eContact! is celebrating its 10th year of publication and to mark the occasion we have put together a Special Anniversary Edition. For ten years, eContact! has been publishing four issues per year, each addressing a particular theme or topic.
Like all anniversary activities or projects, this one takes a look back into the past, way back to the beginnings. But the beginnings of eContact! are not to be found in the articles making up issue 1.1 from some ten years ago… because eContact! is in fact quite simply nothing more than the current stage in the continuation of an outgrowth of a community of electroacoustic practitioners in Canada. It has, in fact, a number of predecessors, each previous form metamorphosing into the next according to the needs of the time, of the community. Before eContact! there was the print journal Contact! (1988–97), before that the Bulletin CEC Newsletter (1986–88), and before that, the Bulletin CECG/GEC Newsletter (1984–86). 
eContact! has grown over the years and covers much more ground and themes than it did some 25 years ago, but this is due, in large part, to the growth within the community that it endeavours to represent. eContact! is in this sense a reflection of that community; as its needs, interests and preoccupations have changed, so has the content and perspective of eContact!.
The Concordia Archival Project (2007–08)
Since Summer 2007, the CEC has been working on a large project to recover, digitize and archive a collection of electroacoustic (and related) works held at Concordia University, in Montréal. The works are part of a collection that was started by Kevin Austin in the 1970s and grew considerably in the 1980s and 1990s. The collection mirrors the interests, shifts, challenges and developments experienced within the larger electroacoustic community — in Canada as well as abroad — during this period.
Kevin Austin offers a brief introduction and contextualization of the project, useful reading just before plunging into this multi-layered project:
“The Concordia Tape Archive / Collection: What it is, and what it isn’t” and
“History, Technologies, Performances: A primary research source for electroacoustics in Canada.”
Made possible through major funding from Heritage Canada, in the form of a major Canadian Culture Online Partnership Fund grant, the Concordia Archival Project (CAP) is comprised of three principal inter-related components. Works from the collection that have been digitized are presented online and made available to the public in an accessible form; a series of eLearning modules presents historical and technical aspects of electroacoustic history using works from the collection as examples; and a Special Issue of eContact! features articles on archiving in general and interviews with artists active in and since the 1970s and 1980s.
Complexity of Meaning
The value of an archive or collection cannot be measured solely by the works contained within it, for these are but the measurement of one layer of meaning in a larger and much more complex whole: every archive is also a living form of documentation and reflection of — and thus in retrospect also a commentary upon — the artistic approaches and technical procedures of the era in which the works it contains were composed.
This last point is made quite effectively in the CAP eLearning modules. The first module, “The Collection within Electroacoustic History,” traces several lines of history that help prepare the terrain for the “common era” of electroacoustics. With many audio examples from the collection, the second module, a “Guided Listening Tour of the Collection,” illustrates among other things the complicity between works from various eras and the technologies used to create them. Supported by video clips, the third module gives insight into “The Archiving Process for the Collection.”
Preservation, Archiving, Records…
The process of archiving is also a very complex topic. While it might seem logical to state that the “best” transfer or recovery process is the one that is the most neutral or transparent, a plethora of issues are actually involved in determining what exactly constitutes an “authentic” recovery. And there is certainly no conclusive answer to the question… research on the topic develops in parallel to the technologies used to recover works, such that what is considered today to be an “authentic” recovery may not be seen as such in the very near future. About 30 years ago, sound and audio “guru” Michael Gerzon virtually shouted “Don’t Destroy The Archives!” because he foresaw the day when greatly improved technologies would be able to access and extract much more information from archived recordings. This article has been floating around sound and audio forums ever since, and the Gerzon family have kindly permitted its publication in this issue. Gerzon’s comments have not lost any of their relevance with age, as Rob Poretti points out in a new foreword.
“Authenticity” is one of the main concerns of a major research project spearheaded and led by Luciana Duranti at UBC, InterPARES, or International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems. Duranti and her team are lucky in the sense that the nature of their research allows them the time and resources to reflect upon the problems and solutions of authentic archiving. And the results give excellent insight into the many problematics involved, as outlined in “The Archiving of Obsessed Again… by Keith Hamel.” Unfortunately, economics come into play for most electroacoustic composers — and even for entire collections of electroacoustic works — who do not have an association, research team, publisher or estate taking charge of the preservation and archiving of their works on their behalf. (2)
Regardless of who is archiving the works and what means they have at their disposal, a few simple steps can help minimize losses and improve the sustenance and future recoverability of a work. Hannah Bosma calls on composers to prepare “extended score documentation” of their works in “Documentation and Publication of Electroacoustic Compositions at NEAR.” Detailed and multi-level documentation by the composer is one of the most crucial steps to assure the longevity of a work, but as any archivist knows, most composers leave behind incomplete or scattered documentation of the various stages of sound recording / synthesis, processing, assembling and mixing of their works. Paul Wilson and Adam Tovell have been exceptionally fortunate in this regard. “The Michael Gerzon Archive and the British Library’s Archival Sound Recordings Project” presents an image of a meticulous Gerzon — “one of the 20th Century’s leading audio scientists” — who left behind extensive and detailed documentation with the thousands of recordings he did from about 1966–96 in a variety of venues and of a variety of genres. Documentation is only one of a number of “points of failure” that Dennis Báthory-Kitsz addresses in “There is No Future Until We Get to It”. Mechanical failure of media and equipment obsolescence are also important hindrances faced by archivists and mastering engineers. Nevertheless, the argument “it is better to archive one’s work on a sure-to-become-obsolete format than to not do it at all” still holds true, but to this we should add that multiple backups on multiple formats for various stages of the work can also help in assuring recoverability (and also in some cases can provide interesting documentation of the creative process!).
Summaries of the holdings and archival activities of other collections are found in this issue as well, including of course, the “Concordia Archival Project (CAP).” The University of Toronto was the first university to open an EMS in Canada (1958), and the “UTEMS Tape Library” holdings prepared by Dennis Patrick are a document of the composers who passed through the studios. McGill University was next (1964) and their collection is documented by alcides lanza in the “Electronic Music Studio Archival Project.” The “Latin American Electroacoustic Music Collection” was recently archived by Ricardo Dal Farra at the Daniel Langlois Foundation in Montréal and Mills College’s “Center for Contemporary Music Archive” is an on-going project managed by Maggi Payne.
Each of these collections is a reflection of the æsthetic and technological changes experienced by and within the studio, and the collections as a whole mirror the numerous changes and developments in the larger electroacoustic community, in Canada and internationally. For example: the McGill EMS collection traces the changes in the studio equipment — from Hugh Le Caine instruments to early digital synthesizers to an all-digital studio; while the Concordia collection — supplemented by “CECG/GEC and ÉuCuE: Concert programmes, scores and more” from as far back as 1982 — parallels changes in the performance of electroacoustic music: on tape, “live electronics”, with instruments, etc.
Hélène Prévost and Mario Gauthier interviewed some of the key figures active in Canadian electroacoustics in the 1970s and 80s to provide primary sources for the eLearning modules content and complementary documentation to accompany the works in the collection. These interviews give excellent background and insights into the development of Canadian electroacoustics throughout this important formative period, as much from an artistic and social point of view as from a professional and technological one. A number of Canadian institutions producing, supporting and promoting electroacoustics were founded in this period. Kevin Austin and Jean-François Denis talk about the establishment and growth of the Concordia collection and the situation of electroacoustics in Canada when they founded the CEC in 1986. Yves Daoust speaks about the early days of ACREQ (founded in 1978), and Alain Thibault on its continuation and later developments. In 1989, Jean-François Denis and Claude Schryer founded the label empreintes DIGITALes and a unique new voice for electroacoustics was born.
The need for these and other such institutions arose out of the increasing number and diversity of electroacoustic practices and activities. In addition to the “classical” streams of electroacoustics as espoused by such artists as Robert Normandeau (acousmatique) and alcides lanza (electronic music) there was a profusion of practices that used electroacoustic means or technologies in a number of ways: cross-disciplinary collaborations and improvisation (Thibault, Charles de Mestral / Sonde, Austin and Denis / CECG/GEC), soundscape and acoustic ecology (Schryer) and eventually videomusic, a concept emerging out of Jean Piché’s work.
Each interviewee also offers personal and anecdotal perspectives on the development of electroacoustics in Canada through a discussion of their own practices and works. (3)
We hope that you will see this project as we do, as a rich and multi-faceted resource on the development of Canadian and international electroacoustics from the 1970s to the present.
On behalf of eContact! and the CEC, we — the current CEC Administrators and eContact! Editors, Yves Gigon and jef chippewa — would like to extend gracious thanks to all the authors, contributors, collaborators, translators, text editors, proofreaders, friends, supporters, and most of all the readers (!) who contributed so much to the development of eContact! over the past decade. Special thanks are due to Ian Chuprun, the CEC Administrator who navigated the transformation of the print journal Contact! (1988–97) into eContact! in a time of great change of perspective for many arts associations in Canada, a time when the CEC went “virtual”.
And in closing we wish to extend particularly warm thanks to Concordia University for the immeasurable quantity of support it has offered to eContact! and to the CEC over the years, and we look forward to the next decade of collaboration! The continued existence of this collection — now evolving into a new form — would never have been possible without Concordia University’s dedication to and support of electroacoustic activities in Canada.
We hope you enjoy the collection, it gives us great pleasure to be able to make it available to the general public through the Concordia Archival Project.
jef chippewa, 19 December 2008
- These publications can all be found in the AVA (Archive-Vault-Archive), a new initiative of the CEC to make available “text, graphics and images of monographs, publications and archival documents of importance to the international electroacoustic community that have disappeared from view or perhaps were never available publicly.”
- See, for example, John Palmer, “In Conversation with Nuria Schoenberg Nono” in eContact! 10.2 — Interviews (1) for information on the activities of the Luigi Nono Foundation.
- To complement the information found in these interviews, consult eContact! 10.2 — Interviews (1), particularly the interviews by Ned Bouhalassa in which the interviewees “talked about their first encounters with electroacoustics, provided background and anecdotes on the activities in various centres in Canada and talked about their own contributions to and involvement in the growth of the electroacoustic community in Canada.” (Editorial, eContact! 10.2)