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Report — Oscillations Festival of Electroacoustic Music, November 18–20, 2005

The modest electroacoustic scene in Atlantic Canada received a boost in November, with the second iteration of the Oscillations Festival of Electroacoustic Music (Oscillations 2005), held at Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

The event took place from November 18–20, organized by a partnership of the Canadian Music Centre’s Atlantic regional office, the CEC, and Acadia University, with Atlantic music retailer Musictop Ltd. providing support for the concert diffusion system. The organizers also took the forward-looking step of setting up a non-profit society to submit applications for independent funding, one of which resulted in some financial support from the Culture Division of the N.S. Department of Tourism and Culture.

Attendance was limited this year by an unfortunate combination of competing events, insufficient publicity, and the geographic realities of a decentralized region, though the relatively small numbers also helped create an informal sense of community amongst the audience.

Guest composer and workshop leader Robert Normandeau brought a strong acousmatic focus to the event. In a solo concert that launched the festival, Normandeau presented a group of extraordinary pieces, setting a very high standard for the rest of the weekend. StrinGDberg and Chorus were particular standouts. (Stereo and surround 5.1 versions of both of these pieces can be found on his new DVD, Puzzles, recently released on empreintes DIGITALes.)

On Saturday, a semi-curated evening of works by regional composers and students brought forth a varied collection of mostly acousmatic pieces. The programme included recent works by composers Bob Bauer, Derek Charke, and Steven Naylor, and a number of interesting pieces and works-in-progress by workshop participants and students.

The evening clearly illustrated the stylistic breadth of work from the region. More significantly, it confirmed that there is considerable activity in electroacoustics lurking in Atlantic Canada.

Sunday’s two concerts were more performance-based. A presentation called Mixed, featuring Norman Adams (cello, electronics), W.L. Altman (laptop), and Dianne Labrosse (sampler), showcased an interesting blend of instrumental and electronic. Despite working in an improvisatory context with great potential for self-indulgence, the three performers consistently created interesting and well-paced works.

The second event on Sunday was a solo concert by Nova Scotian soprano Janice Jackson, a performer with a strong international background in both electroacoustics and improvisation. Jackson performed three very different works: Jean-Claude Risset’s classic L’autre face, for soprano and tape; the world première of Jérôme Blais’ intensely personal Plugged 1.5, for voice and multiple microphones; and Wende Bartley’s inscrutable Handless Maiden, for voice and tape.

Notwithstanding its unavoidably dated-sounding tape material, the Risset was clearly the most sophisticated and mature of the three pieces; however, Jackson performed all three with extraordinary focus and skill.

Citing the poor attendance and weak support from regional universities, the present organizers have said they are unsure if they will produce another Oscillations Festival. However, it is clear that there is enough activity in electroacoustics in Atlantic Canada to warrant an annual event like this.

As often happens with volunteer-run events and organizations, the need for this event may well outlast the momentum that the original leaders can maintain. We can only hope that another group of motivated individuals will step forward and keep this valuable festival alive.

Nova Scotian composer STEVEN NAYLOR is a former President of the CEC.

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