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6 Questions to Composer Emilie C. LeBel

Emilie LeBel is a Canadian composer, intermedia artist and arts-educator, presently based in Toronto. Her compositions have been performed across Canada, and internationally. As an art music composer, Emilie works with acoustic instruments and electroacoustic media to create both discrete and mixed compositions. She also creates intermedia projects, working with electronics, video, photography and acoustic instruments. Many of her recent projects have focused on collaborations with performers, incorporating contemporary art music with electronics and video.

[1] Briefly describe your musical / sound art background and education, formal and informal.

During my childhood, CBC Radio was always on at home. I also spent a great deal of time listening to my parent’s records. I was particularly fond of Herb Alpert, and a series called Trumpet à Gogo. I specifically remember hearing Laurie Anderson’s Big Science for the first time, and being completely captivated by her sound world. I was very involved with music through programs at school. I played in a ukulele ensemble, and later played trumpet in band and orchestra. I am certainly a product of growing up in Canada at a time when the arts in public schools was supported, and Canada’s public broadcaster had more robust funding and programming. I had access to experiences that expanded my imagination and made me curious to seek out more new experiences in the arts.

Formally, I went to university to study trumpet performance, but eventually ended up in college to pursue audio engineering and music production. During my experiences at college, I discovered that what I was really interested in was creating sounds. I went on to study instrumental composition and ethnomusicology, with some visual art on the side. I am currently in the final stages of my Doctorate in composition.

Emilie LeBel at her home studio in Toronto
Emilie LeBel at her home studio in Toronto. Photo © Phillipa C Photography. [Click image to enlarge]

[2] Could you briefly describe your current musical / sound art activities, private, within the community, and public? Please indicate whether you view these as “professional”, “artistic” or other kinds of activities.

Privately, I play cello, very badly. I am enjoying learning an instrument that I don’t have to be “good at” — it’s just for my personal enjoyment. I also have a piano at home that I play and compose on. I listen to music at home for pleasure and for research and/or inspiration. Although, these days I tend to enjoy quiet at home, more often than I have sounds on. I spend a lot of time walking in nearby High Park — it’s a palette cleanser for my ears.

Within the community and publicly, I take part in a variety of activities. I teach digital audio and electronic music as a sessional lecturer, and organize the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium. I attend events and concerts to support the work of my colleagues and to be aware of what is being created and presented. From time to time, I organize events and concerts to present my work and the work of other artists. This includes EA pieces and instrumental works, and combinations of the two.

[3] Please briefly describe your uses of technologies in your creative life. You may want to include a short description of the equipment and software / services you use (number of computers, phones, scanners, Facebook, Skype, etc.), and comment on your use of mobile technologies compared to a few years ago.

I do my thinking and planning of creative projects away from the computer / technology, but I rely on technology for the creation of my work. I own a desktop computer (iMac), speakers (Adam A5’s) and a simple audio interface — I do most of my EA type work on Logic Pro, and I sometimes use Max. I use Adobe’s Production Suite for video and Sibelius for scoring instrumental works and mixed works. My other gear: a good digital camera, a few microphones, a Zoom portable recorder and a few hard drives.

For online resources, I have a website, and Soundcloud and Vimeo accounts to share my work. Probably the most amazing and well-used technology for me right now is Skype. It has allowed me to stay in touch with good friends, talk with colleagues, conduct meetings, and has allowed me to collaborate with other artists and performers despite large distances. I joined Facebook a few years ago and more recently Twitter. I use them to stay in the loop about what my colleagues are doing, and to learn about events.

Being well behind the bleeding edge, I got my first cell phone two years ago. I am not very good about answering it, but I have found text messaging to be great. My most recent acquisition is an iPad. It’s an attempt to use my time effectively with my ever-longer public transit commuting times in Toronto. It’s also to save paper for all the article reading that I do, and to save my back from having to carry around a laptop. I don’t see it replacing books for me.

[4] How do you feel that the use of these technologies has contributed to those areas of your creative life where you employ them? You may also wish to comment on those that you don’t use (and the reasons). Do social media help or hinder in this?

I always feel that I am in a bit of a struggle with technology. I find that being at a computer can actually hinder my thought process and creative ideas. Frequently, I need to work and think away from the computer, to work through problems and ideas when I get stuck. I typically don’t like creating or generating my ideas with technology. Usually, I do this away from the computer with a pencil and paper, my ears and my imagination, and then use technology to realize, fine tune and produce my ideas. One of my constant concerns is having the technology force me into a situation where I have to get my ideas into a box that the technology dictates. I would rather find ways to have the technology do what I need it to do, rather than it telling me what is possible / what I can do.

Whenever I start to feel that technology is swallowing me, I take technology sabbaticals. That usually has more to do with the never-ending emails, etc., than my creative work.

[5] Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, Skype, Twitter, blogs … are part of the lingua franca of the students I meet every year. Are there ways for the older generation to use these technologies to communicate our values to those who were born after (about) 1988?

To be honest, I have no idea if I am capable of communicating my values or any sort of generalized values of my generation through theses technologies. Being born in 1979, I don’t know that my values are either “old school” or “new school” or if there are any values of my generation that I can generalize. I frequently feel that I am sort of stuck in between these many sensibilities, a shade of grey.

My frequent frustration as a teacher of this generation is feeling like my students are not very often capable of being fully present in the moment. Beyond it being a good life skill, that is how I wish for people to experience my art. I want them to be present and in the moment, and I think these technologies work against this. There are many benefits to these technologies, allowing artists to connect and grow community. However, I really don’t know if they are capable of conveying my sensibilities and values, or those of several different generations.

[6] Distribution of work used to be difficult to secure. Today with YouTube and Clouds, it is ubiquitous. Where it used to be difficult to find a copy of something, today, sometimes it is almost as difficult, not because it is not available, but because there are 1200 other (similar) competing items. Could you comment on how you see your work in this context now and in the future?

The internet has certainly in many ways democratized distribution. I often wonder though, how do you find a gem in the wash of thousands of items of mediocrity, some of it garbage? I feel this way when I look for items online.

I have made my work freely available online through my website. Most often, it has been a great way for me to share my work with people that I have met in person who want to know more about what I do. I don’t see many people finding their way to my work by searching around on the internet. I do not see online distribution replacing presenting our work in public, hearing other people’s work or meeting each other in public forums. I know that most of my professional and artistic opportunities have come from being involved in a community. Having my work available online supplements my experiences out in those communities.

[7] Open area commentary.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

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