Electroacoustic Music and Pure Expression

By Owen Campeau

Composition is an art form that is constantly in flux, constantly changing and reshaping itself. Composition can be influenced by the past, present and future equally. It is one of the greatest art forms because it is nearly infinite; with each composition being differentiated by Notes, rhythm, timbre, and technique (the last of which is ever-changing with new techniques being invented constantly). The difficulty with composition comes from a very narrow concept that we are hardwired with of what makes music sound “Good.” It is difficult to make compositions that sound “good” that are still original (many of the best know songs all follow the same chord progression eg. VIDEO ). But allowing ones self to be limited by this notion of good sounding music completely eliminates the possibility of growth and advancements in music.

This is where the urgency and importance behind electro-acoustic music can be most felt. Players and composers with an interest in Electro-acoustic music are most likely already consumers of “experimental” music. We as electro-acoustic musicians are not limited to four chords for our expression, we are not even limited to conventional tonality or the inherent need for notes. Electro-acoustic music is a blank canvas where anything can be an instrument and any instrument can make any noise. A synthesizer a conventional instrument based off of the keys of the piano, through a variety of digital codes programmed into the synth it’s self, and through different plugins and setting of the computer you are running said synth out of can be anything, a guitar, a glossy pinging, an unearthly rumble. Even for instruments that are not electronic in the same way as the synth you can still treat affect them. The possibilities are endless because there are constantly more parameters that you can add, subtract or change.

This makes composition of Electro-acoustic music admittedly more complex and time consuming but over all more rewarding. When you begin your composition your first step does not have to be “what is my first note?” you can view it from a holistic viewpoint. Your first consideration can be what sound do I want my instruments to make; once you have dialed that in then it is easy to look at your composition and asses what other elements do you want to add. Do you want your instruments to juxtapose, or sound well together? Do you want your sounds to be constant/brief, warm/cold, in the foreground/background, distorted/clean? All of these parameters are controllable by you and the technology at your fingertips.

Electro-acoustic music is also an art form that is very conducive to composing as a group. The benefit of the group is that rather than only having one mind perceiving and creating the sounds that are wanted/needed you have multiple and therefore you have a broader palate to draw inspiration from. It can also act as a needed injection of creativity as it is easy to become bogged down and in some ways it is possible to become paralyzed by possibilities.

Composition of Electro-acoustic music is a freeing experience. There are no boundaries, and no set template to base your work off of. It is pure expression and it is endless.


WAVES by Rolf Boon

Last April, 2015, Integra Contemporary & Electroacoustics presented their final event of the academic year, entitled Traffic & Waves. Our concert showcased the hard work (compositions and developed improvisations) of the members of the ensemble: Digital Audio Arts students from the University of Lethbridge. In addition, we included Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, Tines Quartet by Jeff Morton and importantly, we interpreted Rolf Boon’s WAVES, which we present in this video.

Other Electroacoustic Ensemble videos at https://vimeo.com/album/2201064


by Loïc Zev

As much as we might have learned about compressors, reverb, plug-ins, quantization, etc, it is important to answer a question that is simple yet vital to any producer of music — what is it that makes a successful musical production? Even more interesting, is production solely about dominating the art of aural manipulation via knobs and faders, or does it have a certain magic of its own?

What I propose with this idea is that music production is, in fact, an independent entity of its own that achieves its maximum potential when one accepts the challenge of utilizing not merely as a tool, but as an artistic outlet, with all the implications that accompany the creation of any piece of art.

It is noteworthy to mention that although I present you this viewpoint through a subjective conclusion, I shall expose you some of the objective ideas that lead me to construct my judgement on this matter.

The first of these ideas has to do with a very interesting linguistic distinction that was underscored to me some time ago — the differentiation between an artist and a craftsman. “Curious”, you might say, “but what of it?”. Well, what I’m trying to illustrate through this is that the distinction between the two is that a craftsman is employed in order for him or her to perform an action that was learnt through hard work and was turned into a skill with experience. While on the other hand, the title of artist is instinctually connected to the culturally shared idea of art: a vehicle to connect oneself with that which brings catharsis and deliverance, sometimes even acting as catalyst for radical changes either to individuals or to an entire community.

The point that I am trying to make with this is that to approach production thinking of oneself as a creator and enabler of artistic content can be much more fruitful to those of us who might perhaps still be too humble when considering their involvement in the creative process, maybe even thinking that they are just there to make someone else shine brighter. This attitude does not necessarily mean that you will perform your job poorly, but I assure you that most of the artists that have inspired plenty of people (including you and me) into joining this industry will most likely owe part of their success to a music producer that was successful in developing and polishing their artistry and their message. A good example of this could be the relationship between Michael Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones, who together created albums such as the immortal record Thriller, which is still a major keystone in the musical edifice of Western culture today, after being released a little over thirty years ago.

Whatever one’s opinion might be on records such as Thriller, what is objectively undeniable is their impact on our society. And let me clarify, this phenomenon is not secluded to pop culture, as not too long ago we were able to witness a sort of rise of anti-heroic personas that openly challenged pop standards (I mean, we’ve all heard of Marilyn Manson at one point in our lives, I’m sure, whether as the artist or as the public figure).

The reason artists and their producers achieve this success is not only because of the material that they create, clearly, but instead — their approach to their own creative process and the kind of goal that they establish for their endeavour.

The bottom line is that the previous two artists and many, many more have become successful in their profession not because they achieved to create “good music” (whatever that might be), but because their endgame is not to not only engage in the creation of music, but to *drumroll* conceptualize the artist’s ideals inherent in their work.

And what on Earth does that mean? What it means is that punk would not be punk without the ever-present rawness of their recordings, which matches with the genre’s message. Of course it does not sound like one of Max Martin’s Britney Spears hit records, because it would make no sense at all, and viceversa.

As producers, our goal is not to serve the artist, but to serve the necessities of the concept that they are exploring through their opus. This concept’s value system and moral code have to be rendered tangible through the producer’s skill to turn an artist’s idea into a banner that the audience might identify themselves with.

My viewpoint, ultimately, is that a successful musical product can only be achieved through a thoroughly coherent and wholesome concept, especially since nowadays the musical experience is becoming increasingly multimedia. The successful creation of this concept not only relies on the technical skills that one might possess, but is also a direct result of a much more cerebral, intellectual process that most likely shall occur before opening your DAW.

The title of producer implies someone who transforms an artistic work into a marketable product ready for consumption. Yet let us never forget that those who have become major figures in the music production business are not those with the grandest ability to press buttons and tweak audio in order to make their clients sound as they do. The most successful producers are those whose approach their creative process in the same way an architect approaches the use of space. In the same way a poet approaches language. In the same way a painter approaches colour. And what is this way? To be fully sure not only of one’s capacity to perform the task correctly, but to be sure why one’s doing it instead of something else.

Music production has gifted humanity the opportunity of listening to music like it has never been heard before. It is in our hands to hone our technical capabilities as well as our intellect so that we may keep enabling the creation of content that can find its own place, voice, and purpose within our global culture.

Teach Yourself How to Play Every Instrument

by Graham Trudeau

To start with a controversial statement; playing an instrument is fun, and provides valuable cultural and intellectual connections. Strangely, a similar premium is not placed on the ability to learn multiple instruments. I’d suggest that the value of learning a single musical instrument applies to every musical instrument you can learn. While the benefit to composers is most evident, the benefit for solo players is also substantial. Familiarizing yourself with another musical instrument changes how you think about music, as the varying pitches and techniques of each instrument broaden the scope and flexibility of your mindset. Similarly, learning the techniques required to play a new instrument can improve how you play an instrument you have more experience with, and spur ideas for innovative playing techniques.

With those benefits in mind, I suggest the following steps as ways to learn that weird instrument that you’ve been meaning to find out how to play.

1) Find detailed information sources regarding the instrument you wish to learn

Finding comprehensive sources for information on your instrument is an excellent way to ensure that your knowledge doesn’t have any superfluous gaps. Extremely popular instruments have a wide range of options in this regard: in addition to conventional texts, professionally made online video resources for instruments such as guitar and violin are freely available, and can be assisted by similarly numerous text resources. Slightly more niche instruments, such as the banjo, may require purchasing an introductory book from a music retailer in order to augment available, but low quality online resources. Exotic, ethnic, and specialty instruments will most likely require purchasing texts tailor made for the purpose of comprehensive self-teaching, due cultural and linguistic differences between you, and the country where the instrument is most popular. These specialty texts are most widely available through online retailers.

2) Familiarize yourself with basic care, tuning, and idiomatic techniques

While not particularly exciting, basic instrument care helps protect your instrument, and helps to avoid basic pitfalls which hinder your learning. In the event that you are playing a used instrument, it may also help you to identify parts of your instrument which need repair. Similarly, ensuring your instrument is properly tuned is an easy step in towards a smooth learning experience. Idiomatic techniques – common practices such as posture, playing methods, and standard progressions – are all important if you wish to play properly and with some degree of technical proficiency, rather than just carrying the same skills from one instrument to another. Additionally, idiomatic practices often have specialized notation, so learning the technique will result in easier, more nuanced reading.

3) Identify how pitches are arranged across the instrument

Identifying the positioning of pitches across your instrument is obviously required to produce any music on an instrument, but analyzing their arrangement in relation to your existing knowledge is an important step. It allows you to more effectively convert your existing musical knowledge between instruments – is it easier to move a semitone, or a perfect fifth? Are there alternate positions that make playing a certain interval easier? If the instrument can produce two intervals equally well, is there an implicit difference in timbre that makes one more appealing than the other? Analyzing an instrument like this is useful not only for informing your playing, but for determining which idiomatic techniques have endured due to legitimate merit, and which have been maintained due to tradition.

4) Find something fun to play

A short and simple step. While technical training is valuable (and should be practiced), scales aren’t going to leave you wanting to come back to your new instrument. Picking an enjoyable song to play will leave you wanting to practice more. Something with sustained notes is often a good choice, as it allows you to practice the techniques that go into actually sustaining a tone with your instrument, like embouchure, bowing, etc. Additionally, a song with a tempo that scales well is a good choice (dances are a strong option here), as it will let you initially focus on basic playing techniques, shifting focus to speed and clarity as you become more comfortable with the instrument.

5) Watch expert players

Watching professional musicians perform is an excellent way to expand what you know about your instrument. You may take away something as simple as a alternate posture which works better for you, or some strange extended technique you love the sound of. Simply, it’s a good way to see the numerous ways and instrument can be properly played.

Congratulations, you can now play a new instrument.

Analyzing the Nature of Music

by Oliver King (guest contributor from MUSI2500 – Introduction to Music Technology)

The nature of music is a complex topic, primarily due to the exceptional variety of sounds, genres, and subjective notions of what music is. Music is not just sound, and sound is not just music, but the two are inseparable, and so when discussing the nature of music, the nature of sound is greatly relevant. Some would suggest music is the ordering of sounds (naturally or man-made) into some larger and more cohesive form, from which people can derive meaning (or a lack thereof). Musical compositions are therefore often layers of melody and harmony, held together by rhythm, because some people can derive understanding from this format. Music can also be something natural and separate from the structure of composition, in either the natural world or unintentionally created by people. Even though these are some of the ways of understanding, they are certainly not all, and the diverse spectrum of sound, is best discussed through different examples of musical pieces.

It is best to start with compositions as a medium through which music is created and expressed, because they are a structured building block, and a good lens through which to view music. Composition illustrates how music can exist in a written and ordered form which can be played and replayed in different ways. The structure of composition allows intricacy and sound patterns that could not exist naturally to be born. It also allows a certain ‘picture’ to be painted with the sound at the discretion of the composer. For instance Vivaldi paints a musical picture of the seasons with Le Quattro Stagioni, a piece through which the physical realities of the world are reflected by music.

Inversely to the notion composition can create music through structure, some find music in natural settings, with or without the hand of man. ‘Found rhythm’ is an excellent example of music occurring without intention. For instance the sound of a train racing across tracks creates a steady rhythm, and that while it is unintentional is can be recognized by the ear as a definite sound and solid rhythm. Another example of this in the push and pull of ocean waves over a sandy beach, which has often been in musical tracks. The track Vancouver Soundscape Revisited: Fire (2nd Movement) is an example of found rhythms and voices being compiled together to create a wall of sound the ear would associate with a certain time and place, in this case Vancouver.

Some sounds have intrinsic musical qualities about them, which are heard and interpreted by people, and are often rearranged into mosaics to illustrate those qualities. Luciano Berio’s piece Thema: Omaggio a Joyce takes the voice of a person reading James Joyce’s Ulysses and cuts it into packages of sound that possess musical quality. For instance voiced stops in the English language have percussive effects similar to certain instruments, while the air escaping during the pronunciation of the letter ‘s’ produces a sound like the wind. Berio recognized these qualities of the voice as musical elements, and his resulting piece showcases his interpretations.

The nature of music may be complex, but because its existence varies from person to person, it follows that music has no definitive form. Music can be created or found, and it can be layered or simple. The interaction of people with music is interesting, because in different times and places, the interpretation of people might, for a moment, be able to define music as it intrinsically exists to them.

Jordan Nobles speaks at the STUDENT COMPOSERS’ FORUM


During Jordan Nobles’ visit to Lethbridge, we asked him to tell us more about his musical background, his compositions and current projects. He agreed to speak at our STUDENT COMPOSERS’ FORUM.

We find an interesting musical tension in his ‘open form’ compositions – a tension between a lot of musical activity (dynamism) and at times, am almost static harmonic rhythm.

Perhaps this ‘essence’ (of dynamic and static) are captured in these great photos, taken during his highly motivational talk.

For more information about Nobles, go to: http://jordannobles.com