Electroacoustic Music in Canada: 1950-1984
Electroacoustic music, in its broadest sense, is any kind of music that might come out of a speaker. Our concern in this article, however, is not conventional instrumental or vocal music reproduced on tape or phonograph or radio as absolutely wonderful as those phenomena are), but rather the more specialized sense of the term which applies to the distinctive approach to musical invention which has become possible only in this century. We will find three major stages in the evolution of technology for making electroacoustic music: (1) electrical instruments for live performance, (2) specialized devices for creating music in a studio, and (3) the application of computer technology to both live performance and the studio. Although our concern is Canada's part in all of this, we had better take a brief look at tie global state of the art just before Canada got her feet wet.
Throughout the history of mankind every new technology produced new, and sometimes better, ways of making music. At the dawn of the Twentieth Century the magic of electricity seemed to be just the means to explore and extend the magic of music. The advent of the telephone in 1876, the phonograph at the end of the 19th Century, the radio after 1919, and, of course, the tape recorder in the 1940s urged inventors, composers, and performers to look to electricity in their quest for flexibility, reliability, and novelty. They asked: if it is possible to reproduce a variety of pre-recorded instrumental or vocal sounds by electrical means, should it not also be possible by the same means to create from the outset such sounds? The telephone and the phonographic recording process converted airborne sound into electrical equivalents. It was abundantly clear that electrical equivalents of every manner of known sound as well as previously unknown sound might be electrically generated if only the appropriate means for controlling electrical activity could be found.
Around the world hundreds of ingenious electrical musical instruments were built and almost immediately forgotten. As in previous centuries, however, a few new instruments remained in sight. The essence of most of the electrical instruments was the oscillator, a device which produces a low-level, but a highly-controllable alternating current. When this current is electrically amplified and directed to a speaker, the speaker's paper surface moves back and forth corresponding to the electrical alternations. The speaker's motion creates air movement just as the motion of a mechanical vibrator (such as a musical instrument) does. Either motion is detected by the ear as an audible tone - provided that the frequency, or speed of alternation, is between 20 and 20,000 times per second (the nominal range of human hearing The oscillator produces a sine wave - a simple tone devoid of overtones - which, in the appropriate range, sounds very like a whistle. One of the earliest (1919) of these was developed by a Russian, Léon Thérémin. His Etherophone, or Thérémin as it is now called, was simply a single oscillator contained in a box with a protruding perpendicular rod and a horizontal metal loop. The nearness of the right hand to the rod controlled the pitch of the instrument and the nearness of the left hand to the loop controlled the loudness. The characteristic sound of the instrument was not unlike the 'musical saw' with its wide vibrato (a stylistic choice of the performer) and syrupy glissandi between pitches (a stylistic necessity owing to the inability of the instrument to attack notes in any other manner.)
Léon Thérémin was perhaps the first to create a reliable instrument exploiting the oscillation principle, but he was not alone in trying out this principle. Among the many minds bent toward using the new technology for music-making was a teenager in Düsseldorf exploring, for his own amusement, the potentials of hand capacitance to effect the pitch and, to a certain degree, the timbre of the tones emitted by an early radio. A seven-year-old boy in Port Arthur, Ontario was at this same time occupied in the employment of an early carbon granule microphone, a transformer, and a black plastic "morning glory" speaker to obtain oscillations, crudely controlling the frequency of "feed back" by shifting the position of the microphone relative to the speaker. A two-year-old boy in Budapest, Hungary knew nothing about the oscillation principle, but nearly forty years later he would find the oscillator an excellent solution to his failed quest for the pitches between the notes on his mother's piano (placing a butter knife between the keys having yielded for the nonce little enough satisfaction to the lad). The year was 1921, the boy in Dusseldorf was Otto Joachim, the boy in Port Arthur was Hugh LeCaine, and the boy in Budapest was István Anhalt.
The Thérémin and the more primitive operations of the youthful Joachim and LeCaine provided sounds which, although interesting for their novelty, were less rich than conventional musical instruments in useful possibilities rather than more. In 1928, however, Maurice Martenot presented in his native Paris an instrument which addressed itself, in part, to the very problem that concerned István Anhalt. The instrument's keyboard provided the possibilities of glissando, vibrato, microtonal pitches, and subtle nuances of pitch, yet at the same time much more accurate control of intervals than did the Thérémin. The ondes Martenot, like the Thérémin, requires the performer's right hand for the control of the single melodic line of which it is capable. The performer's left hand, however, has control of a wide range of timbre as well as loudness. The timbrel flexibility is made available through the use of filters. An electrical pattern, called a sawtooth wave, is the basis of the richer timbrel possibilities of the ondes Martenot. The sawtooth wave has a strong complement of overtones rendering a sound rather like stringed instruments when a similar attack and decay is applied. The ondes Martenot employs the filters to remove selectively portions of these overtones to produce a variety of colours which fall between the sine wave and the sawtooth wave.
In 1930 Maurice Martenot himself performed on the ondes Martenot with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski and in a short time dozens of composers, including Honegger and Milhaud, had written major works for the instrument. The ondes Martenot did not make its way to Canada through the United States, however. In 1948. Montrealer Andrée Desautels was admitted to the Paris conservatory and began study of the instrument with Maurice Martenot. In 1950 Desautels invited to Montreal Martenot's sister. Ginette, to give a recital and demonstration of the ondes Martenot on Radio Canada. Desautels herself performed on the ondes Martenot her incidental music for a 1954 production of Molière's play Don Juan at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal.
Gilles Tremblay also studied (1956-58) with Maurice Martenot at the Paris Conservatory and, in fact, obtained the première médaille for his performance on the ondes Martenot. In addition to Claude Champagne's Altitude (1959), and Tremblay's Cantique de durées (1960), a dozen or more Canadian composers have written major works for the instrument in subsequent years.
The Thérémin and ondes Martenot offer some possibilities not previously available, but these devices were conceived as musical instruments to be performed upon in the traditional manner before an audience. The technological developments of the first half of the 20th Century offered a great many other possibilities for music making which allowed a performance to be prepared in advance of the audience presentation. One such means was what filmmaker Norman McLaren called animated sound. McLaren first experimented with animated sound in his native Britain in 1939 for his animated film Love on the Wing. The sound for this film was made without the use of a microphone; rather, the percussive rhythms were made by drawing small strokes and blobs on the side of the film where the soundtrack is found (on 35mm film it is a strip about 2mm wide which runs along one edge of the film).
Before we examine McLaren's technique, we had better have some idea of the more conventional method for putting sound on film. Our ears detect as sound the fluctuating pressures transmitted through the air from vibrating objects (again, provided that the fluctuations fall within the human range of detectabilitv). A microphone converts these pressure changes into analagous changes in the flow of electricity. As we have seen above, the loudspeaker does exactly the opposite: it converts the electrical fluctuations (provided that there is a suitable source of them) to movement of a paper cone. That movement in its turn initiates pressure changes in the air that can be detected by the ear. To make a conventional film soundtrack, the electrical fluctuations from a microphone are used to control an aperture which allows light to be variously exposed on the surface of a film as it passes by the aperture. This process also is reversible: when the exposed and developed soundtrack passes between a light source and a light detector, the resultant changing electrical potential can be used to drive a speaker.
What McLaren did was to omit the initial stage in which the sounds are made into a microphone and to create the sound track directly by placing his marks on the surface of the celluloid. Using 35mm film at the usual speed of 24 frames (7-1/2 inches) per second, McLaren controlled pitch by the number of strokes per inch; the size of the stroke and the shade of ink controlled loudness (big, black strokes made big sounds; small, light-grey strokes made soft ones); and timbre was controlled by the shape of the strokes (well-rounded strokes made smooth sounds; angular strokes made harder, harsher sounds). McLaren began with this premise: if sound will make a pattern on film, a pattern on film will make a sound. A cursory glance at McLaren's imaginative films will show that little extra-artistic stimulation has been required to set him off in exotic and unexplored directions. His animated sound technique, however, was prompted chiefly by its economy. The technique of synthetic, hand-drawn soundtracks was borrowed from early Russian and German experimenters such as Rudolf Pfenninger (who announced in 1932 that after close analysis of soundtracks he had developed a technique for creating any desired timbre). Pfenninger's technique was to create images by hand and then photograph them in order to maintain precise control and consistency. McLaren used this technique as well as application of images by handpainting directly on the film. Although McLaren could not be said to have invented animated sound, he is certainly the first to exploit the idea in successful artistic applications.
After two years in New York producing films for the Guggenheim Museum (including Allegro (1939), Rumba (1939), Dots (1940), and Loops (1940) - all films using animated sound) McLaren moved to Montreal and took up a position with the National Film Board of Canada. But it was not until 1951 that McLaren resumed his use of animated sound. Now is the Time (1951) and the well-known Neighbours 1952 use animated sound in much the way it was used in 1939-40. A Phantasy (1952) combines animated sound with Maurice Blackburn's music for solo saxophone, and Two Bagatelles (1952) combines animated sound with calliope music. These latter two films seem to be visual accompaniments to a musical foreground. The titles - both traditional titles for light musical works - reinforce the idea of a primarily musical focus with visual accompaniment. In 1954, McLaren produced Blinkity Blank (again combining animated sound with the music of Maurice Blackburn - this time using flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and cello). In this film, Blackburn's score was recorded by means of microphone and the percussive effects were scratched directly on the film afterward.
Both Blinkity Blank and the 1956 film, Rhythmetic, are concerned with dancing visual images, but Rhythmetic employs great economy of material. The visuals are limited to arabic numerals in simple mathematical progressions, and the sounds are limited to some very unassuming percussive pops. The lucid and imaginative structure, however, is an absolute delight. Another long hiatus occurred in McLaren's output of films with animated sound, and only two more films of that sort were ever produced, one in 1965 (Mosaic) and the other in 1971 (Synchromy).
McLaren presented what he considered his last film in 1983. In all, McLaren produced thirteen films plus a documentary using his animated sound technique. Despite frequent mention in the literature that McLaren's work in 'synthetic sound' was of great importance to composers, very little use of the technique has ever been in evidence outside of McLaren's own work. Between 1950 and 1955 Louis Applebaum produced in Ottawa a series of short studies on tape with material from the Compositron, a device designed by Osmond Kendall which generated sounds using what he called a "drawn sound" technique. A similar technique was used in several devices built at the National Research Council and one built at the University of Toronto in the 1950s, but none of these devices had extensive use and, to my knowledge, none is now in use.
It is a great misfortune that the principle has not been adopted widely. Not only does the idea still have merit for the purposes of experienced composers, but it has great potential for music education. The economy and the clear, simple relationship between the graphic notation and the musical outcome would be invaluable for teaching musical principles and for early instruction in composition.
Although we can credit Norman McLaren with the earliest visible work in electroacoustic music in Canada, there is another man to whom the title, "Father of Electroacoustic Music" must go were such a title to be awarded. That man is Dr. Hugh LeCaine whom we left in Port Arthur at the age of seven. Since that time he had experimented with homemade phonograph discs, an electronic ukulele, a perforated-paper-roll "autoharp player" which selected the chords so that the non-musician merely had to strum the strings, a steel guitar with rapid retuning of the strings; and he had studied the violin, voice, pipe-organ, and classical Spanish guitar, as well as all but finishing an ATCM at the Toronto Conservatory. Despite the considerable degree of musicianship that LeCaine exhibited in later years, he records that:
I got a poor 'pass"grade on my final piano examination. I would have had to pass two additional courses in theory to get the conservatory degree. I had always done well in theory but I decided to drop music entirely and concentrate on something in which I might succeed.
In 1934 he enrolled in the physics programme at Queen's University.
It was while LeCaine was at Queen's that a new and important focus for his attraction to both music and technology emerged. In 1935, Chalmers Church in Kingston obtained the first Hammond organ in Canada. The inventor, American Laurens Hammond, had originally intended his instrument to be a one-musician substitute for the orchestra. Although the result fell short of the orchestra, it was found to be a compact substitute for the pipe organ. The electric organ placed on the market in 1935 by the Hammond Instrument Company of Chicago employed a principle of tone production patented by Thaddeus Cahill at the beginning of the century, but the idea was not really practical until the invention of the vacuum tube. A small wheel about 1-1/4 inches in diameter rotates in close proximity to a magnetic field. Because the wheel is not circular but has a number of high points equally spaced around its perimeter, the rotation of the wheel causes systematic disturbances in the magnetic field, which in turn causes electrical patterns (of the same sort created by microphones or oscillators) which may be passed along a wire. Like McLaren's animated sound, the more disturbances per second, the higher the pitch. A bank of these wheels provided the resources for both the fundamental and the overtones for each note.
The Hammond organ interested LeCaine a great deal. LeCaine listened to the instrument frequently and obtained permission to play it in private occasionally. A short time after the arrival of the Hammond organ, LeCaine visited the Robb electronic organ factory in Belleville, Ontario, not far from Kingston. Morse Robb was, in fact, the first inventor anywhere to succeed in developing an electronic organ. His system involved 12 shafts, each representing one note of the scale. The tone quality was determined by rotating discs. Unlike the Hammond organ with its timbres built out of individual sine waves, the Robb Wave Organ had, mounted on the shafts, a series of sets of discs, each set representing one stop on the organ. The discs were ground by hand to produce a variety of timbres. Rob's organ came to be championed by Flora Lady Eaton and when a few of the instruments were built, they were placed on sale at Eaton's College Street Store in Toronto. LeCaine himself reports that there was a rumour that Lady Eaton's profile had been used for the waveform of a stop called "Flora." When LeCaine later asked Robb about the stop, the inventor replied that it was Lady Flora's voice, or an oscillogram equivalent of it, that resided in that stop. LeCaine reports that the stop in question sounded like a "dull-voiced organ flute."
In 1931Robb signed an agreement to work with the organ builders Casavant Frères, but the depression forced the company to back out of the agreement. Although Robb gained a modicum of positive attention for his organ, he was unable to obtain substantial funding or sales. After producing fewer than 20 instruments over the twenty-years that he devoted to the project, he abandoned it in 1938.
LeCaine, however, began work on his own organ in 1937. This first organ was built from a $3second-hand vacuum cleaner and the reeds from an old parlour organ. All the reeds blew all the time, the keys being used to control electronic pickup and amplification of the reeds as required. LeCaine's object in constructing this instrument was to have access to the greater subtlety of control that electronic volume, attack, and decay offered. LeCaine's objective was to do for the organ what the piano did for the harpsichord. Although this first organ is no longer extant (he had the habit of dismantling one project in order to build another), we do have a number of recordings of the instrument that LeCaine called the 'touch sensitive organ', which he appears to have completed in its first form in 1953. This instrument certainly fulfilled the requirements of LeCaine's ideal, envisioned in the late 1930s. Thetimbrel aspect of the organ is not only reasonably convincing, but the dynamic shading possible with the instrument is inconceivable on an acoustical organ. Each key on the 'touch sensitive organ' had a spring which created resistance to the touch and returned the key to its 'off' position when released. The deeper the key was depressed, the more volume one obtained.
LeCaine obtained a position at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa upon his graduation from Queen's in 1940. The war prevented LeCaine from working on musical pro ects in his early years at NRC. However, between 1945and 1943. LeCaine worked, in a laboratory that he set up in his home, to develop a monophonic electronic instrument which he dubbed the "Sackbut." LeCaine was well aware how quickly advances in technology took place and felt himself to be rather isolated in his lab in Ottawa. He felt that by the time he finished his work on his instrument it would be already obsolete. Thus he gave the instrument the name of an obsolete instrument. The inelegant appearance of LeCaine's prototype instruments was a hallmark of LeCaine's handiwork. In the late 50s, when LeCaine gave demonstrations at the NRC and elsewhere, he neatly draped his instruments with fabric, exposing only the keyboard and other controls. After an impressive demonstration of the instrument's musical potential he would sometimes remove the covering to reveal a messy tangle of wires and second-hand lumber. Technicians who have worked with LeCaine observe that he did not value the appearance of his devices sufficiently to spend time that otherwise could be used on another project. The Sackbut was in some ways similar to the ondes Martenot in that one played upon a keyboard with the right hand and used the left to control timbre and volume, but the Sackbut had considerably greater versatility and better human engineering. LeCaine arranged a few measures of music for string quartet and recorded the performance of a group of local players. He also produced a recording of himself using the Sackbut to imitate each of the instruments of the quartet. His colleagues had some difficulties telling the string quartet from LeCaine's instrument when the two performances were intercut on tape. Even the players were deceived at times when they listened to the tape.
LeCaine was eager to show that the Sackbut would do more than imitate acoustic instruments, something it could do very well, and he began to compose fragments of pieces to show off the Sackbut's more novel possibilities. One of his earliest and most remarkable pieces is something he called the Sackbut Blues. He describes this as a "new high in low-downess" in the commentary that precedes the taped recording of the piece. LeCaine's work on musical instruments was halted once again in 1948 when the NRC sent him to the University of Birmingham in England to work in the field of nuclear physics. While LeCaine was in England he heard the work of Pierre Schaeffer, and what he heard inspired an entirely different type of investigation when he returned to Canada. During the war, the magnetic tape recorder was developed to the point that its fidelity was sufficient for the recording of music. Schaeffer, working at the Paris Radio, had spent ears exploring the possibilities of recording sounds on phonograph discs and modifying the speed to obtain unusual and interesting treatments. When the tape recorder became available, he was also able to play sounds backward and to rearrange their order with great flexibility. It was this capability of the tape recorder that also attracted LeCaine.
LeCaine returned to the NRC in 1952 and by 1954 had succeeded in convincing the NRC to start "a small program of research on electronic music instruments" consisting of himself and three technicians. A variety of projects was completed during this period, but the most noteworthy was the development of a tape playback device which was capable of handling a number of tapes at the same time while allowing the operator to control the speed by means of a keyboard. This meant that the operator could obtain, for example, a major scale by playing the same tape sequence, say, the sound of a gong or a car horn, at successively faster speeds by means of the variable speed motor and the keyboard. The device also gave the operator considerable control in rapid selection from the various tapes as they ran in parallel.
This device has come to be called the "multi-track'' and it is the instrument which LeCaine used to produce his most famous composition, Dripsody . As we have seen, it was LeCaine's habit to try out thoroughly the devices which he built. LeCaine wrote:
I must explain that I did not regard myself as a composer. However, I felt that the only way to understand the composer's interest in the apparatus was to try to use the equipment myself in the various current musical forms.
He had been working for months on a composition using three materials: the breaking of a pane of glass with a hammer, the sound of a ping-pong ball hitting the bat, and the sound of the fall of a single drop of water. One night (it was also LeCaine's habit to work very late at night) in December of 1955, at about 2:45 am, it occurred to him to try the drop of water alone. He created a rhythmic pattern by splicing together copies of the original recording of the water drop (occupying about 1/2-inch of tape). Also, he used the multi-track to re-record the water drop at various speeds (and thus, at various pitches) and then spliced these copies together to create a rising pentatonic scale pattern. In all, only 25 splices were made. The remainder of the material was produced by manipulating the speed of the original material in various ways using the multi-track. LeCaine finished the piece at 7:30 am and played it for the early arrivals at the lab that morning. Incidentally, the sounds of the ping-pong ball and the breaking glass, as well as a few drips of water that were left over from Dripsody, appear in the 1957composition, Invocation, a piece which was also composed with the aid of the multi-track.
Between 1955and his retirement from the NRC in 1973, LeCaine produced at least 15 electroacoustical compositions and created a score of new devices and also presented his ideas and inventions to learned bodies and the general public. His mandate, from the point of view of the NRC, was to produce designs which were potentially marketable by Canadian manufacturers. But while LeCaine did get excellent responses from both the learned bodies and the public, he did not get a satisfactory response from industry. One must merely recall that Alexander Graham Bell had to go to the United States to market his telephone, and that Morse Robb never found a market for his organ, to realize that Canada was not a fertile ground for commercially developing audio devices. Despite the fact that LeCaine’s 1948 Sackbut is capable of successfully competing with any of the live-performance instruments currently on the market, and that the commercially successful synthesizers manufactured in the United States and England in the 1960s and 1970swere considerably inferior instruments to the Sackbut, only one manufacturer ever became involved with LeCaine; and that manufacturer signed an agreement to produce the Sackbut, but stalled for a long time and in the end defaulted on the agreement.
Fortunately, a few people did eventually come into LeCaine's life to make him feel his efforts were of some value. One of these people was Israeli composer Josef Tal. In the Summer of 1958, Tal, under a Unesco grant to visit major electronic music studios, had travelled to New York to visit the new Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. While he was there he heard of LeCaine's work and obtained permission to extend his travel grant to visit Ottawa. The world's major studios now included: Paris (1948), Cologne (1951), Berlin (1952), Milan (1953), Tokyo (1955), Rome, Warsaw, Brussels, Delft, Tel Aviv (1957), and New York (1958); and Tal had seen a good many of these. What Tal saw in Ottawa, however, impressed him as having far greater potential for musical composition than the facilities he had seen else where. Tal grew very excited about the instruments that LeCaine had built, but he did not realize what this meant to LeCaine until the next day while LeCaine, Tal, and several technicians were having lunch in a small restaurant. Tal noticed that, not only had LeCaine been rather silent on this day, but on close inspection at the table, LeCaine had tears running down his cheeks and falling silently into his soup. When an opportunity arose. Tal delicately asked one of the technicians about this and was told that LeCaine had felt no composer in Canada had a use for his instruments and that Tal was the first composer who had shown any interest in his work.
As isfrequently a problem in Canada. LeCaine was hindered by a lack of adequate communication with the people who might welcome what he had to offer. However, early in 1958.an article about LeCaine's work appeared in the Montreal Gazette. István Anhalt contacted LeCaine immediately after seeing the article, and the two met when LeCaine gave a public lecture in Montreal the following winter. Anhalt had heard broadcasts of Stockhausen's Studie #2 and Gesange der jünglinge on John Beckwith's CBC radio program. "The World of Music." Anhalt was very excited as to the possibilities of electroacoustic music and when he learned that the resources for making it himself were not so very far away in Ottawa, he was eager to avail himself of them. He began to work in LeCaine's lab in the summer of 1959. His first work, Electronic Composition #1, Anhalt describes as a "primitive study" using an impulse generator. That same summer he produced Electronic Composition #2, which provided an opportunity to indulge his fascination with the potential of tape editing. He spliced together fragments of pre-recorded tape as small as 1/8-of-an-inch and created tape loops from which he fashioned the piece.
Anhalt organized the first concert of tape music in Canada in the Fall of 1959. The concert, which took place at Moyse Hall at McGill University, included several works by well known European composers, Anhalt's Electronic Composition #1 and #2. LeCaine's Dripsody and several other short works, as well as an experimental arrangement of Gabrielli's Sonata Pian e Forte made of filtered white noise using LeCaine's multi-track. The Gabrielli arrangement was by John Bowsher, a British researcher in audio who was working at the NRC with LeCaine in 1958-59.
LeCaine describes the concert as:
. . . well attended (though the hall was not crowded). The audience were on the whole quite interested, although I did hear a few nasty remarks (no rocks or fruit thrown though, and no riots).
After another year of teaching at McGill, Anhalt returned to the NRC to produce Electronic Composition #3, which he subtitled Birds and Bells. This piece utilized the multi-track and two other LeCaine devices: the "coded music device" and the "oscillator bank." The former allowed the composer to prepare a paper roll to control various instruments automatically. One of the devices it might control was the oscillator bank, a collection of 108 independent oscillators, the output of which could be combined to create a great variety sounds. As he created the piece he identified its emotional impact with the exuberant sense of optimism that he had experienced at the age of 25 in his native Budapest. The Russian army was on its way to liberate the city, spring had come, and Anhalt sensed his whole life ahead of him. It is this sense of elation and excitement that he tried to give to his music.
The following summer (1961) Anhalt obtained a grant from the Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Center to spend a month working with the RCA Mark II synthesizer. After his time in New York, Anhalt went to Murray Hill, New Jersey to spend a week with the Max Mathews and his Music V computer music system. Anhalt produced no compositions at these studios, but he used the material produced at Columbia-Princeton in his Electronic Composition #4 assembled at the NRC lab, and the 45 seconds of instrumental synthesis that Anhalt produced at Bell Labs (probably the first computer music by a Canadian) was included in a 1969 composition: Foci for voice, twelve instruments, and three tape recorders.
With the exception of his most recent work (the opera. Winthrop, 1982), all of Anhalt's subsequent compositions have included prepared tape as a major component. The tape portion for Symphony of Modules (1967) and Cento (for 12 voices. 1967) is constructed of electronically generated sounds. La Tourangelle for five solo voices and small orchestra, 1975) employs the recorded and combined sounds of myriad human voices.
István Anhalt was not the only composer in Montreal taken with the possibilities of tape music. In 1955 a new work by Serge Garant was performed at a special concert commemorating the tenth anniversary of the death of Anton Webern. This seems to have been the first composition employing prepared tape to be performed in a concert hall in Canada (the first tape music heard in Canada seems to have been a broadcast of early German works on CBC radio in the summer of 1954). The Garant work, entitled Nucleogame, was written for seven instruments and tape. Unfortunately, Garant seems to have quickly lost interest in tape music. Montreal composers who undertook more extensive work in electroacoustic music in its early days include Otto Joachim, Gilles Tremblay, and Pierre Mercure.
Otto Joachim had moved from Germany to Singapore, to Shanghai, and finally, in 1949, to Montreal and in 1955 set up his own private studio for electroacoustic music. That same year he produced a sound track for a dance film using several types of ponticello sounds from a viola as source material and subjecting the material to low speed playback and echo effects. Joachim had continued his experiments in electricity and music in Shanghai in the early 40s (including building electrical equivalents of the violin family and adding electro-static pickups to a piano). yet it was not until after he had experimented in his Montreal studio for a decade that he began to produce music for the concert hall. Using the oscillators, homemade circuits, and second-hand professional tape recorders of his studio. Joachim produced a four-channel tape composition, Katamavk,, for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo '67. In 1972, he produced two more four-channel tape pieces, 5.9 and 6-1/2, as well as an elaborate multimedia work, Mankind, which employed the live performance of four synthesizers. Illumination 11 (1969), an earlier multimedia work using instruments and four-channel tape, was awarded the Grand Prix Paul-Gilson from the Communauté radiophonique des programmes de langue française, Further electroacoustic pieces were produced in 1973 and 1977.
In the late 60s, Joachim designed what might have been Canada's most remarkable electroacoustic music device, but it has never been constructed. The "Flying Sculpture" was conceived as a type of dirigible made of sculptured styrofoam with helium pockets that would allow it to float into the air. Air jets were to provide the means for stablizing or changing the position of the device. Four to eight Aeolian harps were to be positioned on the sculpture so that any air movement would activate the strings. The sound of the strings was then to be pickedup and transmitted by radio back to earth where the sounds were to be transformed electronically and distributed to speakers. The "Flying Sculpture" was to be powered by solar cells and painted with florescent material which could be made to glow in different ways in response to illumination from below. The world exposition in Osaka, Japan expressed interest in the project, but owing to the cost did not pursue it further.
Gilles Tremblay, whom we have already encountered in connection with the ondes Martenot, became interested in the newly emerging forms of electroacoustic music in the late 50s and was the first to make a substantial contact with Europeans working in the field. He attended the summer courses given in Darmstadt by Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1957, and returned to Europe for a two-year period beginning in 1959, to work with the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) under Pierre Schaeffer in Paris. During this period he came in contact with Luc Ferrari, Iannis Xenakis, Henri Pousseur, and other prominent composers of electroacoustic music. In 1959, Tremblay created his first tape piece, Exercise I. This initial composition does seem an exercise, but Exercise II, composed in 1960, is an attractive and substantial work. From time to time, Tremblay has used electronic resources in his work, notably in his 24-channel work, Sonorisation du Pavillon du Québec (1967) for Expo '67 for which he won the 1968 Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée.
Pierre Mercure grew interested in Schaeffer's musique concrète during his first study period in Europe, 1949-50. He did not act on this interest until he returned to Europe in 1957-8, when he came into direct contact with the GRM and Pierre Schaeffer. His first compositions in the medium did not materialize until 1961, in which year he produced six. Four of these were accompaniment for dance. All six were realized in the facilities of Radio Canada in Montreal. Improvisation employs musique concrète treatments of prepared piano sound. Repercussions uses the sound of Japanese wind chimes, and the others rely upon electronically generated sounds. Of these six works from 1961 and later works or tape, only one tape is now extant, the dance piece, incandescence of 1961. Mercure died in a tragic accident in 1966; one can only hope that the remaining works will eventually be found. Incandescence and the tape portion of the 1963 radio cantata for two choirs, 13 instruments, and prepared tape, Psaume pour abri, suggest that Mercure was a very fine composer in the electroacoustic medium.
Toronto, the place that is most likely to come to mind with regard to the history of electroacoustic music in Canada, I have not yet mentioned. But as we have seen, a great deal had been happening elsewhere prior to 1959 when the University of Toronto Electronic Music Studio (UTEMS) actually opened its doors for business. Once those doors were open, however, Toronto attracted a great deal of attention. UTEMS probably got its start when Dr. Arnold Walter, director of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music, and Dr. LeCaine met in 1957 at the opening of the first (Alberta) Jubilee Auditorium. Both were present as music experts to pass judgement on the hall. Walter expressed his interest in Canada's potential for electronic music, and LeCaine invited Walter to visit his lab in Ottawa. Walter very much wanted the Ottawa laboratory, including LeCaine and a few technicians, moved to Toronto. Although this idea did not appeal to the NRC or LeCaine, generous assistance in setting up a new facility in Toronto was offered. In the Fall of 1958 Walter invited LeCaine to lecture to faculty, staff and students on electronic music and the following January, LeCaine and Walter commenced planning for the first electronic music production studio in Canada to open in the spring of 1959. The studio opened in June shortly after LeCaine had arrived in his NRC panel truck at 2 Division Street to install oscillator bank, multi-track, and an array of other equipment.
Myron Schaeffer had been offered, by Walter in 1958, a position to teach theory at the University of Toronto, but, I suspect, also to apply his extensive knowledge of the tape recorder (gained in gathering folk music in Latin America) to directing the electronic music studio which was at the time a gleam in Walter's eye. Schaeffer seems to be another one of those renaissance men who were about at that time (LeCaine and Walter both seem to qualify for this label as well). Quite apart from is work in musicology he had pursued composition and, when his responsibilities expanded to include the care and feeding of an electronic music studio, he also became an inventor. He developed the Hamograph, which was a device for controlling volume levels by means of markings drawn or pasted on 35mm motion-picture film. Schaeffer produced a considerable number of tape pieces and a copious number of studies demonstrating the Hamograph. Early studio users also included Arnold Walter and, yet a third musicologist, Harvey Olnick. This threesome also collaborated on projects including Summer Idyll, a haunting and tranquil piece which was made in May of 1960 and broadcast the next month on the CBC radio program, "Tabloid." During the early years of UTEMS these men were committed and indefatigable explorers of the new world of electroacoustic music opening up to them. Walter provided liaison with the outer world, Olnick provided much of the technical expertise, and Schaeffer was the inexhaustible source of ideas. The three were immortalized in the naming of the HAMograph - Harvey, Arnold, and Myron.
UTEMS was, after the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, the second studio to open in North America and quickly became one of the world's ten or so most important studios. In the 1960s the studio attracted such important American composers as Anthony Gnazzo, Jean Eichelberger Ivey, Lowell Cross, and Pauline Oliveros as well as several Europeans. Robert Aitken produced his electronic works. Noesis (1963) and Music for 'Hamlet' (1964) at UTEMS. Although Harry Somers spent a good deal of time in the studio in the early 60s, only the electronic sequences for his opera Louis Riel (made in collaboration with Lowell Cross) have actually been performed. Of the composers who worked at UTEMS in the early 60s, Norma Beecroft has been the most steadfast in subsequent use of electroacoustic music, producing seven major works between 1963 and 1978 for voices and/or instruments and tape as well as Consequences for Five (1977) which calls for synthesizers and live electronics.
Elsewhere in Toronto, Samuel Dolin established a studio at the Royal Conservatory of Music after touring studios in the U.S. and Europe. The RCMT studio produced, among many others, John Mills-Cockell, Canada's most successful early performer on the synthesizer, and Ann Southam, best known for her nearly two dozen works for dance commissioned by the Toronto Dance Theatre. Also working independently in Toronto was Udo Kasemets who, in 1968,planned and directed Sightsoundsystems, a controversial festival which marked the inception of the Toronto branch of the New York-based Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT). Between 1966 and 1977Kasemets produced twenty-five highly inventive works for tape, for live electronics, and for multi-media.
Following Myron Schaeffer's death in 1965, Gustav Ciamaga became director of the University of Toronto studio. It was just at this time that Ciamaga worked with Hugh LeCaine in developing the Serial Structure Generator (SSG), a device which automated oscillator generation of melodic and rhythmic patterns, freeing the composer's hands for hi higher level operations. One of these instruments was a featured attraction at Expo '67were it was available for operation by members of the public. The work on the SSG was written up in several major technical publications of the time, and this pioneering work contributed significantly to the standard inclusion of the sequencer, a simpified version of the SSG, in the commercial synthesizers of the next decade. Ciamaga produced about 20 rather fine tape compositions between 1965and 1976, but he has had more impact on electroacoustic music in Canada as a spokesman and mentor than as a composer. He contributed a chapter to what has been internationally one of the several most important books about electroacoustic music, The Deveopment and Practice of Electronic Music (Appleton and Perera, eds.); and he has been the teacher of a number of composers who have come to prominence in the field of electroacoustic music.
Significant among these younger composers are David Grimes, David Jaeger, Larry Lake, and James Montgomery who met at UTEMS just at the beginning of the 1970sand in 1971formed the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (CEE). Since that time the Ensemble has toured Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia. and New Zealand and, since 1976, has maintained a regular concert series in Toronto. Two disc recordings of the CEE have been released, one by Music Gallery Editions and the other by the Canadian Music Centre (the first of the Centrediscs series). The Ensemble has performed several hundred works including over 30works by one or more of the member composer-performers. Three of these works have been "electronic" operas produced in cooperation with Comus Music Theatre. Among the many new works commissioned by the CEE for their rather singular instrumentation have been compositions by Robert Bauer, Norma Beecroft, Derek Healey, Udo Kasemets. David Keane, Norman Symonds, John Thrower, Steve Tittle, Barry Truax, and Gayle Young. The CEE and Gayle Young have together formed the "Hugh LeCaine Project" to carefully document the work of LeCaine and to promote public awareness of his significant contribution to music. Young has also written a biography of LeCaine.
During these developments in Toronto, electroacoustic music was blossoming throughout Canada. Although each of the studios has emerged with its own interesting and distinctive history, the large number of studios has necessitated here the provision of only such information as can be contained in the chart found below. There are a number of private studios in addition to that of Otto Joachim, but the chart lists only those which have potential "public" access. The "studio size" designation is quite approximate but will give the reader some idea of the relative equipage of these studios. A typical small studio of the 60s and 70s would have one or two small synthesizers ($1500-3000 at the time), two to four semi-professional tape decks, and perhaps a few more specialized components. A typical large studio of the time would have one or more large ($10,000) synthesizers, several small ones, a professional mixing board, professional tape recorders (some of which would likely have 4-8 channels) and at least a few custom devices.
|ANALOG ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSIC STUDIOS IN CANADA
|U. of Victoria
|Martin Bartlett (1978)
|John Celona (1982)
|U. B. C.
|Phillip Werren (1969)
|Barry Truax (1975)
|Univ. of Alberta
|Univ. of Calgary
|Univ. of Lethbridge
|Univ. of Saskatchewan
|Univ. of Manitoba
|Univ. of Guelph
|Univ. of Western Ontario
|Wilfrid Laurier Univ.
|Univ. of Waterloo
|Phillip Werren (1980)
|Univ. of Toronto
|Gustav Ciamaga (1965)
|Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
|Wes Wraggett (1978)
|Ontario College of Education
|James Montgomery (1974)
|Music Gallery (Toronto)
|University of Montreal
|Paul Pedersen (1971)
|Alcides Lanza (1974)
|University of Quebec at Montreal
The newest and probably best equipped studio (at the time of this writing) is the $500,000 studio at the University of Montreal. All twenty-seven of these studios conduct courses of instruction of some sort in electroacoustic music composition and most can claim to have had works produced in them which have been performed and broadcast nationally and internationally. These works will have been produced by staff, students and visiting composers from across Canada and abroad. However, a few studios have been consistently in the limelight for a decade or more. Among these are the studios at UBC, Simon Fraser, York. Queen's, and McGill.
The studio at the University of British Columbia, Canada's third oldest, has among its alumni Lloyd Burritt, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, and the well-known rock musician, Claire Lawrence. The Simon Fraser studio was founded by Murray Schafer and Anthony Gnazzo. Schafer used the studio for at least nine works in electroacoustic medium. He has used tape as a component in instrumental and vocal works such as Son of Heldenleben, Lustro, and Apocalypsis as well as producing several works for tape only. The SFU studio has also been the means of realizing mature works by a great many other composers including Peter Huse, Phil Werren, Don Druick, David Keane, Barry Truax. Bruce Davis and Hildegard Westerkamp. The York studio has been largely dominated by noted American-born composers including James Tenney, David Rosenboom, and Phillip Werren. Although much of the focus of these composers has remained in the U.S., an important cross pollination has taken place here. A great many younger composers working in a variety of experimental musics and based in Toronto have emerged from York, many of whom are associated with Toronto's Music Gallery. David Rosenboom's work in York's Laboratory for Experimental Aesthetics with "brain waves" and biofeedback has been the central focus in Canada for this particular application of electroacoustic techniques. The Queen's studios have been the third after UTEMS, and the studio at McGill) and last of the beneficiaries of equipment built in Hugh LeCaine's NRC Laboratory Oueen's three studios have been the locus of the work of several composers with wide international reputations in electroacoustic music. These include David Keane, William Buxton, and Bruce Pennycook. István Anhalt also moved from McGill to Queen's in 1971and it was here that he produced the tape portion of La Tourangelle.
While still in Montreal, Anhalt had continued to work at the NRC until 1964when he succeeded in obtaining permission from McGill to use University facilities to house a studio contributed by the NRC Electronic Music Laboratory. Paul Pedersen, the composer of the popular For Margaret, Motherhood, and Mendelssohn which is a humorous treatment on tape of speeches of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), replaced Anhalt as studio director. Pedersen collaborated with Hugh LeCaine to produce one of the earliest polyphonic synthesizers. Since 1974, Argentinian-born Alcides Lanza has directed McGill's four studios and very active program in electroacoustic music. Such major international figures in electroacoustic music as Mario Bertoncini, and Makoto Shinohara have been among the special visiting professors. Such groups as Metamusic (Kevin Austin, Martin Gotrit and others), specializing in multi-channel electronic improvisations, and Le Group Sonde (Pierre Droste, Andrew Culver, Charles de Mestral and others) specializing in the creation of their own metallic instruments and developing amplification and performing techniques for them, have been formed by composers associated with the McGill studio. Other composers associated with that studio include Michel Longtin, Denis Lorrain, and Otto Joachim. Although Micheline Coulombe St-Marcoux was not associated with McGill, she should be mentioned here. She undertook musical studies in Montreal and then studied electroacoustic music with Pierre Schaeffer. While there she was a founding member of the Groupe international de musique électroacoustique de Paris. Between 1969 and 1973she participated in that group's concerts in Europe, South America and Canada and subsequently returned to take up similar activities in Canada.
Despite the breadth and variety of activity in electroacoustic music in Canada, little important technical innovation surfaced during the 1965-1975heyday of the conduct courses of instruction of some sort in electroacoustic music composition and most can claim to have had works produced in them which have been performed and broadcast nationally and internationally. These works will have been produced by staff, students and visiting composers from across Canada and abroad. However, a few studios have been consistently in the limelight for a decade or more. Among these are the studios at UBC, Simon Fraser, York. Queen's, and McGill.
In 1971, the Groupe InformatiquelMusique was created at the University of Montreal. The group, which included Walter Boudreau, JeanMarie Cloutier, Robert Dupuy, Alain Fortin, Daniel Hennequin, Robert Léonard, Denis Lorrain, Eric Regener, JeanLouis Richer and Pierre Trochu, was devoted to a wide range of computer applications for music, but little actually came of the operation and it was dissolved in 1976. In the mid-1970s a few university studios began to acquire music programs, such as Music V, designed to run on the university's large computers (but these systems were cumbersome and impractical), and around the beginning of the 1980s such studios as Victoria, UBC, Calgay, UW, and McGill began acquiring commercial digital synthesizers such as the Synclavier and the Fairlight systems.
The first completely original work in digital music by a Canadian was that of Barry Truax who had studied physics and music at Queen's and electroacoustic music composition at UBC. A short time later, while studying at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht, the Netherlands (1971-73), he began the development of a series of computer programs which allowed the composer to commence work on a composition by describing general structures for the piece (rather than building up the composition note by note) and then gradually modifying and refining his/her ideas after the first interaction. The significance of Truax's programs, called POD, is more than the pro vision of an efficient means of generating complex musical structures, but rather the provision of an entirely new, yet entirely practical, means of approaching composition. The POD programs have been implemented at SFU as well as at most of the major computer music centres around the world.
William Buxton coincidentally followed in Truax's footsteps at Queen's and then Utrecht, but upon returning to Canada in 1976 he set to work establishing a major computer music facility in the Computing Science Department at the University of Toronto. The system, called the Structured Sound Synthesis Project (SSSP), brought together many of the most recent technical developments, including the construction of early digital synthesizer, and pioneered the extensive use of computer graphics to allow the composer to choose from a great variety of possible modes of communication with the computer. These modes ranged trough the use of a keyboard and manual sliders, traditional notation, acoustical descriptions of sound, phonetic descriptions of sound, and an approach akin to Truax's POD programs. Buxton also devised a portable version of the SSSP system that has as one of its distinctive features the possibility for live improvisation of electroacoustic music through the flexible alteration of previously prepared materials.
As writers, lecturers, and consultants on computer music technology both Truax and Buxton have drawn a great deal of attention to work in Canada. Among the many others who have contributed to Canada's international stature in computer music are notably Martin Gotfrit in digital synthesizer design, Bruce Pennycook for mixing and editing software design, and David Keane writing on the aesthetic issues of computer music. Canada's electroacoustic music composers - in particular, Buxton, Keane, Truax, and more recently Jean Piché - are well represented in broadcasts and concert series around the world and they figure prominently in such important international festivals as those in Bourges, Brussels, Tokyo, Paris, and the Warsaw Autumn and Gaudeamus Festivals. The most important international competition for electroacoustic music, the Concours international des musiques électroacoustiques, which takes place annually in Bourges, France has numbered among its winners the Canadians Micheline Coulombe St-Marcoux, Yves Daoust. Marcelle Deschènes, David Keane, Henry Kucharzyk, Alcides Lanza, Serge Perron, Barry Truax (twice), and Hildegard Westerkamp.
Domestic activity in electroacoustic music is equally abundant. In addition to the CEE subscription series, such or anizations as Nova Music, the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Qudbec (SMCQJ, Toronto New Music Concerts, Music Inter Alia, the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts, and the Vancouver New Music Society include a substantial number of electroacoustic works in their regular programming, and, of course, regular concerts are organized by electroacoustic music studios and parallel galleries in every major city. In 1979,the Music Gallery in Toronto began a series of annual four-day festivals of electroacoustic music which has included many Canadians as well as important foreign composers and performers. Since 1982, McGill University has annually presented two- and three-day festivals that have included a substantial electroacoustic component and have featured a particular instrumental focus each year (1982, keyboards; 1983, strings; 1984, pipes and reeds; 1985, woodwinds). Vancouver's Digicon 83brought artists and musicians working with computer technology together for 3days in August of 1983. Earlier the same year, journées électroacoustiques 1983, the first festival of exclusively Canadian electroacoustic music, was mounted in Montreal.
The last named festival was organized by ACREQ (Association pour la Création et la Recherche Electroacoustiques a Québec). ACREQ was formed in 1976by Yves Daoust, Marcelle Deschènes, Michel Longtin, Philippe Ménard, Jean Sauvageau, and Pierre Trochu to promote research into electroacoustic music and to present concerts to the public. In addition to mounting the journées Electroacoustiques (something ACREQ expects to be an annual event), ACREQ has organized in Montreal many major concerts featuring member composers, other Canadians and major international figures from the field. The association also provides a focus for exchange and collaboration for many composers in the Montreal area and provides liaison with others outside that area. ACREQ also has a close relationship to a new national organization formed at a meeting in Ottawa (in February of 1983of William Buxton, Yves Daoust, David Keane. Alcides Lanza, James Montgomery. Alain Thibault, and Barry Truax under the auspices of the Canada Council. The Association Canadienne de Musique ElectroacoustiquelCanadian / Association of Electroacoustic Music (CAEM) publishes a newsletter and in general seeks to facilitate communication among the several hundred individuals and institutions in Canada concerned with the development and performance of electroacoustic music. The CAEM is a national federation of the Confédération Internationale de Musique Electroacoustique, which, along with the international Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and the International Music Council (IMC), is one of nineteen member organizations of Unesco.
Many nations of the world have a centuries-long advantage over Canada with respect to the development of music and art. There are some areas, such as electroacoustic music, which have emerged in the world during the maturity of Canada and it is in such areas that Canada has made some of its most notable contributions. Although the foregoing account of electroacoustic music activity in Canada occupies many pages, it provides only a superficial coverage of the richness and diversity of this fascinating medium. In particular, no space has been given here to the music itself in spite of the fact that throughout the development of electroacoustic music in Canada many awesome and beautiful works have come into being. Each of these works as well as a wealth of other treasures of Canadian delving into the fusion of music and electronics deserves far more space than can be accommodated here. Someday soon a book must be written which tells the whole story of this fascinating adventure.
This article was first published by the Canadian Music Centre in Célébration (©1984). It is re-printed with permission.