Visits with R.M.S.

R. Murray Schafer in ‘Listen’, David New’s portrait of the renowned Canadian composer. Produced for the 2009 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
Source: National Film Board of Canada

In 1991, while wrapping up my final year of undergraduate studies at Wilfrid Laurier University (and preparing to begin a Masters degree at Simon Fraser University), I was lucky enough to spend a couple hours wandering around campus one afternoon with Canadian composer, environmentalist, author and educator R. Murray Schafer…just the two of us talking about all sorts of things – his music-theatre  cycle ‘Patria, interdisciplinary work, composition, acoustic ecology and so on…

This past week, while wrapping up duties as a sessional instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and preparing to begin Doctoral studies at the University of Toronto (which incidentally will focus heavily on the convergence points between mobile audio technologies, soundscape design, and site-specific performance), I once again found myself spending  the better part of a day with Murray. He was in town attending a concert of some of his works for harp and string quartet and had also agreed to appear as a guest speaker in one of my classes.

I couldn’t help but think of how oddly momentous this was for me. Back in 1988, at the beginning of my second year as an undergraduate music composition student, I was completely immersed in Schafer’s book The Tuning of the World. Its effect on me was nothing short of transformative. Not only did it open and inspire my ears , it also changed my ides about what composer could (or should) be in the modern world – an acoustic designer or a soundscape designer – someone who works inter-disciplinarily – like architects and designers and planners – to shape, transform and enrich the sonic environment.

(CD cover) Meeting at Off-Site, vol. 3

Since this most recent visit with Murray, I’ve been thinking about possible points of convergence between Schafer’s influence (acoustic ecology, soundscape design, etc.) and my own activities as a drummer and live electroacoustics artist. I suppose on the surface, it’s easy to view these things as inherently contradictory and unreconcilable. Yet I started thinking about performances of low-amplitude (‘lowercase’) electronic music which explore and define notions of auditory thresholds, ‘acoustic horizons‘, and – in particular – the Japanese music genre  ‘Onkyo‘, as performed in venues such as ‘Off Site‘ several years ago and some specific composers such as Bernhard Günter and others. This is just a start but I’ll try to offer up more thinking around this last idea in the coming weeks, as I prepare for a (rare) drum kit and live electroacoustics performance at Musideum (Toronto) with NAW on April 19th.

Once again, thanks Murray!

Should a Greyhound bus engine really sound like a test tone from where the passenger sits?

%d bloggers like this: