La boutique électroacoustique

Artistes Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp a émigré au Canada en 1968 et a donné naissance à sa fille en 1977. Après qu’elle ait complété des études en musique au début des années 70, ses oreilles l’ont attirée au-delà de la musique vers l’environnement acoustique comme vers un lieu plus large ou un contexte culturel d’écoute intensive. Que ce soit dans le domaine de la composition, de l’éducation ou de l’art radiophonique, la plus grande partie de son œuvre depuis le milieu des années 70 est centrée sur les sons de l’environnement et sur l’écologie acoustique.

Elle a donné des cours en communication acoustique à la Simon Fraser University (1981-91) à Vancouver (BC), et dirigé des ateliers sur le paysage sonore partout dans le monde. Elle est l’un des membres fondateurs du World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE, 1993) et a dirigé le bulletin The Soundscape Newsletter de 1991 à 95.

La plupart de ses compositions traitent de certains aspects de l’environnement acoustique: paysages sonores urbains, ruraux ou naturels; voix d’enfants, d’hommes et de femmes; bruit ou silence; musique et sons provenant des médias; ou encore, sons de différentes cultures, et ainsi de suite. Elle a composé des bandes sonores de films et des documents sonores pour la radio, et a réalisé et animé des programmes radiophoniques tels que Soundwalking et Musica Nova sur les ondes de la Vancouver Co-operative Radio.

Dans un certain nombre de ses compositions, elle a allié de façon importante son traitement des sons environnementaux à la poésie de l’écrivain canadien Norbert Ruebsaat. Plus récemment, elle a elle-même composé des textes pour une série de morceaux pour texte récité et bande. En plus de ses compositions électroacoustiques, elle a créé des morceaux pour ‘sites’ spécifiques, tels que Harbour Symphony (1986) et École polytechnique (1990). Dans des œuvres comme Into India, elle explore les répercussions plus profondes rattachées au transfert de sons environnementaux d’un lieu étranger vers le contexte nord-américain de la composition électroacoustique et de la culture de l’art audio.

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Hildegard Westerkamp

Osnabrück (Allemagne), 1946

Résidence: Vancouver (Colombie-Britannique, Canada)

  • Compositrice
  • Rédactrice

Sur le web

Œuvres choisies

Parutions principales

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 1031 / 2010
Earsay / ES 02002 / 2002

Apparitions

Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 09100 / 2009
Artistes divers
Cambridge Street Records / CSR 0501 / 2005
Artextes Éditions / ENG 02 / 2003
  • Rupture de stock temporaire
Artistes divers
Earsay / ES 98005 / 1998
Artistes divers
Earsay / ES 98001 / 1998
Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9604 / 1996

Compléments

The Agriculture Records / AG 049 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
University of Alberta Press / UAP 9780888644749 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
Ashgate Publications / ASH 0754604268 / 2004
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
MK2 Music / MK2 8345106112 / 2003
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0050 / 2000
  • Épuisé
Artistes divers
EarthEar Records / EE 9012 / 1999
  • Hors-catalogue
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9631 / 1996
  • Réédité
Artistes divers
What Next Recordings / WN 0019 / 1995
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
Radio-Canada / ACM 37 / 1990
  • Épuisé
Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9004 / 1990
  • Réédité

La presse en parle

Creative Dormancy as Creative Process

Jonathan Bunce, Musicworks, no 111, jeudi 1 décembre 2011

trans_canada Festival: Trends in Acousmatics and Soundscapes

Wibke Bantelmann, Computer Music Journal, no 29:3, jeudi 1 septembre 2005

The trans_canada festival of electroacoustic music by Canadian composers at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe was certainly no everyday experience for the interested German public. A festival of acousmatic music—and acousmatic music only—is quite unusal. The German avant-garde music scene is still uncommonly lively, but most composers prefer either instrumental music (with electroacoustic elements) or multimedia works. The idea of invisible music seems not to touch the German musical sensibility.

Despite this, 460 visitors found their way to ZKM. During 10-13 February, 2005, they experienced a four day-long plunge into the Canadian way of composing, and had the opportunity to learn more about the “Canadian Example” as Daniel Teruggi of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) called it in his paper. According to Mr. Teruggi, the liveliness and outstanding quality of the electroacoustic music scene in Canada is the result of good composers but also of academically sound research and training and a wide range of philosophical approaches to music. The opening of the festival showed another aspect of this “example.” Paul Dubois, the present Canadian ambassador to Germany, came from Berlin to open the festival—cultural policy in Canada apparently knows and supports the electroacoustic scene intensely, quite contrary to German policy.

Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau, Gilles Gobeil, Nicolas Bernier, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Louis Dufort took part in the festival and presented works (Ned Bouhalassa was invited but for health reasons was unable to attend). Nine pieces were commissioned by ZKM and received their world premieres at the festival.

trans_canada not only offered an occasion for Germans to learn about Canadian acousmatic music; apparently, it also connected the Canadians themselves. “It seems we had to come to the ZKM in Karlsruhe to get together,” said Robert Normandeau at the last concert. And so, the Francophone composers from the east, rooted in the Paris school of “musique concrète,” met the Anglophone soundscape composers from the West coast. “I was very much surprised when Francis Dhomont told us that he does not like the original sounds to be changed so much that you can’t distinguish their origin any longer,” said Hildegard Westerkamp. “We are not as far away from each other as I used to think.”

This proved to be quite true, as could be heard. The parallels between their new works, Brief an den Vater by Mr. Dhomont and Für Dich—For You by Ms. Westerkamp, were striking. Both compositions were not only inspired by but also formally based on literature and the structure, the sound, the rhythm of the text. The work by Mr. Dhomont, with the scraping of a pen as a sort of leitmotif, was no less abstract than Ms. Westerkamp’s music with its sea-sounds (gulls, wind, waves). And her fantasy land called “home” is not more “real” then his world of inner struggle. Both works showed an extreme sensitivity for subtle, delicate sounds which were spread in many layers, throwing shadows of sound, and constantly and slowly developing into new shapes and shades. The differences between the works seemed after all (to this listener at least) to be ones of personal style and expression than of basic principles.

Another new work with words came from Darren Copeland. I don’t want to be inside me anymore was quite singular in the festival due to its definite focus on content, on a “real story.” This fact gave the piece a strong dramatic quality leaving hardly any room for imagination. The intention of the sounds to build around the absorbing, sometimes even vexatious, words seemed to force the listeners to constantly keep their full attention on the meaning of the text. It was a deeply impressive piece, even if it was to a certain extent more dramatic than musical. (Although other listeners might experience it differently if they do not understand the German text.)

In a way, this work resembles a compositional style of a very different kind, that of Barry Truax. The connection may be found in the very sense of reality in both composer’s works: the reality of the feeling of isolation on one hand, and the reality of an existing landscape (streams, peaks, caves) on the other.

Even Gilles Gobeil’s magnificent medieval drama, Ombres, espaces, silences…, followed roughly this direction. This piece was not about feeling or landscape, it was about reality, too, in this case the reality of history, only by far more sublime, sensitive, and imaginative. Not “cinema for the ear” but a “novel for the ear” (something like The Name of the Rose?)! However, the form and structure of this work is by far more of a narrative nature than strictly abstract-musical.

It was Robert Normandeau and the youngsters of trans_canada who were most abstract, and therefore the strongest advocates of a true “invisible music.” It was not only not to be seen, it was not to be imagined. There was nothing real, nothing you could get hold of, it was more or less a complete deconstruction of sounds, ideas, narration. They appeared not to start from any landscape, be it imagined or real, inside or outside the head; they started from ideas, ideas of sound, ideas of form. Even the antique Writing Machine in the work by Nicolas Bernier was more a (slightly exotic) sound than a sense, more a historical reminiscence than an element of form.

Coincidence shows her unaccountable face, experiment and surprise follow. You could hear experience and mastery in the work of Robert Normandeau, of course. You were always sure that it was him who played with coincidence and not the other way round. His world premiere, ZedKejeM, was highly dynamic, with the energy and rhythm from a dancefloor, but still showed the deepness, density, and versatility of a deep-thinking organizer of energy and fantasy. Every single sound seemed well calculated, the effects carefully set.

The music of his younger colleagues, Mr. Bernier and Louis Dufort, was more spontaneous, wandering dreamily through all the possibilities of technique and sound, to find out what would happen. Mr. Dufort spread a richness and variety of colors in a free, open structure that simply followed the beauty of the sounds created. In contrast to that, Mr. Bernier followed an intellectual plan, he set his rules and let them work. One always sensed the will behind the music, one always tried to follow and understand the experiment instead of just enjoying the result. But, on the other hand, this method produced a certain strong energy in the work. This composer had the power to raise and hold the intellectual interest of the listener.

All in all, it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities, and to learn a little about their methods.

trans_canada also provided the chance to meet the composers in person. Each of them delivered a paper about their work. They could only give a rough survey, of course, in a 45-min talk. Rather than concentrating on techniques or software, most composers just tried to acquaint their colleagues and the small number of other interested people with their sources of inspiration, their opinions, their philosophy. Remarkable was the clear delivery of all the composers and the relaxed atmosphere of these sessions. There seemed to be no need to impress anyone, and not so much need to discuss, let alone debate. Everybody was open-minded and respected the others, as if trying to learn and understand, not to question fundamentals.

It was like a good talk between colleagues and friends. Mr. Normandeau provided insight into his large archive of sound and his permanent work on the human voice. Mr. Gobeil expressed his preference for the sound of exotic instruments (like the Daxophone) and his dislike of techno music (inducing him to write a techno-piece). Mr. Dhomont talked about the relation between accident and control in his work, marking his own position somewhere between Pierre Boulez and John Cage:Boulez would say: ‘This is incidental, throw it away;’ Cage would say: ‘This is incidental, so I take it;’ I say: ‘Look, there is an interesting incident, but should I take it?’” He also used the opportunity to call for more polyphony in electroacoustic music instead of the exclusive concentration on creating the most original, most exotic new sound: “In an orchestra, you mix different instruments, but the single instrument becomes not less beautiful.”

The exceptional environment of ZKM supported this beautiful richness of sounds and the inventiveness of the composers immensely. The two concert venues offer exquisite acoustics. They were equipped with 70 concert loudspeakers, placed in either circles or in a kind of “acousmonium surround environment.” This, in conjunction with the timbral and spatial qualities of the works, created an extraordinary musical experience.

… it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities…

Espaces de sons: les sons environnementaux dans l’électroacoustique

David Turgeon, electrocd.com, dimanche 1 juin 2003

Les sons environnementaux (field recordings) ont toujours fasciné les compositeurs électroacoustiques, ceci depuis les Cinq études de bruits (1948) de Pierre Schaeffer et ses enregistrements de trains modifiés. Avec le Vancouver Soundscape 1973 (1972-73) de R Murray Schafer, ces sons du quotidien s’articulent autour d’un discours qu’on nommera «écologie sonore», où les sons gardent leur signification originale, et ne servent plus comme contenu anecdotique à la merci du compositeur. Le lecteur curieux notera que Jonty Harrison fait une intéressante synthèse de ces deux approches dans son texte {cnotice:imed_0052-0001/À propos d'Évidence matérielle/cnotice}.

En fait, chaque compositeur semble privilégier une approche différente par rapport aux sons environnementaux. Alors que l’écologie sonore voit fleurir des artistes du microphone tels que Claude Schryer et bien sûr Hildegard Westerkamp et sa fameuse Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989), des préoccupations autrement plus documentaires alimentent un disque tel que Corazón Road (1993), carnet de voyage sonore du duo français Kristoff K Roll. Entretemps, le compositeur new-yorkais Jon Hudak part d’une palette extrêmement minimaliste afin de trouver l’«essence» des sons utilisés, ce qui donne à l’auditeur de doux «soundscapes» planants. Élève du ci-haut mentionné Harrison, Natasha Barrett se rapproche davantage de la tradition acousmatique tout en concevant des paysages sonores de toute beauté à partir de sons environnementaux très discrets.

De jeunes compositeurs s’ajoutent constamment au paysage (sonore…) et il serait malvenu de les confiner au silence tant leur travail nous semble digne d’intérêt. Mentionnons d’abord le californien V. V. (de son vrai nom Ven Voisey), qui intègre ses sons trouvés dans une architecture rappelant la musique concrète «vieille école» — ce faisant, il montre combien Schaeffer n’est peut-être pas si éloigné esthétiquement de Merzbow… Avec Relisten, l’autrichien Bernhard Gal nous fait découvrir ses épisodes, soigneusement choisis, de «musique trouvée» (c’est-à-dire de structures musicales existant déjà dans le matériel environnemmental.) Enfin, de par son foissonnement d’idées et son rythme toujours soutenu, le surprenant flume ridge.halifax.lisbon (2001) du montréalais Cal Crawford réjouira sans doute les auditeurs à l’affût de nouvelle acousmatique.

Deux petites friandises pour terminer. D’abord, le joli mini-CDR Aenviron: one présente cinq instantanés sonores (et ce, sans aucun traitement!). Après tout, s’il existe du cinéma pour l’oreille, alors pourquoi pas un album photo pour l’oreille! Question de boucler la boucle, nous proposons également de s’arrêter au récent mini-CD de Lionel Marchetti au titre évocateur de Train de nuit (Noord 3-683) (1998-99). Cette œuvre pour un seul haut-parleur, dédiée (on s’en douterait!) à Pierre Schaeffer, nous rappelle, une fois de plus, l’importance toujours renouvelée des sources environnementales dans l’océan électroacoustique.

Review

Joyce Hildebrand, Encompass, dimanche 1 octobre 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.

Compte rendu

Andra McCartney, eContact!, no 1:1, dimanche 1 février 1998

Hildegard Westerkamp dit que «le paysage sonore est comme une langue avec laquelle s’expriment les lieux et les sociétés». Son disque Transformations offre cinq pièces composées entre 1979 et 1992 dans le style paysage sonore. Chaque pièce parcourt les dimensions d’un endroit distinct et évoque un environnement intérieur différent à chaque écoute. Westerkamp explore les possibilités soniques et sociopolitiques de chaque lieu en enregistrant, mélangeant et en transformant d’une manière subtile les sons. Ainsi, l’auditeur prend conscience et apprécie mieux ces endroits. Avec talent et précision, Westerkamp réussit à traduire ces langues.

On le fait avec la peau de la nuit du désert

Cricket Voice est une exploration musicale du chant d’un grillon enregistré pendant la nuit par Westerkamp dans une partie du désert mexicain qui se nomme la Zone du silence. La pureté acoustique de ce lieu agit comme cadre pour le chant, celui-ci étant accompagné par une musique réalisée à partir des sons traités et naturels de pointes de cactus et d’autres plantes. Cette composition est aussi étendue que le désert et aussi intime que le chant d’un seul grillon.

Écoutez nos villes

Deux des œuvres, A Walk Through The City, et Kits Beach Soundwalk, ont comme sujet le paysage sonore de la ville. Parfois, quand je suis dans le centre de la ville, je suis assourdi par la quantité de sons. Ces deux pièces me forcent à écouter, à me transformer et à faire de la place pour les endroits tranquilles dans la ville. Dans A Walk Through The City, le poème du même nom de Norbert Ruebsaat nous sert de guide pour parcourir un quartier de clochard à Vancouver. Kits Beach Soundwalk commence à la plage de Kitsilano, qui est au cœur de Vancouver et en même temps à sa frontière. J’entends le battement de la ville mélangée aux petits bruits des bernaches qui se nourrissent dans le clapotis de la marée. Cette pièce explore plusieurs frontières: celles qui se trouvent entre le rêve et le réveil, entre la ville et la campagne, entre l’eau et la terre, entre le documentaire et la composition. Quand l’œuvre nous fait pénétrer dans le monde imaginaire à hautes fréquences, je me souviens que la ville peut me transporter dans des lieux tranquilles.

Traces sonores et Sitka

Formée de sons de sirènes de trains, de bateau, d’usine et d’une partition pour cor, la pièce Fantasie for Horns II est la plus ancienne de la collection. Le son des sirènes est particulièrement évocateur et nous donne le sentiment d’un lieu. Chaque fois que j’entends cette pièce, je me souviens d’avoir grandi près de la mer, à l’écoute des sirènes côtières qui me rappelait sa force et son énergie. La dernière pièce du disque est Beneath The Forest Floor. La plupart des sons ont été enregistrés par Westerkamp dans la vallée Carmanah sur l’île de Vancouver. La pièce évoque le calme et la paix de cette forêt tropicale ancienne, peuplée de cèdre et d’épinettes Sitka vieux de plus de mille ans.

J’ai toujours trouvé que le travail d’Hildegard Westerkamp est une source de révélation et d’inspiration. Son œuvre me transporte dans des lieux connus et inouïs, et m’encourage à être à l’écoute de mon environnement. Comme l’a dit Pauline Oliveros à propos des pièces de Westerkamp, de me transformer en écoutant. Sa musique me donne le goût d’écouter la langue du paysage sonore et de m’en servir pour exprimer ma relation avec ce paysage. J’espère que vous aussi y prendrez goût. (traduction: Ned Bouhalassa)

… a particular source of insight and inspiration.

Sociopolitical Sonic Potentials

Andra McCartney, Musicworks, no 68, dimanche 1 juin 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

MP, Vital, no 67, samedi 1 février 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…

Musique électroacoustique

François Tousignant, Le Devoir, samedi 20 janvier 1996

Encore une fois, je m’excuse pour l’emploi de ce terme générique que plusieurs compositeurs utilisant autre chose que des instruments réfutent ou transforment. Je compte sur leur tolérance pour la non-uniformité du vocabulaire.

C’est la maison empreintes DIGITALes qui mène encore le bal, avec son producteur Jean-François Denis qui, lui, n’a pas froid aux yeux. Une bonne quinzaine de titres à paraître. Des compositeurs d’Europe, notamment Michèle Bokanowski et Hildegard Westerkamp (dont j’attends avec frénésie les résultats de son «écologie sonore»), et, choses à suivre tant par les adeptes que les curieux et les sceptiques, un disque consacré à des œuvres du Montréalais Stéphane Roy et un autre d’un de ses maîtres - un maître en soi -, la réédition sur CD de Sous le regard d’un soleil noir de Francis Dhomont. Entre parenthèses, il paraîtrait qu’une suite à cette œuvre soit en phase de réalisation et qu’on puisse l’éditer vers la fin de l’année. Rêvons et envoyons plein de «vibrations positives» au compositeur.

C’est la maison empreintes DIGITALes qui mène encore le bal…

Canada’s Electroacoustic Success Story

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Words & Music, no 2:7, samedi 1 juillet 1995

Canada is famous for hockey, the Rockies and sockeye salmon, medical research and film animation, even space age technology. There is reason to be proud.

But could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music? Odds are, most Canadians don’t even know what it is.

Yet Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil from Quebec, Barry Truax and Paul Dolden from Vancouver, and Toronto’s Bruno Degazio are counted among a growing number of internationally acclaimed Canadian electroacoustic composers.

“Canada occupies a unique place in the area of electroacoustics,” says Toronto composer Al Mattes. “You just have to see who wins the major prizes each year at Bourges in France and other important events. Canadians are always up there near the top.”

Mattes, who co-founded Toronto’s avant-garde Music Gallery two decades ago, is current president of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), the country’s only coast-to-coast support group for the sonically obsessed. Significantly, membership in the CEC has almost doubled in the last two years.

“I think you could make a legitimate claim that electroaccustic music was invented in Canada,” says Mattes. “There are a number of different roots of course, but the idea of voltage control really comes from Hugh Le Caine’s work.” Le Caine (1914-1977) was an extraordinary figure and it’s no wonder SOCAN Foundation’s annual electroacoustic composition award, one of five categories in the society’s Awards for Young Composers, bears his name. As director of the Electronic Music Laboratory at the National Research Council in Ottawa dating back to the 1940s, Le Caine was driven by an urge to create new instruments and sounds. A number of the inventor/composer’s remarkable instruments, such as the Sackbut and the Serial Sound Structure Generator, were precursors of today’s synthesizers. Le Caine also laid the foundations for Canada’s earliest important electroacoustic studios, first at the University of Toronto and later at Montréal’s McGill University. Ever since, music departments in universities across the country have been a fertile environment for the burgeoning electroacoustic scene. Now-retired pioneers like Istvan Anhalt (Queen’s University) and Otto Joachim (who has had his own private studio since the mid-1950s) have been followed by the likes of Gustav Ciamaga (University of Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill), and Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

The CEC has about 250 members but, according to administrator Ian Chuprun, “there’s a much larger number of electroacoustic composers who aren’t members yet. Pop culture has started to use more electroacoustic techniques all over the place — in television, in film, in commercials — and that has made the whole field more accessible.”

Kevin Austin of Concordia University in Montréal agrees: “This is not music in the traditional sense. A large part of it is the use of sound without direct reference to pitch and rhythm as we’ve come to understand it. But electroacoustic music is much easier to appreciate now than when it was first developing, because many of the sounds are no longer perceived as being so different. We’ve grown accustomed to sounds being ‘morphed’.”

Austin, actively involved in the electroacoustic scene for more than 25 years, founded the MetaMusic ensemble in 1972 and the Concordia Electroacoustic Composers’ Group in 1982. He was the driving force behind the creation of the CEC in 1986.

While the media have made electroacoustic ideas more accessible from an audience point of view, technology has made the process more approachable from a composer’s perspective.

“To ‘morph’ a sound in the ’50s might have taken weeks of computer time,” Austin says. “Today, you can sit down with a sampler, attach a vocal resonance to the attack of a guitar, and presto, you have a new sound.”

One of Canada’s top electroacoustic composers, Paul Dolden has a different point of view: “I just don’t like the word ‘electroacoustics.’ I would prefer to say I’m a composer who uses technology. My work is basically glorified orchestral music. The fact is, I like notes. I’m not much interested in so-called ‘sound objects’ and I hate synthesized sounds. However, since I do work on tape and none of my pieces can be performed live, I suppose it can all be classified as electroacoustic. But I just don’t think we need the term.”

Today Dolden is $10,000 richer, having just won one of two Jean A. Chalmers Musical Composition Awards, along with Montréal’s Jean-François Denis. Denis, who taught electroacoustic music at Concordia University [in 1985-89], captured his $10,000 award for his valuable work as a concert presenter and editor, and for launching the successful record label empreintes DIGITALes. Dolden was recognized for his composition L’ivresse de la vitesse (“Intoxication by Speed”).

“It’s 400 tracks of all acoustic instruments,” Dolden explains. “You should see the score. There are millions of notes! Basically what I’ve done is reduce five symphonies down to 15 minutes. The idea was to speed up music to the point of intoxication.”

Last month, Dolden premiered his latest work at a concert presented by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in Montréal. “I called it The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3. It’s a piece for string orchestra and tape. The tape part uses a lot of pop culture artifacts. It’s a rocker for intellectuals.”

At the other end of the electroacoustic scene, in Vancouver, is Barry Truax of Simon Fraser University. He has been an influential electroacoustic academic and composer since the early ’70s. Two years ago, on the strength of his piece Riverrun, Truax was awarded the coveted Magisterium Prize at Bourges, the most prestigious electroacoustic festival competition in the world.

“In the old days, there was tape music, electronic music and computer music,” Truax recalls. “They were separate communities with an emphasis on the technologies. The three groups didn’t really interact a lot. Eventually, the barriers started coming down and you can certainly point to a breakdown in the difference between analogue and digital as a factor.”

Truax is acclaimed for his work in the area of computer-assisted music, and was among the first to program his own software. “That was a necessity in the ’70s,” he says. “Today it’s just an inconvenience.”

The composer is currently at work on a major commission for the annual International Computer Music Conference in early September. The event was staged in Copenhagen last year and in Tokyo in 1993; this year it will be held in Banff, Alta.

A long time Truax associate is Vancouver composer Hildegard Westerkamp, whose acoustic explorations have always focused on environmental sounds. “A lot of the time I am walking the edge between sound ecology and sound composition,” she says. “I’m hoping to premiere a new piece at ISEA (the International Symposium for Electronic Arts) in Montréal in September.”

Westerkamp, who recently returned from a two-week sound symposium organized by the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin, is editor of The Soundscape Newsletter, official voice of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. “The electroacoustic medium is so fascinating,” she says. “I find it unfortunate that so few women are in the field. I think the big stumbling block is the technology. It doesn’t discourage everyone, but the circumstances can be quite difficult.”

Just ask Bruno Degazio. “Right now I’m working with a WX7 wind controller and a Yamaha VL1,” says the accomplished sound designer and composer from Toronto. “The VL1 is a physical modeling synthesizer that plays and feels like a musical instrument. It’s the way of the future.”

This year, Degazio is booked solid on IMAX film projects. His recent work includes impressive soundtracks to Titanica, The Last Buffalo and the Oscar-nominated documentary The Fires of Kuwait.

As it is in many other areas, the electroacoustic scene in Quebec is distinct. Many Québécois composers have been profoundly influenced by the school of “musique concrète” in France, which focussed on the electronic manipulation of “sound objects” rather than on electronically created sounds. As a result, their entire creative approach tends to be different.

A key organization in Quebec is the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), established by Yves Daoust and Marcelle Deschênes in 1978. A string of outstanding composers have been affiliated with ACREQ. Among them are Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil, all of whom have won numerous international awards. Gobeil recently captured second prize at Ars Electronica, a festival in Austria.

“The scene is very stimulating right now,” Gobeil reports. “There have been a lot of changes and what I especially like is that we’re starting to communicate more and listen to each other’s work.”

One proof of that is Jean-François Denis’s label empreintes DIGITALes. “Right now we have 24 CDs on our label and yes, there’s an audience for it! I don’t just make these CDs, I sell them too,” Denis insists. “I’m not surprised by the potential of electroacoustic music either, because there are many sensitive artists working within the field.”

To get a measure of the electroaoustic talent that is out there, curious ears can explore DISContact! II, a recent compilation of 51 works on two CDs by members of the CEC. Though each piece lasts just three minutes or less, the development of acoustic ideas is often extraordinary.

… could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music?

L’art de la transformation

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no 2:7, samedi 1 juillet 1995

Le Canada est célèbre pour son hockey, ses Rocheuses et son saumon rouge, ses recherches en médecine et ses films d’animation, et même pour sa technologie de l’ère de l’espace. De quoi étre fier!

Mais qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique? La plupart des Canadiens, selon toute vraisemblance, ne connaissent même pas ce style de musique.

Cela n’empêche pas Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, du Québec, Barry Truax et Paul Dolden, de Vancouver, et Bruno Degazio, de Toronto, de faire partie d’un groupe grandissant de compositeurs de musique électroacoustique canadiens acclamés partout dans le monde.

«Le Canada joue un rôle unique dans le domaine de l’électroacoustique, affirme le compositeur torontois Al Mattes. Il suffit de consulter la liste des lauréats des principaux prix qui sont remis tous les ans à Bourges, en France.»

Cofondateur il y a deux décennies de l’avant-gardiste Music Gallery de Toronto, Mattes est actuellement président de la Communauté électroacoustique canadienne (CÉC), le seul groupe de soutien pancanadien pour les obsédés sonores. Fait révélateur, l’adhésion à la CÉC a presque doublé depuis deux ans.

«Je crois qu’il serait légitime d’affirmer que la musique électroacoustique a été inventée au Canada, dit Mattes. Il existe plusieurs souches différentes, naturellement, mais l’idée du contrôle du voltage est véritablement issue de l’œuvre de Hugh Le Caine.»

Le Caine (1914-1977) était une personne extraordinaire et il n’est donc guère surprenant que le prix de la composition de musique électroacoustique de la SOCAN, remis annuellement, porte son nom. En tant que directeur du Laboratoire de musique électronique du Conseil national de recherches à Ottawa au début des années 40, Le Caine était habité par la motivation de créer des instruments et des sons nouveaux. Certaines de ses plus remarquables inventions, tels la saqueboute et le générateur de structures sonores sérielles, furent des précurseurs des synthétiseurs d’aujourd’hui.

On doit aussi à Le Caine d’avoir jeté les fondations des premiers studios électroacoustiques d’importance au Canada, d’abord à l’Université de Toronto et ensuite à l’Université McGill de Montréal. Les départements de musique des universités de toutes les régions du Canada constituent depuis un environnement fertile pour l’univers effervescent de l’électroacoustique. Maintenant à la retraite, des pionniers comme Istvan Anhalt (Université Queen’s) et Otto Joachim (qui a son propre studio depuis le milieu des années 50), ont été suivis par des compositeurs tels Gustav Ciamaga (Université de Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill) et Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

La CÉC compte environ 250 membres dans ses rangs, mais selon l’administrateur Ian Chuprun, «le nombre d’électroacousticiens qui ne sont pas membres est beaucoup plus élevé. La culture pop a commencé à faire davantage appel aux techniques électroacoustiques dans tous les secteurs — à la télévision, au cinéma, dans la publicité — et l’ensemble de ce domaine est du même coup devenu plus accessible.»

Kevin Austin, de l’Université Concordia à Montréal, abonde dans le même sens: «Nous ne parlons pas de musique au sens traditionnel. Dans une large mesure, il s’agit d’une exploitation du son sans l’intervention directe des notions de hauteur et de rythme telles que nous les comprenons. Mais il est beaucoup plus facile d’apprécier la musique électroacoustique maintenant qu’à l’époque où elle faisait ses premiers pas, étant donné que plusieurs des sons utilisés ne sont plus perçus comme étant très inhabituels.»

Très actif dans les milieux de la musique électroacoustique depuis plus de 25 ans, Austin a mis sur pied l’ensemble MetaMusic en 1972, ainsi que le Groupe électroacoustique de Concordia en 1982. Il a aussi joué un rôle déterminant dans la création de la CÉC en 1986.

«Dans les années 50, la transformation d’un son pouvait prendre des semaines, déclare Austin. De nos jours, il suffit d’utiliser un générateur et de raccorder une résonance vocale à l’attaque d’une guitare, et bingo! vous venez de créer un nouveau son.»

L’un des compositeurs de musique électroacoustique les plus en vue du Canada, Paul Dolden, ne partage pas cette vision des choses: «Je n’aime pas du tout le mot électroacoustique. Je préférerais dire que je suis un compositeur faisant appel à la technologie. Ce que je fais, c’est de la musique orchestrale embellie. J’aime les notes, cela est indéniable. Je suis peu intéressé aux soi-disant ‘objets sonores’ et je déteste les sons synthétisés. Mais comme je travaille sur bande et qu’aucune de mes œuvres ne peut être exécutée en direct, je suppose qu’on peut classer le tout dans la catégorie ‘musique électroacoustique’. Mais je crois sincèrement que nous n’avons pas besoin de ce terme.»

Ces jours-ci, Dolden s’est enrichi de 10 000$ en remportant l’un des deux Prix de composition musicale Jean A. Chalmers, l’autre étant allé à Jean-François Denis. Ce dernier enseigne [de 1985 à 1989] les rudiments de la musique électroacoustique à l’Université Concordia, et son prix lui a été remis afin de souligner sa contribution à titre de présentateur de concerts, d’éditeur et de fondateur d’empreintes DIGITALes, une étiquette de disques accumulant les succès. Quant à Dolden, c’est sa composition L’ivresse de la vitesse qui a retenu l’attention du jury.

«Cela consiste en 400 pistes d’instruments acoustiques, explique Dolden. Vous devriez voir la partition. Elle contient des millions de notes! Ce que j’ai fait, essentiellement, c’est réduire cinq symphonies à une durée de 15 minutes. Le but visé était d’accélérer la musique au point d’en arriver à un état d’ivresse.»

Le mois dernier, Dolden a présenté sa récente œuvre en première dans le cadre d’un concert de la Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) à Montréal. «Je l’ai appelée The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3, précise-t-il. «La portion sur bande fait appel à une grande quantité d’artefacts de la culture pop. C’est du rock pour intellectuels.»

À l’autre antipode de l’univers électroacoustique se trouve Barry Truax, de l’Université Simon Fraser. Compositeur et académicien influent depuis le début des années 70, il a reçu, grâce à sa pièce Riverrun, ie très convoité Prix Magisterium à Bourges, où se tient le plus prestigieux concours de musique électroacoustique au monde.

«Jadis il y avait la musique sur bande, la musique électronique et la musique informatique, se souvient Truax. Il y avait des regroupements distincts qui mettaient l’accent sur les technologies. Les trois factions entretenaient peu de rapports. Mais les barrières se sont mises à tomber, notamment en raison de la différence entre l’analogique et le numérique.»

Truax doit sa réputation à son travail dans le domaine de la musique assistée par ordinateur, et il fut l’un des premiers à programmer ses propres logiciels. «Cela était nécessaire dans les années 70, dit-il. De nos jours, c’est devenu un inconvénient.»

Le compositeur de la côte ouest travaille actuellement à exécuter une importante commande pour le compte de la International Computer Music Conference, qui aura lieu au début de septembre. Cet événement annuel marquant s’est tenu à Copenhague l’année dernière et à Tokyo en 1993. Cette année, c’est Banff, Alberta, qui en sera l’hôte.

Les expérimentations acoustiques de la compositrice vancouveroise Hildegard Westerkamp, une associée de longue date de Truax, ont toujours porté sur les sons environnementaux. «Il m’arrive souvent de concilier l’écologie et la composition sonore, explique-t-elle. J’espère donner la première d’une nouvelle pièce à l’ISEA95 Montréal (Symposium international des arts électroniques) en septembre à Montréal.»

Récemment revenue d’un symposium de deux semaines sur les sons, organisé par l’Akademie der Kunste à Berlin, Westerkamp est l’éditrice du Soundscape Newsletter, l’organe officiel du World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. «Le médium électroacoustique est tellement fascinant. Je trouve dommage qu’il y ait si peu de femmes qui s’y intéressent. Je crois que la technologie représente l’obstacle majeur. Méme si cela ne décourage pas tout le monde, il y a aussi le contexte plutôt difficile lié au domaine qui peut parfois aussi rebuter certaines personnes.»

Le cas de Bruno Degazio, un compositeur et concepteur de sons chevronné de Toronto, illustre bien ce point de vue: «Actuellement je travaille à l’aide d’un contrôleur d’instruments à vent WX7 et d’un VL1 de Yamaha. Le VL1 est un synthétiseur de modélisation physique qui réagit comme un instrument de musique lorsqu’on en joue. C’est la voie de l’avenir.»

Cette année, Degazio est engagé à plein temps dans des projets de films IMAX. Parmi ses récentes œuvres, on retrouve d’impressionnantes trames sonores dont celles de Titanica, The Last Buffalo et The Fires of Kuwait, un documentaire mis en nomination aux Oscars.

Comme cela se produit dans nombre d’autres domaines, l’électroacoustique se conçoit différemment au Québec. Beaucoup de compositeurs québécois ont été profondément influencés par l’école de la musique concrète en France, qui s’attarde surtout à étudier la manipulation électronique d’«objets sonores» plutôt que les sons crcés électroniquement. Par conséquent, leur approche créative tend à être différente.

L’Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), mise sur pied par Yves Daoust et Marcelle Deschênes en 1978, est l’un des regroupements importants de la province. Bon nombre de compositeurs remarquables lui sont affiliés, dont Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, qui ont tous remporté plusieurs prix internationaux. Gobeil a pour sa part décroché le deuxième prix au Ars Electronica, un festival présenté en Autriche.

«Le milieu est en pleine effervescence à l’heure actuelle, dit Gobeil. Plusieurs changements sont survenus et je suis particulièrement heureux de voir que nous commençons à communiquer davantage et à écouter les œuvres de nos collègues.»

L’étiquette empreintes DIGITALes de Jean-François Denis permet de mesurer l’ampleur de ces déblocages. «Notre catalogue contient maintenant 24 compacts et, oui, il y a un marché pour eux! Je ne me contente pas de fabriquer ces disques. je les vends aussi!» insiste Denis. Je ne suis pas surpris non plus par le potentiel de la musique électroacoustique, étant donné qu’il y a beaucoup d’artistes sensibles qui ont opté pour ce genre.

Pour obtenir un aperçu du talent de ces musiciens, on peut écouter DISContact! II, une compilation récente de 51 œuvres de membres de la CÉC. Bien qu’aucune des pièces ne dure plus de trois minutes, plusieurs d’entre elles témoignent d’un développement d’idées acoustiques sortant de l’ordinaire.

… qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique?

Interview With Hildegard Westerkamp

Brian Duguid, Ios Smolders, Electric Shock Treatment (EST), no 6, mercredi 1 mars 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…

Autres textes

The WholeNote no 10:7, Radio Patapoe: Adventures in UNsound no 76

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