The eighth edition of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium welcomed Pauline Oliveros as Keynote Speaker. Two dozen composers, performers, researchers and institutions presented recent work and reflections on instrument and technology development, technologies and accessibility, notation, compositional praxis, sound art and more.
The 2014 Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES) was held from 13–17 August 2014 in Artscape Wychwood Barns and at the Canadian Music Centre (CMC), who in 2014 joined the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) and New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in coordinating and presenting the symposium. Five days of paper sessions were interspersed with six concerts and several installations, and the symposium concluded with a Special Session led by Le Caine specialist Gayle Young, “A Noisome Pestilence — An Afternoon of Hugh Le Caine.” The symposium was fuelled by the contributions of a richly varied group of participants from around the globe and we are happy to present a selection of these in this issue. In addition to the articles featured here, we invite you to check out the CEC’s website for a full listing of the events and papers presented at TIES 2014.
At a time when the model of the electronic music studio based around tape recorders was about to change to one built around synthesizers, Pauline Oliveros came to Toronto, where UTEMS (University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio) was recognized as “one of the best in the world of the classic electronic music studios.” She spent an extremely fruitful summer in 1966 in the studios using Hugh Le Caine’s instruments to compose several new works. She had already nearly a decade of experience in improvisation behind her, despite the practice being “discouraged in music schools and conservatories” at the time, and has continued working in improvised settings through to today. She also initiated Deep Listening in the late 1980s with some colleagues following their experiences performing improvised music deep underground in a water cistern. Nearly half a century later, the TIES coordinators were pleased to be able to invite Oliveros back to Toronto as Keynote Speaker to talk about her substantial, multi-faceted musical career.
Vibrating Instruments and New Technologies
Innovative perspectives on electronic technologies and instruments and their potential use is one of many recurring topics at the symposium and this year was no exception. Thanks to the work of Michael Murphy and Max Cotter, we can now move the date of the earliest analogue, sample-based synthesis back to around 1927, with the rotating tone wheels of “Frank Morse Robb’s Wave Organ: The world’s first electronic organ.” The authors located a recently discovered 1936 model to restore, and working only from sparse documentation and circuit diagrammes, as well as some “hand-scrawled notes that provided hints,” were able to replace or repair many damaged parts, including some of the electronics. This early electronic instrument can once again be heard thanks to their research.
In his most recent “extended-acousmatic” works, James O’Callaghan has placed loudspeakers or transducers inside or on the body of acoustic instruments, so that it becomes possible to make “instruments act as the speakers themselves.” In his article “Resounding but Not Sounding: Diffusing into interior spaces of instruments,” O’Callaghan explains that such an approach not only reinforces — as well as colours — the acoustic character of the instrument itself, but also emphasizes its manufacture, as the materials with which it is constructed become themselves vibrating or sound-carrying bodies. The conceptualization of the instrument’s identity complements the sonic interest of his practice in quite an intriguing manner. Exploiting vibrating or sound-carrying bodies in a very different manner, David Bobier has been developing the Emoti-Chair at VibraFusionLab in London, Ontario. As he explains in “Studies in Sound and Vibration: VibraFusionLab, An innovative centre for arts-based vibrotactile research and creative practice,” the Emoti-Chair makes use of “high-resolution, continuous vibrotactile displays” in order to convey “the emotional properties of sound through organized vibrotactile stimulation.” For members of the deaf, blind and disabled communities, this means they can now experience sound and multimedia works thanks to the Emoti-Chair’s use of “the tactile as an artistic modality.”
Richard Garrett has developed a software programme based around a simulation of the spray of an aerosol can. The Audio Spray Gun, presented in his article “‘In Flight’ and Audio Spray Gun: Generative composition of large sound-groups,” is a new tool that can be used to create and spatialize large groups of sound-events from a single sound sample. With the computational power available to the average user today, the Audio Spray Gun allows for the use of longer samples as sources than was the case traditionally with such practices as granular synthesis or particle systems.
Compositional Praxis via Hybrid Practices
Hybrid approaches to creation, performance and perception that are built on the integration of diverse practices and fields characterized another group of presentations at TIES 2014. At the centre of Jeff Roberts’ article is a reflection on the link between timbre and cultural meaning, informed by the rich history of cross-cultural musical interaction between the West and the Orient. In “Implications of Electroacoustic Composition in an Intercultural Context: Cultural identity and cultural meanings and uses of music timbre,” he presents his work using a software programme he developed “to artificially extend the natural resonance of guqin and blend it with the saxophone sound” for his Twelve Landscape Views: III. Guqin, Saxophone, Electronics. The timbral character at the base of David Litke’s interest in “spectral and temporal cohesion” is that of “Spectralism and Microsound” practices. Whereas the two realms are typically associated with instrumental and electroacoustic practices, respectively, he notes that there are similar “perceptual concerns” shared by practitioners of the two fields. In recent works, and in contrast to the common tendency to maintain a distinction between them, he has been exploiting “the commonalities between the two paradigms,” in order to explore and uncover the “hybrid quality of the resultant timbre.”
With an aim to “liberate qualitative compositional decisions,” Josh Horsley explores existential phenomenological perspectives in order to question to what extent sonification and audification are truly quantifiable. Horsley proposes, for example, that when duration is treated as a facilitator, sonification becomes an abstract conceptualization, rather than a true reflection of the sonified object. “Sonification as Semblance: A phenomenological investigation into music composition” proposes a perception of the “image subject” as unfolding, as opposed to an understanding of it as being absolute — it is only by “uncovering” the phenomena that questions surrounding issues of sonification, and eventually, spatio-temporalization, begin to arise and can be engaged.
Much of the graphic notation encountered for use in a live electronic context is also an abstract conceptualization, in this case of musical meaning and compositional intention. There is little to no objective consensus about what, in musical terms, a particular sign or symbol could mean in animated notation. Christian Fischer articulates this fundamental problem when he asks “how does a red square sound compared to a green triangle?” He presents three case studies in “When Worlds Collide: Tackling graphic notation in live electronic music” that articulate various problems and solutions to “the visual communication process in animated notation,” and proposes a set of very useful guidelines for composers who wish to explore the potential of animated notation for their live works.
Technology and Access
Historically, the technologies used in electroacoustic production and performance practice have been intended, for the most part, to remain largely invisible, but they are increasingly being made evident and accessible to the audience, non-musician and inexperienced user alike. While a visual correlation between the performance gesture and the resulting sound in a “technology-exponentiated context” may help improve audience appreciation of the gesture, form and nature of the piece, it may add “an ambiguous layer of visual theatricality” that Steven Naylor suggests, in “Twiddling and Twerking: Thoughts on electroacoustic music performance,” may risk distracting from the artistic content of the work.
Accessibility and stylistic diversity are key tenets of Hamilton’s Cybernetic Orchestra. Presentations at TIES 2014 by two members of this laptop ensemble reflect the importance the group places on maintaining an open, creative environment that welcomes both experienced musicians and novice users. The tools they have developed collectively and individually are also built on these premises. For example, aiming to “make audio programming languages more inclusive,” Tanya Goncalves developed Hive, an “audio programming language informed by the theory of cognitive dimensions.” Aiming to encourage inexperienced users to get more involved in audio programming, live coding and musical performance, Hive uses symbols and language that are easily recognizable, comprehensible and useable. This “low entry fee” principle is also at the base of Aaron Hutchinson’s work. The abstraction of the “ever more opaque technological ‘black boxes’” is dismantled in his “Three Electroacoustic Artworks Exposing Digital Networks,” in order to re-expose users to the technology that they use (and take for granted) in their daily lives. A flexible design allows his work to be scaled to different performance and presentation contexts. Ultimately, the “exposure” of the technologies used in the creation of electroacoustic works will be most successful when, through the creative process, the creator attempts to resolve questions such as “whether the display of technology itself is distracting from or supporting the musical purpose” (Naylor).
Sonic Art, a Reflection on and of Identity
“The land has memory… if you know how to listen,” Don Hill points out in “Sound Never Ages: Archaeoacoustic memory,” an exposé of his interest in special geographies that anthropologists and archaeologists often unfortunately overlook. Listening in the right way to such places can trigger a physiological response that is none other than the perception of the physical memory of its existence. It is not recording the sounds of the landscape but rather listening to the landscape for the sounds it produces that offers potential entry to the memories it bears. An “unseen” identity made perceptible through sound is also the focus of a community project led by Blake McConnell. Sound is used as a medium for a community activism project that gives voice to undocumented youth in the custody of the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement in the US. “Una Casa de Sonidos: Sonic storytelling with Central American refugee minors” describes the collaborative work made by the youth in two four-week workshops that transformed their invisible presence into audio footprints representing memories of their existence. Gallery visitors effectively “stand in” for the youth and become “witness to the traces they have left behind.”
The range of stimulating presentations that made up the 2014 edition of TIES offers insight into the tremendously broad range of creative practices that are being explored in the wider field of electroacoustic practice, in Canada as well as internationally. We hope you enjoy the reading and encourage you to stay tuned about future editions of the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium.
25 May 2015