A column about past, present and future ongoings in international electroacoustic and related communities [index].
Electroacoustics in Nova Scotia 2008
Activities in electroacoustic music continue to expand in Nova Scotia, with growing technical sophistication, and increasingly fertile artistic collaborations. Multi-speaker concerts are becoming more common, and public familiarity with some of the variety and depth of EA continues to increase.
Although educational support has grown for vocationally-focused applied technology programmes, the study of creative music technologies within University music programmes has recently been in decline.
The first major appearance of electroacoustic music in Halifax can probably be credited to Dalhousie University faculty member, Steve Tittle. Arriving as a new composition professor in the mid-70s, Tittle soon established an Experimental Sound Studio, and equipping it with high-quality tape recorders and analogue signal processing equipment, typical of the tape-studios of the time.
With the growing affordability of analogue synthesis equipment, a pair of ARP 2600s with related keyboards and a small sequencer soon appeared in the studio. Tittle put this equipment, and what followed, to good use in his own compositions, which, in addition to beautifully-crafted instrumental works, included exploratory mixed pieces (which often included his own trumpet/flugelhorn performance) and tape scores for film.
Steve Tittle’s work single-handedly generated a great deal of momentum for electroacoustics in Halifax, and many of his students continued to use music and sound technology in their own creative work. However, the curriculum at Dalhousie remained conservative, with a single class, taught by Tittle, handling the main coverage for electronic and experimental music. In 1994, Tittle took early retirement from teaching to concentrate on his own music-making.
Steven Naylor, a Halifax composer/performer who had also worked closely with Tittle in the Upstream ensemble, was appointed as a part-time faculty member, to take responsibility for the studio and related teaching. Over a six-year period Naylor expanded the EA curriculum to five classes and a new related Concentration. Unfortunately, in a climate of cumulative under-funding for higher education in NS, it proved difficult to find sufficient resources to operate adequate studios and offer new classes. After Naylor left Dalhousie in 2001 to pursue personal work, some EA classes continued to be taught by Craig Sheppard, though some of the upper level classes have not been offered for several years.
In a situation that somewhat parallels Tittle at Dalhousie about 20 years earlier, in the mid-90s Acadia University School of Music professor Christoph Both initiated (among other innovative offerings) a new major in Music Technology. However, this programme eventually succumbed to pressures similar to those that stunted developments at Dalhousie. There are no new intakes, and the programme will be dismantled after remaining students have worked their way through the system.
Despite that infrastructural unravelling, EA does remain an important component of the music curriculum at Acadia, both as part of composition professor Derek Charke’s work with individual composition students, and through some remaining specialty classes.
At NSCAD University (formerly the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) the focus for EA is understandably more on sound-as-art (or sound-in-support-of-art) than on music per se. At the same time, the school’s contemporary climate has fostered activity in relatively experimental pop music, with a number of musicians working comfortably on the cusp between visual and sonic arts.
There are several private institutions in Nova Scotia offering instruction in vocationally-oriented applications of music and sound technology. The publicly funded Nova Scotia Community College also ties that work to musical studies, in a new ‘Music Arts’ two-year diploma. However, the mandate of that programme is still carefully targeted to music business goals: “Upon completion of the Music Arts Diploma, graduates will be ideally positioned to launch or enhance their own independent careers in the music business.”
Finding a suitable EA venue in Halifax can be a challenge. Cost, room layout, and/or availability for outside bookings are all possible obstacles. Fortunately, there is an affordable and accommodating venue with a long history of supporting contemporary music. The Art Gallery of Saint Mary’s University has been home to many successful events and series, including the most recent iteration of the Oscillations Festival. The smaller, artist-run Eyelevel Gallery also has a history of supporting the sonic arts, and provided a home for some of the Oscillations 2008 events. Even though neither of these venues is optimised for concert presentation, compromises in production logistics have been balanced by the open and collaborative attitudes of their directors and staff.
Organisations and Artists
The following are some of the organisations and artists that are the most visibly active in directly supporting EA in Nova Scotia. However, several other producers and presenters do increasingly incorporate events with EA in their seasons, notably JazzEast and Upstream.
The Oscillations Music Society was originally incorporated as a vehicle for the production of the Oscillations Festival, but it is slowly expanding that focus to other EA events beyond the festival. At present, the society is led by composers Bob Bauer and Steven Naylor. The next planned Oscillations event is an October 5, 2008 concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of Pierre Schaeffer’s first broadcast of musique concrète.
suddenlyLISTEN is a not-for-profit society, founded and directed by Symphony Nova Scotia principal cellist Norman Adams. The society presents a regular season of concerts and workshops. Adams and suddenlyLISTEN were also co-producers of the 2008 Oscillations Festival. Adams has a strong personal interest in interactive electronics, and many of his performances incorporate the use of laptop, often processing live cello with Max/MSP patches.
Nova Scotia soprano Janice Jackson is the founder and director of Vocalypse Productions, a concert production organisation that focuses on new music for voice. Jackson is a noted international exponent of the music of Jean-Claude Risset, and regularly promotes events that include electroacoustics.
Derek Charke teaches composition at Acadia University, but also pursues an active career as a composer and flautist. His work incorporates both instrumental and electroacoustic resources.
Bassist Lukas Pearse is a composer/performer with an eclectic foundation in fine art, improvisation and electroacoustics. Much of his musical work bridges these three areas.
Laptop artist Andrew Duke has a strong following in the electronica scene. Although much of his personal work is beat-based, he is increasingly involved in collaborations with instrumental and improvisational artists.