Barry Truax

Chief among the distinguishing characteristics of Truax’s work is a romantic sensibility. Musicworks, Canada

CD (CSR 0101)

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In the press

Island of Contemplation

Darren Copeland, Musicworks, no. 82, December 1, 2001

The title of the disc Islands metaphorically refers to islands of place, event, and community. Many places drift in and out of consciousness over the sixty-three minutes of the CD, with European commuter trains, the Vancouver skytrain, and the Canadian Pacific Railway connecting visitations to idyllic settings of quiet, natural repose. The idea of visiting places in dream-like succession is common to many soundscape compositions, due to the inherent referential qualities of real world sounds — and this CD is no exception.

Chief among the distinguishing characteristics of Truax’s work is a romantic sensibility. Sounds of industry and society are limited to transportation sounds and time signals. Also, there are absent from these soundscapes the perhaps less-desirable sounds of society, such as traffic, factory machinery, and shopping malls. And there is an implied narrative in the sequence of sound environments visited. Train rides lead to restful escapades away from the stress of the workday, an afternoon nap invites a sonic meditation with cicadas and Italian water fountains, and cicadas (again), along with other natural soundscape elements, provide the makings of a magical place of wonder and rest. Truax indeed hears the world through a different aural filter, judging by the makeup of these sound worlds.

The CD also includes Truax’s trademark granular synthesis, through which sounds from the environment are stretched out to over a hundred times their length, while their pitch is preserved. However, unlike its use in his computer music of the late ’80s and early ’90s it occurs here in conjunction with other processing techniques, such as comb filtering (in the composition Islands) and is used with careful discretion. In this case, the lines between artifice and reality blur in the same way that distortions in colour and image in photography create an ambiguity about fact and fiction. However, one can never dismiss the predilections of the artist in rendering reality in an artificial form — which makes me wonder how much our own perception of our everyday acoustic environment strays from objective truth. Although Truax is not presenting everything in the acoustic environment, his choices say something about the role sound plays in our sense of well-being in the world. I think the implicit statement of this CD is that our society is in need of islands of rest and contemplation. Certain sounds from nature present that opportunity, which is missing from a culture with an appetite for information excess and light diversionary entertainment.

Chief among the distinguishing characteristics of Truax’s work is a romantic sensibility.