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The Electroacoustic Situation in Canada



2.1. The 1990s or the "Swiss Army knife" 2.2. New technological resources 2.3. The role of academic institutions 2.4. Electroacoustic practices 2.5. The "fringe" factor 2.6. The art of performing 2.7. Female involvement 2.8. Composer or sound artist 2.9. The regions


3.1. Piecemeal work 3.2. Grants and commissions 3.3. The electroacoustic community 3.4. The Audio component in Media Arts programs


4.1. Traditional outlets 4.2. New outlets 4.3. Festivals 4.4. The Canadian scene 4.5. The situation in Europe 4.6. Performing facilities


5.1. Role 5.2. Tools 5.3. Self-portrait 5.4. Representative character of membership 5.5. Foreign models 5.6. Current activities


A specialized electroacoustic program Operating grant for the CEC A new name: the Electro Program


This report is the result of some lengthy thinking about the current and contemporary music, especially electroacoustics, that fall under the purview of the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA)'s Music Section. This thinking process began with a few public meetings in fall 2000 and then continued with a survey in January 2001 of the main protagonists in the field (composers, performers, producers, professors, students and so on,[1] as well as an electronic discussion group, CECDiscuss, [2] with some 350-400 Canadian and international participants). Based on the approximately 30 survey questionnaires that were returned and which dealt with the various aspects of electroacoustic practice, we have created the various chapter headings to the main sections of this report [3].

There was clearly very little time for this consultative process, and, because the Canada Council had hired various consultants simultaneously to look into various aspects of the situation, several people contacted did not reply due to the excessive amount of work involved in responding to each of the several questionnaires that were being circulated. Furthermore, most of the resource people consulted felt that the timeframe was too short and that there were too many questions to answer.

Another impediment was the fact that all the project material produced by the Council was only in English - this factor created further time pressure since the consultants themselves were responsible for the translation needed to enable their Francophone colleagues to express themselves in their mother tongue.

Despite these limitations, we still feel that we have been able to present an accurate, albeit somewhat incomplete, description of the main issues and challenges involved in the current electroacoustic situation in Canada. [4]

Essentially, we have covered two aspects of the situation: the artistic practice itself, which occupies the major part of our report, and the situation of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community which is the association who represents the electroacoustics in Canada.

1. Brief history

The history of electroacoustics in Canada[5] is "part and parcel" of the overall history of this type of music. The first era is represented by pioneers like Hugh Le Caine  who invented several electronic instruments (including the Electronic Sackbut in 1946), even before the invention of musique concrète  in 1948. This was followed by the era of studio creation in various Canadian universities between 1959 and 1980. The next era saw Canadian composers being recognized internationally either for their participation in events (conferences, festivals, competitions etc.) abroad or at home (the International Computer Music Conference in Vancouver in 1985, New Music America  in Montreal in 1990, ICMC in Montreal in 1991 and ICMC in Banff in 1995). In fact, Canada is now one of leading "electroacoustic" countries in the world, along with France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and the United States.

Electroacoustics is now an established art form and develops in tandem with technological progress. Contrary to what is generally believed, we have not found that the practice of electroacoustics has changed all that much since the advent of concrete music. Certainly, the tools have developed considerably, but the challenges composers face today are, more or less, the same as those described by Schaeffer and company in the early days. In our view, too much emphasis on "technological" details actually masks a lack of artistic inspiration: the real challenges are elsewhere.

At the same time, some of the social conditions related to the rise of electroacoustics have disappeared in recent years, and that is why it is important to describe the present situation as it exists at the beginning of the 21st century.


2.1. The 1990s or the "Swiss Army knife"

One significant development has been the emergence of digital sound. Thus, even as I write, video artists are plunging wholeheartedly into the digital era with their DV camcorders. A similar phenomenon occurred in the late 1980s and the early 1990s with the advent of tools such as portable DAT recorders. [6] Other advances such as autonomous sound pick-up and transfer, the ability to record the whole signal, the absence of background noise and the miniaturization of equipment all helped to produce an art form that was «poor», speaking of production budget. The fact that, compared with the high price of equipment in the analog era, it is now possible for virtually anyone to go around with a ridiculously inexpensive, professional-quality recorder. 

On the other hand, the emergence of the personal computer has revolutionized the cultural and social landscape. The essence of this change is the appearance of the "all-in-one" tool - the "Swiss Army Knife" of electroacoustics. This trend contrasts with the previous "dizzying" array of hardware or "black boxes," each piece of which was designed to perform only one function. Since recording studios in those days still required several such "machines" that together cost a hefty sum, they were able to continue performing a distinct "institutional" service that was far too expensive for the typical composer of the time.

The personal computer thus provides complete studio facilities in a single piece of equipment that is, in itself, not dedicated to music, but simply "manages" a series of software programs that are mostly either free or very cheap. Composers now no longer depend on the good pleasure of recording companies whose business interests naturally diverge from the composers': composers have now become "independent" with everything they need to produce music on their own.

This development has led directly to the appearance of a new series of underground cultures that we lump together as "techno." "Techno" music is similar to electroacoustics in two key ways: first, the tools used are the same, and, second and more importantly, the musical language, except for the overriding rhythm, is almost identical. A clear indication of this connection is the extraordinary resurgence in popularity of concrete music, as performed by Pierre Henry and others, with audiences who are otherwise totally ignorant of the field of electroacoustics as a whole.

 This socio-musical phenomenon is a major trend that is developing on the fringes of most music companies, including those like MuchMusic and other video-clip television stations that were considered  "hip" 20 years ago. It is a genuine "counter-culture," as socially significant, at least, as its sixties counterpart, which, in itself, also serves as major source of "progressive" and electroacoustic sound for the contemporary movement.

One of the most visible consequences of this cultural change has been the appearance of colored-hair people at electroacoustics concerts. This is a "plus," since we no longer have the impression that the audience is only composed of white hair folks! Even the "hardcore" electroacoustic concerts, like the Rien à voir series [7] that we have been producing for the last four years with my Réseaux colleagues (Jean-François Denis and Gilles Gobeil) and which have been dedicated to performing acousmatic music in the dark, have been attracting increasingly large and increasingly youthful audiences.

We should be careful however not to confuse electroacoustic "tourists" with composers who practice electroacoustic composition on a regular basis. Indeed, while the relative ease-of-use of the latest tools have resulted in a real "democratization" of the process, it has also made tremendous resources available in a general way. This is the context in which a critical sense and the historical culture still have major roles to play.

2.2. New technological resources

Apart from their particular features, such as ease of use and speed of execution, the new technological resources enable budding composers to be independent of institutions. This is a major change that significantly alters the role of institutions, which are now supposed to provide content and substance, and not just equipment, a working environment or a host facility.

In fact, thanks to this new-found freedom, we are now witnessing an exodus of students from institutions of higher learning. Although today's students are fully autonomous with a solid range of technical skills and are often already working in the music industry or in post-production by the time they obtain their bachelor's degree, they generally leave university with major "gaps" in their aesthetic and historical culture.

For our part, we think that the specific role of teaching institutions is to provide stimulating intellectual education, while the role of creative studios (which do not exist in Canada) is to act as both research laboratories and meeting places. Private studios are better equipped than even the best-equipped institutional studios, not because of their equipment (which is sometimes slow and out-of-date), but because they contain equipment that their composer-owners have chosen themselves and with which they have developed an intimate relationship, comparable to the relationship that exists between instrumentalists and their instruments.

For the first time in the short history of electroacoustics, private studios have become tools that are fundamentally similar to traditional musical instruments. As a result, modern electroacoustic composers, just like pianists, painters or writers, now enjoy complete freedom. For instance, they can "write" when they feel like it, take painstaking care over their final product, and interrupt their work without fear that someone is going to come along and change their equipment settings! In fact, this type of freedom favours the composition of music that is much more personal and more a reflection of its creator's personality.

2.3. The role of academic institutions

The role of academic institutions, as we have just described it, has changed considerably in recent years. From their original creative role, studios have gradually evolved into to what have basically become meeting or transit places where their role in fostering interaction between creators has become increasingly important. This enhanced role helps institutions keep their primary intellectual role. In the final analysis, these changes are beneficial, since universities and creative studios no longer have to play the role of professional technical schools - technique is learned very fast and at any age these days. Instead, universities should now endeavour to have this type of music recognized and think about how it is practised.

2.4. Electroacoustic practices

There are basically two types of electroacoustic "practice" (a term that we prefer to "school," since this form of intellectual debate is relatively rare in Canada). First, there is the music that is historically continuous with instrumental music in the sense that a musical element is connected with the idea of its performance as mixed music, live music, improvisation and so on. The second type of music is recorded in studio and then broadcast for audiences through an ensemble of loudspeakers[8] with no "show" dimension at all.

To varying degrees, both these forms of electroacoustics, are currently practiced in Quebec, but the second (the acousmatic type) is virtually non-existent, in other parts of Canada.

2.5. The "fringe" factor

For the last 15 years, electroacoustics has suffered from the major, albeit paradoxical, problem of being highly visible. Indeed, based on the combined actions of the CEC, the empreintes DIGITALes recording company, and concert societies dedicated to this type of music,[9] one could easily get the impression that everything is going very well. But this is a false impression, since the whole structure is almost entirely supported by volunteer labour.

If the budgets allocated to electroacoustic concert companies (even adding the allocations made by other concert societies for electroacoustic performances) are compared with the budgets for instrumental music concert societies, it would then be seen that the WHOLE electroacoustic field is marginalized in Canada. Even if a comparison is only made with societies exclusively devoted to contemporary music, it will still emerge that electroacoustics only receives an infinitely small percentage of the public funds allocated to supporting contemporary music as a whole. Let's take the case of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ). According to its latest annual report (1999-2000), CALQ budgeted $17,480,785 for all forms of musical practice, including both artists and organizations, during this period. Although it is very difficult to calculate exactly how much money was allocated to electroacoustics (in terms of grants, occasional projects etc.) in 1999-2000, ACREQ and Réseaux, the two electroacoustic societies in Quebec, only received a total of $59,000 for everything[10] - a mere 0.3% of CALQ's total music budget for the period. The situation appears similarly marginal so far as the Canada Council for the Arts is concerned. According to its latest annual report (for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2000[11]), the CCA allocated $21,092,000 to its music section, although the report did not specify amounts by organization. If it is reasonably assumed that the total amount allocated to electroacoustic production was a maximum of $100-150,000, this would represent 0.7% of the CCA's total music budget. Based on these figures, it would seem that electroacoustic is not well and truly "on the fringes."

Considering such small-scale budgets, it is not surprising that existing electroacoustic production societies are only able to function sporadically and are, to all intents and purposes, non-existent outside Montreal. This situation also reflects a persistent prejudice against this type of music, which is also reflected in the considerably lower production budgets for electroacoustic concerts, as compared with those for instrumental music concerts.

But this attitude is clearly fallacious, since concert halls, quality sound systems or marketing campaigns all cost roughly the same regardless of the type of music being performed; and the same goes for personnel who are surely entitled to receive comparable fees. However, the fact that electroacoustic appeared later in history than instrumental music has resulted in a stagnant grant situation that is far inferior to that of its instrumental counterpart. Another factor favouring instrumental music is the situation of classical music orchestras (including symphony orchestras) which provide a living to their members, who are thereby usually able to devote a part of their time to contemporary music.

2.6. The art of performing

It is fair to say that most electroacoustic composed in Canada is acousmatic music. On the other hand, very little of this type of music is performed in concert, since it is mainly disseminated by radio, the Internet or on CD. It is therefore difficult for electroacoustic composers to consider themselves performers when they only perform live two or three times a year (and here we're talking about "good" years!).

2.7. Female involvement

If we look at CEC members, for example, we can see that there is a higher proportion of women than in other fields such as instrumental composition. During the "women's music only" Super Micmac Festival, which was held in Montreal in fall 2000, two of the concerts performed were electroacoustic. In fact, it was not possible to perform everything that was available, even over the recent years. Certainly, the number of women in electroacoustic is considerably fewer than the number of men, but the overall trend is towards a noticeable increase. Is this due to better access to tools? Is it because women, in general, are moving into traditionally male preserves, such as technology which is a broad field that also includes electroacoustics? Probably, a little of all these factors has contributed. However, we cannot really respond adequately to this question without referring to a much wider sociological framework, and this report is probably not the best place to do so.

2.8. Composer or sound artist

The term, "composer," is associated with a traditional activity whose ultimate outcome is the creation of a concert piece within a clearly defined framework. The practice of composing is still very much alive and we believe that it deserves the most careful attention in order to develop even further. On the other hand, the emergence of a universally available technology has led to the birth of audio practices that are very different from a concert. We have thus witnessed the emergence of sound artists, audio artists, installation artists and other sound sculptors. These new practices under their various designations deserve to receive more attention but we should also wonder about their position vis-à-vis the CCA.

Indeed, it is now possible to see indications of a fundamental trend whereby sound artists are trying to set themselves apart not only from concert music as a means of artistic expression, but also, and perhaps more significantly, distinguish themselves in terms of their basic artistic category. There is a wish now to set sound artists apart from the very idea of music and look for a place among the plastic, video or performing arts.

2.9. The regions

On the one hand, we see that the range of creative tools available to artists is now effectively the same everywhere. Thanks to the Internet, even people living in the most isolated regions are able to quickly communicate with their colleagues and the mass media are more or less the same virtually everywhere in the Western World. On the other hand, performing electroacoustics in public requires a particularly heavy and complex infrastructure that has hardly changed over the years. As a result, this type of equipment is only available when there is a large enough audience to justify it. Consequently, electroacoustics is only available in certain big cities in Canada - Montreal (on a regular basis), Toronto and Vancouver (occasionally).


There is nothing in the electroacoustic scene that compares financially with the opportunities (such as playing in an orchestra, teaching and so on) that are available to the instrumental music community. Young electroacoustic composers are thus forced to live "by their wits" for years before even thinking that their music might support them. In fact, apart from one or two exceptions, there are no Canadian electroacoustic composers who live exclusively off their music.  

3.1. Piecemeal work

It is important to make a distinction between earning a living by doing various things and earning a living as an electroacoustic composer. Indeed, electroacoustic composers enjoy a major advantage over their instrumental counterparts, since they own the production equipment that enables them to perform hundreds of related tasks. These include activities, such as pre-production of musical mock-ups, post-production or sounds effects for cinema, television or multimedia, as well as other work related to background music for the stage, movies, dance performances and so on. Thus, while these forms of livelihood have helped several composers to live, they have also had a direct effect on the amount of concert performances they can give. In fact, all this related work requires so much time and energy that it takes composers away from their primary activity to such an extent that many give up composing altogether. Just look at the number of talented composers who have left the scene in the last 20 years. 

3.2. Grants and commissions

Grants and, to a lesser extent, commissions are practically, the only ways in which electroacoustic composers can hope to earn some reasonable income by their craft. The various grant programs have improved over the years, and some other programs are also sources of Grants in addition to those offered by regular music programs. Some media arts programs, for example, provide for more "peripheral" activities, such as concerts on the Web, radio art and sound ecology. In this way, they are more open to such unconventional forms than typical juries of musicians who do not relate to such forms very well.

In terms of commissions, the situation is very bleak. But the reason is not only that there is little money available - but also that very few organizations commission electroacoustic works. In fact, one would need to know the success rate of such commissions to determine if this approach is truly useful to electroacoustic composers. In any event, commissions are no "gravy train" and clearly, no composer can hope for one or two commissions, at the most, per year and this is far from sufficient to live on.

In our view, the reason the electroacoustic concert situation is so difficult is because the purse strings are held by decision-makers from the instrumental music camp who think that electroacoustic is, at best, a marginal form of music, and, at worst, mere musical tinkering. On the other hand, if one were to make a thorough study of the "rate of return"[12] of electroacoustics, it would quickly become apparent that, considering the meagre resources at its disposal, electroacoustics is more productive and more visible[13] than instrumental music.

3.3. The electroacoustic community

Because of the educational structure of institutional studios, it would not, strictly speaking, be correct to talk of a genuine electroacoustic "community" in Canada, except for Montreal where there is a sufficiently large critical mass of electroacoustic composers to support events only for themselves. Thus, when, in the past, one or other of the electroacoustic institutions has organized meetings, talks or workshops, these have been attended by a certain body of the public with a specialized interest in electroacoustics.

However, the fact that the electroacoustic community was one of the first to hook up to the Internet has enabled individuals isolated in their respective towns or cities to be connected to their peers and the world in a much more tangible way than before. It would thus be more correct to talk of a "virtual" electroacoustic community, rather than an actual one.

Nevertheless, a new phenomenon in recent years has been the emergence of an "underground" electronic culture with the same tools and means of production as its academic counterpart. Although there are occasional links between the two cultures, these have so far been "few and far between." But if this type of music became more popular, the CCA could see applications for grants coming from composers whose style would be closer to popular music than to the academic variety. How would such composers be treated? We believe that they would have the same trouble in being appreciated that electroacoustic composers have experienced for years.

3.4. The Audio component in Media Arts programs

Things are done in electroacoustics that are so different from what takes place in traditional concerts that some artists have succeeded in presenting their creative works in a Media Arts context. In fact, at one time, electroacoustics had no other option in the face of systematic rejection by the mainstream music community. That situation has now changed due to some music officials who are now open to these new perspectives in the field.[14] In fact, it would now be almost unimaginable for the Canada Council to form a music jury these days that did not include an electroacoustic representative. However, there is never more than one electroacoustic representative and that this is often insufficient to favour for applications from the more marginal musical forms. Even today concert organizations are having a significant portion of their proposed commissions being turned down.

It is therefore logical, and, in our view, essential that CCA programs should offer a number of ways of accessing grant programs that would give more opportunity to those submitting audio works that are very different from the classic, evening-dress concert...


4.1. Traditional outlets

Since compact discs were invented, the electroacoustic community has found them to be the ideal means of mass distribution of electroacoustic. In the last 15 years, hundreds of electroacoustic CDs[15] have been produced and they are distributed through underground CD outlets and distributors that are often more enthusiastic and effective than the traditional channels. Nonetheless, sales have not been astronomical and disc manufacturers, who mostly just dabble in the business,[16] seldom cover their costs. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that this little sector would be able to survive without subsidies.

Radio has always been one of electroacoustics's allies. Nonetheless, the law of the "two solitudes" seems to apply just as fully in this area as well. Thus, whereas the French-language Radio-Canada features specialized electroacoustic programs (albeit at "unannounced" times) and some electroacoustic pieces in its regular program schedule, its English-language counterpart, CBC Radio, aside from its long-standing Two New Hours program, features electroacoustic very little outside Sunday evening. That is why we have to look more towards community radio stations, since they are more dynamic and open-minded.

And, last but not least, there are the concerts. In Montreal, the two concert societies, ACREQ  and Réseaux [17] - present electroacoustic concerts on a regular basis during the season, but it seems that elsewhere in Canada, such a program would be the exception rather than the rule. From time to time, contemporary music societies included an electroacoustic work or two in their regular programs, and even an entire concert, but this is far from standard practice and is certainly not sufficient to develop listening habits and a regular, substantial audience.

4.2. New outlets

Largely through the Internet, new ways of distributing music have been available for some time. Although the bandwidths and the speeds of communication are too slow to meet all the quality criteria of professional production, this should change in the near future, given how rapidly the World Wide Web is clearly evolving. This approach would liberate the means of communication and music distribution and thereby circumvent the traditional media networks.

For example, it is well known that the main challenge in producing CDs is not the concrete act of producing the physical disc (which is more or less within everyone's budget); the challenge is rather in publicizing and distributing the work. The Internet's main active role, at present, is as an information distribution medium. While this may very well have no effect at all on sales as such,[18] at least the information is available at the "click of a mouse."

4.3. Festivals

As far as we know, composers are not generally featured in media arts festivals unless they are presenting... a media arts work. In other words, media arts festivals do not include musical concerts.[19]  It is similarly very rare to find electroacoustic concerts at music festivals, and, when they are included, they are invariably performed in unacceptable working conditions in inadequate facilities.[20]

Electroacoustics is a musical discipline that is quite distinct from instrumental music and electroacoustic concerts obey other laws and a different logic. This means that electroacoustic needs facilities that are specially designed for it. However, these needs are rarely understood by the producers of traditional concerts. 

4.4. The Canadian scene


The international reputation of Canadian electroacoustics has been in "free fall" for a number of years. To the limited degree that the presence of Canadian composers among the winners at international competitions can be taken as an indicator of their impact on the international scene, this presence has "melted like snow in the summer" from around 1995 on. We believe that this disappearance has been due to a drop in the enthusiasm for electroacoustics that was evident in the 1980s. Indeed, in the beginning, "starting from scratch" was very motivating and composers worked tremendously hard in often very difficult circumstances to create noteworthy pieces. Organizations and concert societies reacted similarly. However, the society as a whole was not as enthusiastic and the composers from that era often "burnt out" and somewhat fell back on their "laurels," while the new generation deliberately turned towards more popular forms, undoubtedly thinking that these were more promising.

If Canada is going to recover its former glory in electroacoustics, it is going to require a major change in direction. In fact, a distinction will have to be made between the energy of the artists and that of the society that supports them. Artists are continually creative, inventive and progressive, but they totally lack the support required to blossom. This perception is clearly reflected in the younger generation which has lost all hope. In other words, the new generation does not perform in concert anymore, clearly preferring the "immediate satisfaction" of the underground scene.[21] While this situation is real, it may very well have harmful effects in the long run due to the inherent volatility and changing fashions of the underground scene. That is why we have to support, encourage and promote electroacoustic concerts, since this is the form of electroacoustic that continues through time and which is unaffected by local turbulence.

At home

Another key factor is Canada's problematic geography from a cultural standpoint, since organizing a tour in this country invariably means that virtually the whole cultural budget has to go on plane tickets! But is there any other solution? Surely all the electroacoustic centres in the country, including all the places that have even the most minimal form of infrastructure, are not in a position to equip themselves with permanent facilities to put on electroacoustic performances. So, why shouldn't the better-organized groups take on the job of working with local agents to put on national tours? Currently, there is a total lack of means to do this: the established concert societies work with bare-bones means and the local centres are all virtually bereft of any resources. The Canadian electroacoustic scene, in a nutshell, is a barren desert.

It should also be noted that while Canadian composers are regularly invited abroad (and Canada can certainly be very proud of this), it is very difficult for us to return the favour. Indeed, one result of the total lack of production and performance infrastructure outside educational institutions is that there is currently no host facility in Canada that is capable of welcoming foreign artists to work here and share their expertise. Although this practice is common in dance or theatre, in electroacoustics, we can only afford to pay the bare minimum expenses of our guests for a week. There are no electroacoustic studios that offer residencies and there are no research centres either. From this standpoint, we are the equivalent of the electroacoustic "Third World!"   

4.5. The situation in Europe

It is difficult to generalize about the electroacoustic situation in Europe as a whole, since the discipline is practiced very differently from one country to another. Basically, the only country that is comparable to Canada is the United Kingdom, inasmuch as there, like here, electroacoustics is taught in universities and concert societies are subsidized by the the Arts Council of England, the British equivalent of the CCA. In Francophone Europe, for example, the situation is radically different, since both France and Belgium have made major investments in creating electroacoustic production and research studies that are independent of the educational system. This has resulted in the creation of autonomous groups that are able to organize concerts, encourage new work and sustain a program of activities outside institutions in a way that is non-existent here and which, in fact, we have never fostered.

In the Scandinavian countries whose electroacoustic output is generally recognized to be one of the best in the world, the situation has seriously deteriorated in recent years because of budgetary cutbacks. Finally, while the situation in the former Eastern Bloc countries was not rosy before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it did at least allow a number of composers to work in studios that were mostly attached to national radio systems. Nowadays, the situation of electroacoustic composers is these countries is so pitiful that any comparison would make our situation look very favourable.

On the whole, it would be fair to say that the electroacoustic situation is the same everywhere in the world - it is very much on the fringes of the musical establishment. The forms that are emerging from popular culture are also spreading everywhere in the same way. As for the relation between electroacoustics and the media arts, electroacoustic is usually left to play just a supporting role to visual effects. However, in our view, there is no useful cross-fertilization between audio art forms and the predominantly visual media arts because their respective creative procedures are totally different.[22]

4.6. Performing facilities

The most serious deficiency that can be identified in Canada in terms of performing electroacoustics in public lies in the almost complete lack of performing facilities. Whereas the visual arts community has its galleries and the mainstream music community has its concert halls and the artistic video community has its production and performing centres, the electroacoustic community has nothing. There is indeed no facility in Canada that is specifically for producing and performing electroacoustics. The fact that allied centres, like Méduse  in Quebec City, PRIM  in Montreal and Western Front  in Vancouver, are all media arts facilities only goes to show that the CCA's Music Section has either not begun to deal with the problem or has not dealt with it effectively so far. The reason for this shortcoming, we feel, is that the current thinking is too influenced by traditional forms of musical production and performance.

The current fascination with electroacoustics that is evident in the audiences that have been attending electroacoustic concerts in recent years is probably due to the young people who notice electroacoustic sounds and production techniques that, although somewhat different, are similar to what they are used to on daily basis. However, in Canada, it is only in the major cities and with very limited resources that we are able to reach this potential audience on a regular basis. It is not fair of the Canada Council to ask the electroacoustic community to develop its audience base without providing the means to do so.


The Canadian Electroacoustic Community originated 1987[23] out of the desire of a group of composers, listeners and producers to form a national association that would represent them and internally distribute information to its members.[24] In this context, it is often easy to forget that Canada is a vast country and real communication within Canada is very difficult. It is, in fact, less expensive for a Quebecer to go to London or Paris than to visit his colleagues in Vancouver! The CEC gave Canadian composers a context in which to meet each other outside the Bourges Festival in France.[25] The new association allowed people working in different parts of the country to develop solid working relationships with each other and helped its members to receive information that subsequently enabled them to become known internationally. In fact, the fame of the Canadian electroacoustic scene greatly increased after the formation of the CEC, and this was no doubt due to its founders' groundwork.

Let us be quite clear: the CEC is still a dynamic, active association that is essential to electroacoustic activity in Canada. In this respect, many of the questions that the Canada Council asks seem to reflect a certain incomprehensible mistrust in the eyes of those who know the community well. However, since the electroacoustic community is not as well known at the CCA as we might imagine, we will try clarify certain of its aspects, especially its relevance as part of the Canadian cultural landscape.

5.1. Role

The primary role of the CEC is communication. Under this part of its mandate, it disseminates in-house information related to festivals, conferences, meetings, grant programs, job offers and so on, as well as some other types of information. (This is a function that is made all the easier by the fact that the vast majority of its members use e-mail). The association also plays a lobbying role vis-à-vis various government bodies in an effort to promote its members' views and influence cultural policy to respond to their needs. In this regard, the electroacoustic situation in Canada since the CEC was founded has been radically different from the disastrous state of affairs that prevailed before its formation in 1987. We should certainly remember that before 1987 electroacoustics was, in effect, not authorized to be performed in public, that electroacoustic composers did not receive grants, that concert societies organized events with ridiculously small budgets, and that there was virtually no internal system of communication at all. It is clear that, during the first 12 or 13 years of its existence, the CEC has greatly improved all these aspects. On the other hand, we should also remember another important date - 1997, for it was then that the Canada Council stopped subsidizing the CEC and left it without regular financial resources to carry on the work that had been started so well by its founders.

For a time, the CEC also played a major role in regularly organizing national electroacoustic meetings at which everyone had the opportunity to meet, discuss, submit recommendations to the association's directors, and, above all, cement close links between all the country's regions. Unfortunately, because of a lack of resources, none of these meetings has taken place since 1991. The disappearance of this major event has clearly had a major impact in diminishing the members' sense of belonging to an organization that has now become, especially for the youth who did not experience the CEC Days of former times, a somewhat mysterious and far-off organization.

5.2. Tools

CEC's current practice is to communicate with its members exclusively through the Internet. The association uses its CECDiscuss list and its Web site to communicate useful information to its members about concerts, conferences, meetings, calls for works, and so on. However, over the years, the CEC's communicative tools have decreased considerably. As a result, because of a lack of means, the CEC no longer publishes printed material. Also, because of a lack of human resources to do the work, the association can no longer support the bilingual mode of functioning that was characteristic of its early days and which, despite its inherent challenges (especially during meetings), greatly helped to bring the "two solitudes" together.

The CEC has, nonetheless, succeeded in diversifying its operations by looking into existing grant programs for the tools to help it continue its work of doing some presenting and carrying out some cd production projects. In production terms, it has particularly concentrated on helping composers, who are either not so well known or whose work has not been recorded very much, to have their work included in collections that are distributed all over the world.[26]

The CECDiscuss group has approximately 400 members, many of whom come from other countries. From this standpoint, the CEC clearly plays a unique international role, since no other national organization provides this type of public forum for the whole world.

The association has also explored new production tools, such as the eContact electronic bulletin and distributing works through WEBradio on the Internet .

It is also important to emphasize at this point the key role played by Concordia University on the electroacoustic scene. Indeed, without the constant support from this institution which was the birthplace of the CEC in the mid-1980s, the organization would be essentially homeless and would probably have ended up finding temporary shelter in a basement somewhere or on the computer of some dedicated individual.[27] What a state of affairs! And yet that is a fair description of the reality. As a matter of fact, it would be very difficult for foreign observers to imagine the impoverished state the CEC would have fallen into, if it had not been for Concordia. That is why the CCA has potentially such an important role to play in ensuring that the CEC is dynamic and effective and that this is reflected in a favourable image for Canada abroad.

5.3. Self-portrait

To have a complete overview of the situation, we refer the reader to the report that Rosemary Mountain , the CEC's current president, wrote in the context of the service organization survey. For our present purposes, we will only extract the most pertinent points.[28]

The CEC operates in a way that is quite different from the other service organizations in Canada. Several of us, who are also members of the Canadian Music Centre, for example, do not have the impression that the CMC does anything at all to defend our interests and our works. We also feel more or less the same way about the Canadian League of Composers, for example; the CLC launches appeals each year for works to be submitted to World Music Days but invariably fails to get Canadian electroacoustic works accepted. (This is a responsibility that should have been reassigned to the CEC long ago). For these reasons, we do not feel that the CEC overlaps other service organizations in Canada to any great extent.

What clearly distinguishes the CEC from other organizations is that it does not promote the works of its individual members, as chosen by a selection committee and as the CMC, for example, does. Instead, the CEC promotes the electroacoustic discipline as a whole - it does not defend a particular interest, it defends a general cause. Simply put, the CEC does not exist to protect any vested interest, but welcomes anyone as a member who wants to belong, regardless of their origins, artistic discipline or gender.

5.4. Representative character of membership

The CEC is an organization that anyone can belong to. Certainly, in the past, members were mostly drawn from the country's academic institutions, since it was there that electroacoustics was being produced. However, although the situation is now more pluralistic, it is doubtful that CEC membership accurately reflects this new reality. At the same time, if there is a need for a certain gathering together, it would seem very clear that the CEC, as the only national organization, would be the most qualified agency to fulfil this role. This is particularly true, since the CEC does not represent any particular aesthetic style and does not promote any particular form of electroacoustics. However, the CEC can only play such a role if it has the means to do so. If its track record is anything to go by, the CEC is sufficiently dynamic and imaginative to contact the people who would be interested in joining, but without the resources to maintain this contact, the CEC would probably not succeed.

Some of the CEC's recent projects, such as "Young Emerging Artists," has put out works by budding electroacoustic artists in an effort to increase their exposure in the eyes of potential audience. Without the CEC, these artists would not have benefitted from a vantage point, let alone one of international scope, that could have distributed their works.

5.5. Foreign models

As for our neighbours to the south, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States  operates in a similar way to the CEC, but with a membership at least ten times as large. This association organizes an annual meeting which takes place in a different American city each year. The organization is very close to the academic community and also promotes music by young people through an annual competition.

The European group that has the closest resemblance to the CEC is undoubtedly the Sonic Arts Network  in the United Kingdom that anyone can belong to simply by paying a membership fee. While the SAN disseminates information and provides other services to its members, it also organizes events, such as annual meetings similar to the ones that the CEC used to organize in the late 1980s, and commissions special works for these events. The SAN has an annual operating budget of $400,000, about one half of which comes from the Arts Council of England, and a current membership of some 300 . The Society also undertakes teaching activities and this role highlights, in our view, one of our most serious deficiencies in Canada - namely, that there is no centre in Canada where electroacoustics can be learned, apart from a few university institutions that are, by definition, reserved for a certain elite.

The Belgian electroacoustic federation (Febeme/Befeme ) is more "elitist," since membership is restricted to composers chosen by the federation's officers. The federation' main responsibilities are to arrange concerts, operate a Web site containing member information and mediate between the country's two linguistic communities, the Flemish and the Walloons.

Ars Sonora  in France is a membership-based association whose main role is publishing a journal on what could be considered acousmatic aesthetics.

Internationally, there are two global federations, the oldest of which is the Confédération Internationale de Musique Électroacoustique  (CIME ) and which officially represents electroacoustics at UNESCO. Based around the group in Bourges, France, CIME plays little more than an honorific role, and several national associations, including the CEC, have left it. A second confederation - the New International Confederation of Electroacoustic  (NICE ) has grown out of the groups, including several European ones that left the CIME. NICE is scarcely more dynamic than its predecessor and also appears to play a largely honorific role.

It would appear that the CEC has engineered a favourable position for itself on the world scene, particularly since it has done so without regular government support, as is the case, for example, of its counterpart organization in the United Kingdom. 

5.6. Current activities

The CEC currently pursues a number of lines of action to remain in close contact with its members. These include: promoting Internet-based projects; launching calls for works from the younger generation; and commissioning articles on particular topics, such as the history of this practice or the situation of female electroacoustic composers in Canada.

All the CEC activities that have been subsidized in one form or another in recent years have been successfully completed. We are sure that if the Canada Council seriously studied this claim, it would come to the same conclusion.

At the same time, we are also convinced that the CEC's "virtual activities should be complemented by actual events, the most important of which would be annual meetings. However, this type of event, like our year-to-year operations, requires personnel, and such costs can only be paid through a system of regular, renewable grants.


A specialized electroacoustic program

Whereas the spread of electroacoustic activities in Canada is being paralyzed by the Canada Council's delay in recognizing this form of activity; Whereas there is an increasing number of artists who in one way or another practice this art form; Whereas an increasingly diverse range of artistic practice is emerging; Whereas electroacoustic as an art form is very different from instrumental music in terms of its production methods, equipment costs, studio expenses and so on; Whereas current music juries are unable to correctly assess the various approaches and practices used in electroacoustics; Whereas there is a complete lack of production and performing infrastructure outside educational institutions; Whereas the Canada Council's Music Section is primarily oriented towards modes of musical creation and production that have been handed down from the 19th century; And whereas the issues involved in electroacoustics are radically different from those pertaining to traditional forms of music;

We recommend that the Canada Council create a program devoted to electroacoustics (including acousmatics, sound art, radio art, computer or "techno" music, etc.)

The current imbalance between the two forms of practice - instrumental music and electroacoustics - is so great that no reorganization of current programs would be able to make any significant difference.

In order to compensate for this historical imbalance, it is necessary to create a totally new program that would take into account the new reality of electroacoustics as a type of music in Canada. The Council needs to give a primary impetus to a form of music that is booming, but only survives because of the volunteer efforts of a few individuals. Thus, the commissions, artist grants, organization grants, and travel grants related to this field would be assessed by juries of peers. Are people from the theatre asked to judge film projects? Electroacoustics is as distinct from instrumental music as the cinema is from the theatre. In our view, it is time that the Council becomes aware of this and reflects this realization in the structure of its grant programs.[29]

This new program could be included under the Council's Music Section, but should be allocated its own grants and deadlines. We do not think it is our role to describe all the ramifications of how this new program should function, but do not see how else the Council could meet the electroacoustic community's current needs, particularly since what is being currently provided is "light years away" from meeting these needs.

Operating grant for the CEC

Whereas the CEC is widely recognized both among its own members and abroad as a model organization; Whereas all the projects that it has carried out, despite occasionally horrendous circumstances, have been successful; Whereas the electroacoustic community currently suffers from the fact that the CEC is just a "virtual" organization; Whereas the volunteers who work to keep the CEC going are exhausted and that society cannot build strong cultural institutions purely on the basis of individual good will; Whereas electroacoustic training and learning facilities are non-existent in Canada outside certain universities and that any audience development program would have to aim at developing audiences outside the academic community; And whereas regular "in person" meetings are a key factor in the vitality of such an association in Canada: 

We recommend that the CEC receive an operating grant from the Canada Council.

The CEC has played a key role in developing electroacoustics in Canada, and, without it, the situation would be very different. Unfortunately, during the last five years, the CEC has been totally deprived of any operating grants and has been forced to just ensure its own survival. Its member artists no longer feel such a sense of belonging to the association, since they all have access the same means of obtaining basic information and no meeting has taken place for ten years.

There is now a division between those who benefitted from the CEC during its first ten years of existence and those who have appeared on the professional scene in the last five years. The first group continues to live on its accomplishments, but the younger group has been deprived of almost everything. In our opinion, the CEC is the only agency that can bring together the vast Canadian electroacoustic community, regardless of people's origins, age group or aesthetic preferences. This would be a great service to Canadian society and the CCA should provide the CEC with the means to keep on top of the situation.

A new name: the Electro Program

In light of the many comments that have been shared with us during this process, we would like to make one final suggestion æ namely, that the new program be officially called Electro. Indeed, over time, the term "electroacoustics" has ended up by losing its meaning æ it has too many historical connotations and sounds too technical. Such a move would encourage the spread of a more attractive, diminutive term, just like the cinema did in its early days. The word, Electro, also has the advantage of being attached to all sorts of activities, regardless of their aesthetic characteristics in the case of practices like acousmatics, sound art or radio art, or their technological features in the case of fields like computer or "techno" music. A final advantage is that, apart from an accent, the word is the same in both French and English.

Robert Normandeau Composer and Professor at the University of Montreal

Submitted to the Canada Council for the Arts February 9, 2001

[1] See Appendix A: List of Survey Respondents.

[2] Although the name of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) is part of the discussion group's name, the group itself is not official. The group is more the result of a personal initiative by Kevin Austin and includes everyone who wants to subscribe, regardless of nationality and whether they belong to CEC or not. CECDiscuss is not an official CEC activity, because it is not bilingual and cannot afford to become so.

[3] See Appendix G: Survey Responses.

[4] Since we were aware that another report was being prepared on electroacoustic service organizations, we have only mentioned the CEC to the extent it was at all relevant to the overall electroacoustic situation.

[5] A detailed history, kindly prepared by the CEC, is attached (Appendix D).

[6] Digital Audio Tape

[7] See the Web site:

[8] In Quebec, the term, "acousmatique," is currently used to designate this practice.

[9] Let's not forget that the only two electroacoustic concert societies in Canada - ACREQ (Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec) and Réseaux - are both located in Montreal.

[10] Source:

[11] Source:

[12] We do not think that electroacoustics (or any other art form, for that matter) can be judged on the basis of its "rate of return" and that is why we have put the term in quotation marks. But we would like to underline and desapprove of this regrettable tendancie which consist to borrow terms that belong to the cultural industry which hardly applied here.

[13] We have to ask ourselves the question: How many Canadian composers of instrumental music are known and have their music played abroad, compared with their electroacoustic counterparts? Anyone who has travelled in Europe or the United States knows that the answer is very much in favour of the electroacoustic composers, despite the fact that instrumental composers enjoy an enormous advantage in resources.

[14] While we are reluctant to bring the names of specific individuals into the discussion, we would still like to commend the role played by Jean Piché and Jon Siddall.

[15] In the Électro CD catalogue published by Annette Vande Gorne, there are currently more than 800 titles already listed and more than 170 waiting to be catalogued!

[16] Most electroacoustic CDs are, in fact, produced by creative studios or universities, which see this activity as more a way of developing the art form, rather than a business.

[17] This does not count the many concerts presented by academic institutions, but, in this report, we wanted to limit ourselves to professional organizations.

[18] According to Jean-François Denis, the main producer of electroacoustic CDs is empreintes DIGITALes.

[19] Even the Ars Electronica Festival in Austria does not systematically organize concerts to showcase the prize-winning works in its own competition. Since the ISEA was held in Montreal in 1995 and featured a considerable amount of electroacoustic content, the level of electroacoustic content in subsequent festivals has steadily declined.

[20] World Music Days, for example, assigns a part of the program to electroacoustics, but invariably in conditions that are typical of what things were like in Canada in the 1970s!

[21] This has occurred despite the combined efforts of the ACREQ, Réseaux and the CEC to encourage and scatter the work of the younger generation.

[22] However, we are beginning to see digital production tools for combining and processing images comparable to those that already exist in the audio field. These generally available new resources will certainly generate works in which the audio and visual components will use the same production methods.

[23] See Appendix D: Profile of Organization - Expanded Timeline for the complete history.

[24] See Appendix E: Profile of the CEC Organization for the organization's statutes and bylaws.

[25] The Bourges Festival in France, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2000, has always "put out the welcome mat" for Canadian composers. Ironically, Canadian composers meet each other more often there than in Canada!

[26] See Appendix D: Profile of Organization - Expanded Timeline for a more complete idea of these projects.

[27] We are only saying that its current activity has been reduced to this level, but without the assistance and support of volunteers and Canada, the CEC would probably be moribund by now.

[28] Incidentally, the CEC has a very detailed Web site ( that is full of useful information.

[29] If I had systematically used the term, "electroacoustics" for "electroacoustic music" in this report, would this have bothered you?

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