work of Canadian composer R Murray Schafer’s and his idea of soundscapes are ongoing musical compositions.

He was raised in and around the city of North Bay (Ontario) where he was active as a pianist, clarinettist, composer, hunter and fisherman with his parents Maurice and Jeannine, and his brothers Luc, Guy, Marc, and Richard.

He studied composition with Owen Underhill at Wilfrid Laurier University (BA Mus, 1977-81), interdisciplinary arts and new music at The Banff Centre for the Arts (1981, 85, 93) and composition with alcides lanza at McGill University (Master Mus, 1982-89). He also studied with Denis Smalley and Luc Ferrari (1986-87).

His professional activities are principally in the fields of electroacoustics, interdisciplinary production, acoustic ecology and the media arts, notably: artistic director of the Inter-Arts program at The Banff Centre for the Arts (1988-90); co-founder of the production group Diffusion i média (1989-92); artistic director of the 7e Printemps électroacoustique festival of ACREQ (Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec, 1990-92); special collaborator with the Radio-Canada’s FM Cultural Network and Musicworks magazine (1990-98); member of the organizing committee of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (1993-98); director of the CEC (Canadian Electroacoustic Community, 1993-94); assistant program director of ISEA95 Montréal (1995); sound editor for the documentary film Chronique d’un génocide annoncé (Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold) (Alter-ciné, 1996); collaborator in the production of R Murray Schafer’s Winter Diary (WDR, 1997); co-founder and president of the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology (CASE, 1997-98).

He has received commissions from the North Bay Symphony Orchestra (Ontario), la Muse en circuit (Paris), the Music Gallery (Toronto), Société Radio-Canada (Montréal), Shauna Rolston (Banff) and Trevor Tureski (Toronto) and has been artist in residence at Brahmshaus (Baden-Baden), Grame (Lyon), Groupe de musique expérimentale de Marseille, Muse en circuit (Paris) and Simon Fraser University (SFU, Vancouver).

As a composer he was awarded 2nd prize (ex æquo) in the performer and tape category at the 14th Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition for a kindred spirit (1986); 1st Prize (documentary section) at the 6th Phonurgia Nova International Radio Art Competition (France, 1996) for Marche sonore I (Le matin du monde)(1992), and shared with Hélène Prévost the Prix de la création radiophonique of Radio-Canada 1996 for Autour d’une Musique portuaire.

In 1997, Claude Schryer presented the paper À la recherche de l’effet Sharawadji during the Tribune des compositeurs of the Société québécoise de recherche en musique (SQRM) on the sharawadji effect which French sound theorists Jean-Francois Augoyard and Henry Torgue describe as the sensation of plenitude that is created by the contemplation of complex soundscapes whose beauty is unexplainable and that can carry the listener elsewhere when the spirit combines availability, attention and perspicacity. In 1998, he wrote the article Electroacoustic Soundscape Composition, published in Musicworks, on the same subject.

He took a pause from professional artistic work in 1998 to raise a family (Riel and Clara) with filmmaker Sabrina Mathews and joined the management team at Canada Council for the Arts in 1999 as an interdisciplinary arts expert and advisor. During this time, he created a few radio programs with his family for CBC Radio.

In 2016, Claude Schryer came back to his creative roots with simplesoundscapes.ca, which is about exploring mindfulness through listening and searching for audio experiences that nourish the spirit. His creative process in simplesoundscapes is linked to his mindfulness practice.

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Claude Schryer

Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), 1959

Residence: Ottawa (Ontario, Canada)

  • Composer
  • Performer (clarinet)
  • Journalist

On the Web

Claude Schryer, photo: Andrew Czink, 1996

Selected Works

Main Releases

Appearances

Various artists
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Complements

  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
  • Out of print
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Various artists
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Various artists
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In the Press

Portrait

François Couture, All-Music Guide, September 13, 2001

Canadian composer Claude Schryer was first active in contemporary classical music before turning to electroacoustics and, more specifically, environmental/ecological soundscapes. He is also a film soundtrack creator, an improviser, and an administrator.

Schryer was born in Ottawa but grew up in the small nearby town of North Bay, where he was in constant contact with nature. As a child he studied the piano and the clarinet. In 1981 he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in composition at the Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Canada), studying with Owen Underhill. A number of chamber works date from that period but remain unrecorded. During the early 1980s he studied at The Banff Centre for the Arts where he got in touch with interdisciplinary and experimental artists. His now growing interest in electroacoustics led him to a two-year stay in Europe where he learned the trades of the art with Denis Smalley and Luc Ferrari. In 1989, he received his Masters degree in composition from McGill University in Montréal. In the meantime he had co-founded the Group of the Electronic Music Studio (GEMS) and DIFFUSION i MéDIA and its record label empreintes DIGITALes with Jean-François Denis.

He cumulated administrative titles in the 1990s, from artistic director of the 7e Printemps électroacoustique festival (1990-1992) to director of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (1993-1994) to co-founder and president of the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology. This decade also saw him focusing more and more on environmental compositions and acoustic ecology. Following the philosophy of R Murray Schafer and the composers revolving around the World Soundscape Project based at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada (Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax), his works gradually turned away from the transformation of sound to approach composition with unaltered sound sources. His most ambitious project was the Musique Portuaire pour Sirènes et Cloches (“Harbour Music for Horns and Bells”), a in situ composition for six boats, two trains and the bells of the Notre-Dame Basilica. A reworking of this piece can be heard on Schryer’s CD Autour (empreintes DIGITALes, 1997).

Searching for the Sharawadji Effect: Electroacoustics and Ecology

Claude Schryer, Musicworks, no. 70, March 1, 1998

Sharawadji

The Sharawadji effect is an æsthetic effect characterized by a sensation of plenitude sometimes created by the contemplation of a complex soundscape whose beauty is inexplicable.

This exotic term, introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century by travellers who learned it in China, designates the beauty that arises without the listener perceiving the order or economy of the object in question.

The Sharawadji effect takes one by surprise ans will carry the listener elsewhere, beyond strict representation — out of context. In this brutal confusion, the senses get lost. A beautiful Sharawadji plays with the rules of composition, manipulates them, and awakens a feeling of pleasure through perceptual confusion.

Whether in a dream-like of anxious state, we are sometimes completely deaf to the environment. While on a walk or on a journey, however, our spirit can combine availability, attention, and perspicacity, thus becoming receptive to new things, including sonic fantasy.

The beautiful Sharawadji affirms itself in contrast with the banality from which it originates. Sharawadji sounds, as such, belongs to everyday life or to known musical registers. They only become Sharawadji by de-contextualization, by a rupture of the senses

The sonic matter that stimulates the Sharawadji effect can differ according to the appreciation of each individual, in a given context; although the soundscape — and in particular urban soundscapes — can, as a result of their unpredictability and diversity, favour it. The sonic wealth of nature is also conductive to creation of the Sharawadji effect.

Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue, À l’écoute de l’environnement, répertoire des effets sonores (A Dictionary of Sound Effects), 1995 [Translation: Claude Schryer]

The listener, and only the listener,
is the composer of the music.

Ola Stockfelt, Cars, Buildings and Soundscapes, 1994

On November 11, 1997 (a day of remembrance) I walked into the concert hall at Théâtre La Chapelle in Montréal for the Rien à voir festival of acousmatic music and was confronted by a shocking contrast between electroacoustics and ecology: a dark room, little air, countless loudspeakers and sixty-hertz-a-humming machines… There was virtually no living matter present (except we humans) and there I was rehearsing my “ecological” music for concert presentation…

It was bewildering to be in this former chapel — in a quasi-religious listening experience — where we consumed virtual music in the hope of being taken on a journey “inside” sound.

This article is about my journey into the soundscape through the medium of electroacoustics and my quest to discover the “unexplainable beauty” in the music of the acoustic environment.

Electroacoustic Soundscape Composition

Electroacoustic soundscape composition is most closely related to the visual field of photography. Images of the sonic environment can be captured, processed, and represented as a reflection of reality and/or as an artistic creation. It is a technique thet treats the acoustic environment as both the subject and the content of a composition, teetering abiguously on the border between representation and abstraction.

Electroacoustic soundscape composition has everything to do with context, as opposed to the “musique concrète” æsthetic of reduced listening (“écoute réduite”), where sounds are appreciated independently of their source for their abstract musical value as “objets sonores” (sound objects). For the electroacoustic composer, an “objet sonore” is one sound source, among others, for musical production. For the electroacoustic soundscape coposer, however, the “objet sonore” is also a complex web of information that includes the potential of revealing “unexplainable beauty” in the form of the Sharawadji effect.

Darren Copeland (Copeland, 1996) reminds us of the difference between environmental sound and music: “There is a communicative realm to environmental sounds that has nothing to do with music, but rather, has everything to do with the social context from wich these sounds originate.” Thus, the social and spiritual context of a soundscape can be used as a compositional element on par with pitch, melody, harmony and timbre. The composers dreaws upon the conscious and sub-conscious sonic memories of the listener and uses them as an anchor for navigating in and around dimensions of sound that have the potential to communicate otherwise untangible emotions.

Electroacoustic soundscape compositions can be presented on radio, in installations, in acousmatic diffusion, in interactive performance, etc. However, the key common element in this form of composition is a concern for the context and environment of a given sound. Barry Truax (Truax 1984, 207) further explains this difference, specifically in the context of electroacoustic music: The essential difference between an electroacoustic composition that uses pre-recorded environmental sound as its source material, and a work that can be called a soundscape composition, is that in the former, the sound loses all or most of its environmental context. In fact, even its original identity is frequently lost through the extensive manipulation it has undergone, and the listener may not recognise the source unless so informed by the composer. In the soundscape composition, on the other hand, it is precisely the environmental context that is preserved, enhanced and exploited by the composer… Part of the composer’s intent may also be to enhance the listener’s awareness of environmental sound. Whereas the use of concrete sources leaves the environment the same and merely extracts its elements, the successful soundscape composition has the effect of changing the listener’s awareness and attitudes towards the soundscape, and thereby changing the listener’s relationship to it. The aim of the composition is therefore social and political, as well as artistic.

Listening to Dhomont, Ferrari, and Westerkamp

Industrialization and new technologies have transformed our sound environment. New sounds have appeared, have transformed our concept of hearing, and have modified our aesthetic criteria in a decisive fashion. Just as the effects of industry and technology on air and water have raised concerns about the physical environment, so too, the notion of ecology has emerged recently in the domain of electroacoustics. Artists from diverse disciplines explore and employ the soundscape in their work. Their interesting and timely reflections on problems of acoustic ecology expand the debate on, and nourish discussions of, the quality and organization of the soundscape in urban and natural environments. Artists can become a conduit of our collective memory and help us better understand our acoustic environment, which we rarely actually hear. Thus, the sound artist can propose new associations, acoustic games, and poetic metaphors, and can pose fundamental questions about the coexistence of electronic technology and ecology.

What are the aesthetic and ethical criteria of the environmental electroacoustician? Montréal-based acousmatic composer Francis Dhomont (Dhomont 1992, 31) criticizes the sometimes uncomfortable co-habitation of electroacoustics and ecology:

One important aspect of sound ecology is, of course, that it should not be too… sonic. But what should one make of the torrents of decibels spewed out by our loudspeakers, with ever more powerful lows, ultra-lows, mids, highs and ultra-sonics? Are we the most qualified to preoccupy ourselves with the eardrums of our contemporaries? Just like you, I am cornered by this dilemma, torn apart, trying to invent all sorts of good excuses. Like you, I consecrate kilometres of polyester to preserve the songs of cicadas, frogs, streams and nightingales, to avoid losing them forever. But I am not taken in by these subterfuges and I know very well that we have already entered the age of simulacra. Will they compensate for the disappearance of real life?

I am an electroacoustician and, like Francis , I consider myself also to be an environmentalist. The two activities should not be necessarily incompatible, and yet…

I love machines. I love to touch sound. I love to indulge in virtual sound and to immerse myself in the endless metaphoric and metamorphic potential of electroacoustics. And yet I am constantly faced with the paradox between my electronic art and ecology. Sometimes, I have the impression that I am more a part of the problem than of the solution.

The wise and poetic French composer Luc Ferrari reminded me, while he and I walked in the streets of Paris, that “one has to learn to recognize sounds on top of each other, in relation to each other—that is to say, in layers. And this can be learned by the sensitivity that we develop, and by awareness.”

I agree with him that we need to learn how to develop our sonic awareness and hope that the electronic technologies of today and tomorrow will help us “tune” our perceptions to and with our environment, so that a balance can be found between natural and virtual sound environments, and also between natural and virtual listening. Increasingly, artists are searching for an ecological balance, not only in the content of their work, but also in their compositional process. Composer and acoustic-ecology activist Hildegard Westerkamp (Westerkamp 1995) has found some common ground between electroacoustics and her ecological and musical convictions. She underlines the value of electroacoustics in soundscape composition, as a practical tool for expression and for listening, but also warns of some of the dangers:

Much as technology can annoy and frustrate me and much as the environments in which sound studios exist tend to be unhealthy, it works better for me than composing for instruments. I use technology in my work because it is the best tool for me to express what I want to say through composition. As well, the sound studio allows for immediate interaction with sound, an intimacy, a conversation, like a slow motion improv. In a sound studio one can be a musician and composer at the same time. But I also perceive sound technology as a dangerous tool for composition: it can distract endlessly from the content of what we want to say; it can demand an inordinate amount of attention to technical detail and it can also distract our audiences from really hearing our work. But no matter how much technology we put between our composing selves and our final composition, between ourselves and our audiences, it is still ears and bodies and psyches that perceive our pieces.

I share her enthusiasm and her hesitations. For years, I’ve been struggling with my identity as electroacoustic soundscape-composer and as acoustic-ecology activist. Hildegard’s sense of equilibrium and wisdom is an inspiration. Indeed, we must be aware of the shortcomings of the electroacoustic medium, while keeping in mind the importance of offering an ecological voice to the loudspeaker.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Activism

In the early 1990s, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, speaking on CBC radio’s It’s a Matter of Survival, warned that the next ten years were “our last chance to change…” The questions of the survival, responsibility, and interpretation of our environment have haunted me ever since, have incited me to compose music with and about our acoustic environment, and have also led me to become politically and socially active. For the last few years, it’s become obvious to me that we are suffering from a disturbing wave of greed and excessive materialism that is choking the fruits of our environmental passions, both locally and globally.

That is why, in Banff in 1993, I became involved with a group of some 150 acoustic ecology activists in founding the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE), an interdisciplinary association for researchers and practitioners from social, scientific, and cultural disciplines, who meet and exchange information about their work and interests related to acoustic ecology. Among other things, the WFAE is participating in the organization of an international conference on acoustic ecology organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, to be held in Stockholm (June 9-14, 1998). The principal theme of this conference is “from awareness to action” and is in tune with the international acoustic ecology’s desire to evolve from an initial period of awareness to direct action.

That is also why, in 1996, in Haliburton, Ontario, I coordinated a group or thirty or so Canadian acoustic ecology activists and helped found the Canadian Association for Acoustic Ecology (CASE). CASE’s focus is on local activities, including sound-walks, anti-noise campaigns, workshops, information presentations, radio documentaries, etc. Similar groups are coming to life in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Australia, Brazil, and Japan.

These organizations and their activities are directed to finding new methods of teaching and encouraging sensitive listening, of increasing awareness of the acoustic environment, and of promoting both internal and external listening as a tool for growth and sustainable development.

”Not a Very Good Composer…”

I had the shock of my life in 1985, when composer Luciano Berio told me, sincerely, that he did not think that I was a very good composer. He also mentioned, however, that he thought there was a place for me in the world of music. The piece on which Berio based his comments was my 1985 solo cello piece On the Edge, written for cellist Shauna Rolston. He thought that the piece sounded like “film music” and was not of the calibre of contemporary concert music. What I think he really meant to say was that I did not, curiously, seem to be interested in “music” so much as elements around music: space, noise, and silence.

Indeed, since 1989, I have progressively detached myself from the concert music tradition and have allowed myself to touch sonic matter through electroacoustics. At the same time, in response to the growing world ecological crisis, I have felt a need to become involved in the environmental movement, at both political and artistic levels. And because I had had musical training, I chose a path that combined the ecology of sound with music, in the form of electroacoustics. It seemed most natural for me to become concerned about the sonic quality of our environment. Therefore, I began following in the tracks of composers R Murray Schafer, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Barry Truax (among others), of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and I adopted the notion that artists can help design a more imaginative and balanced soundscape.

I find myself continually fascinated by the evocative nature of recorded soundscapes. I sometimes think of it as a “voice” within the environment reaching out to me. As a result, I want to bring the listener “inside” a space, experience, or sensation, with or without words, with or without transformation, and also with or without “music.”

My artistic practice involves essentially a five-step process: listening, recording, analyzing, transforming, and orchestrating recorded soundscapes into electroacoustic portraits for concert and radio. Whenever possible, I record my own soundscapes as a kind of performance in which I literally “play” the microphone like a musical instrument.

I have found that an essential part of the composition process occurs during field recording. Apart from a DAT machine recording two-dimensional stereo sound on tape, a parallel recording process takes place during field recording. I call it “emotional recording,” wherein the body and spirit also record sensations and vibrations from the space. These emotions can subsequently be called upon to guide the inner structure and spiritual map of the composition. I try to record sounds that, upon repeated hearing, resonate in me and cleanse me and shake me up. I listen for sounds which evoke the fragility of our environment and the importance of awareness, listening, and silence. In general, when I record, I try to meditate on and analyze the space. How does it speak to me? What are its microscopic and macroscopic components? What is my rapport and my emotional relationship with the space? How can we capture and transmit the multiple dimensions of a space by means of a microphone and loudspeakers?

When I record I also try to be aware of the limitations of my recording equipment and to plan how to frame my recordings in terms of my specific needs. Therefore, each recording—the movement of the microphone, the choice of perspective, the background, the levels, the presence of breath (or not), the stereophonic angle—is unique to each project.

Around “Autour”

It is interesting to note the reaction of Le Devoir classical music critic François Tousignant (Tousignant 1997), as stated in a review of my CD, Autour, here translated.

Musically speaking, this is elementary electroacoustics, which, far from magnifying its subject, discourages the listener, even the best intentioned. There is no call, nor interpolation from our poet in becoming; only an applied report on tape of things here and there which offer no perspective… Maybe acoustic ecology is just that: a canvas on which you can do whatever you want without really listening to it… And yet, I agree with R Murray Schafer, one of the instigators of this discipline: the environment (le paysage), is beautiful, but one must do something with it.

Indeed, my work is a simple use of electroacoustics, but I think of it as transparent rather than elementary. It is more difficult than one might think to resist transforming a sound in studio, allowing it instead to “breathe” on tape. François doesn’t seem to hear the voice of the environment, nor understand the notion of the Sharawadji effect as I do. This is his choice as listener and I respect it. It is, however, shocking that he thinks this kind of work has no perspective. It is all about perspective! In my case, it is a relatively clear perspective based on the poetry of sonographic representatlon.

Acoustic ecology is all about listening to and being aware of the acoustic environment, and though I agree that one must indeed “do” something with the acoustic environment (as Schafer and others have done so very well), I think there is more than one way of being “active,” including being actively passive by allowing an environment to be musical by itself.

The review certainly shook me up and I am grateful for that. It has encouraged me to question our ability to appreciate this kind of music with “classical” ears and to consider new models of listening and appreciation, as R Murray Schafer suggests “to not only strip down the walls of our theatres and recording studios, but also the walls of our senses.”

Ironically, in another review that same day (November 22, 1997), in La Presse, journalist Philippe Tétreau seems to be much more in tune with the nature of this kind of work.

This electroacoustician manipulates the microphone like a camera, choosing his angles, enlarging this or that detail, defining a sound image to vary the effects and therefore demonstrating the art of acoustic ecology with audio images that recreate remarkable atmospheres. We are closer to a cinematographic process here than that of music written on manuscript… The sounds of nature and of the city are retained in our memory, rather than the spectacular artifices of cybernetics. Avoiding overwhelming the listener with overcharged effects which are easily forgotten, Schryer gives an important place to silence, therefore favouring the memory of the chosen soundscape and the sensation of plenitude that he is seeking.

From External to Internal Soundscapes

With Chasse, in 1989, I began a five-part cycle of electroacoustic soundscape compositions which have come full circle with my most recent composition, Au dernier vivant les biens.

My research began in 1989 with a period of listening to and awareness of my immediate external environment. I composed two “home” pieces, Chasse (1989), about a family duck-hunting trip, and Les oiseaux de Bullion (1990), which contrasted the soundscapes around my urban home in Montréal and my wilderness home in Banff.

My next step was to figure out what I was talking about. I asked questions about acoustic ecology and the history of the acoustic-ecology movement in Canada and composed two experimental radio documentaries, Marche sonore I (Le Matin du monde) (1991-92) and Revisiting the World Soundscape Project (1992-93).

In 1993, I attempted to compose my first “musical,” ecologically inspired, concert-music pieces, Les voix de l’écologie (1993), based on Schafer’s book The Tuning of the World, and Mono Real (1994), for voice and mono tape. However, both pieces proved unsatisfactory, as I had not yet done enough listening and did not understand the delicate art of electroacoustic soundscape composition.

After an extended depression and period of healing meditation and listening in 1995, I came back to composition in 1996 with a set of four electroacoustic soundscape compositions based on locations in North America, El medio ambiente acústico de México (1995-96), Vancouver Soundscape Revisited (1996), Musique de l’Odyssée sonore (Quebec City), (1996-97), and Autour d’une Musique portuaire (Montréal), (1996), a composition with Hélène Prévost. These have all been issued on the CD Autour.

Nineteen ninety-seven brought about the conclusion of a seven-year cycle of electroacoustic soundscape compositions, with Au dernier vivant les biens (1997), a set of forty-nine electroacoustic soundscape meditations issued on the CD Lettre sonore II / Sound Letter II. I’m not sure where my listening will lead me next, towards more soundscape composition or further into the contemplation of silence. But I’m quite sure that I’ll still be searching for a voice calling from the environment.

Entretien: Récepteur Claude Schryer

Éric La Casa, Revue & Corrigée, no. 34, December 1, 1997

Compositeur, producteur, diffuseur et organisateur, Claude Schryer est actif en électroacoustique. Et depuis 1990, inspiré par les travaux de R Murray Schafer et du World Soundscape Project (Projet mondial d’environnement sonore), il se spécialise en écologie sonore. Dans ses créations, il monte, traite et combine des paysages sonores naturels, urbains et humains en forme de juxtapositions poétiques, de perceptions altérées, de re-contextualisations, ou encore de réflexions sur les contradictions, les anecdotes et la magie du quotidien. Ainsi, depuis 1994, il explore une notion spirituelle, artistique et social, de l’écologie sonore.

Préambule

«Il m’est parfois difficile d’exprimer, en mots, mes convictions artistiques et sociales. De l’ordre de l’invisible et souvent de l’indicible, ce qui m’anime intérieurement est fragile, et aux limites de l’expression linéaire. En général, en guise de réponse, je propose plutôt de partir tout de suite faire l’expérience d’une écoute active. Je crois que c’est la raison pour laquelle je préfère mon DAT à mon stylo.»Claude Schryer

1- Prise de sons

R&C: Qu’est-ce qui t’importe à la prise de son? La musique qui découle des seules prises de sons est fortement imprégnée par le particularisme du lieu, du site primitif. En ce sens, les instants choisis font transparaître une réalité indépendante de la partition musicale. Je voulais te demander comment tu appréhendes cet état des choses. Est-ce que les conditions météorologiques, acoustiques, etc, font partie intégrante de l’œuvre et assumées comme telle voire même recherchées… Une musique météorologique?

Claude Schryer: La prise de son est un acte spirituel pour moi. je suis effectivement sensible aux éléments météorologiques et acoustiques d’un lieu. mais aussi à la spiritualité et aux dimensions ‘’invisibles’’d’un espace.

Avant de réaliser une prise de son. Je médite sur le lieu, et tente d’analyser et de comprendre l’espace. Je questionne comment le lieu me parle. Quelles sont ses composantes microscopiques et macroscopiques? Quels sont mon rapport et mon engagement émotifs avec le lieu? Comment vais-je pouvoir capter et transmettre les multiples dimensions du lieu par l’entremise du microphone et de l’enceinte? Ces informations “dirigent” la composition, de retour au studio.

Je tente de prendre conscience des limites de mes outils d’enregistrement. et de savoir comment “cadrer” mes prises de son en fonction de mes besoins particuliers. Chaque prise de son — le mouvement du microphone, le choix de perspective, de relief, les niveaux, la présence de ma respiration (ou non), l’angle stéréophonique — est unique pour chaque projet.

Par exemple, dans ma composition radiophonique El medio ambiente acústico de México (Le paysage sonore du Mexique) ma méthode de travail était de travailler comme un photographe qui choisit et étudie attentivement son sujet et qui tente de capter des moments magiques ou un Sharawadji, “un effet esthetique qui caracrérise la sensation de plénitude qui se crée parfois lors de la contemplation d’un paysage sonore complexe dont la beauté est inexplicable. L’effet survient contre toute attente et transporte dans un ailleurs, au-delà de la stricte representation — hors contexte. Dans certe confusion brutalement présente, les sens, comme le sens, s’y perdent. Le beau Sharawadji joue avec les règles de la composition, il les détourne et éveille dans la confusion perceptive un sentiment de plaisir.” (1)

Lors de la prise de son de cette pièce j’ai enregistré des papillons Monarque dans les montagnes à Angangueo (Michoacan). Il y avait des centaines de touristes dans la montagne et des miilions de papillons. Cherchant, j’ai eu la chance de capter un moment d’unité entre les voix d’emerveillement des touristes, celles de la douce masse des papillons à distance et du frottemenr frénétique à proximité des ailes de papillons… je ne crois pas pouvoir recréer une telle beauté poétique en studio.

R&C: Compositions musicales “pures” ou alliant des sons environnementaux, ou encore compositions de sons environnementaux, et compositions radiophoniques, l’œuvre fait apparaître une pratique musicale élargie. Parle-nous de cette volonté d’élargir son champ d’expérimentation.

Claude Schryer: Ma méthode de composirion est simple. J’utilise une procédure d’écoute, d’analyse (triée par timbre, catégorie, fonction, hauteur, contexte), de transformation (traitement informatique) et d’orchestration (montage et mixage) de paysages sonores enregistrés pour créer des portraits électroacoustiques. Mais est-ce de la musique? Je n’en sais rien… En 1985, Luciano Berio m’a dit, en toute franchise, que je n’étais pas un très bon compositeur, mais qu’il y avait certainement une place pour moi dans le monde de la musique… Luciano avait peut-être raison? Dès 1989, je me suis détaché de la tradition musicale conventionnelle, et me suis laissé emporter par un désir de toucher la matière sonore. Ensuite, j’ai voulu comprendre qui j’étais et d’où je venais. Alors, j’ai travaillé directement avec l’environnement sonore. En ce moment, je m’intéresse surtout à la spiritualité des lieux par l’entremise de l’électroacoustique environnementale. Je crois que ma place dans le milieu musical est quelque part au seuil de la musique, et au cœur de l’interdisciplinarité et de l’activisme environnemental. Depuis plusieurs années ce sont surtout des questions de survie, de responsabilité et d’interprétation artistique de l’environnement qui m’incitent à créer, et à agir avec et à propos de l’environnement sonore.

3- Réalité

R&C: Paul Virilio nous dit: «Demain, si nous n’y prenons garde, nous aurons la nostalgie non seulement de l’histoire et de sa géographie, mais encore le mal de l’espace et des temps perdus.» (2). Cette problématique de l’accélération me semble très intéressante à aborder ici en ce sens que les progrès techniques de notre civilisation occidentale produisent une disparition de la réalité dans le décor. Ou comme je l’ai entendu une fois: «Le voyage, plus on le raccourcit plus cela devient du temps perdu.» Que t’inspire cette remarque sur la “déréelisation” de notre monde?

Claude Schryer J’ai une profonde nostalgie pour les espaces sonores en voie de disparition. Ceci dit, parallèlement, je suis conscient, comme nous le rappelle R Murray Schafer (3), que «le paysage sonore change continuellement» et qu’il faut tenter de vivre dans le moment présent. Et quel moment! Aujourd’hui, la «vitesse du temps» est hallucinante, fascinante et cruciale à explorer pour l’artiste sonore.

L’industrialisation et les nouvelles technologies ont métamorphosé l’environnement sonore; de nouvelles sonorités sont apparues, ont transformé la notion d’écoute, et ont modifié de manière décisive les critères esthétiques.

En tant que société, nous devons apprendre à décoder le réel de l’irréel, par l’entremise d’un rythme de lecture abordable de la matière sonore. Luc Ferrari (4) dit «qu’il faut arriver à reconnaître les sons les uns au-dessus des autres. Les uns par rapport aux autres, c’est-à-dire les couches et ça s’apprend par la sensibilité que l’on développe et la conscience.»

Pour l’artiste sonore médiatique — poète du temps irréel — le défi est de taille: créer un langage sonore qui présente une nouvelle perception du temps, et ceci «sans tomber dans un naturalisme naïf ou dans un modernisme réactionnaire.» (5)

Dans cette jungle temporelle, je me réfère aux principes proposés par Bruno Guiganti (6). «À l’inverse de l’écoute naturelle qui est une mise en relation du corps de l’auditeur avec le corps sonore dans sa matérialité, l’écoute médiatisée est une écoute relative qui relègue le corps des êtres et des choses dans un inter-espace discontinu où ils trans-apparaissent en perdant leur épaisseur, leur densité, leur pesanteur.»

L’art de l’électroacousticien environnemental est donc celui de conjuguer les dimensions d’écoute naturelles et médiatisées dans un cadre temporel virtuel qui se veut crédible, révélateur et séduisant.

4- Corps

R&C: Jacques Garros, psychomotricien, dans un article intitulé Notre corps est la terre de notre esprit, a écrit: «L’intelligence consiste peut-être à prendre du temps par rapport à l’efficacité technique et immédiate et à prendre le temps de retisser la relation de base “corps-esprit” qui permet de réintégrer la conscience, la pensée et l’imaginaire dans la totalité corporelle, c’est-à-dire dans l’ensemble universel?» (7) La question du corps me semble très importante par rapport à ta pratique, mais aussi par rapport à ce que tu es. Ici, je pense aussi à ton engagement pour une cause écologique dans le sens de ce que Jacques Garros dit par rapport à cette totalité corporelle. Que t’inspire cette réflexion?

Claude Schryer: La désincarnation esprit/corps m’affecte, et me trouble. Malgré moi, et comme plusieurs de ma génération, j’ai tendance à vivre dans ma tête, en ignorant mon corps. C’est pourquoi j’ai appris et pratique la méditation bouddhiste Vipassana (observation de la respiration), mais aussi le tai-chi chinois (harmonie esprit/ corps).

Ma philosophie corporelle est d’être à l’écoute de moi-même et de mon environnement, et de me fier à mon intuition pour savoir comment agir et ne pas agir…

Ma plus récente composition, Au dernier vivant les biens, traite justement de l’écoute intérieure: «En m’écoutant, j’ai réalisé que mon plus profond désir était de créer une musique de compassion, de clarté et de guerison et d’explorer les dimensions spirituelles du son qui ont le potentie! de communiquer des émotions autrement inaccessibles.»

Le dicton «Penser globalement: agir localement» me vient à l’esprit. Je crois qu’il faut s’occuper avant tout de l’écologie du local, le plus local possible, en étant soi-même, et de grandir à partir de cette belle racine.

5- Paysage sonore

R&C: En 1993, pour le congrès internationale de l’écologie sonore, tu as réalisé une œuvre (La marche sonore) où tu essayais d’interroger une certain nombre d’individus de différents pays sur le thème: comment percevez-vous votre paysage sonore? Aujourd’hui, en cette fin 1997, comment répondrais-tu à cette question? Comment perçois-tu les évolutions du paysage sonore depuis ta longue «marche sonore»? Peux-tu nous parler de ce qui intérieurement a fondamentalement évolué?

Claude Schryer: L’omniprésence de la géographie sonore canadienne ainsi que la fragilité de notre jeune culture hybride font de moi un être continuellement à la recherche d’identité…

En l991, dans une de mes premières créations «écologiques», j’ai posé la question: c’est quoi l’écologie sonore?

Marche sonore 1 (Le matin du monde) s’inspire de la philosophie d’écologie sonore de R Murray Schafer et du «Projet d’environnement sonore mondial» à Vancouver qui nous propose de respecter l’oreille naturelle et la voix naturelle, de prendre conscience du symbolisme des sons et de connaître les rythmes et les tempi du paysage sonore naturel. J’ai demandé à chaque intervenant dans la pièce de me parler de son environnement sonore immédiat, et de partager quelques pensées sur le thème de l’écologie sonore.

Ce qui a évolué en moi depuis Marche sonore 1 c’est mon niveau de conscience et ma combativité sociale. Entre 1993 et 1997, j’ai créé de nombreuses œuvres qui sont progressivement engagées et prononcées (cf CD Autour, chez empreintes DlGITALes…).

Mais, un des problèmes aujourd’hui est que la crapuleuse vague «néo-libérale» et «globalisante» étouffe les fruits de nos passions environnementales, locales et internationales, du début des années 1990. Je suis devenu nettement pessimiste récemment, et pourtant plus convaincu que jamais de l’importance d’une mise en action du mouvement de l’écologie sonore, tant au niveau de la création artistique que dans le travail d’organismes à but non-lucratif, tels l’Association canadienne pour l’écologie sonore, le FKL, le CES et le Forum mondial pour l’écologie sonore.

6- Écologie sonore

R&C: Les Canadiens, sous le patronage de R Murray Schafer, ont depuis longtemps investi le domaine de l’Écologie sonore. Sans débattre ici du sens de cette appellation, pourrais-tu brièvement nous dire ce qu’implique ce champ d’investigation, avec quelques exemples concrets? Ensuite, tu pourrais nous parler de ce qui se passe et se prépare au sein du Forum Mondial de l’Écologie Sonore (organisation regroupant des personnalités de différents pays. Cf interview Pierre Mariétan dans R&C n°28).

Claude Schryer: C’est en 1989 que je suis devenu réellement “écolo”. J’ai senti un besoin urgent de m’engager politiquement et artistiquement dans le milieu environnemental. Et puisque je m’etais formé à la musique, qui est en principe un art “sonore”, j’ai choisi l’écologie du son.

Depuis, je me suis impliqué, tout comme mes collègues Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax et R Murray Schafer entre autres, à promouvoir une idéologie de l’ecologie sonore au Canada et à l’étranger.

Un événement important dans l’histoire du mouvement d’écologie sonore a été le congrès «Tuning of the World» qui a eu lieu du 8 au 14 août 1993 au Banff Centre for the Arts en Alberta. Ce congres réunissait plus de 150 intervenants dans le milieu de l’écologie sonore de toute discipline.

Un des résultats de ce congrés a été la mise sur pied d’un organisme international pour la promotion de l’écologie sonore: le Forum mondial pour l’écologie sonore (FMÉS), qui, à l’époque, définissait l’écologie sonore comme: «l’étude des relations entre organismes vivants et leur environnement sonore ou paysage sonore.»

Les écologistes sonores s’interessent à la création de multiples contextes et de situations qui encouragent l’écoute du paysage sonore, le développement de la perception auditive et l’approfondissement de la compréhension sonore de l’auditeur ainsi que l’appréciation et l’observation des actions qui affectent ou modifient la qualité de l’environnement sonore, l’étude des effets d’intervention technologique sur l’environnement sonore, l’étude de la signification des médias électroniques (radio, télévision, musique d’avant et d’arrière plan, etc.) et leur présence grandissante dans le paysage sonore, la protection des paysages sonores naturels, la préservation et la création de temps et d’espaces de silence, le développement d’idéologies concernant le silence dans différentes cultures, la conception d’environnements sonores sains et la création artistique.

Le FMÉS existe aujourd’hui grâce à l’appui de ses membres avec un bureau administratif à Vancouver. Le FMÉS coordonne la publication d’un bulletin d’information trimestriel, le New Soundscape Newsletter, publié par Justin Winkler et le Forum fur Klanglandschaft (FKL) (Suisse/Allemagne). Le FMÉS maintient egalement un excellent site sur le WWW, et un groupe de discussion «Listserv» avec plus de 250 participants sur Internet coordonné par Gary Ferrington, à l’Université d’Oregon aux États-Unis.

Aujourd’hui, le FMÉS est dans une phase de transition. Il y a eu un congrès international d’écologie sonore à Paris cette été, organisé par Pierre Mariétan et Ray Gallon du Collectif environnement sonore (CES). Ce congrès a permis aux membres du FMÉS de se retrouver et d’élire un conseil d’administration provisoire qui a reçu comme mandat de présenter une stratégie pour le futur du FMÉS, lors du prochain congrès international d’écologie sonore (Hör upp! Stockholm, du 9 au 14 juin, organisé par l’Académie royale de musique de Suède en collaboration avec le FMÉS et Stockholm, capitale culturelle de l’Europe en 1998).

Ce congrès permettra de consolider et d’organiser les activités de la communauté internationale d’écologie sonore. Les trois thèmes principaux de la rencontre, axés autour des dimensions scientifiques et sociales de l’écologie sonore, seront: Les utilisations et les abus du son, la conception de son artificiel et de la prise de conscience à l’action.

Un des projets du Congrès de Stockholm est de faire connaître leur «Manifeste pour un meilleur environnement sonore», publié par l’Académie royale de musique de Suède. en collaboration avec le FMÉS.

De plus, en 1996, nous avons fondé une Association canadienne d’écologie sonore (ACÉS), qui a comme mandat d’organiser des activités locales, telles des promenades sonores urbaines, des campagnes de sensibilisation au bruit, des ateliers de formation et d’information sur l’écologie sonore, la production de documentaires radio, etc.

Parfois, je me demande quel héritage sonore laisserons-nous à nos enfants ou encore si la biodiversité sonore du 21e siècle sera suffisante pour soutenir une véritable écologie sonore? Douteux… Entre temps, il faudra continuer à lutter pour qu’il reste quelques paysages sonores intéressants sur terre!

Propos recueillis par Éric La Casa. Octobre 1997.

  1. Jean-François Augoyard et Henry Torgue, À l’écoute de l’environnement sonore: Répertoire des effets sonores.
  2. Paul Virilio, L’art du moteur.
  3. R Murray Schafer, entretien pour Odyssée sonore, documentaire de l’ONF par Louis Ricard.
  4. Luc Ferrari, entretien pour Marche sonore 1 (1991), Paris.
  5. Nicholas Gedhardt, A Thread of Musical Thinking — Glenn Gould, Bach, François Girard and an Art of Sounds, Musicworks 67.
  6. Guiganti, Écoute naturelle et écoute médiatisée, Musicworks 65.
  7. Jacques Garros, Notre corps est la terre de notre esprit. Bongo Bongo.

Pour en savoir plus:

  • Association canadienne pour l’écologie sonore (ACÉS) / Canadian Association for Sound Ecology (CASE)
  • Augoyard, Jean-François et Torgue, Henry. À l’écoute de l’environnement sonore. Répertoire des effets sonores- Éditions Parenthèses, 1995. ISBN 2-86364-078-X. (Un excellent répertoire qui explique les phénomènes sonores de différentes perspectives — scientifique, technique, sociale, artistique, etc.).
  • Fort, Bernard et Saint Martin, Dominique. Zoom sur les sons de la nature, Éditions JM Fuzeau. ISBN 2-84169048-2. (Un livre avec cédérom sur l’apprentissage de l’écoute et de la musique contemporaine.)
  • Forum mondial pour l'écologie sonore (FMÉS) / World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE)

De l’ordre de l’invisible et souvent de l’indicible, ce qui m’anime intérieurement est fragile, et aux limites de l’expression linéaire.

Critique

Eric La Casa, Revue & Corrigée, no. 34, December 1, 1997

Autour réunit quatre compositions formant un cycle d’œuvres, chacunes portant sur la prise de conscience et sur la musicalité de l’environnement sonore nord-américain. Symboliquement, elles représentent aussi les quatre points cardinaux de l’Amérique du nord et sont présentées sur ce disque dans l’ordre du cercle de vie amérindien (est, sud, ouest, nord).

Est

Musique de l’Odyssée sonore, musique de film créée en collaboration avec le concepteur sonore Claude Langlois, est un récit sonore qui s’inspire de l’histoire, du caractère et du mystère de la ville de Québec.

Sud

El medio ambiente acústico de México, promenade radiophonique, est une collection de «sonographies» (FB Mâche) méditatives évoquant le charme et les contradictions des espaces sonores mexicains.

Ouest

Vancouver Soundscape Revisited, pièce acousmatique, est un portrait impressionniste du paysage sonore passé, présent et futur de Vancouver.

Nord

Autour d’une Musique portuaire, une œuvre environnementale / instrumentale co-composée avec la réalisatrice radio Hélene Prévost, est la rencontre de l’enregistrement en direct d’un concert de sirènes de bateaux et de cloches avec un trio d’improvisateurs en studio, à Montréal.

Certaines musiques s’écouteraient les yeux fermés pour enchanter virtuellement les sens. D’autres proposent avec une grande acuité une réalité des instants fragiles en lisière des presque rien. Ici, la composition plonge ses racines dans l’humus du vivant. L’Autour est ce qui nous environne et ce qui nous Fonde. C’est aussi au-delà de l’entendement, l’en dedans de l’écoute. Car ce disque réactive la dimension poétique de la réalité, du paysage sonore tout en posant la question de l’écoute. Écouter, c’est d’abord sentir son corps écoutant. Entrer en écoute comme on entre… Oui, c’est une voie, un chemin pour parvenir à percevoir au sein du grand bruit les nuances sensibles qui musicalisent notre quotidien. R Murray Schafer parle de la nécessité d’éduquer ou plutôt de rééduquer cette oreille assourdie. Je crois qu’un disque comme celui-ci nous y invite sans l’imposer et s’imposer… Vers la densité poétique de l’écoute de la Réalité.

L’Autour est ce qui nous environne et ce qui nous Fonde.

Articles Written

Searching for the Sharawadji Effect: Electroacoustics and Ecology

Claude Schryer, Musicworks, no. 70, March 1, 1998

Sharawadji

The Sharawadji effect is an æsthetic effect characterized by a sensation of plenitude sometimes created by the contemplation of a complex soundscape whose beauty is inexplicable.

This exotic term, introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century by travellers who learned it in China, designates the beauty that arises without the listener perceiving the order or economy of the object in question.

The Sharawadji effect takes one by surprise ans will carry the listener elsewhere, beyond strict representation — out of context. In this brutal confusion, the senses get lost. A beautiful Sharawadji plays with the rules of composition, manipulates them, and awakens a feeling of pleasure through perceptual confusion.

Whether in a dream-like of anxious state, we are sometimes completely deaf to the environment. While on a walk or on a journey, however, our spirit can combine availability, attention, and perspicacity, thus becoming receptive to new things, including sonic fantasy.

The beautiful Sharawadji affirms itself in contrast with the banality from which it originates. Sharawadji sounds, as such, belongs to everyday life or to known musical registers. They only become Sharawadji by de-contextualization, by a rupture of the senses

The sonic matter that stimulates the Sharawadji effect can differ according to the appreciation of each individual, in a given context; although the soundscape — and in particular urban soundscapes — can, as a result of their unpredictability and diversity, favour it. The sonic wealth of nature is also conductive to creation of the Sharawadji effect.

Jean-François Augoyard and Henry Torgue, À l’écoute de l’environnement, répertoire des effets sonores (A Dictionary of Sound Effects), 1995 [Translation: Claude Schryer]

The listener, and only the listener,
is the composer of the music.

Ola Stockfelt, Cars, Buildings and Soundscapes, 1994

On November 11, 1997 (a day of remembrance) I walked into the concert hall at Théâtre La Chapelle in Montréal for the Rien à voir festival of acousmatic music and was confronted by a shocking contrast between electroacoustics and ecology: a dark room, little air, countless loudspeakers and sixty-hertz-a-humming machines… There was virtually no living matter present (except we humans) and there I was rehearsing my “ecological” music for concert presentation…

It was bewildering to be in this former chapel — in a quasi-religious listening experience — where we consumed virtual music in the hope of being taken on a journey “inside” sound.

This article is about my journey into the soundscape through the medium of electroacoustics and my quest to discover the “unexplainable beauty” in the music of the acoustic environment.

Electroacoustic Soundscape Composition

Electroacoustic soundscape composition is most closely related to the visual field of photography. Images of the sonic environment can be captured, processed, and represented as a reflection of reality and/or as an artistic creation. It is a technique thet treats the acoustic environment as both the subject and the content of a composition, teetering abiguously on the border between representation and abstraction.

Electroacoustic soundscape composition has everything to do with context, as opposed to the “musique concrète” æsthetic of reduced listening (“écoute réduite”), where sounds are appreciated independently of their source for their abstract musical value as “objets sonores” (sound objects). For the electroacoustic composer, an “objet sonore” is one sound source, among others, for musical production. For the electroacoustic soundscape coposer, however, the “objet sonore” is also a complex web of information that includes the potential of revealing “unexplainable beauty” in the form of the Sharawadji effect.

Darren Copeland (Copeland, 1996) reminds us of the difference between environmental sound and music: “There is a communicative realm to environmental sounds that has nothing to do with music, but rather, has everything to do with the social context from wich these sounds originate.” Thus, the social and spiritual context of a soundscape can be used as a compositional element on par with pitch, melody, harmony and timbre. The composers dreaws upon the conscious and sub-conscious sonic memories of the listener and uses them as an anchor for navigating in and around dimensions of sound that have the potential to communicate otherwise untangible emotions.

Electroacoustic soundscape compositions can be presented on radio, in installations, in acousmatic diffusion, in interactive performance, etc. However, the key common element in this form of composition is a concern for the context and environment of a given sound. Barry Truax (Truax 1984, 207) further explains this difference, specifically in the context of electroacoustic music: The essential difference between an electroacoustic composition that uses pre-recorded environmental sound as its source material, and a work that can be called a soundscape composition, is that in the former, the sound loses all or most of its environmental context. In fact, even its original identity is frequently lost through the extensive manipulation it has undergone, and the listener may not recognise the source unless so informed by the composer. In the soundscape composition, on the other hand, it is precisely the environmental context that is preserved, enhanced and exploited by the composer… Part of the composer’s intent may also be to enhance the listener’s awareness of environmental sound. Whereas the use of concrete sources leaves the environment the same and merely extracts its elements, the successful soundscape composition has the effect of changing the listener’s awareness and attitudes towards the soundscape, and thereby changing the listener’s relationship to it. The aim of the composition is therefore social and political, as well as artistic.

Listening to Dhomont, Ferrari, and Westerkamp

Industrialization and new technologies have transformed our sound environment. New sounds have appeared, have transformed our concept of hearing, and have modified our aesthetic criteria in a decisive fashion. Just as the effects of industry and technology on air and water have raised concerns about the physical environment, so too, the notion of ecology has emerged recently in the domain of electroacoustics. Artists from diverse disciplines explore and employ the soundscape in their work. Their interesting and timely reflections on problems of acoustic ecology expand the debate on, and nourish discussions of, the quality and organization of the soundscape in urban and natural environments. Artists can become a conduit of our collective memory and help us better understand our acoustic environment, which we rarely actually hear. Thus, the sound artist can propose new associations, acoustic games, and poetic metaphors, and can pose fundamental questions about the coexistence of electronic technology and ecology.

What are the aesthetic and ethical criteria of the environmental electroacoustician? Montréal-based acousmatic composer Francis Dhomont (Dhomont 1992, 31) criticizes the sometimes uncomfortable co-habitation of electroacoustics and ecology:

One important aspect of sound ecology is, of course, that it should not be too… sonic. But what should one make of the torrents of decibels spewed out by our loudspeakers, with ever more powerful lows, ultra-lows, mids, highs and ultra-sonics? Are we the most qualified to preoccupy ourselves with the eardrums of our contemporaries? Just like you, I am cornered by this dilemma, torn apart, trying to invent all sorts of good excuses. Like you, I consecrate kilometres of polyester to preserve the songs of cicadas, frogs, streams and nightingales, to avoid losing them forever. But I am not taken in by these subterfuges and I know very well that we have already entered the age of simulacra. Will they compensate for the disappearance of real life?

I am an electroacoustician and, like Francis , I consider myself also to be an environmentalist. The two activities should not be necessarily incompatible, and yet…

I love machines. I love to touch sound. I love to indulge in virtual sound and to immerse myself in the endless metaphoric and metamorphic potential of electroacoustics. And yet I am constantly faced with the paradox between my electronic art and ecology. Sometimes, I have the impression that I am more a part of the problem than of the solution.

The wise and poetic French composer Luc Ferrari reminded me, while he and I walked in the streets of Paris, that “one has to learn to recognize sounds on top of each other, in relation to each other—that is to say, in layers. And this can be learned by the sensitivity that we develop, and by awareness.”

I agree with him that we need to learn how to develop our sonic awareness and hope that the electronic technologies of today and tomorrow will help us “tune” our perceptions to and with our environment, so that a balance can be found between natural and virtual sound environments, and also between natural and virtual listening. Increasingly, artists are searching for an ecological balance, not only in the content of their work, but also in their compositional process. Composer and acoustic-ecology activist Hildegard Westerkamp (Westerkamp 1995) has found some common ground between electroacoustics and her ecological and musical convictions. She underlines the value of electroacoustics in soundscape composition, as a practical tool for expression and for listening, but also warns of some of the dangers:

Much as technology can annoy and frustrate me and much as the environments in which sound studios exist tend to be unhealthy, it works better for me than composing for instruments. I use technology in my work because it is the best tool for me to express what I want to say through composition. As well, the sound studio allows for immediate interaction with sound, an intimacy, a conversation, like a slow motion improv. In a sound studio one can be a musician and composer at the same time. But I also perceive sound technology as a dangerous tool for composition: it can distract endlessly from the content of what we want to say; it can demand an inordinate amount of attention to technical detail and it can also distract our audiences from really hearing our work. But no matter how much technology we put between our composing selves and our final composition, between ourselves and our audiences, it is still ears and bodies and psyches that perceive our pieces.

I share her enthusiasm and her hesitations. For years, I’ve been struggling with my identity as electroacoustic soundscape-composer and as acoustic-ecology activist. Hildegard’s sense of equilibrium and wisdom is an inspiration. Indeed, we must be aware of the shortcomings of the electroacoustic medium, while keeping in mind the importance of offering an ecological voice to the loudspeaker.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Activism

In the early 1990s, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, speaking on CBC radio’s It’s a Matter of Survival, warned that the next ten years were “our last chance to change…” The questions of the survival, responsibility, and interpretation of our environment have haunted me ever since, have incited me to compose music with and about our acoustic environment, and have also led me to become politically and socially active. For the last few years, it’s become obvious to me that we are suffering from a disturbing wave of greed and excessive materialism that is choking the fruits of our environmental passions, both locally and globally.

That is why, in Banff in 1993, I became involved with a group of some 150 acoustic ecology activists in founding the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE), an interdisciplinary association for researchers and practitioners from social, scientific, and cultural disciplines, who meet and exchange information about their work and interests related to acoustic ecology. Among other things, the WFAE is participating in the organization of an international conference on acoustic ecology organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, to be held in Stockholm (June 9-14, 1998). The principal theme of this conference is “from awareness to action” and is in tune with the international acoustic ecology’s desire to evolve from an initial period of awareness to direct action.

That is also why, in 1996, in Haliburton, Ontario, I coordinated a group or thirty or so Canadian acoustic ecology activists and helped found the Canadian Association for Acoustic Ecology (CASE). CASE’s focus is on local activities, including sound-walks, anti-noise campaigns, workshops, information presentations, radio documentaries, etc. Similar groups are coming to life in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, France, Australia, Brazil, and Japan.

These organizations and their activities are directed to finding new methods of teaching and encouraging sensitive listening, of increasing awareness of the acoustic environment, and of promoting both internal and external listening as a tool for growth and sustainable development.

”Not a Very Good Composer…”

I had the shock of my life in 1985, when composer Luciano Berio told me, sincerely, that he did not think that I was a very good composer. He also mentioned, however, that he thought there was a place for me in the world of music. The piece on which Berio based his comments was my 1985 solo cello piece On the Edge, written for cellist Shauna Rolston. He thought that the piece sounded like “film music” and was not of the calibre of contemporary concert music. What I think he really meant to say was that I did not, curiously, seem to be interested in “music” so much as elements around music: space, noise, and silence.

Indeed, since 1989, I have progressively detached myself from the concert music tradition and have allowed myself to touch sonic matter through electroacoustics. At the same time, in response to the growing world ecological crisis, I have felt a need to become involved in the environmental movement, at both political and artistic levels. And because I had had musical training, I chose a path that combined the ecology of sound with music, in the form of electroacoustics. It seemed most natural for me to become concerned about the sonic quality of our environment. Therefore, I began following in the tracks of composers R Murray Schafer, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Barry Truax (among others), of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and I adopted the notion that artists can help design a more imaginative and balanced soundscape.

I find myself continually fascinated by the evocative nature of recorded soundscapes. I sometimes think of it as a “voice” within the environment reaching out to me. As a result, I want to bring the listener “inside” a space, experience, or sensation, with or without words, with or without transformation, and also with or without “music.”

My artistic practice involves essentially a five-step process: listening, recording, analyzing, transforming, and orchestrating recorded soundscapes into electroacoustic portraits for concert and radio. Whenever possible, I record my own soundscapes as a kind of performance in which I literally “play” the microphone like a musical instrument.

I have found that an essential part of the composition process occurs during field recording. Apart from a DAT machine recording two-dimensional stereo sound on tape, a parallel recording process takes place during field recording. I call it “emotional recording,” wherein the body and spirit also record sensations and vibrations from the space. These emotions can subsequently be called upon to guide the inner structure and spiritual map of the composition. I try to record sounds that, upon repeated hearing, resonate in me and cleanse me and shake me up. I listen for sounds which evoke the fragility of our environment and the importance of awareness, listening, and silence. In general, when I record, I try to meditate on and analyze the space. How does it speak to me? What are its microscopic and macroscopic components? What is my rapport and my emotional relationship with the space? How can we capture and transmit the multiple dimensions of a space by means of a microphone and loudspeakers?

When I record I also try to be aware of the limitations of my recording equipment and to plan how to frame my recordings in terms of my specific needs. Therefore, each recording—the movement of the microphone, the choice of perspective, the background, the levels, the presence of breath (or not), the stereophonic angle—is unique to each project.

Around “Autour”

It is interesting to note the reaction of Le Devoir classical music critic François Tousignant (Tousignant 1997), as stated in a review of my CD, Autour, here translated.

Musically speaking, this is elementary electroacoustics, which, far from magnifying its subject, discourages the listener, even the best intentioned. There is no call, nor interpolation from our poet in becoming; only an applied report on tape of things here and there which offer no perspective… Maybe acoustic ecology is just that: a canvas on which you can do whatever you want without really listening to it… And yet, I agree with R Murray Schafer, one of the instigators of this discipline: the environment (le paysage), is beautiful, but one must do something with it.

Indeed, my work is a simple use of electroacoustics, but I think of it as transparent rather than elementary. It is more difficult than one might think to resist transforming a sound in studio, allowing it instead to “breathe” on tape. François doesn’t seem to hear the voice of the environment, nor understand the notion of the Sharawadji effect as I do. This is his choice as listener and I respect it. It is, however, shocking that he thinks this kind of work has no perspective. It is all about perspective! In my case, it is a relatively clear perspective based on the poetry of sonographic representatlon.

Acoustic ecology is all about listening to and being aware of the acoustic environment, and though I agree that one must indeed “do” something with the acoustic environment (as Schafer and others have done so very well), I think there is more than one way of being “active,” including being actively passive by allowing an environment to be musical by itself.

The review certainly shook me up and I am grateful for that. It has encouraged me to question our ability to appreciate this kind of music with “classical” ears and to consider new models of listening and appreciation, as R Murray Schafer suggests “to not only strip down the walls of our theatres and recording studios, but also the walls of our senses.”

Ironically, in another review that same day (November 22, 1997), in La Presse, journalist Philippe Tétreau seems to be much more in tune with the nature of this kind of work.

This electroacoustician manipulates the microphone like a camera, choosing his angles, enlarging this or that detail, defining a sound image to vary the effects and therefore demonstrating the art of acoustic ecology with audio images that recreate remarkable atmospheres. We are closer to a cinematographic process here than that of music written on manuscript… The sounds of nature and of the city are retained in our memory, rather than the spectacular artifices of cybernetics. Avoiding overwhelming the listener with overcharged effects which are easily forgotten, Schryer gives an important place to silence, therefore favouring the memory of the chosen soundscape and the sensation of plenitude that he is seeking.

From External to Internal Soundscapes

With Chasse, in 1989, I began a five-part cycle of electroacoustic soundscape compositions which have come full circle with my most recent composition, Au dernier vivant les biens.

My research began in 1989 with a period of listening to and awareness of my immediate external environment. I composed two “home” pieces, Chasse (1989), about a family duck-hunting trip, and Les oiseaux de Bullion (1990), which contrasted the soundscapes around my urban home in Montréal and my wilderness home in Banff.

My next step was to figure out what I was talking about. I asked questions about acoustic ecology and the history of the acoustic-ecology movement in Canada and composed two experimental radio documentaries, Marche sonore I (Le Matin du monde) (1991-92) and Revisiting the World Soundscape Project (1992-93).

In 1993, I attempted to compose my first “musical,” ecologically inspired, concert-music pieces, Les voix de l’écologie (1993), based on Schafer’s book The Tuning of the World, and Mono Real (1994), for voice and mono tape. However, both pieces proved unsatisfactory, as I had not yet done enough listening and did not understand the delicate art of electroacoustic soundscape composition.

After an extended depression and period of healing meditation and listening in 1995, I came back to composition in 1996 with a set of four electroacoustic soundscape compositions based on locations in North America, El medio ambiente acústico de México (1995-96), Vancouver Soundscape Revisited (1996), Musique de l’Odyssée sonore (Quebec City), (1996-97), and Autour d’une Musique portuaire (Montréal), (1996), a composition with Hélène Prévost. These have all been issued on the CD Autour.

Nineteen ninety-seven brought about the conclusion of a seven-year cycle of electroacoustic soundscape compositions, with Au dernier vivant les biens (1997), a set of forty-nine electroacoustic soundscape meditations issued on the CD Lettre sonore II / Sound Letter II. I’m not sure where my listening will lead me next, towards more soundscape composition or further into the contemplation of silence. But I’m quite sure that I’ll still be searching for a voice calling from the environment.