Hildegard Westerkamp Celebration

Friday, April 6, 2018 • 7:00pm

Download Program (PDF)

Hildegard WesterkampHeartfelt thanks to the Canadian Music Centre — especially Sean Bickerton, Stefan Hintersteininger, and Dave McLaughlin — for this opportunity to present tonight’s concert to you. I am particularly delighted that Rachel Iwaasa has agreed to perform two of my compositions, Like a Memory and Klavierklang. Her premiere performance of Klavierklang during ISCM’s World Music Days in the Playhouse, here in Vancouver last November, was spectacular and was received enthusiastically by the audience. I am very much looking forward to hearing the piece in this much more intimate atmosphere of the CMC. 

Special thanks go to my friend and colleague Giorgio Magnanensi, who in his unstoppable creativity and inventiveness crafted wooden resonators during the last few years and donated some for tonight’s concert. I am sure that they will add a sense of magic to the way sound is distributed in this space! Throughout this concert, the sounds of Davie Street will ‘play along’ and remind us that there is an always sounding, always moving, world out there. Please welcome it into your listening. Together the outside and inside soundscapes will create a unique atmosphere here. 

I am delighted to introduce you to the work of emerging composer Nancy Tam in this context. Her work made a strong impression on me when, as the external examiner in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU, I first encountered her graduating project, an intricate and thought-provoking one-hour long synchronized audio tour for ten people, entitled Some Hallways Lead To Other Hallways And Some Lead To Dead Ends. At the time she wrote: “My audio tour is a realization of my continued interest in the triangulation of sound, body and space within my artistic practice. In creating my project, I pose my research question as follows: how can I, as a composer and an interdisciplinary artist, apply compositional techniques as methodology in creating performances outside of the musical discipline?” Since then I have followed with interest her increasingly active compositional output in a variety of Vancouver’s cultural contexts. Please lend her work your open and generous ears tonight. 

My own work has never found a straight fit within the world of contemporary classical music, just as I never felt at home in any Western classical music department or conservatory. This is no longer surprising to me, as my intense passion for listening to all sounds of the environment, including music, lead me quite naturally into a wide expanse of multidisciplinary fields of study about sound. It also meant that composition was never my main focus, in fact I never dreamt of becoming a composer in my life, even as I was studying music. Composition emerged out of a multitude of listening experiences and research activities, learning and working with the World Soundscape Project in the early seventies. My colleagues were a great source of inspiration and with the unusually good fortune of having almost unlimited access to the Sonic Research Studio, established by R. Murray Schafer at the time, my curiosity was awakened never to be stilled again. 

My political, cultural consciousness was sharpened significantly during those same years when I got involved with Vancouver Co-operative Radio. There I developed my more low-tech studio chops, creating the sound — among other cultural programming — for a legal soap opera entitled Meet the Law, written and directed by my then husband Norbert Ruebsaat. Norbert’s emerging poetic writing influenced me a great deal at that time and found its way into some of my early compositional work. Coop Radio was also the arena in which it was possible to tackle my, for its time, rather unusual radio project Soundwalking. I had managed to receive the Canada Council’s first-ever audio grant in 1978, which enabled me to work with a humble income in the ever-fluctuating life rhythms of young motherhood. My daughter Sonja was born in 1977 and inevitably inspired new ways of listening and soundmaking, as infants and young children do in their wide-open receptivity and their as of yet unencumbered expressiveness. 

I am sensing the spirited presence of my late partner Peter Grant in my concert preparations. He always lent his deeply generous, alert and wide-open ears to my compositional work. This evening is dedicated to him, with gratitude and love.

Thank you all for attending this special event.

— Hildegard Westerkamp


Camelvoice (1993/2018)
Hildegard Westerkamp, spoken voice 

Like A Memory (2002)
Rachel Iwaasa, piano

Cricket Voice (1987)

Harbour Symphony (1986)

Featured Emerging Composer
Cinerama (2017)
Composed by Nancy Tam

Für Dich — For You (2005)
Poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke
English Translation by Norbert Ruebsaat

Gently Penetrating
beneath the sounding surfaces of another place (1997)

Klavierklang (2017)
Text and Music by Hildegard Westerkamp
Rachel Iwaasa, piano and spoken voice
David Bloom, director

Program Notes

for spoken voice and stereo soundtrack

When I rode on a camel in the desert of Rajasthan, India, in November of 1992 I documented the journey with a sound recording. I expected to hear mostly the silence of the desert and camel sounds, which were intriguingly foreign to me. What I had not anticipated, but should have known after several months in India, were the many people that we encountered: vendors selling drinks, musicians playing the indigenous music of the desert, and curious children running alongside the camel trek of tourists and their guides. 

Later, when I listened back to the recording I was struck by my reaction to it: on the one hand I felt a deep affection for the camel that had carried me into the desert and into a highly local soundscape of desert silence, the voices of people who lived in the nearby village of Sam and of the intensely beautiful and energetic music of that region; on the other hand I felt the cold reality that we were just another group of no-name tourists with money. 

This reaction caused me to explore the inherent tensions of that situation and my experience of it in this short performance piece for the camel’s and my own spoken voice. It became the beginning of a larger work, entitled India Sound Journal.

Like A Memory
for piano and stereo soundtrack

This composition explores that area of aural perception in which we hear music in sounds and sounds in music, where scrap metal structures become musical instruments and the piano becomes a strange sound sculpture. 

Many things came together in this composition. In 1985 I took my tape recorder and microphone and walked along Slocan Lake in the interior of British Columbia to an abandoned old house I had discovered some days before. Among the few remains inside was a piano. Many strings had broken, pieces of wood, some rusty nails and wires were lying among the strings, and rats had nested in its sounding board. Some keys were missing and of the remaining ones, not all keys were working. I had found a “prepared piano” in the deepest Cagean sense and delighted in improvising on this “instrument” and in recording the sounds that emerged. I also played and recorded snippets of classical music that I remembered from piano lessons years ago. They sounded delightfully out of tune and “off”.

In 2000 I went back to the same region with photographer Florence Debeugny to collect sounds and images for a project on ghost towns called At the Edge of Wilderness. Fallen-down buildings and rusty metal structures became soundmaking devices as I moved through the abandoned industrial sites, “playing” on anything and everything and finding the most fascinating resonances. Whether the sounds came from an old steam engine or an out–of–tune piano with broken strings, they have become the musical instruments for Like A Memory.

The majority of the sounds for the piece — the natural sounds, soundmaking on the rusty structures, or our footsteps and spoken voices — were recorded on the ghost town sites themselves. Recordings of steam trains and of old machinery come from the environmental sound archives of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University. 

A short time after I had completed At the Edge of Wilderness pianist Jamie Syer contacted me to see whether I was interested in composing a piece for piano and environmental sounds. I suggested that perhaps one could do something with my old recordings from the abandoned house with the piano and from the ghost towns. It turned out that Jamie knew this area of B.C. very well and taught piano every summer during the Valhalla Summer School of Music in Silverton, B.C., a small community right in the middle of this area. How could we not do a piano work together after the convergence of so many strands and experiences!

Some of the other excerpts of classical piano music that appear on the digital soundtrack of the piece were played by Jamie Syer and recorded by myself at his home near Calgary, Alberta, in May of 2002.

Like A Memory was commissioned by Jamie Syer and the Valhalla Summer School of Music and was composed with financial assistance from the Vancouver Foundation. It was premiered in Silverton, B.C. — in the area from where all sound materials originated — on August 16, 2002.

Cricket Voice
for stereo soundtrack

Cricket Voice is a musical exploration of a cricket, whose song I recorded in the stillness of a Mexican desert region called the “Zone of Silence”. The quiet of the desert allowed for such acoustic clarity that this cricket’s night song — sung coincidentally very near my microphone — became the ideal “sound object” for this soundscape composition. Slowed down, it sounds like the heartbeat of the desert, in its original speed it sings of the stars.

The quiet of the desert also encouraged sound-making. The percussive sounds in Cricket Voice were created by “playing” on desert plants: on the spikes of various cacti, on dried up roots and palm leaves, and by exploring the resonances in the ruins of an old water reservoir.

Cricket Voice was completed with the financial assistance of the Canada Council. The composition is dedicated to Norbert Ruebsaat, who wrote:

It’s hard to be a night in the desert
without the crickets.
You make it with stars.
You make it with the skin
of the desert night.
You stitch those two together
sky and earth.
You find it with your cricket voice.

Harbour Symphony 

It sounded like a herd of happy elephants caught in a traffic jam. — Globe and Mail

Is it going to sound like O Canada? — Richmond Review.

Mere words are inadequate to describe what took place when the Symphony began. — Harbour and Shipping Magazine.

On May 2nd 1986, nearly 150 boats of all sizes and shapes gathered in Vancouver Harbour around Canada Place to perform the first–ever Vancouver Harbour Symphony for boat horns. The piece was composed on commission from the Canada Pavilion for its Expo 86 opening. 

Special thanks to Bernard Bomers, Special Events Co–ordinator for the Canada Pavilion, who first conceived and commissioned the event; Joe Carter for pioneering the Harbour Symphony idiom (on a smaller scale) in St. John’s Newfoundland, and for helping direct and conduct this one; to Brian Lewis, Marine Consultant, and Mary Jane Green, Logistics Co–ordinator. Special thanks also to Vancouver’s Marine Community for participating so enthusiastically in all facets of the event and for performing vigorously; to Bob Swanson who designed, and whose company Airchime made most of the boat horns heard in this piece.

Final thanks go to the late Howard Broomfield, as well as to Victoria Fenner, Peter Thompson, and Leon Wolf, who recorded the live performance of the Harbour Symphony in the following places in and around the harbour: on the water from one of the participating boats, in the Main Street docks area, in Stanley Park near the Nine-O’Clock Gun and on Canada Place. 

In tonight’s concert you are hearing a mix of these recordings, plus the radio communication before the piece begins and after the conclusion of the event, when the many boats are directed to leave the harbour in a coordinated fashion. 

The Harbour Symphony was composed in memory of my brother, Helmut Westerkamp, who, as a cadet sailor on the German training ship “Pamir,” went down in a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic on September 21, 1957.

For four soundtracks and video

“At the edge of the city. A live performance of weather, water and tide” — Fight with A Stick (www.fightwithastick.ca)

Cinerama is a study in rhythm, geography, and weather. Operated by humans, 6 large metal frames rise from the water at Spanish Banks suggesting an hour-long nature movie experience. Working with the concept of sonic camouflage, the sound design of Cinerama dissolves into the existing sonic milieu of the site where the sonic events in the soundscape mimic those already living in the space.

The visual, haptic and aural environments beckon us to look further, feel slower, and listen deeper to ourselves and the world around us. There, we sit in chairs on wet sand while salt water tickles our feet and eventually takes over the performance space. The tide is warm and gentle, and at times fickle and relentless when measured against urban human rhythms. Since I cannot bring the beach nor the hour-long experience to you this evening, I have prepared a glimpse into this beautiful work in the form of a 10-minute composition accompanied by the footage of the original performance.

Credits: Cinerama was created by Fight With A Stick performance company with artistic direction by Steven Hill and Alex Ferguson in collaboration with Scott Billings, Delia Brett, Nellie Gossen, Elissa Hanson, Josh Hite, Walter Kubanek, Andrew Laurenson, Malena Meneses Skoda, Natalie Purschwitz, Diego Romero, Nancy Tam, and Paula Viitanen. Video documentation by Josh Hite. Field recordings amplified on Giorgio Magnanensi’s wood panels are collected by Nancy Tam and Conor Wylie.

Für Dich — For You
for stereo soundtrack

Für Dich – For You is based on the poem Liebes-Lied by Rainer Maria Rilke and its newest translation into English, Love Song, by Canadian poet and writer Norbert Ruebsaat. 

The compositional process of Für Dich – For You was an intense encounter with Rilke’s words, not unlike an encounter with the experience of love itself and all its unsettling, complex emotional states. Love, like birth or death, tears us out of the routine of daily life, wakes us up, alerts us to what is, creates moments of truth, often stirs us to make changes, to take new risks. The poem speaks of one person’s love to another, but also and perhaps more importantly about love as an inner state towards life and the world as a whole. In the face of ecological disasters and global economic imbalances, as well as widespread practices of terror, war, and hate, it suddenly seems to be a matter of survival to learn more about love and about how to act from the heart. Composing this piece was part of this process of learning.

On another level the composition explores a sense of place and belonging, of home and love. To underscore this context, the sound sources for the piece consist of specific sounds from two places that have created a sense of belonging in me: North Germany where I was born and grew up and Vancouver and the West Coast of Canada where I have lived for almost 50 years since my immigration. These sounds form the sonic/musical language of the piece, together with the recorded voices (male and female) of people close to me, speaking the poem, both in German and English. To open oneself to one’s original language and culture again, after having lived as an immigrant in the country of one’s choice for a long time, is like opening oneself to an almost forgotten deep love and connection to that past place. At the same time, one has lived and functioned in the country of one’s choice for many years, one has established one’s very own home, one’s family, one feels at home here, it is the right place to be. It also is a place of belonging and love. Thus, the piece is an exploration of the heart, an exploration of where the heart is located in connection to culture, language and people. In a globalized world where millions of us are on the move, whether as refugees, immigrants or just as travelers, this has emerged as a wide spread and relevant theme, as we are all in some way searching for home and connectedness.

All sounds and voices were recorded by myself. Many thanks to all who spent valuable hours with me exploring and reading the poem. Readers of the poem are: Wendelyn Bartley, Susan Benson, Anne Bourne, Louie Ettling, Peter Grant, Andra McCartney, Norbert Ruebsaat, Sonja Ruebsaat, Susanna Ruebsaat, R. Murray Schafer, Agnes Westerkamp and Hildegard Westerkamp. Für Dich – For You was commissioned by the ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany. The composition was started during a residency at the ZKM, and was continued and completed in the Sonic Studio at Simon Fraser University and my own studio in Vancouver.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß
sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
Ach gerne möcht ich sie bei irgendwas
Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
nicht weiterschwingt, wenn deine Tiefen schwingen.
Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
der aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
O süsses Lied.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Der ausgewählten Gedichte erster Teil
Insel Bücherei Nr. 400
Insel Verlag Wiesbaden 1951
Page 61

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Norbert Ruebsaat

How shall I hold my soul so that it
does not touch yours? How shall I lift it
up over you so it reaches other things?
Oh, how I long to store my soul
with something dark and lost
in a foreign becalmed place that does not
vibrate when your depths vibrate.
But all that touches you and touches me
contracts us like a bow
that from two strings draws forth a single voice.
Upon which instrument are we two strung?
And who, pray, is the fiddler who holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetful song.

**Reprinted with permission.

Gently Penetrating
beneath the sounding surfaces of another place
for stereo soundtrack

The vendors’ voices in this composition were recorded in specific areas of New Delhi during my first visit in 1992: in the residential area of Janakpuri, at the early morning produce market in Tilak Nagar, at the market near the Jama Masjid, and at the market stalls just off Janpath near Connaught Place. I noticed that many of the other sounds in these places besides the vendors’ voices were those of metal (such as buckets falling over, cans rolling, the handling of metal pots, squeaking gates, sometimes unidentified objects rattling or clinking as they pass), bicycle bells and scooter horns. As they seemed to be rather characteristic sonic “accompaniments” to the environments through which the vendors passed or where they had their stalls, these sounds became major players in the composition.

Coming from a European and North American context, I was delighted by the daily presence of the vendors’ voices. As the live human vending voice has disappeared almost entirely in Northern Europe and North America and has largely been replaced by media advertising, it is somewhat of a miracle for the visitor from those areas to hear such voices again. The gruffer, coarser shouting of male voices seemed to occur in markets near noisy streets or where a lot of voices were competing with each other. The vendors moving through quieter neighbourhoods seemed to have musically more expressive voices and almost songlike calls for their products, with clear melodic patterns. And then there was the voice of the boy selling juice…

In a city like New Delhi, and other places in India, one experiences shimmering beauty and grungy dirt and pollution side by side all the time. Many of these opposites are audible in my recordings as well and specifically in the sound materials selected for this piece. I wanted to express acoustically/musically both the shimmering and the grunge as it seems to represent so deeply and openly the contradictions within this culture and the intensity of life that results from it. 

Finally I believe that this piece also explores outer and inner worlds as one experiences them in India: the extraordinary intensity of daily living on the one hand and the inner radiance, focus and stillness on the other hand that emanate from deep within the culture and its people, despite the hardships of life. 

I would like to thank Savinder Anand, Mona Madan, Arun Patak, Virinder Singh, and Situ Singh-Bühler for taking me to the places where these vendors’ voices occurred. Without their help and local knowledge I would have had a difficult time capturing them on tape. Many thanks go to Max Mueller Bhavan for inviting me to New Delhi in the first place and giving me the opportunity to work with the Indian friends and listen to this city. I am grateful to Peter Grant for being a compassionate and listening companion throughout this time. 

The piece was commissioned by and realized in the studios of the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique/Bourges, France and received an honorary mention in the Prix ars electronica competition in Linz Austria, 1998. 

for piano, spoken voice and stereo soundtrack

Klavierklang is a sonic-musical journey into the complexities of piano playing. During the past few years Rachel and I often reflected on the challenging and traumatic, but also inspiring experiences we have had with piano teachers, the roles our mothers’ ears played in our musical development and how much the piano has been both a sanctuary for sonic explorations and soundmaking, and a site of trauma and discouragement. Ultimately Klavierklang is a journey towards the piano playing we have always loved, into the magic of its sound.

Klavierklang was commissioned by Rachel Iwaasa and was created with the financial assistance of the Canada Council and the BC Arts Council. Many thanks go to David Bloom, who directed Rachel in the theatrical aspects of her live performance.


David Bloom, Director 

Playwright, director and actor David Bloom founded Felix Culpa (with Linda Quibell), for whom he directed Judith, Und, and The Monument (Jessie nomination, best director-Large Theatre). Other directing credits include Palace of the End (Jessie award best direction, large theatre with co-directors Katrina Dunn and Mindy Parfitt), and Alien Sex for the Queer Arts Festival. He directed Blackbird for One Story Collective in March and will be performing the show with Stephanie Elgersma in September, directed by Omari Newton. Last season he performed in The Nether at the Firehall Theatre for Redcurrant Collective, and Realwheels’ multiple award-winning revival of Creeps. He has choreographed fights for theatre and opera companies across Canada. His plays have been produced by Green Thumb, Studio 58, Felix Culpa, Carousel, Axis Theatre, Canadian Phoenix, and Theatre at UBC. He’s performed in the usual local TV shows. He graduated from Studio 58 in 1980, and currently teaches Solo Show for the program. 

Rachel Iwaasa, Pianist

Hailed in the press as a “keyboard virtuoso and avant-garde muse” (Georgia Straight) with the “emotional intensity” to take a piece “from notes on a page to a stunning work of art” (Victoria Times Colonist), pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa is widely recognized for her bold and innovative artistry. Selected to close the ISCM World New Music Days 2017 in Vancouver, Rachel has performed in the Netherlands, Germany, US and across Canada, with engagements including Muziekweek Gaudeamus, Music  TORONTO, Music on Main, Vancouver New Music, Redshift, Western Front, Vancouver Symphony, Victoria Symphony, the Aventa Ensemble (Victoria), CONTACT contemporary music (Toronto), New Works Calgary, Groundswell New Music (Winnipeg), and Vancouver Pro Musica. She has premiered works by many of Canada’s most eminent composers, such as Hildegard Westerkamp, Rodney Sharman, Jocelyn Morlock, Nicole Lizée, Jordan Nobles, Jeffrey Ryan, Farshid Samandari, Marci Rabe, and Emily Doolittle. One half of the flute/piano duo Tiresias with Mark McGregor, Rachel has also collaborated with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Judith Forst, Heather Pawsey, the Bozzini Quartet, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, and Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. 

Her interdisciplinary adventures have led to work with photo-based artist SD Holman, playwright/director David Bloom, choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, and multi-media provocateur Paul Wong. Rachel’s debut CD, Cosmophony, has been praised as “brilliant” and “unforgettable”
(Vancouver Sun) and for “the passion, intensity and the nuanced playing she’s acclaimed for… she manages to instill a sense of dynamic tension and pull to every note” (The Province). Rachel was a co-founder of the Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver, recognized as one of the top 5 festivals of its kind worldwide.

Nancy Tam, Composer 

Nancy Tam is a sound artist who uses sound and performance as primary media to making interdisciplinary performances. She has composed with the Toronto based Toy Piano Composers collective since its inception in 2008. Her compositions and performances have toured in Germany, Denmark, the U.S. and throughout Canada. As a performance maker, Nancy works closely with Fight With A Stick performance company with whom she devised and collaborated on the Critic’s Choice Award winning show  Revolutions in 2017. At present, Nancy is focused on creating work with her performance collective A Wake of Vultures in Vancouver.

Hildegard Westerkamp, Composer 

Hildegard Westerkamp has spoken on topics of listening, environmental sound and acoustic ecology and has conducted soundscape workshops internationally. Her compositional work draws attention to the act of listening itself and to the inner, hidden spaces of the environment we inhabit. 

She was born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1946 and emigrated to Canada in 1968. After completing her music studies at UBC in the early seventies she joined the World Soundscape Project under the  direction of R. Murray Schafer at SFU. Her involvement with this project not only activated deep concerns about noise and the general state of the acoustic environment in her, but it also changed her ways of thinking about music, listening and soundmaking. Vancouver Co-operative Radio — founded during the same time — provided an invaluable opportunity to learn much about broadcasting, and ultimately enabled her to produce and host her weekly program Soundwalking in 1978/79. 

One could say that her career in soundscape composition and acoustic ecology emerged from these two pivotal experiences and found support in the cultural and political vibrancy of Vancouver at that time. In addition, composers such as John Cage and Pauline Oliveros have had a significant influence on her work.

While completing her Master’s Thesis in the 1980s, entitled Listening and Soundmaking — A Study of Music-as-Environment, she also taught courses in Acoustic Communication at SFU together with colleague Barry Truax. In 1993 she was instrumental in helping found the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (www.wfae.net), an international network of affiliated organizations and individuals who share a common concern for the state of the world’s soundscapes. She was chief editor of its journal Soundscape between 2000 and 2012. In 2003 Vancouver New Music (VNM) invited her to coordinate and lead public soundwalks as part of its yearly concert season. This in turn inspired the creation of The Vancouver Soundwalk Collective, whose members are continuing the work on a regular basis. For some years now she has mentored a variety of younger composers, sound designers, soundwalk leaders and people pursuing careers in soundscape studies and acoustic ecology. 

As a composer she has worked with writers Norbert Ruebsaat and Sharon Thesen, with photographer Florence Debeugny, and collaborated more recently with composer and recorder player Terri Hron on their composition Beads of Time Sounding and with pianist Rachel Iwaasa on Klavierklang, which was premiered at ISCM’s World Music Days in Vancouver, November 2017. Some of her compositional work appears in US filmmaker Gus van Sant’s Elephant and Last Days and Canadian filmmaker Nettie Wild’s Koneline, Our Land Beautiful. For an extensive exploration into her compositional work see Andra McCartney’s Sounding Places: Situated Conversations through the Soundscape Work of Hildegard Westerkamp, York University, Toronto, 1999. For more up-to-date information of her compositions and writings, see http://www.hildegardwesterkamp.ca.

Finally you may enjoy listening to the recent CBC IDEAS program: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/how-opening-our-ears-can-open-our-minds-hildegard-westerkamp-1.3962163