This post is also available in: French
I was born in Ottawa in 1959. I grew up in the North Bay, Ontario area where I was a pianist, clarinettist, composer, hunter and fisherman. I was introduced to science by my father Maurice, who was a doctor, and to culture by my mother Jeannine, who is an artist. As a result, I developed a passion for both the environment and art, and this has become a focal point of my life.
Let’s start with some recordings of some of my earliest compositions.
I studied clarinet in high school. Here is my first composition for clarinet was Pièce pour clarinette seule (5:30) written in 1976 when I was 16. It was performed by my friend André Moisan whom I met at the Orford Art Center in 1974 and remains a good friend.
I studied composition at Wilfrid Laurier University when I was 17. Canine Aria #1 (5:50) was written in 1978 and was my first electroacoustic composition created with tape loops in the electronic studio at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario under the guidance of Owen Underhill. The piece is based on a recording of our dog Toxo.
Érable rouge (7:40) is my first (and only) choral work, written in 1979 for the North Bay Children’s Choir. The libretto is from the poem Érable rouge by Albert Lozeau. This performance is by the North Bay Children’s Choir with myself at the piano.
I went twice to the Banff Centre for the Arts for a ‘winter residencies’ in 1981-82 and 1993-94. I wrote Plusieurs bonsoirs (8:30) in 1981 for two virtuosos, Stacey Phelps, violin and Philip Bush, piano who were in residence with me in Banff.
Plusieurs bonsoirs refers to our many, naif and idealistic that we were, good nights of music making and exploration of the geographic and cultural territory of the Banff Centre. The piece is about an unfulfilled relationship. Emotions are often strong and fragmented, hiding extreme vulnerabilities…program note
I moved to Montreal in 1982 and travelled for residencies, tours and productions. Among other things, I worked on acoustic ecology projects with composer R. Murray Schafer, who taught me that‘soundscapes are continuous musical compositions.’ I also worked with French composer Luc Ferrari who taught me ‘that it’s about recognizing sounds one above the other and in relation to each other, that is, in layers, and this is learned through the sensitivity that one develops and through consciousness.’
Dans un coin (13:40) for clarinet and tape was composed while I was a Masters student at McGill studying with alcides lanza in 1983.
A form of universal relationship that can grow between any two beings. “Free and Simple – The Excitement Of Discovery – Temptations Abound – Enticing And Seducing – Unsuccessfull Escape. Pensive, The Spirits Attempts To Escape From Within – Accepting – Integrating – Peacefully unifying As One”. Dans un coin was realised at The Electronic Music Studio of McGill University, Montreal in 1982-83 using a Moog analogue synthesizer. The work was premiered at the Printemps Electroacoustique de L’ACREQ in May, 1983 by André Moisan.program note
I wrote Eclogue for an Alpine Meadow (16:00) in 1985 for bass clarinet and trombone. It was one of my first ‘ecological’ pieces. I’m playing bass clarinet. I’ve lost track of the name of the trombonist.
R. Murray Schafer was in Banff for a production of Princess of the Stars on Two Jack Lake. In addition to the Princess production, Robert J. Rosen, Schafer and myself decided to produce a series of ecological radio programs based on music written to be performed and recorded outdoors: nature as acoustic theatre. I was attracted by the intimacy of radio, the dimension of music in nature and by radio as ecology and musicecology.program note
During the 90s, my artistic approach was to listen, record and analyse soundscapes in order to produce electroacoustic and instrumental creations for concert and radio.
Marche sonore I (Soundwalk I) (33:40) is a an example that was written in 1991-92 (revised in 1996). It is a French language radio fantasy based on the testimony of 25 persons about their acoustic environment. It is dedicated my longtime collaborator and friend Hélène Prévost.
Marche sonore 1 is subtitled “the Morning of the World” and you will understand why near the end of the piece. This soundwalk is inspired by the philosophy of acoustic ecology of R. Murray Schafer and the “World Soundscape Project” in Vancouver: respect for the ear and the natural voice, conscience of the symbolism of sounds, knowledge of the rhythms and tempi of natural soundscapes. I asked each participant in the piece to talk about their immediate sonic environment and to share some thoughts about acoustic ecology. I “orchestrated” their answers into an electroacoustic soundwalk in six movements: Allô (Hello), Grenouilles (Frogs), Auto-ville (Car-City), Couches (Layers), Souffle de la terre (Breath of the Earth) and Argument électoral (Electoral Argument). The final mix was realised at Studio 14 of Société Radio-Canada in January 1992 (Hélène Prévost, producer and Alain Bourcier, editing and mixing) and was premiered in April, 1992 on the FM cultural network of Radio-Canada. Marche sonore I was produced with the support of the Media Arts program of the Canada Council, the cultural services division of the Embassy of Canada in Paris and GRAME (Lyon, France) (James Giroudon et Pierre-Alain Jaffrenou, co-artistic directors). The original version of Marche sonore I (40:00) was published in 1992 by Claude Schryer (with graphic design by Jean-François Denis) on the CD “Sound Letter” and was distributed free of charge in 1000 copies. Special thanks to all participants for their generous and precious collaboration.program note
In 1997, I tried to describe my artistic practice in the following way: ‘I want to write electroacoustic novels that use the sound environment as a paramusical language. I want to use wind as a noun, water as a verb and the beep-beep of a truck backing up as an adjective. I want to conjugate noise with the past future and bring the listener to the heart of a sound story, perhaps without words and perhaps even without music…‘
In other words, it was the context of sound that fascinated me back then (and still does today). I’ve always loved what surrounds music: the atmospheres, the noises, the empty spaces, the mistakes, the conversations, the random noises, etc. In essence, most everything except (and this might seem contradictory) the final product in the concert hall (with all due respect to my musician colleagues).
Another example of a work from this ‘soundscape composition’ era is the electroacoustic work Au dernier vivant les biens (To the last living the property) (65:00), written in 1998.
A collection of forty-nine electroacoustic soundscape meditations on spiritual themes that remind us of the fragility of our environment and of the importance of awareness, listening and silence. The work was originally published as ‘Sound Letter II’ is a non-commercial, limited edition CD (1000 copies) that was made available free of charge to subscribers of Musicworks magazine (issue #70) in 1998.program note
I was married to Sabrina Mathews in June, 1998. Our son Riel was born also in January 1998 and our daughter Clara was born in October 2001. Clara now studies earth science and Riel studies history. Sabrina is an artist and arts administrator.
The ‘electroacoustic composition’ chapter of my artistic practice came to an end on August 9, 1999 when I accepted a position at the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa to lead the Inter-Arts Office. I went to be the senior strategic advisor in arts granting from 2016 until my retirement in September 2020.
In 2016, I was ready to return to my artistic practice. I produced www.simplesoundscapes.ca, a series of 3-minute audio and video recordings that explore conscious listening in relation to my Zen practice.
Soundscapes have always been a form of knowledge, pleasure and discovery for me. A way of life. I love the process of recording soundscapes. I feel present moment when I capture a sound or an image. I then follow my creative instincts and produce artistic works from these fragments.
For example, e74 Sky was recorded on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal during the spring of 2018 :
I also produced 3, 57 Minute radio programs during this period for Framework Radio. The first was simplesoundscapes afield, written in 2018. A video version is on YouTube:
The second program was a soundscape composition called Pushing. Hearing. Outwards. (57:00) also written in 2018 (see below). The third was a compilation of soundwalks from the simplesoundscapes collection.
Pushing. Hearing. Outwards. is comprised of 11 sets of 2 overlapping field recordings from the simplesoundscapes.ca collection, each separated by about 15 seconds of silence. Pushing. Hearing. Outwards.(2018) is inspired by indigenous writer Richard Wagamese’s unfinished novel Starlight, notably on page 180, where Wagamese writes: ‘she focused on that tiny point of light and pushed her hearing out through it’. This quote inspired me to explore the idea of pushing the boundaries of our senses through to other dimensions. I suggest that the listener set aside any expectations or judgements when listening to Pushing. Hearing. Outwards. and to open hearing beyond the sounds yourself (and see what happens). Pushing. Hearing. Outwards. is available for streaming and as a free download on http://simplesoundscapes.ca. This work is dedicated to the memory of Richard Wagamese, who passed away in 2017.program note
During this time, I became a student at the Ottawa Zen Centre, under the guidance of Venerable Anzan Hoshin roshi, who taught us that ‘zen is simply a matter of paying attention to our real experiences and our lives as they are’.
The simplesoundscapes chapter of my artistic practice came to an end in July 2019 with a 175th episode. I decide to take a break from my microphone in order to reflect on the climate crisis.
On April 23, 2021, I gave a workshop at the BEAST FeAST 2021: Recalibration festival on Reality, Extinction, Grief and Art. You can see all of the festival presentations here: BEAST YouTube channel. Here is my Powerpoint presentstion:
Thanks to all the artists and participants in these recordings.
Last updated: March 18, 2021