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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 1

Is sound music?

by Michael Vincent / September 2, 2002

Version française...

Embracing the World of Electroacoustics in Montreal

Montreal has a rich history of pushing the boundaries of music that can be dated back through many decades. Composers such as Hugh Le Caine and Alcides Lanza have set the stage for what Montreal has become, a Mecca for sound art.

This revolutionary approach to music blossomed in the early years of the twentieth century, when Dadaists and Futurists proclaimed that all sound was in effect the material of music. After all, if visual artists could incorporate a hanging porcelain urinal in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, 1917), then why couldn't music free itself from the limitations of narrowly defined instruments? One need only hear any of the piano literature, from Haydn's sonatas to those of John Cage, to see that the instrument is capable of producing only ninety or so pitches. Thankfully, history has proven that the materials for music abound. The possibilities of technology are constantly pushing back the limits, and Montreal has played a significant role in this field. Famed Hugh Le Caine's fantastical variable speed multi-track tape playback machine that once occupied a small room in a coach-house behind the old Victoria House at 3500 Redpath Street in Montreal is but one example. Alcides Lanza of the Group of the Electronic Music Studio (GEMS) says, "The process could be described as this: the initial meaning of a recorded fragment is modulated by studio techniques... During performance, the material is further modified, altering the semantic content. The audience might 'believe' that they have heard this or that other word, assigning a possible new meaning to the word or phrase." This technological augmentation of sound possibilities is where "electroacoustics" was born.

This new voltage-controlled era has recently been flooding many of Montreal's music venues, including concert halls and nightclubs, with its intimate worship of sound for sound's sake. These concerts usually entail live electronic improvisation or diffused pre-recorded CD/Tape, which includes soundscapes, musique concrète, radiophonics and cinéma pour l'oreille. The listening environment is typically dark, to reduce one's sense of vision and allow one to focus exclusively on sound. Concordia University's Oscar Peterson Concert Hall has expanded upon the experience even further by implementing a full surround-sound projection system that boasts up to 22 discrete speakers grouped in stereo pairs. It has the capability of creating a sound environment of almost 360 degrees, with the power to mimic the soundscape of St. Catherine Street at rush hour, or a relaxing afternoon off the coast of Cuba.

Montreal currently boasts over 40 organised electroacoustic concerts per year. These concerts do, however, require a certain amount of open-mindedness on the listener's part, but they will surely give one a new appreciation for the sounds around us.

Upcoming concerts:

  • Rien à voir (Sept. 11 - 15)
  • EuCuE (Oct. 2 - 4, Nov. 6 - 8)
  • Structural Damage + guests (Oct. 4)
  • Demarrage III (Oct. 18 - 23)
  • GEMS (Oct. 26)
  • Elektra festival - Ulysses project (Nov. 9)
  • Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (Mar. 29)
  • Hommage to Claude Vivier with the Atelier de Musique Contemporaine (Apr. 2)
  • Hommage to Xenakis (Apr. 23)


Version française...

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