Electroacoustic Music at the School for the Contemporary Arts
By Martin Gotfrit
Electroacoustic music at Simon Fraser University began in the seventies with the work of R. Murray Schafer and Barry Truax. Several important initiatives began during this time: the World Soundscape project, computer music research on mini computers and classical tape work in the Communications Sonic Studio.
In the early 80's, what was then called "The Centre for the Arts' began a credit program in music with faculty members Owen Underhill, David MacIntyre, Barry Truax, Martin Bartlett, Donna Zapf and Martin Gotfrit. As an area in an interdisciplinary department, music focused upon composition and electroacoustic music for a diverse range of students. Classes were filled with dancers, visual artists, actors, technicians, filmmakers as well as composers. Multidisciplinary work was (and still is) encouraged - resulting in a variety of fascinating collaborations/performances/pieces.
From the beginning of the music program, there were many options in electroacoustics: As early as 1982 students could work on a PDP 11/23, exploring FM synthesis with Truax's POD system , real-time computer performance systems with an AIM 65 (later Apple IIs and Atari 520s) under Bartlett's tutelage or analogue synthesis with a state of the art Serge system with Gotfrit. Classical tape studio work was also supported through the Centre as well as the Communications department. In addition to these seminal influences, the World Soundscape project also has had a lasting affect upon work composed in SFU studios; both through the notion of soundscape composition as taught by various faculty as well as access to the large tape collection housed on campus.
Not surprisingly, much has changed in the last 20 years. Donna Zapf has moved to Duke university, Arne Eigenfeldt joined us in the mid-90s and sadly Martin Bartlett passed away in 1993. Reel-reel machines, outboard gear, large patch bays, etc. have morphed into iMacs and G4s. New faculty interests are reflected in the technology and pedagogy: Multi-speaker diffusion, programming in Max/MSP, granular synthesis, sensor systems and alternate controllers as well as Csound are some of our recent foci. Max has become the new Lingua Franca. We continue with the classical tape studio as realized through ProTools. Hyperprism, Peak, SoundHack, (etc.). We have many computing science and engineering students in the classes now. The classes are bigger and there is a great diversity in the skills of incoming students.
We have four courses in electroacoustics in the School for the Contemporary Arts. All of our courses have a studio component and feature both lectures or seminars as well as studio instruction. Students may also do Directed Studies as well as courses in acoustic communication in the School for Communications. (Prof. Truax is a joint appointment between the two schools). Students doing composition may also opt to do an electroacoustic work (rather than write for acoustic instruments) or a piece for tape and instrument(s). The first year course (FPA 147) is an introduction to audio (both analogue and digital), acoustics, the basic canon, synthesizer / sampling basics, some compositional issues and instruction in a variety of applications. 247 explores the world of live performance with Max/MSP, sensor systems, algorithmic composition and synthesis. 347 provides an in depth review of the canon as well as studio composition. Students are introduced to the creative use of the AudioBox (Richmond Sound Design) for automated multi-channel diffusion. The final course, 447, focuses upon computer music. In addition to readings and listening students study Csound.
Every spring we present a multichannel diffusion concert with some invited guests, faculty and student works. There are also events in the fall as well as informal concerts as part of the course work. In addition there are opportunities to present electroacoustic work in Vancouver and many of our students and faculty participate in these.