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The Concordia Archival Project (CAP)

Recovery, Archiving and Online Presentation of Canadian Electroacoustic History

The Preservation of a Unique Canadian Cultural Collection
Project Objectives
Values of the Project to the Electroacoustic Community
  Education and Research
  Exposure and Contextualisation of Canadian Culture within the International Community
Resources Necessary to the Realization of the Project
  Project Management
  Administration and Promotion


Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a group founded by Kevin Austin in Montréal, the Concordia Electroacoustics Composers’ Group / Groupe électroacoustique de Concordia (CECG/GEC), amassed a collection of more than 1100 electroacoustic compositions (over 200 hours of music) on reel-to-reel analog tape support of electroacoustic compositions for performance in the concert series EuCuE (Électroacoustiques université Concordia university Electroacoustics, now in its 27th season). A great number of works in the collection are by Canadian composers, from across the country, and the collection is therefore of considerable musical interest and of great historical and cultural importance to Canada.

Canada has been a world leader in electroacoustics ever since Hugh Lecaine’s initial experiments with electronic composition in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Montréal alone has four institutions which have been involved in electroacoustics for more than 25 years: the Electronic Music Studios at McGill University were founded in 1964, at Concordia University in 1970, at the Université de Montréal and at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal in 1980. Despite its rich history, this important bastion of electroacoustic history is not yet represented in any online collection.

The Concordia Archival Project (CAP) makes a currently unavailable collection of important Canadian cultural heritage available freely online to the general public in an engaging and diversiform project. Educational materials developed for the project will interest a broad range of users: composers, performers, teachers and students at the high school, CEGEP and university level, as well as auto-didacts of all ages and backgrounds.

The project presents the largest publicly-available collection of works of Canadian electroacoustic history. In fact no other collection of electroacoustic works of this size and breadth is freely available anywhere in the world.

Thanks to the support of Heritage Canada, through Canadian Culture Online’s Partnership Fund programme, from July 2007 to December 2008, the CEC has undertaken a project in partnership with Dominique Bassal (Technical Partner), Concordia University (Owner of the Collection), Chantal Bénit (Educational Partner) and Yves Charuest (Translation Partner) to preserve this collection and make it available freely on the CEC’s website, and to ensure that it remains useful for the broadest possible audience.

The Preservation of a Unique Canadian Cultural Collection

The recovery and digitization of the Concordia collection preserves a very large body of Canadian electroacoustic compositions which is currently on analogue and obsolete storage formats and at risk of disappearing forever. As such it is a crucial project for Canadian cultural heritage.

Today, digital technologies (notably the compact disc, DVD and hard drive storage) have almost completely replaced analog media such as reel-to-reel tape, and playback units for such formats are now only available in specialist studios. Therefore, despite its value, the Concordia collection has become effectively unavailable to the public, and unusable for concert performance or even general listening.

Analog tapes, such as those forming the Concordia collection, are subject to significant degradation over time, as the oxide coating is liable to flake off, causing sound drop-out and other problems. As each year passes, the collection decays further; some works are already beyond repair or recovery, and this situation will only worsen with time.

Because of the importance of the collection, there have been frequent discussions in the electroacoustic community about transferring the work to digital format, so that the works could be easily accessed by the public, educators, students, and researchers. However, the technical expertise and resources have not thus far been available to complete this project. The technologies and equipment required for such transfers are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive to maintain.

In order to preserve this vital document of Canadian music history, the collection housed at Concordia University will be transferred to a digital format before the entire collection gradually becomes irreparably damaged or lost altogether.

Because of the fundamental differences of analog tape and digital formats, and the increasingly fragile state of the materials in the collection, certain specialised mastering procedures are necessary for the transfer, such as noise reduction to eliminate tape hiss, equalization to compensate for the difference in frequency response between analog and digital formats, and corrective procedures to rescue audio in cases where tapes are damaged.

Project Objectives

The larger project objectives are to.

  1. Recover and archive an important part of the history of electroacoustics in Canada in a high-resolution, digital format to ensure its long-term survival;
  2. Make these materials available online to the general public, through their incorporation into the CEC’s online “Jukebox”, SONUS.
  3. Augment the educational potential inherent to the CEC’s website, through the creation of online educational modules (eLearning) to initiate visitors in historical and technical practices in electroacoustics, with works from the collection serving to illustrate these practices;
  4. Set a precedent for and provide resources to other electroacoustic studios, departments or other associations who wish to undertake similar projects, by presenting
    • detailed documentation of all aspects of the project (organizational, technical, historical) via articles in a Special 10th Anniversary Issue of eContact! dedicated to the Concordia Archival Project;
    • articles in the special issue of eContact! concerning the importance of preserving this and similar collections in regards to Canada’s cultural and historical landscape;
    • an overview of other collections held in Canada and internationally that have undertaken or require similar initiatives.

First and foremost, the proposed project assures the archiving and preservation of a large number of electroacoustic works of great historical importance to Canadian electroacoustics, works which would otherwise gradually degrade and become unrecoverable due to their support format.

The project’s integration with the CEC’s website (internationally recognized as a significant electroacoustic resource) will increase awareness of Canadian electroacoustics, and of many of its founding practitioners, nationally and internationally.

Extensive documentation of technical aspects of the project offer practical and concrete insight into the history of electroacoustics, as specific compositional techniques are typically related to particular time periods and available technologies.

Value of the Project to the Electroacoustic Community

Education and Research

Because of its tremendous historical, cultural and educational importance, this project is designed to target the broadest audience possible, for a multitude of uses. The CEC has an established network of contacts — Canadian as well as international — which includes CEC members, electroacoustic practitioners (composers, performers), students, educators and researchers of electroacoustics who use or refer to materials from CEC projects, and individuals and institutions that produce and promote electroacoustics (national associations, radio personalities).

In recent years, the remarkable increase in access to technologies has profoundly changed the musical landscape. An entire younger generation of artists has become involved in musical creation through the use of home computers and, increasingly, laptops. Sound manipulation processes available in many sound programmes often greatly resemble, or are developments of, traditional (analog) electroacoustic techniques. This quite naturally leads the users to discover electroacoustics, and this changing background and experience of entry-level music students has become clearly evident to educators across the country.

Many of the founders and members of the earlier generations of the field have died or are no longer active, leaving incomplete documentation of the work and thinking of this period. The collection will provide an important new resource to educators and to musicological, cultural and historical researchers alike. Newly-gained access to a great variety of “primary sources” will assist them in developing in-depth “value added” commentary and critical evaluations based upon first-hand experience with the works in the collection. An important aspect missing from many other archival projects is the “primary source” nature of the principle investigator. The persons researching the collections are often musicologists working with materials produced before they were active in the field. In the case of the Concordia collection, members of the group which built the collection and presented the works in public are still actively involved in the field. Kevin Austin, the founder of the group, is also an active teacher in electroacoustic composition and analysis, which will ensure that a number of these works will be rapidly integrated into curricula at university and secondary levels of education.

The collection will become an important point of reference for various professionals working in the field of electroacoustics. The sudden availability of a single resource containing such a large number of works, as yet unavailable to the general public, will be greatly appreciated by radio personalities in particular. Many of our international radio contacts already use eContact! for reference materials and broadcast works via the SONUS interface. Such use will contribute to an increased exposure of Canadian electroacoustics on an international level.

The ease of use and free access to the project’s online and interactive resources will appeal to the younger generation of students, self-learners and the general public. More advanced students, composers and performers (“Laptop Artists”) will enjoy using the collection to better contextualize their work within the larger history of electroacoustics, while educators and researchers will gain an important new resource to draw upon for their work.

Detailed documentation of the transferral process and organizational aspects of the Concordia Archival Project provide resources to persons or institutions who have similar collections and wish to undertake a similar project. Of particular relevance to such individuals are: articles underscoring the importance of recovering and archiving such materials; detailed documentation concerning the actual technical processes and equipment required.

Exposure and Contextualisation of Canadian Culture within the International Community

There exists a great diversity of practices in and approaches to electroacoustic creation, which of course makes for a very rich field, but also means that the idea of a cohesive “community” is an ongoing issue. Because of the inclusive nature, size and richness of the collection, it should effectively appeal to and unite an equally diverse range of audiences. The work of researchers and educators making use of the collection will help define and articulate the rich history of electroacoustics in Canada, particularly in regards to the vision and practices of the 1970s and 1980s.

Many Canadian educators have noted that students now coming into the area understand electroacoustic history in relation to events and composers in other countries and are less and less aware of the rich background of Canadian electroacoustics. Other countries have invested considerable resources in the preservation, restoration and promotion of their own cultural heritages, and as a result, their composers and communities now benefit from a high level of quality exposure on the international scene.

Most of the works in the collection have typically only been available to the general public through EuCuE concerts, and to Concordia University students who have had the opportunity to access the materials during their studies. In the past 15 years or so, as digital technologies have replaced analog, the vast majority of the works in the collection have not only become essentially inaccessible, but, as outlined above, are at risk of being lost forever. Many of the works present in the collection have not been transferred to more stable digital media by the composers for a variety of reasons, the greatest single reason being the rapid rate of technological development and obsolescence in the past ten years.

The project makes available the largest publicly-available collection of works of Canadian electroacoustic history. In fact no other collection of electroacoustic works of this size and breadth is freely available anywhere in the world.

The Recovery and Archival Project will help develop a more complete awareness and appreciation of the historical and cultural background of Canada’s community of electroacoustic practitioners than has thus far been possible, due to limitations on the availability of and access to materials such as those found in the collection. As such, it holds great potential for positive impact on the cultural face of Canada, and will ultimately translate into a renewed sense of community, of cultural and historical identity, for Canadian musicians.

Resources Necessary to the Realization of the Project

Project Management

Oversee the general project, coordinating the various activities between the various employees and Project Partners involved according to the planned timeline.

Tasks include:

Administration and Promotion

Assist the Project Supervisor as necessary and coordinate most of the text materials to be published in relation to the project. Development of texts and other materials related to promotional materials.

Tasks include:

Administrative Assistance

Various fundamental mechanical tasks necessary to the Recovery and Archival Project. This part-time employee, under the supervision of the Project Supervisor, Yves Gigon, will be required to:

Concordia University / Université Concordia

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