Claude Schryer

Electroacoustic Music Flourishes: Quebec a Hothouse for Diverse Pool of Styles, Talent

Andrew Jones, The Gazette, June 18, 1994

In the early-music debate currently all the rage in the classical world, learned musicologists are asking themselves how Mozart’s music should sound played on period instruments instead of modern ones.

If we reverse the concept, however, we arrive at an even more interesting question: What would Béla Bartók’s music have sounded like if he had had access to a modern recording studio?

The result would probably sound a lot like electroacoustic music.

Electroacoustic music is an abstract compositional form that was born in the recording studios of France’s national radio network during the 1940s.

Composers like Pierre Schaeffer realized that everyday sounds — a ticking clock, thunderstorms or even crashing Concordes — could be recorded and organized into “music” through tape techniques, in much the same way that Béla Bartók wove the folk music he recorded on wax discs into his own compositions.

Bad reputation

Like Bartók, electroacoustic music is a highly structured, tactile music reflecting the texture and rhythm of everyday sounds in our acoustic environment, only the recording studio is the main instrument rather than the piano or violin. Many of the techniques pioneered in electroacoustic music are commonplace in today’s urban pop music, from the sampling and sound collages of hip-hop DJs like Hank Shocklee to the inventive remixing of dub reggae.

Yet for years electroacoustic music itself has suffered a reputation as New Age’s inner-city cousin: a tedious, chaotic collision of found sound and synthesizer squawking that did no more to put our acoustic environment into perspective than a ride uptown on the subway.

Alain Thibault is trying to change all that. A composer in his own right, Thibault is also artistic director of Quebec’s flagship electroacoustic organization, the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), which celebrates 15 years at the vanguard of new music exploration tomorrow at Redpath Hall.

The 37-year-old Quebec City native believes that to reach new audiences, electroacoustic music needs to come out of the studio.

”I have no interest in being a purist,” says Thibault. “More and more we see a crossover between musical genres, and what I’ve been trying to do with ACREQ is get electroacoustic music out of the contemporary music closet. I want to make it more alive, more accessible, without any artistic compromise.”

With this in mind, Thibault designed ACREQ’s current season as a multi-media affair.

Recital well received

The Dangerous Kitchen, an electroacoustic homage of Frank Zappa’s work that Thibault and Walter Boudreau staged last October, was an unqualified success. Electro Radio Days, broadcast in December, was an intriguing crosscountry checkup of radiophonic art. And there is still a buzz in the air about last month’s well-received recital by the hip Kronos Quartet.

The 15th-anniversary celebrations will feature performances both inside and outside Redpath Hall by a baker’s dozen of Québec composers who got their start with ACREQ, including Yves Daoust, Jean Piché and Bruce Pennycook. Many of the works involve pairing a live performer, such as a guitarist, pianist, harmonica player or dancer, with a computer.

”I’m interested in electroacoustic music that involves live performance,” says Thibault. “We now have the technology for extraordinary interaction; the tools are so much more sophisticated. But I don’t believe in putting the performer behind the technology. The lights should be on the performers, not the speakers.”

The wide scope of styles and influences that ACREQ has showcased over the years is a reflection of the diverse pool of electroacoustic talent that has settled in Quebec. While the music has long flourished in Canada, Québec has proven to be its hothouse.

Part of this has to do with the high quality of musical education here. McGill, Université de Montréal and Concordia all have state-of-the-art recording studios and new music departments. On the air, both the English and French CBC support the music through programs such as Brave New Waves, Two New Hours, Musique actuelle, and Chants Magnétiques.

”There is something that is very unique to Québec,” says Jean-François Denis, composer and major domo of empreintes DIGITALes, a record label devoted to the genre. “We take pretentious music out of the concert hall and put it into people’s hands in bars, on the radio, on the street. By doing that it becomes much more accessible. Heard this way, electroacoustic music can be as fun to listen to as musique actuelle.”

Denis has released 16 full-length CDs so far, and his catalogue encompasses composers drawn to both the American and European schools of electroacoustic thought. The former is influenced by technology and minimalism, the latter is more esoteric and dreamlike. The goal ot both schools, however, remains the same: to open our ears to the world of music we often tune out.

Music think tank

“Electroacoustics is an innovative medium,” says composer Claude Schryer of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, a new music think-tank with its headquarters in Montréal.

“It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world. It can tell you how acoustic environments work, how they affect you, how you can improve them, how important silence is.

”The whole spectrum is exciting when you think about it.”

It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world.

National Concert Tour Is Breaking Down Barriers

Eric Dawson, Calgary Herald, March 3, 1991

A former composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts is the driving force behind Canada’s first national concert tour devoted to electroacoustic music.

Ontario-born Claude Schryer, based in Banff during the Centre’s 1981-82 and 1985-86 winter cycles, is leading the three-week, seven-city tour that began last week in Vancouver. Billed as Electro Traces, the tour features music by six composers working wıth computers, synthesizers and other musical instruments.

“This is my life-after-Banff project,” says Schryer. “We wanted to get out an the road and take electroacoustic music to new audiences. It’s important to demystify the medium by making it accesaible and breaking down popular inhibitions toward anything involving electronics.

Is it music or is it technology? More than any other, Schryer says, this is the query that he hears time and again from audiences at such concerts. His aim is to show that it is music — music of quality — that can be made rewarding in concert form.

A grant from the Canada Council made it possible for Schryer and his colleagues Robert Normandeau, Alain Thibault, Daniel Scheidt, Jean-François Denis and Christian Calon to do this on what Schryer calls an ideal manner on a $50.000 budget.

“The budget is tight for a group of nine people and a lot of equipment but it makes it possible to do our job well. We have been able to take along our own sound system, an orchestra of loudspeakers. Without this, we could not begin to do our very best and the music would not be heard as it should be.”

Making electroacoustic music interesting in concert has long been one of the medium’s principal difficulties in reaching a wider public than the tiny newmusic crowd. Electro Traces has been specifically planned to overcome this problem. Works broadcast on the orchestra of loudspeakers are “performed” by a technician in full view.

Other music was chosen specifically for visual and aural variety. Schryer highlighted such “traditional and vısual” presentations as a piano concerto for piano and tape.

Although unable to secure a venue in Calgary for the tour, Schryer believes a CBC broadcast (to be announced) and five available recordings on the empreintes DIGITALes label will succeed in spreading the word for electroacoustic music throughout Canada. Exchanges of artists and information world-wide through an existing network is also building support for the still small but growing Canadian community.

“It all takes time,” Schryer says. “It took us time to convince the Canada Council, for instance that a tour of this kind was important. When they finally agreed, it was a real breakthrough for electroacoustic musicians in this country. We have always had support from some areas — especially from the Banff Centre, which is unique in degree of support it has given us.”

But now is the time to build an audience and change a few minds about the merits of the medium. To date, Schryer says, the tour has met all his expectations: the general response has been good audience members have been especially keen to speak with the touring musicians and clear up any misconceptions they have.

“Our message is getting through.”

‘Cinema of the Ear’ In New Techno-Sound

Roger Levesque, The Edmonton Journal, February 27, 1991

Picture yourself out on a brisk walk through pastoral surroundings, maybe in the city’s river valley. It’s that special twilight time at dawn when everything seems very still and quiet, save for your own lungs breathing rhythmically in and out, and the counterpoint of falling footsteps on a gravel path. Suddenly a distant tone catches the ear. It could be the blunt horn of a diesel locomotive or the call of a lonely animal, mechanical or organic in origin.

Then imagine all the stark atmospheric intensity of the experience magically crystallizing in sound.

Claude Schryer might call it a “cinema of the ear,” just one of the creative options he and a growing body of composers are working with in the field of “electroacoustic” music.

That term denotes a certain artistic intent to create within the confines of electronic technology and the studio using both acoustic, electronic and “found” or sampled sources of environmental sound. It’s a weirdly technical method used to shape natural soundscapes, often inspired by common every day experience, and it can be very subtly effective.

Schryer and his colleague Jean-Francois Denis are two Montréal musicians, both classically trained to begin with, who have been helping to further the electroacoustic movement in Canada.

They’re currently on a threeweek cross-country tour of major centres with four other like-minded composer-musicians. Called Electro Traces, the tour uses fresh sonic palettes and new means of manipulating the space in which we hear.

Wednesday afternoon, Schryer and composer Daniel Scheidt (Edmonton-born, now living in Vancouver) host a workshop/performance in Convocation Hall at the University of Alberta.

As Schryer plays clarinet, Scheidt will man a computer sound console that’s set to interact with the immediate sonic environment.

Just last year, Schryer and Denis formed the independent record label empreintes DIGITALes (digital imprints) with the intent of putting more electroacoustic music and musicians on the map.

The first four compact disc releases issued over the past six months use an amazing array of sources to pique the listener’s awareness, pushing at the conventions of what music is all about. Certainly it’s not the first time experimental music has made it to disc, but along with the tour, it does involve one of the most ambitious, carefully produced ventures in the field.

Three solo projects by Christian Calon, Robert Normandeau and Alain Thibault head the roster, along with a special compilation, Électro clips.

As that title implies, the producers wanted short musical pieces that might help the listener envision a series of sonic images, like film clips. Twenty-five electroacoustic artists from Canada the United States and Mexico were asked to submit works of about three minutes duration, a time set deliberately to challenge the notion of the pop single.

The resulting 75-minute disc presents what must be one of the finest overviews of the medium aviilable. Twenty-five black-and-white inserts by photographer Joanne Tremblay accompany the disc, matched with background notes on the artists and music for a beautifuL intriguing release.

Schryer stresses that while better technology has expanded the possibilities, the artist mustn’t lose his or her soul in the machine, but master the tools.

“The most interesting electroacoustic artists are the ones who are able to go beyond the technology and — like any interesting artistic medium — say something in a universal way.”

The future of the music remains to be seen. Schryer agrees that tbe increasingly sophisticated use of sounds and effects in various broadcast media is helping to make the public more receptive to different ways of seeing through sounds, but don’t expect to find his releases on the Billboard pop charts anytime soon.

Do try them out if you’re looking for a stimulating new sonic perspective on the world around you.

Un orchestre de haut-parleurs

Karine Beaudette, La Liberté, February 21, 1991

Pour ceux qui cherchent une expérience musicale hors de l’ordinaire, la Plug-In Gallery et le Centre culturel franco-manitobain vous donnent rendez-vous le 1er mars à 19h30 à la salle Jean-Paul-Aubry (CCFM) pour écouter de la musique électroacoustique.

«De la musique électroacoustique, c’est de la création sonore artistique avec appui technologique,» décrit Claude Schryer, un des six compositeurs-diffuseurs et interprètes qui seront à Saint-Boniface.

Le groupe de six entreprend la tournée pancanadienne Traces électro, pour promouvoir cinq disques de l’étiquette empreintes DIGITALes, la seule compagnie qui enregistre sur disques compacts de la musique électroacoustique.

Les compositeurs profitent aussi de la tournée pour promouvoir le médium peu connu de la musique électroacoustique, même si ce genre existe depuis 40 ans environ. «A Montréal et à Vancouver, il y beaucoup d’activité dans le domaine, mais dans le reste du Canada, c’est encore en évolution. Suite au concert, les artistes seront disponibles pour répondre aux questions.»

Les organisateurs de Traces électro emmènent avec eux en tournée un orchestre de huit haut-parleurs. Ces boites de son seront placées séparément dans la salle de concert pour permettre la spatialisation des sons. Cette technique se nomme «acousmatique» et offre une troisième dimension aux œuvres.

En plus des haut-parleurs, les musiciens seront là avec leurs instruments respectifs. «Par exemple, je suis clarinettiste et je vais interpréter une pièce pour clarinette et ordinateur. Un autre va jouer une pièce pour piano et bande, ou encore pour voix et ordinateur» ajoute Claude Schryer.

Selon lui, le concert attire ceux qui aiment la musique de concert contemporaine et la musique expérimentale.