Barry Truax Celebration

Friday, May 11, 2018 • 7:00pm

Download Program (PDF)

Barry TruaxThis evening’s retrospective ‘birthday’ concert in Vancouver is a wonderful and much appreciated event for me, so I want to thank Sean Bickerton, the BC Advisory Council and CMC-BC staff (Dave & Stefan) for making it possible. However, the event also urges me to reflect on another anniversary — this is the 50th year that I have been a composer! This hardly seems possible, but of course, in the summer of 1968, when I was an undergraduate student majoring in Physics and Math at Queens University, Kingston, I did not think of myself as ever becoming a composer, nor could I have imagined the career that lay before me.

I was working as a summer research assistant in the Physics Department at Queens, and with one year left until graduation, I was very concerned about the future, given that I could manage my education in science intellectually, but my passion was for the arts, and music in particular. I had spent the previous summer in Montréal during the memorable Expo 67 where I devoted what little money I had to cultural events (experiencing my first opera performances, the Rite of Spring ballet, a Michelangeli recital, and even playing with an electronic synthesizer, later identified as a Hugh LeCaine instrument, in one of the pavilions). But in ’68, as I was getting increasingly frustrated by my lack of real enthusiasm for physics, and the career it would lead to, I spent noon hours in a small music practice house where I started pounding out what would become a piano sonata, the energy of the first movement increasing along with my career frustration. I felt like an adolescent bewildered by new bodily sensations emerging with a creative force that could not be denied. But could such urges justify a major career change?

Coincidentally, my summer job included some simple computer programming, which of course I couldn’t possibly connect to music. A year later I would graduate with the Honours B.Sc. that I’d worked so hard for, but I also was accepted at UBC into both the Physics and Music graduate programs. However, once I walked into the electronic music studio, I knew I had found my home and gave up the scholarship to the science program. Two years later in 1971, under the tutelage of Cortland Hultberg, I had a graduation recital that largely featured works for performers and electronic tapes, plus a couple of piano pieces, and later an opera performance with the UBC Opera Workshop. I also visited R. Murray Schafer at SFU and got a recommendation for a Canada Council grant to study at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht, where after another two years of postgraduate study I had created an interactive computer composition and real-time synthesis system and the first piece using a new technique called FM synthesis that I’d learned from the visiting John Chowning of Stanford. I had also completed quad tape works destined for an opera production and a CBC commission for mezzo-soprano and electronic tape (She, A Solo, later performed by Phyllis Mailing in Vancouver). 

I also wrote a letter to SFU in 1973 that landed on Schafer’s desk and he invited me to join the nascent World Soundscape Project that he fearlessly declared as doing “probably the world’s most important work”, based in the Sonic Research Studio in the newly formed Department of Communication Studies. I arrived in time to participate in the publication of the Vancouver Soundscape study, a booklet with two LPs, and that fall started part-time teaching in the school. I also found a computer in the Psychology Department that I could use evenings and weekends, but for many years it was restricted to sound synthesis, and not sampled sounds, so I had to content myself with synthesized “sonic landscapes” in quadraphonic format. But again, I could never have imagined that when Schafer left rather abruptly in 1975 I would be appointed as his successor, and my entire career (until my retirement in 2015) would be based at SFU developing the links between the social, cultural and environmental aspects of sound and the creative aspects of electroacoustic studio work that would eventually blossom as multi-channel soundscape compositions. To this day, I marvel (and am eternally grateful) that in the short space of 7 years, I was able to make the transition from frustrated science student to an interdisciplinary professor and composer!

Of course, my artistic career had to be pursued  internationally, right from the start, as there were so few opportunities in Canada, as is largely the case still today. I started attending the annual Festival of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France, which was then predominantly based in analog technology, but which introduced me to multi-speaker performance venues, such as their magnificent 15th century Palais Jacques Coeur. These experiences were complemented by attending the annual International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) held in various international locations, and devoted to the intersection of technical research and musical applications. Through these events I established contacts with countless international pioneers in the field of electroacoustic and computer music, and I was able to bring the best developments and works back to Vancouver in the form of an annual Evening of Electronics with the (then new) Vancouver New Music Society, and a concert series at the Western Front. In 1985 I organized the ICMC conference held in Vancouver; in 1987 I attended the founding events of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and in 1993 the Tuning of the World Conference in Banff where the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology was formed. At the CMC, I was on Regional Council for over 30 years, including 8 years on the National Board

There is of course, much more to remember — and hopefully to look forward to — but your time this evening will be better spent listening to a selection of pieces drawn from the last 20 years of my compositional work. The concert ends with me performing my first work that combines digital soundtracks with my own beloved instrument, the piano (which I have played since childhood), created as part of the Alan Turing centennial celebrations in 2012, so in a sense it brings us full circle to my modest beginnings as a composer. By a perhaps odd coincidence, both the first piano piece and this one are based on two non-overlapping modes of 6 pitches! A colleague of mine refers to me as a “poet of electroacoustic music”, and I would feel honoured to be known as such. In my opinion, contemporary music in general, and electroacoustic music in particular, would benefit from more poetry, both literally and aesthetically, and that is what I hope you will find this evening. 

— Barry Truax


Steam (2001)
for alto flute and two soundtracks
Mark McGregor, flute 

Wings of Fire (1996)
for female cellist and two soundtracks
Text: Joy Kirstin
Marina Hasselberg, cello

Song of Songs (1992)
for oboe d’amore, English horn, computer graphic images and two soundtracks
Graphics: Theo Goldberg
Geronimo Mendoza, oboe d’amore, English horn

Featured Emerging Composer
a glass is not a glass (2009-10)
Composed by Adam Basanta

The Garden of Sonic Delights (2015-16)
for multiple digital soundtracks

Enigma (2012)
The Life and Death of Alan Turing, for tenor, video and soundtracks
William George, tenor; Michael Mori, baritone, recorded voice

Part Two, leading to:
From The Unseen World (2012)
for piano and soundtracks
Barry Truax, piano

Program Notes

Steam (2001)

for alto flute and two soundtracks

Steam is an homage to the unique Canadian whistles and foghorns that populate the nation’s soundscape from coast to coast. Some are actual steam whistles, but most are the air horns designed by Robert Swanson to imitate their earlier counterparts, the most famous being the E-flat minor triad of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway and the O Canada horn in Vancouver. Other horns that are heard in the piece are a shift whistle in Prince Edward Island, a steam foghorn in New Brunswick, the Royal Hudson steam train, the West Coast Express, the CPR and Chemainus mill shift whistles, all from the West Coast. The rich timbres of these horns provide a set of pitches that are elaborated in the live part. The work is dedicated to the memory of Robert Swanson, one of the most significant designers of the Canadian soundscape. Steam was commissioned by Kathryn Cernauskas and has been recorded by Chenoa Anderson on the Cambridge Street Records CD, Spirit Journies.

Original sound recordings by the World Soundscape Project and the composer.

Wings of Fire (1996)

for female cellist and two soundtracks 

Wings of Fire incorporates a reading by Ellie Epp of the poem Wings of Fire by BC poet Joy Kirstin. In the work, the lover addressed in the poem is personified by the instrument that is also the source of all the material used to create the tape part. This material consists only of short fragments of bowing on the bridge of the instrument, natural and artificial harmonics, snap pizzicato, and col legno attacks (using the wooden part of the bow to hit the string). The sounds on tape that resemble bowed notes are in fact synthesized using digital resonators that model the behaviour of a string, each tuned to the pitch of one of the cello’s open strings. These resonators are used to process both the cello sounds and the text such that at certain moments the voice and instrument merge as one. Wings of Fire was commissioned by Vancouver New Music for its 1997 Canadian tour, and has been recorded by Frances Uitti on the Cambridge Street Records CD, Twin Souls.

Wings of Fire

This air that is my breath,
this circling of wings that rises in me.
All I know to be true, all that I am
awaits you.

Sapphire moon, blood of the angels,
on rivers of blue fire, bone and body
are beginnings. In the stillness,
we pause at the quiet wells,
the deepest waitings
where we quench our thirst.

There is fire in this union.
In this crucible, we forge each other,
molten chaos and sharp edges. Passion
slices open understandings.
That which cuts can cure.

Your tongue speaks truths
I’ve never known, tempers me
with words from languages I’ve never heard.
Venomous and blazing, your kiss
leaves me paralyzed. Pausing between sabotage
and treason, honey lingers on my lips
and I learn anew the wonder of desire.

We cross continents to weave our future,
stars and sand and soil
and feathered threads
that twirl and spin
beneath our touch.

With wings of fire, I shall embrace you.
You who are my nemesis
and my becoming,
the fertile ground below me
and the night sky
pierced with visions.

— Joy Kirstin © 1994

Joy Kirstin’s poetry has appeared in the anthology, Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets, and in many Canadian and American literary journals. She has won several poetry competitions, including the League of Canadian Poets 1993 national poetry contest.

Song of Songs (1992)
for oboe d’amore, English horn, computer graphic images and two soundtracks 

The work is based on the celebrated Song of Solomon text from the Old Testament whose lyrical and sensual imagery is portrayed in a cycle of four movements subtitled Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night & Daybreak.

The soundscape of the work is derived from recordings of the text by Norbert Ruebsaat and Thecla Schiphorst, as well as recordings of a monk singing with the monastery bells at SS. Annunziata, near Amelia, Italy, along with cicadas and crickets recorded there by the composer. These sounds are supplemented by recordings of the Dawn Chorus in Brittany made by the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University, and digital recordings made by Robert MacNevin of a stream and a crackling fire.

All of the sonic material is subject to digital signal processing which stretches and harmonizes the sounds and brings out their inner voices and colours. The result is a Mediterranean soundscape in which all voices are singing, and the boundaries between the self and the environment are blurred — the voice becomes the environment and the environment sings with its own voice, with a refrain of “I am my Beloveds and my Beloved is mine” that is accompanied by the traditional Hebrew cantillation melody associated with Solomon’s text.

Song of Songs is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD Song of Songs (whose cover features one of the graphic images by Theo Goldberg used in the piece).

a glass is not a glass (2009-10)
stereo soundtrack

“a glass is a glass is a glass” — adapted from Gertrude Stein

“Ceci n’est pas un verre” — adapted from René Magritte

The sound of a common wine glass encapsulates both its banal everyday use as well as the inherent musicality of everyday objects. This ordinary sound, excited by various means, is treated with a metaphoric sonic magnifying lens, highlighting its various characteristics: attack and resonance, harmonicity and inharmonicity, rhythm and texture.

The untreated sound functions as both departure and arrival points, allowing elastic musical elaborations between each concrète bookend. This interplay, between the recognizable quotidian sound and its more abstract modulations, acts as the main developmental motif in the piece, and is explored throughout eleven intertwined movements.

The Garden of Sonic Delights (2015-16)
for multiple digital soundtracks

The Garden of Sonic Delights invites the listener to enter an imaginary soundscape (one that Murray Schafer might describe as a “soniferous garden”) richly filled with sounds that may remind us of the actual sounds of water, wind, insects, animals and birds. Our visit will take us through the afternoon until the next morning, hopefully leaving us delighted and refreshed.

The piece was commissioned by Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (BEAST) for BEAST FEaST 2016, and realized in 48 channels at the Technical University, Berlin, and the composer’s private studio assisted by Outboard’s TiMax2 Soundhub for spatialization.

Enigma (2012), The Life and Death of Alan Turing
for tenor, video and soundtracks

From The Unseen World (2012)
for piano and soundtracks

Alan Turing (1912-1954) was the brilliant British mathematician who is widely recognized as the father of the modern computer at the University of Manchester, having demonstrated its theoretical possibility in what is known as the Turing machine. He also became famous after his death when his role during World War II in deciphering the German “Enigma” code that was key to the British war effort in the Atlantic finally became publicly known. 

Truax’s work Enigma is an unstaged but dramatic rendition of two key periods in Turing’s personal life, the first from his early years when he became infatuated with the brilliant Christopher Morcom who died young, and the second from his final years when he was convicted of gross indecency because of a homosexual liaison. On this program, only the second part will be presented, going from the arrest to his apparent suicide.

This final section will transition to the piano and multi-channel soundscape piece From The Unseen World based on the digitally processed “Christopher arpeggio” which turns it into an ethereal swirl of harmonics, the title being a phrase of Turing’s to refer to the spirit dimension — and by extension to Christopher. The live part in this spectrally based work mainly uses the six pitches from the arpeggio in ways that minimize the percussive nature of the piano, with the pitches that are not part of the arpeggio heard in a bell-like chord that symbolizes the real world.

The work was premiered in Manchester during the Turing Centennial Year in 2012 with the same performers as on this program. The libretto was assembled by the composer from various texts by Turing.

Part Two

Turing: My poor lost lamb from the slums, dear sweet Arnold.

He has a nightmare dream where he is suspended in an empty space, like an airplane hangar. A loud noise begins and gets louder and louder, looming …. It’s like being trapped inside a brain, having to play against the machine, best two out of three. 

But the machine moves quickly, I have to distract it with conversation, diversionary tactics, show anger, play stupid, make it feel smug. “Can you think what I feel? Can you feel what I think?”.

But Arnold, whatever you think is. You must learn to communicate your ideas, your dreams. I’ve got to teach you, take you out of all this.

But Arnold wouldn’t accept any money, said he wasn’t a renter … but did he steal it anyway? Or was it his mate that he bragged to?

(in the distance, bells begin to toll, marking the death of the King.)

Why are there bells?

Constable (pre-recorded): King George is dead. A new Queen will take his place.

Turing: … the fairest in the land ….

Constable: We know all about it. You have reported a robbery and identified a suspect. But who was your informant? Who was he?

Turing: Yes, he is twenty-five years of age, five foot ten inches, with black hair.

Constable: We have reason to believe your description is false. Why are you lying? Who was your informant? Who was he?

Turing: I concealed his identity because I had an affair with him. I will confess all.

Constable: Seducing a youth — from the lower classes. Gross Indecency. Gross Indecency.
Seducing a youth — gross indecency.

Turing: I will go to prison. I will go to prison … unless …

Constable: Hormone therapy, estrogen, chemical castration … hormone therapy, estrogen, chemical castration. 

Turing: These are messages from an Unseen World, exciting the atoms of my brain like a wireless set resonating to a non-material spirit.

The Universe is the interior of the Light Cone of the Creation, Science a Differential Equation, Religion a Boundary Condition.

Hyperboloids of wondrous light, rolling for ages through Space and Time, harbour those Waves which somehow might play out God’s wondrous pantomime.

But I am growing breasts!

Dip the apple in the brew, let the sleeping death seep through.

Hyperboloids of wondrous light … messages from an unseen World … 

Christopher, I am yours!


Adam Basanta, Composer 

Adam Basanta (b. 1985) is a sound artist, composer, and performer of experimental music. Born in Tel-Aviv and raised in Vancouver, he currently lives and works in Montreal. Across disciplines and media, he interrogates intersections between conceptual and sensorial dimensions of listening, the materiality of technological apparatus, and the intertwining of human behaviour and mass-produced consumer devices.

His installation work has been recently presented at Fotomuseum Winterthur (CH), Carroll/Fletcher Gallery (UK), National Art Centre Tokyo (JPN), American Medium Gallery (NYC), New Media Gallery (CAN), Moscow Biennale for Young Art (RUS), and The Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe (USA). His experimental concert music has been presented worldwide, including performances in the MATA Festival (NYC), Gaudeamus Musicweek (NL), CTM Festival (GER), Akousma Festival (CAN), and Mutek Festival (CAN).

William George, Tenor 

Will George is a versatile performer, equally at home in the world of classical, musical theatre, and pop music. He has performed leading roles with many international musical organizations, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City Operas, and festivals and concerts in Canada, Hong Kong, Finland, England, Sweden, Germany, the Philippines, and Carnegie Hall. A specialist in contemporary music, Will has worked closely with many respected composers, including Michael Tippett, Barry Truax and Marga Richter. He recently received rave reviews for his performance in Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King with Nu:BC Ensemble. Will is co-founder and Artistic Director for Erato Ensemble. His recordings include “EAST,” with guitarist Michael Strutt, and a collection of songs by Marga Richter, both released on the Redshift label. Will is also the lead singer of the roots-rock band Horse Opera, which released their debut album in November 2017.

Theo Goldberg, Computer Graphic Artist

Theo Goldberg, born in Chemnitz, Germany in 1921, studied composition with Boris Blacher at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. Until his emigration to Canada in 1954, Goldberg worked as a freelance composer for radio, television, the legitimate stage and the political cabaret in Berlin. In Vancouver, Goldberg entered the public education system, acquiring his Masters Degree from Washington State University in 1967 and his Doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1970. He began his teaching career at the University of British Columbia in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and at the Vancouver Academy of Music. After his retirement in 1986, Goldberg joined the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre as Professor Emeritus and Research Associate.

Coming out of the artistic environment of the Berlin surrealist group, and influenced by the musical aesthetic of his teacher, Goldberg’s first twenty years of work reflect an interest in the strict formalism and rhythmic experimentation prevalent during that period. His involvement with electronic music, which began in the late 1940s, continued into the early 1970s in Vancouver with computer music. Initially, Goldberg took advantage of isomorphic relationships between musical and visual structures. His works evolved eventually into collaborative multimedia pieces. This medium, using computer graphics and video, included seven of his works during the 1980s and 90s in collaboration with composer Barry Truax, and performers such as Lawrence Cherney and Vivienne Spiteri. Theo passed away in 2012. 

Marina Hasselberg, Cello

Award-winning cellist Marina Hasselberg specializes in classical, contemporary, baroque, and experimental music. She has worked in dance, film, and theatre, and since moving to Vancouver in 2010, she has been an active member of the city’s eclectic arts scene, working closely with numerous local artists on creating and presenting multi-disciplinary new works. Marina has recently been awarded a City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, a Jessie Award (Onegin, Arts Club), and the position of Principal Cellist with the Vancouver Island Symphony.

Mark McGregor, Flute 

Described as a flutist of “huge physical energy,” Mark Takeshi McGregor has performed across North America, Europe, Australia, and Israel, including appearances at Festival Montréal-Nouvelles Musique, Music Gallery (Toronto), Vancouver New Music Festival, New Works Calgary, Le Hum (Moncton), Athelas New Music Festival (Copenhagen), and the Internationale A•DEvantgarde-Festival (Munich). An outspoken advocate of new music, Mark is the principal flute of the Aventa Ensemble in Victoria and one-half of the Vancouver-based Tiresias Duo with Rachel Iwaasa. McGregor has given the premiere performances of Anna Höstman’s flute concerto Trace the Gold Sun with the Victoria Symphony, concertos by Piotr Grella-Mozejko and James Beckwith Maxwell with the Aventa Ensemble, and two new works written especially for him by the British composer Michael Finnissy. Recent and upcoming commissions include new works by key Canadian composers including Michael Oesterle, Nicole Lizée, and Paul Steenhuisen.

Geronimo Mendoza, Oboe d’Amore, English Horn

Vancouver based oboist Geronimo Mendoza has collaborated with many professional orchestras in Mexico and Canada, including the Calgary Philharmonic, Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Multicultural and New Music Vancouver Orchestras. As a former member of the Mexico City Philharmonic, he has worked with renown artists and conductors and has been on tours around Europe and Asia. He has attended international music festivals, working with world-celebrated oboists such as John Mack, Ray Still, Alex Klein, Louis Pellerin, Isaac Durate, Ingo Goritzki, Christoph Lindemann, Charles “Chip” Hamann and Emanuel Abbuhl. He is a three-time grant recipient of the Mexico Arts Council (FONCA) and also has been awarded by the BC Arts Council. He is currently a core member of the Vancouver Island and Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestras. In addition to his performance career, Mr. Mendoza is a passionate teacher, and enjoys training young instrumentalist from his position as a coach of the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra. For the current season, Mr. Mendoza is scheduled to participate with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, New Music Vancouver, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra, as well as many other symphonic and chamber ensembles around the Canadian West Coast. 

Barry Truax, Composer

Barry Truax is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Communication (and formerly the School for the Contemporary Arts) at Simon Fraser University where he taught courses in acoustic communication and electroacoustic music. He worked with the World Soundscape Project, editing its Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, and has published a book Acoustic Communication dealing with sound and technology. He received SFU’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 1999, and along with his partner, Guenther Krueger, established the Glenfraser Endowment in 2009 that supports awards for student achievements and research, along with an Endowed Chair in Sound Studies in the School of Communication.

As a composer, Truax is best known for his work with the PODX computer music system which he has used for tape solo works, music theatre pieces and those with live performers or computer graphics. In 1991 his work, Riverrun, was awarded the Magisterium at the International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France, the only Canadian-born recipient of this honour. He has produced 9 solo CD’s of his work on his Cambridge Street Records label, and previously 3 LP’s, along with 9 piano CD’s where he performs classical music and jazz standards. His academic writing includes 10 book chapters and 35 refereed journal articles, as well as numerous keynote talks, lectures and conference papers.

Truax’s electroacoustic works and multi-channel soundscape compositions have been featured in over 500 concerts and festivals around the world. Since his retirement in 2015, Barry has been the Edgard Varèse Guest Professor at the Technical University in Berlin, and Guest Composer at the 2016 BEAST Festival in Birmingham, as well as similar events in Melbourne, Hamburg, Lisbon and Milan. He has guest edited two theme issues on soundscape composition for the Cambridge journal Organised Sound, and is co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Sounding Art.

His current projects are a commission for the 60th anniversary of the electronic music studio in Salzburg, Austria, a keynote and concert performance at the International Computer Music Conference in Korea, and an evening of music theatre works at the Roundhouse in Vancouver as part of the Queer Arts Festival.