5 years ago

Volume 10 Issue 7 - April 2005

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COMPOSER TO Composer HILDEGARD WESTERKAMP INTERVIEWED BY PAUL STEENHUISEN Since her early involvement with the World Soundscape Project in Vancouver, Hildegard Westerkamp has been listening closely to rhe .world around her - working with it, and for it. She is a composer, radio artist, leclllrer, sound ecologist, and adventurer, as well as a pleasure to speak with. This May, she will be in Kitchener for the premiere of Liehes Lied/Love Song at the Open Ears festival. Liebes Lied/Love Song is a collaborative work with composerlimprovisor Anne Boume, and is a meditation on love, using Rilke 's poelly of the same name as one of its sources. I spoke with Hildegard Westerkamp by phone in early January, when the piece was in-progress. STEENHUISEN: If you could hea.r a single sound, of your choice, what would it be today? Vancouver. In many older places, like India or Egypt, and parts of Europe, you can still find these nooks and crannies with quiet, and WESTERKAMP: The silence of perhaps even sacred quiet. the snow, which we have in Vancouver today. STEENHUISEN: If you could remove any sound from the world, what would it be? WESTERKAMP: Motor sounds. STEENHUISEN: For me it would be signal sounds, like cellphones. WESTERKAMP: Yes, there are those types of signals, and there is also the train one, which I love. But I think that the problem with these sounds has to do with the continuous droning of modern society, which doesn't give us access to silence. I don't mind sound stimulation, or loud sounds once in a while, but it has to do with the balance between the absolute silence that we can experience and the energizing stimulation that sound can give. Even muzak, the ongoing music that we hear, is to me like a motor sound. It doesn't allow us to go deeper into a silent state,. STEENHUISEN: In 20 years, what sound of today will be absent? STEENHUISEN: WhaT is the quietest place you've ever been ? WESTERKAMP: Camping in northern BC, around Prince Rupert, but also the Zone of Silence in Northeastern Mexico. I was there with a group of artists for three weeks in the eighties, and that was probably the longest time that I experienced quiet, without any kind of motor sounds. There were no cars, and I heard only two jets during that time. It was called the Zone of Silence because it has a particular magnetic quality that creates places in the area where technology won't function. Batteries will empty, and you can't make photographs or recordings. Acoustically, it is also a very quiet place, but the name stems from the fact that you can't communicate with the outside world if you're in these spots within it. You knew you were going to be completely on your own there, and not disturbed by any form of contemporary life, including the media. The silence from media and commercialism is an incredible rest, and I experienced an incredible WESTERKAMP: I think there will be animal sounds that will be absent, but I wouldn't know specifically alertness there that is very difficult to access in the daily life that we lead now.' which ones. The really morose part of me thinks that the wilderness sounds that we have in Canada will be absent in many more places. I hope there will be enough wilderness left, in the vastness of Canada, to be able to experience it for days on end, but that possibility is shrinking more and more. I'm not saying that we STEENHUISEN: What is the loudest place you've ever been? WESTERKAMP: In terms of decibels, I've been in factories that are excruciatingly loud. I remember going into the bottling section of a brewery here in Vancouver, where the motor noises and the clinking of the glass on the conveyor can't find silent places. I'm ale belt were unbelievably ways astonished in Europe that you can find quiet at night that is much quieter than anything here in noisy. But when it comes to loud sounds in terms of continuous business around you, and the continuous output of sounds that are social sounds, and part of the way the society runs, I would think India is the loudest place I've been. You are constantly barraged there, with something coming from all sides. That could include voices talking to you all the time, people always coming up to you, traffic, car horns, beggars ... life comes at you relentlessly. STEENHUISEN: What drew you • to India? WESTERKAMP: Nothing drew me there, in fact, and I always had a fear of going there, but I was invited by the Goethe Institute to do a soundscape workshdp in New Dehli, and couldn't resist the invitation. I got thrown into an environment that was very foreign to me, and I laugh when I think of it, because it was so extreme. I brought recordings, and sound examples, and my experience in soundscape work and trust in the listening that I do. The Goethe Institute didn't really know what they were getting, either. To me, it was a meeting of resources. I came with what I had, and they came with India, their knowledge of the culture and the city, and I began with that premise, each meeting what the other could bring to it. But it was chaos, from my perspective. The first problem was how we would stay together as a group and meet, because people in India are not really prone to forming groups. They're very individualistic; I would say "creative anarchists". Groups don't really stick together. But they were very engaged in it, and there was a great deal of curiosity about what I was speaking about, because it was very new there. To ask someone in Indian society to listen to daily life their ears to what is going on there is much more of a challenge than I knew at the time. They have an incredible ability to not listen, and focus in on what they need to. They're very strong in terms of listening to their inner voice, and to what is necessary at that moment, rather than listening to the environment around them, because the environment around them is so difficult to listen to. STEENHUISEN: So for Them, not listening was a way of coping with Their environmenr. WESTERKAMP: Yes, and it's a way of focusing in on what's essential. But it's taken me some years to understand this. I now understand why it was so difficult to take them on soundwalks. They would simply not be quiet. In a way it is socially rude to walk through New Delhi as a silent group, and not engage. I'm only now beginning to understand this much more deeply, because I'm doing a lot of soundwalks in different cultural contexts, and it's different in each location. What does it mean to take a group through a different social environment and ask them to listen to their home environment? It's quite complex. Here in Canada there's nothing strange about that, but in other cultures, there is. STEENHUISEN: lsn 't closing off from one's sonic environment the opposite of what your goal is? WESTERKAMP: I'm not sure whether I have a goal in that regard. Over the years, having many international experiences with this, I've become much more humble about what I think is important abOut listening. Initially, when I started with the World Soundscape Project, it was very much an environmental issue to me, a noise pollution issue. We listened to the environment because we wanted to

A T 8 T G I 0 A G I T H I M A R T Y R wholenote at the music gallery! 04/04 nine mondays salon #6 A WILDLY ECLECTIC PROGRAM OF MUSIC PERFORMED BY WHOLENOTE0S CO REVIEWERS, AND HOSTED BY DISCOVER­ IES EDITOR, DAVID OLDS. 8PM, /.' music gallery: april/may 2005 04102 great lake swimmers AMBIENT COUNTRY ROCKERS' CD RELEASE FOR BODIES AND MINDS 04106 melanie trota: new works by alessandra de crescenzo FREE LUNCH MUSIC: FUTURE TRADITIONS @ 12:30PM, FREE. YORK U PIANIST PERFORMS WORKS BY YORK U COMPOSER. friday april 15 emerging convergence the music of andrew staniland + gilles tremblay featuring kristin mueller + gary kulesha THE COMPOSER NOW: COLLABORATIONS SERIES @ 8PM, / STUDENT + SENIOR PRESENTED IN COLLABORATION WITH TWO NEW HOURS ON CBC RADIO TWO Two generations of Canadian composers converge: vocal music by one of Canada's best known veteran composers, Gilles Tremblay. and one of C

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