Where water meets
4 ii 1998
I have entitled this article "where water meets" because each of the pieces I have chosen concerns moments and places at the edge of water. Swimming the Reef is an auditory remembrance of a swim through a reef environment. Kits Beach Soundwalk begins at Kits Beach in Vancouver, then travels to a world of high frequencies that the beach evokes. Liquid Metal explores the visual, tactile and auditory resonances of the surface of water, meeting air. Welcome to the water's edge!
The idea of edges meeting is also an important one in both acoustic ecology and feminist theory. Acoustic ecology explores the relationships among sounds within an environment, and soundscape composers do this through the recording of those sounds and their later re-presentation in a somewhat different, heightened, edited or composed form. An early example of this kind of work is Presque Rien #1, by Luc Ferrari, in which he worked with the sounds of a beach around sunrise--the edge of water and land, as well as the edge of night and day. Working at the margins of two environments or states allows a soundscape composer to bring attention to what joins them as well as what separates them.
Feminist theory is also concerned with margins and perceptions of different states. Teresa de Lauretis talks of the "doubled consciousness" of women who work with technology, who are at once situated as the subject, rational, ordering reality with technology-- as well as stereotypically constructed as the object, irrational, close to Nature. de Lauretis says that this position keeps women film-makers (and I would add, electroacoustic composers), always on the edge of these states of mind, and always questioning them.
This is not to say that all of the work of these composers concerns itself with environmental edges. All have done a variety of work, which you will see from reading the bios below, and by linking to our websites. As curator of a concert at Concordia University, I sought to explore this particular aspect of our work, to understand better how in this way our edges meet.
Andra McCartney is a soundscape artist who creates multimedia works, audio postcards, radio art, and works for dance. She is the mother of two teenage children, who (although they prefer heavy metal) often take part in her audio work. Andra co-hosts "Auditory Transitory" on CIUT Toronto 89.5 Monday midnights, a weekly radio show devoted to soundscape composition and radio art. She is currently completing a PhD in Music at York University in Toronto, creating a CD ROM dissertation about Vancouver soundscape composer Hildegard Westerkamp. She is a board member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community and the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology.
Beneath the waves, I heard my breathing, heartbeat, pounding surf. The beautiful fish and coral were beyond my ears. This piece transforms their spoken names-tomtate, angelfish, barracuda, fan, brain-to mimic their movements, forms, and colours. Surf recorded at Palmiste, Grenada; All Soul's Day, 1990.
Hildegard Westerkamp emigrated to Canada in 1968 and gave birth to her daughter in 1977. After completing her music studies in the early seventies her ears were drawn beyond music to the acoustic environment as a broader cultural context or place for intense listening. Whether as a composer, educator, or radio artist most of her work since the mid-seventies has centred around environmental sound and acoustic ecology. She has taught acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University (1981-1991) and has conducted soundscape workshops internationally. She is a founding member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and was the editor of the Soundscape Newsletter for several years. The majority of her compositions deal with aspects of the acoustic environment.
Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989)
About ten years ago I produced and hosted a radio program on Vancouver Cooperative Radio called Soundwalking, in which I took the listener to different locations in and around the city and explored them acoustically. Kits Beach Soundwalk is a compositional extension of this original idea.
Kitsilano Beach - colloquially called Kits Beach and originally in native Indian language Khahtsahlano - is located in the heart of Vancouver. In the summer it is crowded with a display of "meat salad" and ghetto blasters, indeed light years away from the silence experienced here not so long ago by the native Indians.
The original recording on which this piece is based was made on a calm winter morning, when the quiet lapping of the water and the tiny sounds of barnacles feeding were audible before an acoustic backdrop of the throbbing city. In this soundwalk composition we leave the city behind eventually and explore instead the tiny acoustic realm of barnacles, the world of high frequencies, inner space and dreams.
Kits Beach Soundwalk was realized in 1989 in my own studio Inside the Soundscape and was premiered in March, 1989 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Maggi Payne is currently Co-Director of the Center For Contemporary Music at Mills College, Oakland, CA, where she teaches recording engineering, composition and electronic music. She also freelances as a recording engineer and editor. She has had performances of her works throughout the United States and Europe, including the New Music Across America Festival '92, New Music America '90, '87 and '81 Festivals, Composers' Forum in NYC, Experimental Intermedia Foundation in NYC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, SEAMUS, Western Front, Siggraph, CADRE, University of California at Santa Cruz, Cal State Northridge, Texas Tech University, University of Hartford, College of Santa Fe, Media Study/Buffalo, New Langton Arts in SF, New York Museum of Modern Art, Paris Autumn Festival, Bourges Festival in France, and the Autunno Musical at Como, Italy. She has received two Composer's Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and video grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships Program. Her solo CD, Crystal, is available on the Lovely Music label, as are her compositions Lunar Dusk and Lunar Earthrise. Airwaves is available on the Another Coast CD from Music and Arts, Resonant Places is on the CDCM series CD (volume 17) from Centaur, Desertscapes is on a MMC CD, Moire' is on an Asphodel CD and Subterranean Network is available on the Mills College Anthology. Affiliations include BMI, Audio Engineering Society, New Langton Arts, The American Music Center, American Composers Forum, SEAMUS and Electronic Music Foundation.
I took up canoeing in an effort to "experience nature" and to build up my upper body. I became fascinated with the water patterns visible at such a close-up range. The water had an intimate kind of beauty, very different from water viewed from a greater distance. I captured images for two years before finally sequencing them. It was only in the editing that I fully realized that water actually turns out to be rather colorless (the dictionary definition) - especially at close range and especially with the almost constant cloud cover we experienced. The video has no processing whatsoever.
The "nature" that I ended up experiencing in large part had to do with human nature. I would have loved to have paddled the California waterways hearing only the sounds of birds, water, etc., but instead much of the sound consisted of Harley Davidsons roaring down a canyon road adjacent to the river, helicopters, the Blue Angels, various prop planes, a train screeching harmonics as it went through turns in a canyon, remote-controlled model airplanes, cars driving over a bridge, jetskis and motorboats with and without waterskiers attached. The music is derived from those sounds, with only a few exceptions (seagulls, falls, wind and waves lapping against the shore).
I wanted to transform those undesirable "natural sounds" into sounds I would probably not mind hearing - or wouldn't mind hearing in my head while canoeing. I used convolving, phase vocoding, extensive layering and extreme equalizations to accomplish the transformations.