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Personal reply to the Canada Council questionnaire

by Kevin Austin

On behalf of the Music Section of the Canada Concil, Robert Normandeau has forwarded a questionnaire so that he may be able to prepare a report. I write as an individual, and the views reflected are my own.


Sound art, electroacoustics, computer music, acousmatics, digital sound, electronic music ... many words that either attempt to describe or delimit an activity that involves 'electricity' and 'sound'.

Electroacoustic music

Hmmm ... this is a term that does not have wide current use in Canada ... the addition of the word 'music' has triggered many (lively) discussions in the past 20 - 25 years. I would prefer to consider the term as ea/cm/sa (electroacoustics / computer music / sonic (sound) art), and possibly add m/t (music technology) to this as well.

The spectrum of ea/cm/sa activity is by its nature, very wide. "Music" touches upon only some parts of this practice. I would ask that you understand that I view the role of 'music' in ea/cm as being important, but its being a sub-set of a much wider practice.

And _this_ has been an issue for the Canada Council Music / Media / Explorations (!) / Multi- Mixed- Media / Radiophonic / Digital Arts for a long time. Being such an all encompassing issue (for the Music Section and others), therefore I will need to come back to it again.

* Description of how these practices have changed or not in the past five to ten years

IMV, the major change in the practices of ea/cm/sa are reflected in the number of people who are using sound (via electronics) as a creative medium. Fifteen years ago in Canada, they numbered in the low 100s -- studios were expensive and associated with educational institutions.

Today, the numbers of practicing sound artists (to be defined) is in the thousands. A $3,000 (or less) computer and some other bits and pieces, and the practice has begun. Sound bytes are downloaded, freeware manipulation programs are downloaded -- it's (available) everywhere.

This creates problems for those who wish to (de-)limit the field, its practice and application. (To quote G & S ... "When everyone is someone, no-one is anybody.") But I think that it _is_ possible to talk about the levels of practice, from the student to the advanced / seasoned professional: the challenge is to not be limited by 'traditional' models of what constitutes a 'trained' artist.

Visual artists with highly disciplined minds pick up sonic arts tools and apply their creativity in a short period of time: ea/cm practitioners adapt and adopt video / visual media techniques and objectives. A number of Montreal artists have crossed both ways.

When a highly skilled and internationaly recognized ea/cm practitioner applies for assistance in the preparation of a media piece, it is an indication that the walls are thinner (or farther apart) than Canada Council guidelines are able to rapidly adapt to.

>* Does the practice of this artform change from region to region? If so, how, why?

There are historical reasons why certain traditional practices have become somewhat 'regional' (eg the acousmatic tradition from the Universite de Montreal), but many of the 'newer' practices are not regional. Common software plus a highly effective infrastructural communications network has de-regionalized much of the practice.

A close reading of the history of ea in Canada will answer the "why" of the question, but it may not be germane to the discussion.

>* Can the 'schools' of el/cm be categorized or delineated from one another?

Again, I feel that the basis of this question is based upon a historical concept that is not valid for the younger and emerging sound artists in Canada. Acousmatics was (about) the only 'identifiable' "school", but I'm not clear on what this has to do with current and future practice.

One can read the histories of this, including that prepared by David Keane for the CMC over a decade ago, and read what happened at UTEMS, McGill, UBC, Concordia, Laval, Conservatoires, Victoria, Carleton, Queen's .... etc etc, and before a strong infrastructural support network (and Dif i Media!!) there may have been 'categories', but today? an instructior would need to be blind (sic) to only teach one ea/cm/sa idiom.

* Has the advance of technology had an impact on these practices? How?

Yes. How not? Huh?? This was a question in Future Shock from 1969 (for those who don't remember).

>* Would all practitioners of the art form consider themselves composers? Sound artists?

Such an ugly word - "ALL". <yikes! Four linguistic bombs in one sentence: -- all -- the art form -- composer -- sound art

Maybe this has to do with the idea that only 'composers' (can) compose electronic music, and electronic music is an 'art form'.

Stravinsky did not list his profession as composer on his passport.

* What are considered the 'margins' of el/cm practice and describe the overlap with media-based artists?

Media-based 'art forms' that use sound and electricity are "electroacoustic": they are not "marginal". Is opera considered as marginal in the discipline of music because it encompasses other 'media'? There are many ea/cm/sa artists whose first field of study was not "music". Today, I feel that it is kind of pretentious to consider "music" as the center of ea/cm.

In my academic experience, it is the "music" people who have come last to recognize ea/cm/sa as an independent multi-disciplinary art form. The "margins" are occupied by 'composers' who use "music technology" as an aid to their 'traditional' composition / performance / study / education practice. (I could put on another hat to go into greater detail on this last sentence.)

>* Are there gender issues with this practice? Issues of cultural diversity? Generation?

Issues of gender plague the contemporary music community in Canada. The recent Millennium Symphony with 19 composer and 2? 3? females among the 19 .... hhrrrrmmmmpppppppfffffff!!

Cultural diversity ... less so (in ea/cm than in the european-based "music" arts). Generational ... ABSOLUTELY!!

The sad part is that the Music Section, by having withdrawn support for the ea/cm/sa community some 4 or 5 years ago, was not around when the (now) 20 somethings were sharpening their teeth. The absence of CC for the CEC had a number of effects ... many not so good, but some perhaps better.

The 'older' generation "accepted" the paternalism and 'management of the arts' by the CC, but, IMV, a younger generation has lost confidence in the idea that the CC 'serves' the artistic community. When budget cuts came along, were they appropriate, fair and equitable?

(This is a whole other thread, but few wish to see "that" history repeat itself.)

* Do many electroactoustic composers consider themselves performers? As diffusionists or with other live musicians in real time? Do many of these composers consider themselves multidisciplinary artists?

This is hard to deal with for it asks me to answer for others. What is "many"? How many ea/cm/sa practitioners (in Canada) have regular access to sond projection systems (of more than 10 channels)?

> Living

* How do most of these artists earn a living? Commissions? Teaching? Involved with other media?

* What is their community? Who do they consider their peers?

(Suddenly the questionnaire goes into the third person plural.)

It strikes me that 'few' artists earn a living from their art. I am an academic who serves the ea/cm/sa community by supporting creativity, production, education, writing and administrative activities.

The nature of 'community' is that (among other things) activities can be specialized: not everyone has to do everything all the time. The CEC has tried to provide services and infrastructural support to the entire ea/cm/sa community. While many may not know of the activities of the CEC, they are still beneficiaries of its activities ... but that may be further down

* Why have many composers applied for funding in the media arts section instead of the music section in the past ten years?

Er ... this practice is not ten years old. A little reading of Canada Council's own reports for the past 25 years may reveal the history.

Where was live electronic music improvisation funded in the mid-1970s? Explorations. Why? ... Hmmmmm

"Mediatic" artsists with 'formal' backgrounds in Communication Studies, film, video, dance, theater, visual arts etc etc were not greeted by a jury of peers when they applied to the Music Section. Over the years, I would estimate that less than 1/3 of the letters of support I have written for 'ea/cm/sa' and experimental musicians have been addressed to the "Music Section". Read on ....

>Why have they been successful there? Does this preclude their success in the music programs or augment it?

Music is by its nature a very conservative discipline. In university music students study a 'musical' language that has been dead for 130 years. 90% of university music students do no concentrated, long-term study of musics composed after 1945.

Ea/cm/sa artists will fare better when they address peers who think of 'art' as a living process. Will they be successful with Music Section juries? (Anyone who has done jury duty knows that successful application is a matter of the right proposal and the right jury. An example is the Millennium Fun.)

> Do composers go to both sections? Why - is this an issue determined by content or practice? Is it a case or perception of : eligible equipment costs? Larger grants? Better expertise on Peer Assessment Committees?

When one is hungry and looking for food, one goes to _all_ of the kitchens. A little bit here, a little bit there: it soon adds up.

Also, in my view, the Music Section has not examined the wider issue of the appropriate, fair and equitable distribution of resources allocated to the "contemporary music" sector. (see below also)

>Dissemination * What are the traditional models of dissemination for the artform? Has this aspect changed in recent years?

The CEC has been bringing models for dissemination / documentation / archiving to the Music Section for more than a decade, with very little success. Officers have said "Oh yes, we'll look into (webcasting eg) sometime in the future.

The 'taditional' model collapsed years ago. The CEC went virtual .... see below

* Do the el/cm composers have a presence at media festivals as well as music festivals? How?

Do canadian ea/cm composers have a presence at music festivals? How many ea/cm works have been presented during the Winnipeg New Music Festival?

* Would the Canadian scene be seen to be progressive for the artform?

Canadian ea/cm is not seen just at the national level. Four years ago, on behalf of the electroacoustic / computer music community in Canada, I created an open listserv. Now with more than 400 members in more than 20 countries, canadian practitioners of ea/cm know that they can communicate directly, even more than once a day, with practitioners in other cities, provinces and countries.

>The CEC


* Has the primary means of communication - newsletters/meetings/e-mail - shifted in the past few years for this organization? How and why? How has a shift been impacted by subsidy or lack of subsidy?

This is an important, if incomplete question. It is not my intention to quote the Charter of the CEC: please see the CEC web site to do so.

* Were newsletters ever the primary means of communication? If so, why?

There was a period in history when text-based electronic communication was not 'everywhere'. To fill in the gap between the Charter objectives and the e-media explosion, the CEC published (on paper) a number of years of issues of 'newsletters' / 'journals'. Many of these are now available on the CEC website.

Before funding agencies were able to assist in defraying the costs of this activity, they were picked up for 2 - 3 years by voluteer labor, individuals paying bills, and the generosity of Concordia University.

An examination of the CEC's budgets for the past 10 years provides a factual response to this question.

An unexpected impact of not being able to organize conferences for lack of funding (and burn-out) has been that a younger generation is appearing where 'in-person' meetings are not the 'norm' for encountering colleagues. The norm is to hear their pieces on the web, via CD-R, and to listen to them chat, debate, argue and question on a daily basis.

(There is a broader issue surrounding content of newsletters / journals which is not touched upon in this survey.)

>* Are any publications getting beyond the membership to a national or international profile?


>* How does the CEC define itself? Do they consider themselves arts service organization? If so, why? If not, why not and what do they consider themselves instead?

The CEC's mandate is laid out in its Charter. This Charter, and its mandate was accepted at the conference 2001 -14, held in Montreal 14 years ago, in 1987.

* What is an Arts Service Organization? Is the CLC an ASO? ACWC? Is the CMC an ASO.

The binary-logic opposition of the last line (if not this then what), may have lost something in the translation. What is an "Arts_Service_Organization". What is a NOT_"Arts_Service_Organization".

It could be as Barry Truax recently asked (in another context)... who's doing the homework?

* How do they measure or evaluate their services to the community?

Probably by the influence and impact of their activities on the community, which include international communications, CD production, promotion of canadian and international ea/cm/sa artists within an international context.

And the concept of context is central to this whole discussion. It was the Music Section of the Canada Council that insisted on the importance of a voice for ea/cm/sa practitioners in Canada.

In the mid-80s, the Music Section even funded meetings with a select group of ea/cm practitioners and the CMC to create a national organization to speak on behalf of ea/cm in Canada. It was not considered to be an open or inclusive organization, but it _was_ to be the sole official representative organization.

For a variety of reasons (many documented, and available in the archives of the CEC) this ASO failed. It published one and half newsletters and had 27 members. Some 18 months later, the CEC was incorporated with 100 members ... but I digress.

How does the Music Section wish the CEC to evaluate its contribution to the Canadian cultural community?

The CEC has set up national and international communications channels and on a number of occasions successfully proposed joint projects with the CMC, CLC and ACWC.

The Board of the CEC has set up the <cecpanel (the Advisory Panel of the 1986 CEC by-laws), with membership from the CEC, ACWC, CLC, CMC (most regions) and international presence.

* Do they review or update their mandate?

The charter is quite comprehensive, while fulfilling the carefully defined limits set out the Music Section of the Canada Council in the mid-80s. (The Charter was written after a period of consultation with the Music Section so as to avoid overlap with the CLC, ACWC and CMC.)

>* Do the three national new music organizations communicate with other service organizations? Share initiatives? Have representatives at conferences together?

The CEC has a history of initiating initiatives. (See the History page of the CEC web site.)

* What percentage of overlap exists between the CEC and other composer organizations?

This question "supposes" that the CEC is a "composer organization". Hmmmm.

* What are the tangible benefits to the el/cm constituents that they serve? What are the benefits to the new music community as a whole?

The CEC serves the entire ea/cm/sa community at both the national and international levels. It is (sadly for the sake of categorization) not easily defined as a "members organization". With the sudden shift to the (political) right, it is no seen as 'PC' to support 'community values'.

To find out more about the impact and benefits of the CEC, one may consider the number of times the works from DisContact I, II and Presence I and II have been presented in concert, broadcast and used in educational situations around the world.

Young and Emerging Sound Artists are represented on CD: they are broadcast and presented in concert. This 'Cache' project encourages other young and emergings to continue in the pursuit of their own creativity.

The CEC's eContact! has issues devoted to Women in Ea. Are there other national / international Canadian orgainzations that focus on and highlight the work(s) of 'hidden' (cache' in french) artists?

These projects have been undertaken at a time when the Music Section of the CEC was minimaly involved in the CEC's funding -- read survival.


* Who are the practitioners of el/cm and other electronic musics not served by the CEC? How would being served benefit the community?

The CEC is not structured like the CMC. One does not _have_ to be a member to be 'served'. (This question may have been a carry-over from the CMC survey.)

* Membership - how do they define their field and membership with regard to: improvisation; performers; producers; new practices - technological, social or cultural; gender; generation - i.e. young practitioners; technology

Yes. All of the above and more. The CEC databases reflect on the sustained commitment to all of these areas (and more eg, radio and concert production, and educational practice) for the past 15 years.

* How do the CEC recruit or promote their membership?

<cecdiscuss 400+ readers; open / national / international; 15 - 25 messages per day

<trudi and <lecaine e-lists for educators in canada and around the world; contacts in every post-secondary institution in Canada and most arts colleges

<einiediscuss a closed international list

The CEC is an educational resource with works, analyses, commentary etc etc.

A MAJOR topic not covered anywhere here relates to RESearCH. Maybe this will come up later. [Research activity leads to international exchanges etc].

>* Are there other issues of a national or regional importance that impact 'servicing' the electroacoustic community? Language? Gender? Cultural diversity? Regionality? Representation? Inclusivity/Exclusivity?

> The Canada Council's denial of the fundamental importance of community in and for the arts.

The lack of continuity (and resultant loss of knowledge) in sections of the Canada Council. Artists have to keep re-introducing themselves every couple of years ... with visits, meetings, questionnaires, surveys etc etc.


* Are there models of other service organizations for electroacoustic music outside Canada? How are these organizations similar - or not - for this artform with regard to both structure and mandate?

Many other organizations are more closed, requiring 'approval' in order to become a member. There is a serious sustained international crisis with the UNESCO-recognized international body -- CIME, from which the three largest ea/cm national organizations withdrew in the early 90s.

The CEC charter and bylaws have been used as models for other national organizations.

* Indicate initiatives or issues put forth by the CEC or members of the el/cm community in recent years (failed or successful) that may were impacted by funding to service organizations

The CEC serves "community". Sadly, the CEC does not stop at the borders of Canada. Canadian ea/cm/sa artists act upon the world stage: if the CC will only recognize 'canadian' activity, then a valuable opportunity for international presence and recognition will be lost.

* What are the most important issues in the community currently being addressed by the CEC?

IMV, the younger generation, emerging artists,

>* What are the most important issues in the community that are not being addressed by the CEC?

Having a strong, sustained clear voice in terms of speaking for the ea/cm/sa community.

Administrators are burning out from the work load. This week has seen two _huge_ questionnaires and some grant proposals. The Brady survey went to the Board a number of times and was talked about and thrashed about for a long time: a total of more than 50 hours (direct) work, and now the second questionnaire, again with an impossible deadline.

People were not prepared by and large for the questions: the number asked and the 'slant' that many of them take.

Bringing younger artists into the community: avoiding cynicism and alienation, and developing trust. These three traits do not appear overnight, and they are eradicated quite easily, with appropriate, fair and equitable distribution of resources.

* Indicate other issues impacting the level of service provided and indicate what resources - i.e. time, expertise, maintenance - would be needed

The CEC can also return to being a resource for training young workers in the arts community. After two CHRC internship grants the CEC did not get a third one: the CEC was too successful!

* Indicate specific changes or trends - if any - seen in recent years of activity within the CEC including: Real - resources, funding, funding cuts, new granting programs, changing technology; Implicit - new ways of thinking, new initiatives from the community, new energy/players, burnout/reluctance

The CEC stays _really_ "plugged in" to the national and international ea/cm/sa community. Because of the large numbers of contacts many individuals have, news and views travel fast. While the Music Section was prepared to rely upon 'word of mouth' to communicate, the CEC has been communicating on a daily basis through <cecdiscuss>, but <cecdiscuss> is _not_ a CEC communications tool.

The translation issue is still with the CEC which is one reason why there have developed a number of volunteer and arms length groups.

* Can the CEC 'service' an art form that continues to evolve and diversify toward being inclusionary of more media and technological-based practices?

The CEC is a dynamic organization. It has evolved and diversified as much as decreasing funding has allowed. New technologies could be integrated but no funds are available to become _much_ broader based, but for some reason it is difficult to secure the required resources.

Thank you Robert


Kevin Austin
Feb 2001

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