Westerkamp b. (Osnabrück, Germany, 1946)
Hildegard Westerkamp emigrated to Canada in 1968 and gave birth to her
daughter in 1977. After completing her music studies in the early seventies
her ears were drawn beyond music to the acoustic environment as a broader
cultural context or place for intense listening. Whether as a composer,
educator, or radio artist most of her work since the mid- seventies has
centred around environmental sound and acoustic ecology.
She has taught courses in Acoustic Communication
at Simon Fraser University (1981-1991) in Vancouver (BC) and [is giving
lectures and] conducting soundscape workshops internationally. She
is a founding member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE,
1993) and was the editor of The Soundscape Newsletter between 1991
and 1995 [and is now on the editorial committee of SoundscapeThe
Journal of Acoustic Ecology, a new publication of the WFAE.
[Her compositions have been performed and broadcast in many parts of
the world.] The majority of her compositions deal with aspects of the
acoustic environment: with urban, rural or wilderness soundscapes, with
the voices of children, men and women, with noise or silence, music and
media sounds, or with the sounds of different cultures, and so on. She
has composed film soundtracks, sound documents for radio and has produced
and hosted radio programs such as Soundwalking and Musica Nova on Vancouver
In a number of compositions she has combined
her treatment of environmental sounds extensively with the poetry of
Canadian writer Norbert Ruebsaat. More recently she has written her
own texts for a series of performance pieces for spoken text and tape.
In addition to her electroacoustic compositions, she has created pieces
for specific sites, such as the Harbour
Symphony (1986) and École polytechnique (1990). In pieces like
Visiting India, she explores the deeper implications of transferring
environmental sounds from a foreign place into the North American context
of electroacoustic composition and audio art culture. [Most recently
she collaboarated with her Indian colleagues Mona Madan, Savinder Anand,
and Veena Sharma on a sound installation in New Delhi entitled Nadaan
Experience in Sound, sponsored by the New Delhi Goethe Institut (Max
Mueller Bhavan) and the Indira Ghandi National Centre for the Arts.
By focusing the ears attention to details both familiar and foreign
in the acoustic environment, Hildegard Westerkamp draws attention to
the inner, hidden spaces of the environment we inhabit. On the edge between
real and processed sounds she creates sonic journeys in her compositions
that reveal both the contradictions and visions of beauty in todays
Sound surrounds us. We are sound inside and
we resonate with the soundscape even if we are not listening. Hildegard
Westerkamp is sensitive to soundscape. She ably shapes fanciful, imaginative
music from her recordings, mixing and transformations of the soundscape.
Westerkamp creates new possibilities for listening. One can journey
with her sound to inner landscapes and find unexplored openings in
our sound souls. The experience of her music vibrates the potential
for change. Her compositions invite interactiona
chance to awaken to ones own creativity. One can transform through
listening as she has. In the music and soundscapes of Westerkamp we feel
memory and imagination as we hear through to the future.
Pauline Oliveros, Kingston (NY, USA),
I feel that sounds have their own integrity
and need to be treated with a great deal of care and respect. Why would
I process a crickets
voice but not my daughters? If the cricket had come from my own
garden, had a name and would talk to me every day, would I still be able
to transform it in the studio? Would I need to?
The moment of recording the cricket in the Zone
of Silence (a desert region in North Eastern Mexico) had been a magical
moment (see Cricket Voices note). So, studio manipulation of the sound
seemed somehow inappropriate. Its transformation into a composition had
to become a new sonic journey of discovery to retain the level of magic
first experienced. I remember when I had to say Stop to electroacoustic
experimentation: the cricket was in danger of being obliterated.
Same experience with the raven in Beneath the
Forest Floor. Slowed down, it reminded me of a westcoast Native Indian
drum. By sampling a small portion of the slowed down ravens cry, I tried to make it beat
with a regular drumbeat. But it simply wouldnt let me. It kept
turning into a drum machine. It took a whole day to fly off into electronic
before returning to the original raven call, finally really hearing it
and letting it be what it was in the first place: a sound reminiscent
of the drum.
On the other hand I was ruthless with the truck brakes in A Walk through
the City. I processed them until they were unrecognizable: by filtering
out all the low frequencies from the surrounding traffic, I managed to
extract pure-pitched sounds, mixed them with each other into chords that
ended up giving the composition a melancholic undertone, most unexpected
from such a screechy, ear-piercing sound source.
I hear the soundscape as a language with which
places and societies express themselves. In the face of rampant noise
pollution, I want to be understanding and caring of this language and how it is spoken.
I compose with any sound that the environment offers to the microphone,
just as a writer works with all the words that a language provides. It
is in the specific ways in which the language is selected, organized
and processed that composition occurs.
I like to use the microphone the way photographers often use the camera,
searching for images, using the zoom to discover what the human eye alone
cannot see. I like to position the microphone very close to the tiny,
quiet and complex sounds of nature, then amplify and highlight them for
radio or any other electro-acoustic medium: to make them audible to the
numbed urban ear. Perhaps in that way these natural sounds can be understood
as occupying an important place in the soundscape and warrant respect
I like walking the edge between the real sound
and the processed sound. On the one hand I want the listener to recognize
the source, and thus want to establish a sense of place. But on the
other hand I am also fascinated with the processing of sound in the
studio and making its source essentially unrecognizable. This allows
me as a composer to explore the sounds
musical/acoustic potential in depth.
But I abstract an original sound only to a certain
degree and am not actually interested in blurring its original clarity.
I transform sound in order to highlight its original contours and meanings,
similar to the manner in which a caricaturist sharpens the contours
and our perception of a persons face.
These compositions are now on this disc, an
altogether abstract place, far away from the places in which the sounds
originated. They now may have to put up with bad playback equipment
and noisy living rooms, with car radios or distracted ears. A forest
piece in an apartment by a freeway
can it draw the listener back into the forest? An urban piece in quiet
is it necessary?
Hildegard Westerkamp, Vancouver, August
Recordings for the live portions of this CD
(Kits Beach Soundwalk and Fantasie for Horns II) as well as the final
mix for Kits Beach Soundwalk were done at Ireme Studio in Surrey (BC),
the studio of Canadian composer Sergio Barroso. I would like to thank
Sergio and Michael Maguire for lending their experienced ears to this
process. The final mix for Fantasie for Horns II was done at the composers
own studio Inside the Soundscape.
text: Norbert Ruebsaat
A Walk through the City is an urban environmental
composition based on Norbert Ruebsaats poem of the same name. It takes the listener
into a specific urban location Vancouvers Skid Row areawith
its sounds and languages. Traffic, carhorns, brakes, sirens, aircraft,
construction, pinball machines, the throb of trains, human voices, a
poem, are its musical instruments. These sounds are used
partly as they occur in reality and partly as sound objects altered in
the studio. A continuous flux is created between the real and imaginary
soundscapes, between recognizable and transformed places, between reality
The poem is spoken by the author and appears throughout the piece, symbolizing
the human presence in the urban soundscape. Its voice interacts with,
comments on, dramatizes, struggles with the sounds and other voices it
encounters in the piece.
A Walk Through the City was realized in 1981
at the Sonic Research Studio at Simon Fraser University and, in its
final stage, at the CBC studios in Vancouver, with the technical assistance
of Gary Heald. The piece was commissioned by and first broadcast on
CBC Radios Two New Hours,
in April, 1981. Many of the sounds were taken from the World Soundscape
Projects environmental tape collection at Simon Fraser University
in Vancouver, including two of the street oldtimers, recorded by my friend
and colleague, the late Howard Broomfield. Some were recorded by myself.
French Horn and tape
Brian GFroerer, French Horn
Fantasie for Horns II was composed in two stages:
the tape part was completed first, in 1978, and was conceived as a
composition in its own right (Fantasie for Horns I, which received
honourable mention at the 1979 International Competition of Electroacoustic
Music in Bourges, France). After the completion of the tape, it seemed
natural to add a live horn part. Besides being environmental in its
choice of sounds, the tape could now become the acoustic environment
for the hornan instrument which,
in turn, has had a long history as a sound signal in many parts of the
The sound sources of the tape part are Canadian
trainhorns, foghorns from both the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts
of Canada, factory and boathorns from Vancouver and surroundings. Additional
sound sources are an alphorn and a creek. Most of the material was
taken from the World Soundscape Projects environmental tape collection
at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver; some of it was recorded by myself.
Listening to the various horns in the collection
was fascinating because of the way their sounds were shaped and modulated
by the surrounding landscape. Some horns would echo only once, others
many times, their sounds slowly fading into the distance. A trainhorns echo was half
a tone lower as the train approached, but the same pitch as it passed.
Each horn acquires its unique sound from the landscape it inhabits. This
strong interaction between these sounds and their environment gave the
inspiration to work with this material. Horn sounds are interesting for
another reasonthey rise above any ambience, even that of large
cities. They are soundmarks that give a place its character and give
us, often subliminally, a sense of place.
The tape part of the piece was realized in 1978 at the Sonic Research
Studio at Simon Fraser University and Fantasie for Horns II was premiered
by James MacDonald in October, 1979 at the Music Gallery in Toronto.
For the present recording two horns were used: a Yamaha 666-V for the
main body of the work, and an Alexander descant horn for the imitation
of the tug-boat horns.
spoken voice and tape
Hildegard Westerkamp, voice
About ten years ago I produced and hosted a radio program on Vancouver
Co-operative Radio called Soundwalking, in which I took the listener
to different locations in and around the city and explored them acoustically.
Kits Beach Soundwalk is a compositional extension of this original idea.
Kitsilano Beachcolloquially called Kits Beach and originally in
native Indian language Khahtsahlanois located in the heart of Vancouver.
In the summer it is crowded with a display of meat salad and
ghetto blasters, indeed light years away from the silence experienced
here not so long ago by the native Indians.
The original recording on which this piece is based was made on a calm
winter morning, when the quiet lapping of the water and the tiny sounds
of barnacles feeding were audible before an acoustic backdrop of the
throbbing city. In this soundwalk composition we leave the city behind
eventually and explore instead the tiny acoustic realm of barnacles,
the world of high frequencies, inner space and dreams.
Kits Beach Soundwalk was realized in 1989 in my own studio Inside the
Soundscape and was premiered in March, 1989 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
To Norbert Ruebsaat
Its 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. Norbert Ruebsaat
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 crickets
night songsung coincidentally very near my microphonebecame
the ideal sound object for this tape 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 soundmaking.
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
Cricket Voice was completed at my own studio Inside the Soundscape with
the assistance of the Canada Council [for the Arts]. It was premiered
in June, 1987 at the Community Arts Council in Vancouver.
Beneath the Forest Floor is composed from sounds
recorded in old-growth forests on British Columbias westcoast. It moves us through the
visible forest, into its shadow world, its spirit; into that
which effects our body, heart and mind when we experience forest.
Most of the sounds for this composition were
recorded in one specific location, the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver
Island. This old-growth rainforest contains some of the tallest known
Sitka spruce in the world and cedar trees that are well over one thousand
years old. Its stillness is enormous, punctuated only occasionally
by the sounds of small songbirds, ravens and jays, squirrels, flies
and mosquitoes. Although the Carmanah Creek is a constant acoustic
presence it never disturbs the peace. Its sound moves in and out of
the forest silence as the trail meanders in and out of clearings near
the creek. A few days in the Carmanah creates deep inner peacetransmitted,
surely, by the trees who have been standing in the same place for hundreds
Beneath the Forest Floor is attempting to provide
a space in time for the experience of such peace. Better still, it
hopes to encourage listeners to visit a place like the Carmanah, half
of which has already been destroyed by clear-cut logging. Aside from
experiencing its huge stillness a visit will also transmit a very real
knowledge of what is lost if these forests disappear: not only the
trees but also an inner space that they transmit to usa sense
of balance and focus, of new energy and life. The inner forest, the
forest in us.
Beneath the Forest Floor was produced in CBCs Advanced Audio Production
Facility in Toronto with the technical assistance of Joanne Anka and
Rod Crocker and was commissioned by CBC Radio for Two New Hours. The
piece was first broadcast on Two New Hours in April, 1992. Thanks to
Norbert Ruebsaat for providing his recordings of an adult raven and a
young raven from the Queen Charlotte Islands. All other recordings were
made by myself mostly in the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island, as
well as in forests near Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island, on Galiano
Island and in Lighthouse Park near Vancouver. All sounds were recorded
throughout the summer of 1991. Thanks to Peter Grant for assisting in
much of the recording process. Special thanks go to David Jaeger, producer
of Two New Hours for making this possible and for giving me the opportunity
to work in the CBC Radio studio in Toronto. Beneath the Forest Floor
received a special mention at Prix Italia 1994 and was recommended for
broadcast by the International Music Councils Rostrum of Electroacoustic
Music in 1992.