La boutique électroacoustique

Artistes Paul Dolden

Paul Dolden commence sa carrière à l’âge de 16 ans comme guitariste électrique, violoniste et violoncelliste professionnels. Inspiré par les possibilités créatives inhérentes aux technologies d’enregistrement, Paul Dolden se tourne vers des modes contemporains de production et de diffusion dans sa démarche artistique. À 29 ans, il remporte le premier d’une vingtaine de prix internationaux qui l’établissent comme compositeur. La musique de Dolden a reçu et continue de recevoir d’un large public, tant en Europe qu’en Amérique du Nord, un accueil enthousiaste.

Tout au long d’une carrière s’étendant sur plus de 30 ans, Paul Dolden a perfectionné une démarche artistique unique utilisant la technologie audio comme plate-forme pour lancer ou capturer des performances musicales autrement insaisissables. De cette façon, il fait de son ordinateur un orchestre virtuel qu’il manipule avec autant de sensibilité que s’il s’agissait d’un orchestre traditionnel. Ses compositions sont caractérisées par une esthétique maximale dans laquelle des centaines d’enregistrements numériques de performances instrumentales et vocales sont combinées en couches multiples.

La musique de Paul Dolden a été décrite comme le «chaînon manquant» entre le jazz, le rock et le grand concert traditionnel. Certains critiques l’ont appelée «musique de l’ère informatique combinant bruit, complexité et beauté dans une quête de l’excès», d’autres d’«hypermodernisme apocalyptique».

Les premières œuvres employaient une approche unifiée de variations de timbres et d’harmonies. Sous l’influence du postmodernisme, Paul Dolden a par la suite inclus une juxtaposition et une surimposition de styles musicaux hétérogènes comme en témoigne les œuvres du Resonance Cycle (Cycle résonance, 1992-96). Travaillant toujours à se surpasser, Dolden a intensément poursuivi au cours des dernières années, dans le Twilight Cycle (Cycle de la nébuleuse crépusculaire), l’investigation des fruits défendus de la nouvelle musique contemporaine: la mélodie et les rythmes de danse.


Paul Dolden

Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), 1956

Résidence: Val-Morin (Québec)

  • Compositeur

Sur le web

Paul Dolden, photo: David Strong, Montréal (Québec), 2006

Œuvres choisies

Parutions principales

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 17143 / 2017
Starkland / ST 220 / 2014
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0577 / 2005
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0317 / 2003
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0318 / 2003
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0369 / 2003


No Type / IMNT 0715 / 2007
Earsay / ES 05001 / 2005
Artistes divers
productions indépendantes / MID 1992 / 1992


Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0050 / 2000
  • Épuisé
Artistes divers
Starkland / ST 2010 / 2000
  • Hors-catalogue
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9917/18 / 1999
  • Réédité
Artistes divers
Asphodel / ASP 0966 / 1995
  • Épuisé
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9417/18 / 1994
  • Réédité
Artistes divers
CEC-PeP / CEC 92CD / 1992
  • Épuisé
J&W / JETW 931 / 1992
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
Radio-Canada / ACM 37 / 1990
  • Épuisé
Tronia Discs / TRD 0190 / 1990
  • Épuisé
Artistes divers
Mnémosyne musique média / LDC 278046-47 /
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
Mnémosyne musique média / LDC 278051-52 /
  • Hors-catalogue

Publications web

No Type: Annexe / NTA 003 / 2003
  • Disponible

La presse en parle

Beyond Postcards from the Concert Hall: A Written Exchange with Paul Dolden

Jeremy Owen Turner, Musicworks, no 96, vendredi 1 septembre 2006

Paul Dolden is known for his explorations of post-production techniques, striving to create a wholly new concept of the recording. Going well beyond a memoir of the concert hall, he explores the potential of the recording as a piece of art in and of itself. His electroacoustic pieces are in fact meticulously notated, massively multi-tracked compositions of acoustic instruments, with parts numbering in the hundreds — creating the paradox of acoustic compositions impossible to perform live. The often hostile reactions that Dolden’s work draws from those in the classical realm highlights the attitude to technology that prevails there. His technological practice and perceived loudness frequently place him at odds with listeners. His earliest album, The Threshold of Deafening Silence, has an almost industrial tolerance for perceptual loudness. More squeamish listeners usually found his earlier artistic expression to be overwhelmingly abrasive, confrontational, and alien. Many wondered if this was deliberate.

I corresponded with Paul via e-mail about his artistic practice; his experiments with alternative tunings and his surprise return to equal temperament; the role of technology, philosophy, aesthetics, and culture in music; and his own compositional aspirations.

Paul Dolden: Ninety-eight per cent of the music that people hear, they hear through loudspeakers, without the presence of live performers; yet music continues to identify itself as a performing art. Classical musicremains almost hostile towards technology. Its practitioners think it will put them out of work and/or ruin their “authentic” acoustic concert-hall sound. Yet DJs and rock and jazz musicians have proven that the medium can be used to create interest in their live performances, and to expand the technical possibilities of musical instruments. They understand and manipulate the recorded medium in order to get their point across. Note that these are the most popular musics.

The most important musical revolution of the twentieth century was not serialism, minimalism, or new complexity, but the introduction of technology into every form of music making and consumption. Technology has completely changed the social and economic situation of the musician.

My own work springs from a desire to make recordings that are more than postcards from the concert hall. I am interested in using technology to create music that we cannot perform live, and that we can barely imagine when performance is the criterion for diffusion.

I want to create recordings that are inexhaustible for the listener. The density, the number of musical and audio parameters that are being constantly adjusted, allow for hearing the recording repeatedly, and with each listening new musical relationships emerge.

The published audio work — the recording — becomes the final artistic statement. The recording becomes the art object rather than simply a documentation of a performance or an advertisement for a band. In this sense, it is the recording as an art object that now contains the “authentic” experience.

One significant advantage to creatively transforming the recording process from performance document to a stand-alone artwork is that it allows instrumental events to coexist in a way that could not be possible in the real world. If we also appreciate the recording itself as a discrete art form worth our aesthetic attention, we could learn to reawaken our hearing and musical sensibility and be able to transcend our stereotypes of what constitutes a live experience.

For example, one soft flute part played romantically could, through mixing in a recording studio, become louder in the mix than forty microtonal screaming trumpets played in a free-jazz style. This is very simple to do and it is only the beginning. The reason for producing recordings that have the widest possible orchestration is because such a possibility exists for the first time, and we are no longer confined to using the recording medium to represent one configuration of sound sources in one imaginary space.

Recordings that replicate concerts typically set up an imaginary proscenium arch in which the focal point is static. The listener is presented with a number of sound sources that more or less evoke a real-world performance.

My mixed pieces are often disorientating for the chamber music lover because I destroy the transparency and intimacy of chamber music by using dense, large sounds. For the musicians, the works can be disturbing because they involve redefining many musical relationships. The type of recordings I have been trying to produce has upset the listener’s passive concert-hall relationship by constantly changing soundfocus, depth, density, sound sources, and music style, while maintaining a cohesive musical experience.

Jeremy Turner: Given your advocacy of the mediating role of technology in music, why do you still write works for live instruments and tape?

Paul Dolden: I love working with musicians, and audiences want to see something when they go to a concert. Concert-hall writing is a continuation of my studio practice. If I am writing for a dark-sounding instrument such as bass flute, viola, or bassoon, I will produce the tape part so the live element cuts through. Therefore, one can finally hear a driving bass-flute part with a taped accompaniment, produced for the needs of the soloist’s sound, performed by three heavy-metal rhythm sections—that’s three of everything: electric bass, distorted rhythm guitar, and drums.

This is not an original idea, and is no different from a singer whispering, “I love your post-production techniques” over thrashing guitars, bass, and drums. What becomes more surreal in my mixed works is the different types of sonic and musical worlds, and how quickly I can transform these worlds. I should also add that my live parts are generally written for the live musicians to show off their skills. Perhaps it is my years spent as a jazz musician, but I still feel audiences like to be wowed by live musicians.

Most groups have spent a great deal of time developing an ensemble sound. In my mixed works, I am asking the musicians if I can join their band in the form of a tape part. They must now develop a playing strategy and relationship with this new member. On the bright side, this new member will always be in tune, on time, and will not talk back.

Jeremy Turner: Besides density, you have a preoccupation with polyrhythms and new tuning systems.

Paul Dolden: My preoccupation with these musical concerns evolved out of a search for a musical language that would accommodate several hundred simultaneous musical parts.

In dense romantic music, such as Mahler’s Symphony of 1000 or Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, there are hundreds of performers, but the music is largely four-part writing with extensive doublings. Between 1955 and 1965, there emerged two writing techniques in which the standard sixtypiece orchestra started playing sixty different musical parts (Ligeti’s micropolyphony and Xenakis’ stochastic music). However, I would argue that a sixty-piece orchestra is not large enough to demonstrate stochastic behaviour, and that four hundred or more parts are needed to reach musical entropy.

The possibility of highly articulated, transparent micropolyphonic music is reduced when forty of the sixty instruments are of the same string timbre. By contrast, almost all of my scores use simultaneously fifty to one hundred different musical instruments, each of which contributes four to eight tracks. Micropolyphonic clarity is increased when each instrument has a unique attack, timbre, resonant structure, etc. My virtual orchestra may be the world’s largest orchestra, but the arco strings are usually sixteen of the 400 tracks, or four per cent of the total sound, rather than sixty per cent of the sound.

After establishing my approach to orchestration, I realized that in order to have 400 unique musical lines, I needed more than twelve notes per octave. To further increase clarity, I needed blocks of sound to be moving at very distinct velocities, or the use of large, primary-number-based polyrhythms. At this point I realized I was producing a music that could only be created in the recording studio, one part at a time.

To answer your question about new tuning systems: between 1980 and 1993, I only used microtonal tuning systems that I myself developed for each piece. From 1993 to 2003, I wrote in equal temperament, and have now returned to writing microtonal music. From the beginning, I rejected the idea that every note has an exact frequency. What about all the frequencies between each of our existing notes and new combinations of vibrations? In addition, I have been creating works in which a new tuning system is used every minute, and sometimes I use multiple tuning systems at the same time—once again using the recording studio to create a music that could never be realized in real time.

To this day, I am struck by dissonant contemporary music that limits itself to equal temperament. Equal temperament was developed over hundreds of years in order to modulate triadic harmonies through different keys. The dissonance this system gives is a by-product of this system, and represents less than one per cent of all possible dissonances.

Moving on to rhythmic organization, we must remember that Western musicians cannot perform polyrhythms more complicated than five against four. By contrast, I will have, say, three different parts each playing fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen notes in the same time period, creating a perfect 17:16:15 polyrhythm.

Many score pages can include forty different tempi with each tempo driving five to twenty parts. Sometimes, bar lines between all the parts only line up every twenty seconds. This is clearly beyond the abilities of any conductor. Rhythmic accuracy is maintained in my work by using separate click tracks for each level of velocity. The result is a form of counterpoint through polyrhythms.

I should add that these concerns of microtonality and polyrhythms are not emphasized in the music on my new CD, Délires de plaisirs. My musical focus on this CD is melody and modulation in equal temperament, and counterpoint achieved through multiple lines at the same tempo. What a concept! Now I understand what fun composers have been having for the last few hundred years.

Jeremy Turner: Since your work revolves around exploring the potential of recording technology, to what degree do you feel it is important to document your notational processes? Do you still feel a need to connect and communicate your ideas to a musically trained audience?

Paul Dolden: As far as my scores go, this is merely my way of organizing my thoughts. Yes, I do write the scores before I record anything. However, this is because it is impossible to just grab 400 tracks of sound and arrange them on 400 tracks so that they make musical sense. The scores for me are like a script — a set of directions for making the piece. Indeed, it could be argued that my sounds have so much post-production that they no longer resemble the sound descriptions found in the score.

What or who is the musically trained public you refer to in your question? People who are musically trained are working professionals. We no longer have a subculture of amateur musicians who form the basis of our audience. Musicians in training can study my scores. However, no one seems to know the scores exist. For what it is worth, they are at the Canadian Music Centre libraries across Canada.

Jeremy Turner: Many of your works were, and often are, still greeted with hostile reactions in the concert hall. One such audience member might wonder whether you are intentionally trying to disturb people.

Paul Dolden: If I were to place the “Dolden orchestra” of 400 performers in one room, it could get as loud as 200 dBa and you would be instantly deaf. However, I produce recordings in which each person is recorded one at a time. When assembled together, I play it back at normal listening levels. Because of the density and post-production techniques, the music may seem louder than it actually is. The ability to make a recording appear louder than the actual decibel level is the Holy Grail of every commercial music engineer. For example, the kick drum in popular-music recordings sounds like the huge orchestral bass drum, and yet somehow maintains the fast articulation of a normal kick drum. Another sonic illusion is in the recordings of guitar amps that sound twenty feet tall, yet behave like a plucked mandolin. Cutting through both these sounds is the softly whispered lead vocal line, “I love your post-production techniques.”

Jeremy Turner: In your new work, what is your attitude towards romanticism?

Paul Dolden: Romantic music was a reaction to the perceived dryness of baroque music, with its advanced counterpoint puzzles. Therefore, one has to take the entire romantic attitude with a large grain of salt. Romanticism in music also occurs at the same time as the great man, the hero, and the rugged individualist emerge in the popular imagination. Romanticism is a Western movement, focused on Western man. By contrast, we are all part of a living culture that is now global and that transcends time and place, because recordings allow us access to all types of music from different eras. Most of my musical concerns of microtonality and polyrhythms spring from non-Western music that is thousands of years old. I dream of a music that is a musical blend of my entire collection of CDs, from the counterpoint and textural concerns of the modernist composer to the melodic and groove concerns of popular and World music. I find lots of music to explore in the area between romantic, self-indulgent expression and the emotional flatness of modernism, which emphasizes the materials of a work over the individual.

Résumé français: Le compositeur de musique électroacoustique Paul Dolden est bien connu pour ses compositions multipistes aux proportions épiques dépassant de loin les normes établies en matière de technique de performance et de goût. Bien que Dolden se consacre entièrement à ces compositions intenses et complexes depuis vingt-cinq ans, la confusion demeure quant à la façon de catégoriser son travail. Cette confusion ne l’aura toutefois pas empêché de remporter plus d’une vingtaine de distinctions internationales qui l’auront aidé à convaincre bien des gens que ses compositions extroverties occupent une place légitime dans la sphère de la musique nouvelle.

He draws hostility from classical music audiences, but the international awards keep accumulating.


Tom Sekowski, The WholeNote, no 11:1, jeudi 1 septembre 2005

Always a composer who has understood the meaning of density in a work, Paul Dolden returns once again with Délires de plaisirs ([featuring the work] Entropic Twilights).

If you’re wondering if Dolden has softened his edge for the complex multi-dimensional rhythm tracks and computer-generated layers, the answer is a plain, resounding no. The album sees him in full control of his virtual orchestra. Of course, it’s an orchestra on paper only, as his computer is fed the various instrumental parts, which are then neatly (or less neatly – depending on the composer’s mood, I guess) organized into individual tracks. If you thought his other works were dense, wait until you hear the title piece – which comes complete with noisy guitars, altered percussion, some flutes and this thick, thick layer of distortion. All in all, Dolden had to go back and absorb new production techniques in order to come up with the precise sound that he was looking for. We’re talking about relentlessly dense multi-tracking here and the result is absolutely a work of wonder. Just to be able to hear this piece without an opinion is next to impossible. Some may call this a work of a madman. It’s obviously not a work for everyone as the novelty and uniqueness of it may scare the fans of the more conventional. But if you’re looking for something new and challenging, Délires de plaisirs is yet another work of genius from this much misunderstood Canadian composer.

… yet another work of genius from this much misunderstood Canadian composer.

Paul Dolden: le plaisir du son

Guy Marceau, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no 12:2, mercredi 1 juin 2005

Une équation se dessine d’emblée lorsqu’on écoute L’ivresse de la vitesse (1992), une des œuvres de Paul Dolden qui a fait l’unanimité des milieux musicaux contemporains ici et en Europe, et qu’on écoute le volubile compositeur parler de son art. À bientôt 50 ans, avec une propension à l’excès, l’accélération et l’accumulation des plans sonores, Paul Dolden parle aussi vite que la musique qu’il compose, mais ralentit un peu lorsqu’il clame ne pas être un vrai électroacousticien. Comment le situer?

Paul Dolden, né à Vancouver mais vivant à Montréal, a tout du compositeur atypique mais passionné de musique. Très easy going, cheveux longs, relent du freak qu’il était dans les années 70, attitude un peu désinvolte et joyeusement pince-sans-rire, il est surtout très allumé et non élitiste. «Même si on compose la musique à l’aide de machines électroniques et numériques, il faut toujours rester dans le plaisir organique, de la même manière qu’on écoute simplement Led Zeppelin ou Brahms par exemple, explique Paul Dolden. Je ne suis pas un électroacousticien au sens de Robert Normandeau, par exemple, notre travail est très différent. J’aime notamment intégrer à ma musique des instruments acoustiques et des emprunts au rock ou au jazz, des styles que j’ai toujours eu beaucoup de plaisir à écouter. Ma musique parle plus au corps et au cœur qu’à la tête.»

Dolden fait mentir l’adage Less is more. Il excelle dans la surimpression de styles musicaux disparates, «pas pour en faire de bêtes pastiches, précise-t-il, mais bien pour exploiter les grandes beautés de ces musiques dans une orchestration imposante que la machine me permet de réaliser et qu’aucun orchestre ne pourrait jouer. Dans mes œuvres, je peux superposer jusqu’à 400 couches musicales pour créer mes sonorités…» À l’écoute, en effet, sa musique parle à tous nos sens: puissante, obsédante et parfois décadente, toujours hautement chargée et recherchée. Il combine ce souci de l’ordre dans le désordre, l’idée de vitesse dans le contrôle, en exploitant les textures, ryrthmes et sonorités sur l’échelle élastique du temps au profit d’une plasticité des plus incarnées. On pense parfois à Varèse ou Zappa, mais toujours dans un «traitement électronique sensible».


Rockeur dans l’âme, Paul Dolden apprend à 16 ans la guitare électrique, puis le violon et la basse en solo. Il s’est même récemment mis au violoncelle! Las de faire de la scène (rock, jazz) dans des spectacles et avec des groupes à géométrie variable de Vancouver, il se lance dans l’expérimentation électronique au joyeux temps de la technologie analogique. «La nécessité est la mère de toutes les inventions. En cherchant de nouvelles façons de faire ma musique, j’ai découvert toute la quincaillerie électronique des années 70. C’est fou ce qu’on peut faire avec ça! Mais, tout comme maintenant, la machine était un moyen, pas une fin en soi.» Ses bidouillages créatifs font mouche au Canada: dès 1981, Paul Dolden remporte des premiers prix coup sur coup. «Avec ces prix, on me disait entre les lignes que la musique que je composais était ce qui se faisait de mieux au Canada! Alors j’ai continué, pensez-donc!»

Et des prix, il y en aura plus d’une vingtaine d’autres. Presque chaque année, une de ses œuvres reçoit une récompense par ses pairs de l’industrie musicale contemporaine et électroacoustique canadienne. La bonne nouvelle se répand ensuite hors de nos frontières et dès 1984, ses œuvres sont primées en Italie, France, États-Unis, République Tchèque, Suède, Angleterre… Un pied de nez à certains autres compositeurs canadiens, puisqu’il n’a pas le profil académique universitaire requis, mais bien seulement un baccalauréat en histoire générale…

Revisiter ses œuvres

Pour qui voudrait entendre le fruit de sa créativité, l’essentiel de ses enregistrernents figure chez empreintes DIGITALes. Son avant-dernier, Seuil de silences (2003), remportait en janvier dernier le Prix Opus du disque de l’année dans la catégorie Musique actuelle, électroacoustique. L’album réunit des œuvres de 1987 à 1996 où, à la trame numérique, s’ajoute le jeu de trois solistes, Julie-Anne Derome (violon), François Houle (clarinette) et Leslie Wyber (piano). «Il faut savoir qu’avec la venue du numérique, j’ai décidé de remixer toutes mes œuvres… Compte tenu que pour réussir à produire une pièce de 15 minutes, il me faut souvent plus de 50 heures de travail, j’en ai eu au total pour un pou plus de deux ans!» Paul Dolden dit avoir fait ce travail pour rendre justice aux œuvres elles-mêmes, qui devenaient ainsi plus précises, plus efficaces et plus sonores.

Rétrospective en Suède

Après plus de 20 ans de carrière, et quelque 40 œuvres plus tard, la reconnaissance ne s’est pas démentie. À la fin avril, Paul Dolden était l’artiste invité au Borderlines Festival en Suède où l’on présentait une rétrospective de ses œuvres (12 pièces, dont deux créations, en neuf jours). Et l’affiche était prestigieuse: aux côtés de ses œuvres, 12 signées Gyorgy Ligeti, un des importants compositeurs du 20e siècle, Ligeti et Dolden partagent certaines approches et techniques d’écriture, notamment dans la complexité polyrythmique. Dolden était en quelque sorte le porte-parole canadien d’une facette de notre paysage musical contemporain électroacoustique, ce qui visiblement l’enchante. Un projet en chantier? «Toujours! Je travaille présentement sur une installation sonore à grande échelle qui se tiendra l’an prochain pendant un mois à la Galerie Diapason de Manhattan (New York).»

Avril a vu la parution de son dernier disque, Délires de plaisirs, regroupant des œuvres remixées dont Entropic Twilights (1997-2002) pour bande en trois mouvements, The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 (1996) pour flûte et bande, et The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 (1995) pour 10 cordes et bande. Aux atmosphères très prenantes s’ajoutent de larges citations musicales, dans une orgie de références très ludiques. La musique force l’écoute et ne laisse pas indifférent. On peut en écouter des extraits sur le site d’empreintes DIGITALes au

Aux atmosphères très prenantes s’ajoutent de larges citations musicales, dans une orgie de références très ludiques.

Gala des prix Opus 2004

Réjean Beaucage, La Scena Musicale, no 10:6, mardi 1 mars 2005

[…] La musique électroacoustique est également sortie du gala la tête haute, mais ne s’est pas pour autant privée de montrer les dents! En effet, le compositeur Robert Normandeau a utilisé une bonne partie du mot de remerciement qu’il prononçait pour Luigi Ceccarelli, récipiendaire du prix du «concert de l’année - musiques actuelle, électroacoustique», donné dans le cadre de la série Rien à voir (14), organisée par Réseaux, pour apostropher le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec et le nouvel Espace musique de Radio-Canada. Les deux organismes seraient en effet coupables de laisser à eux-mêmes les artistes ayant choisi de s’exprimer par l’électroacoustique, un art dont le Québec est certes l’un des meilleurs représentants à l’échelle mondiale, Normandeau faisant lui-même figure de chef de file dans le domaine. Le «disque de l’année - musiques actuelle, électroacoustique» est allé à Seuil de silences, de Paul Dolden, publié chez empreintes DIGITALes, et le «livre de l’année» est celui de Stéphane Roy, L’analyse des musiques électroacoustiques; Modèles et propositions, publié dans la collection Univers musical chez Harmattan.

La musique électroacoustique est également sortie du gala la tête haute…

Speed Freak

John Keillor, The Wire, no 230, samedi 1 mars 2003

“Electricity has changed everything about music,” declares Canadian electroacoustic composer Paul Dolden, “instrument design, presentation, circulation, etcetera. Even simple amplification completely changes the sound of the music and the way we experience it.” Dolden’s immersion in the electronic age has paid off aesthetically - the freshness of his palette makes listeners reappraise the possibilities of strings and winds. Every timbre he touches seems re-energised.

Dolden once studied in Vancouver, and it was there, at the Arts Club Lounge, that I met him to discuss his extraordinary music, some of which was highlighted in The Wire’s “100 Records That Should Have Set The World On Fire” (issue 175). The disc in question, L’ivresse de la vitesse, was released four years earlier in 1994 on empreintes DIGITALes, and it has just been remastered with the newest and cleanest sounding audio technology. In fact, between 2000-2002, Dolden reformatted his entire catalogue from analogue tape to digital for same label’s 2003 reissue programme. Meanwhile, a disc of all new Dolden material is due out later this year. Evidently his music blooms in the digital age - it certainly flourishes in the clarity of computerised precision. For his part, Dolden refers to his output as ‘recordings’, not ‘works’ or ‘pieces’, as his compositional methods can only be realised in the studio.

Though Dolden is now based in Montréal, he still looks West Coast. Tall and lanky, he wears his hair long and his jeans cut-off short with sandals on his feet, looking more like an environmentalist on call than a maximalist, postmodern electroacoustic composer. Our animated conversation swerves between delineating his artistic influences, musical economy and any number of other topics flying by too fast to accurately record. But it’s a friendly affair, basking in perfect weather and lubricated by microbrewery beer.

L’ivresse de la vitesse (Intoxicated by Speed) is typical of Dolden’s compositional method. It is built up from hundreds of tracks of acoustic instruments that have been extended, reduced and layered. All the parts were originally written out, with click tracks prepared for the performers to work from. By way of treatments, Dolden usually accelerates the musical line to hyperkinetic speeds, pushing them out to non-idiomatic extremes, well beyond human performers’ capabilities. With so many tracks, many subject to compression, reverb and more even as they’re brought into perfect rhythmic alignment, Dolden’s composing style is nothing if not excessively labour-intensive. It takes him at least a month, working about 50 hours per week, to get down just one minute of recorded music. But the pay-off is a lush, bizarre assemblage of tone colours often dovetailing into one another through slippery crescendos and diminuendos at mind-boggling speeds.

Equally unique is Dolden’s handling of stark contrasts between blocks of sound that first infect and then subsume each other in the blink of an eye. An unknowable conquest in sound appears complete, only for the music to wink at you and carry on. The dramatic impact of these chilling events would make Edgar Varèse proud. But Dolden himself might add that his own originality is magnified somewhat by most other contemporary composers’ unwillingness to embrace today’s technology. “I am just a contemporary guy who is using everyday tools to make his music,” he insists. “These tools are part of being a contemporary professional musician everywhere except in the classical music tradition. I cannot remember the last concert I paid admission to where the live musicians were not amplified. Only orchestras and chamber musicians refuse to feel the flow of electricity under their skin.”

Dolden’s handling of mixed chorus is especially effective. His treatments make them sing faster and with greater angularity than is humanly possible; his percussion sections, meanwhile, gleefully transcend the mind’s ability to follow a rhythm, as they’re transformed into a sparkly aural wash. Dolden’s selection of colours is never static. He combines saucepans with brass, didgeridoos with electric guitars and gamelan orchestra, his constantly changing palette scintillating and seemingly limitless. His music is saturated with rhythmic motifs unifying disparate genres and blocks of colour. The completed original piece itself tends to become the springboard for a further series derived from the basic score, invariably accompanied by a soloist. For instance, L’ivresse de la vitesse is the flagship of the Resonance series, the first of which, In a Bed Where the Moon Was Sweating. Resonance #1, features a virtuoso clarinet part floated over ferocious oceans of computer bent percussion. Seconds later, the soloist’s sanguine evocations are back with the patter of an apparently amphetamined-up orchestra, pitched somewhere between the electronic soundworld of Harry Partch’s microtonal Yankee Doodle Fantasy and The Residents’ better recordings, with tiny, understated moments of Maurice Ravel’s orchestral skeins, all flowing effortlessly together.

Though Dolden is open to a multitude of musical forms, he actively dislikes the more academic aspects of electroacoustics, an attitude he shares with a fellow Canadian, the late concert pianist Glenn Gould, who quit the concert stage in 1964 to devote himself exclusively to recording. As early as 1965, Gould began splicing together his own alternative renditions of various classical pieces to achieve his ideal interpretation. For example, he patched two separate takes of the A minor fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier to produce a sound that switches gear from a solemn and legato opening to a skittish and staccato middle section in a way even a player with unsurpassable technique such as Gould wouldn’t have been able to repeat live. Dolden’s music expresses a comparable dissatisfaction with human limitations. “Think of me as a latterday Glenn Gould,” he encourages. “Gould saw the possibilities of the recording studio for achieving his own musical ends, as have I. He gave up live performances in the mid-1960s for recordings only. The same is more or less true of The Beatles, who mostly quit live shows around the same time and instead concentrated on a new kind of recording - the concept album. They, Gould and myself are all taking the live experience further. Whether you are listening to myself, or Gould late in his career, or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or a Massive Attack CD, the thing they have in common is that you are listening to people perform on musical instruments, enhanced by the engineer.”

With his studio-centric methods of composition, problems of speed, dexterity and idiom do not get in his way. But while Gould was a radical conservative, invigorating established music through technological means, Dolden’s recordings are practically unclassifiable. Most ‘maximalism’ rarely, if ever approaches the rigour necessary to encapsulate his music. He is, in essence, a composer for the postmodern age. The eclectic nature of Dolden’s statement summarises his outlook: everything is up for grabs. Preexisting sounds and styles are natural resources for his industry and, being Canadian, he has basically no experience of resources running low.

‘Postmodern’ is promiscuously applied to lots of different music, often as not neither ennobling or illuminating its subject in any meaningful way. Dolden’s music, however, makes clear how postmodern theory can be applied to music. In his recordings, a thrash Metal surge contains as much density and complexity as would a Baroque concerto movement, a World beat jam or a modernist 12-tone episode. His musical postmodernism signifies, in Francis Fukuyama’s widely discredited phrase, the ‘End of History’, wherein all kinds of music are held to be of equal value.

But his soundscapes are first and foremost visceral, where the whooshy click ’n’ cut ambience of so much current electronic music makes more cerebral demands, even as the engineering is often surprisingly shoddy, technically speaking. Dolden’s work, by contrast, is immaculately produced. It’s also brutal like a Mike Tyson uppercut and chic like Andy Warhol’s Studio 54, with just a whiff of sensual corruption. “In the end,” he says, “my music has more to do with rock and jazz and Ligeti or Xenakis than it has to do with what is commonly referred to as ‘electroacoustic music,’ which could be defined as a period of music produced by technology that flourished in France in the 1960s and 1970s and is currently imitated by primarily university teachers throughout the world.” His estimation of popular electronica is comparatively generous. “There’s not much actual music in a track by, say, Autechre, but their production is marvellous.”

Dolden’s music might be comparatively urbane, but it is also restless, hovering defiantly among the categories that threaten to absorb and ossify his creative spirit. This restlessness is inherent in the man himself. He complains constantly about most of the music that fuels his own creative energy. In separate interviews he has asserted that contemporary composition is a dead tradition, and so too are jazz and improvisation. He has nothing good to say about electroacoustic music, and he has referred to rock and dance music as “stupid”. But in essence his battle is with the limitations of categorisation. Categories make him bristle, inducing hyperbolic, even irrational outbursts. Indeed, he sometimes won’t even admit to being a classical composer at all, as that label flies in the face of his postmodern call for ongoing stylistic blurring and fluid aesthetic identity.

Dolden is nonetheless a kind of classical composer, albeit a singular one. His money comes from the usual conservatory sources - from compositional prizes and government funding. Further, his music begins with a written score, and musicians who identify themselves as classical players usually record it. It’s also easy to discuss his recordings with that telltale, classically oriented, benevolent fussiness. “I bitch about a lot of people’s music,” he says. “But I will listen to music for hours on end, every day. I have a huge record collection. It encompasses every imaginable form of music from every part of the world. On the average day I’ll toss on Mahler, Led Zeppelin, jazz and Techno, for instance, and love it all.

“The problem is that I hear the lack of spontaneity in classicai composition, the lack of improvisation in other forms of written music. I wonder why these musical traditions can’t learn from each other? You won’t see the classical crowd at a jazz concert and vice versa, and rock is disdained by all who consider themselves musical artists. I love the strengths in every type of music, such as the power of rock, the unfolding complexity of new or old classical music, the wild spontaneous personal aspect of improvisation, the hypnotic trance aspect of contemporary dance music and many forms of World Music. But then I wonder: why can’t I hear a music that appeals to all these ways of listening and feeling?”

But reconciling the attractive elements of different kinds of music is not the process by which Dolden expends his energy. Rather he recasts various musical styles into spiky relationships that generate a new kind of tension. Observing the broad strokes of his recent output, L’ivresse de la vitesse and the Resonance cycle - each piece featuring one of his colossal tape soundscapes and an accompanying soloist - the emphasis is on a massive textural effect. Tetrachords and simuitaneous tonal centres galvanise the music’s resolve with shifting, glacial harmonic energy, except when the music, molten lava-like, pours through his transpositions and sequences. Other times, these same techniques sound courtly, even gallant in character. It’s all quite a kick in the pants to hear such methods, many of them hundreds of years old, sounding either tempestuous or genteel, within swathes of extreme density and colour. And Dolden never repeats the same musical argument, for he’s no forager through the terminal zones of his own ideas.

After L’ivresse de la vitesse, the next big project was Entropic Twilights and the tangential, self-plundering Twilight series of 1997-2000. Their sound departs from his earlier material in the way individual lines and melodies are emphasised; harmonies take more of a back seat, reduced from 40-plus parts to merely four, giving them more directional power but less density; the canvas is smaller. It’s also sweeter stuff, gentler, shrugging off some of the more forcefully dissonant, maximalistic predilections of his youth. It’s stirring to hear this side of a composer, whose music was once synonymous with overwhelming volume and speed. “The main point is that I am writing pop music-like melodies with contemporary counterpoint and wired harmonies and scales,” he asserts, adding, with a shade of irony, “and most important is that everyone can sing along and tap their feet.”

The melodies are also often funny, with an optimistic or sometimes comically sinister lilt. “I cannot believe that concert audiences never laugh at the obviously ridiculous music moments I set up,” he despairs, “while Joe [Average] hears the humour and gets it immediately! In the Baroque period it was considered impolite for a composer to be ‘serious’ in his or her message. Music of the Romantic period changed that. Contemporary music needs to reacquaint itself with a sense of lightness.” Entropic Twilights has a deceptively simple sound. The second movement, for example, begins with an edgy, portentous pop ambience that resembles the ingredients of a dance track’s pre-beat introduction. But instead of coagulating into funk or an explosion of breakbeats, the opening notes left hanging in the air begin to unfold like a Baroque movement. A regular rhythmic beat starts up below, but it in no way resembles the timbres or patterns of a conventional drum kit. And yet, as the listener reappraises the situation, the displacement of these elements rapidly begins to make sense. Disco melodies, African power drumming and Palestrina-like polyphony come into play, not in a battle for domination but to coincide concurrently.

The new material on the Entropic Twilights disc upholds his reputation of unpredictability and innovation. Purists may bicker, but until they come up with something as flashily insighfful as combining sounds suggestive of both Rachmaninov and The Ramones, Dolden will remain the go-to composer of the 21st century. “I always felt like a kid in the candy store of all the music of the world,” he concludes. Paul Dolden’s CDs are released on empreintes DIGITALes.

Paul Dolden’s lush, bizarre concrete recordings have finally come of age in the speed-soaked digital era.

Portrait: Paul Dolden

François Couture, All-Music Guide, mercredi 1 août 2001

Canadian electroacoustic composer Paul Dolden managed to work from within the musique concrète institutions even though his art should have placed him at its very margin. Known mostly for what has been coined his “esthetics of excess,” he stirred the otherwise very calm waters of the genre with his works for tape in which he piles up hundreds of layers of acoustic instruments. His 2-CD set L’ivresse de la vitesse remains a classic of fin de siècle electroacoustics.

Born in 1956 in Ottawa (Canada), Dolden studied in Vancouver, where he still resides. At first an electric guitarist, cellist and violinist, he toured across Canada and Europe. This hands-on experience with “real” instruments explains his decision to approach tape music without the use of acousmatics. The composer does not use the standard techniques to mold the sounds. He works instead by accumulation, mixing together up to 500 tracks of individually-recorded instruments, in order to obtain the textures he wants. The 1990 Tronia CD The Threshold of Deafening Silence presented his first results and sent an initial shockwave into the academic musique concrète community. L’ivresse de la vitesse (empreintes DIGITALes, 1994), a longer and more conceptualized album, consecrated him as a leading figure in sound art. He was invited to numerous festivals, had residencies at the Groupe de Musique Expérimentale de Bourges in France and the Electronic Music Studio in Sweden, and won an impressive number of awards since his first steps in 1981, including three first prizes at the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (in 1986, 1988 and 1990).

Dolden collaborates regularly with artists of the Vancouver new music scene. He wrote for John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra and helped François Houle for the tape part of his conceptual album Au cœur du litige.

L’ivresse de la vitesse […] consecrated him as a leading figure in sound art.

Densité et classicisme

François Tousignant, Le Devoir, lundi 22 février 1999

Encore une fois vendredi soir, Rien à voir nous en a mis plein les oreilles. L’invité, Paul Dolden, a eu la chance de diffuser trois de ses «classiques», le genre de pièces iconoclastes qui ont fait sa réputation d’enfant terrible de l’électroacoustique. C’était un genre de rétrospective qui force quelques constats. L’extrait du cycle Veils détonne dans le reste de la production. Non pas qu’il s’agisse d’une mauvaise pièce, loin de là, mais parce que le vocabulaire n’y est pas encore abouti —le geste resté mal assuré—, mais parce qu’on y entend trop de gaucheries de réalisation technique. Des coupures trop sèches, des maladresses de montage des petits riens qui, en diffusion en salle, sont magnifiés par la loupe de l’acousmonium.

Beyond the Walls of Jericho a été l’occasion de prendre véritablement conscience de l’originalité de Paul Dolden. Sans redondance académique, on suit bien le travail sur la transformation du son qui ouvre la porte à la composition puis on embarque dans le fabuleux programme de la pièce.

Strate de son sur strate de son, l’espace sonore se remplit avec une telle densité qu’on en est vertigineusement étourdi. Le volume atteint des niveaux assez élevés, tant dans l’épaisseur des couches sonores qu’en termes de décibels sans qu’on soit agressé; on en redemande même, comme d’une sensation physique — caresse à la frontière indéfinissable et si intense entre la jouissance et la douleur — qui drogue.

Ce qui est merveilleux chez Dolden réside dans le fait que, malgré la saturation acoustique, tout reste clair et perceptible, comme dans un grand tutti wagnérien bien dirigé. La gratuité de l’effet s’évacue alors d’elle-même pour ne laisser que l’expression de la sensation. Une belle réussite que va confirmer L’ivresse de la vitesse.

Ici, Dolden ajoute le rythme, cet obsédant martèlement tiré du rock, pour aller plus loin dans l’exploration. Magicien hypnotique, il joue sur des attentes pour mieux détourner l’attention du concret au profit de l’idée. En sortant, on se dit qu’on a entendu là un créateur qui réussit le pari de visser sans appel son auditeur à son siège et lui faire parcourir un trajet aussi senti que vrai.


La soirée consacrée à Francis Dhomont, samedi, fut d’une autre nature. Si on peut reprocher à Dolden une diffusion un peu statique reposant toute sur le poids, celle de Dhomont est d’une lumineuse transparence; le mot perspective prend tout son sens.

La musique de Dhomont joue sur les niveaux psychologiques de perception, l’encodage et le désencodage du «message». Sa sonorisation fait de même, ramenant à l’avant-plan tel objet égaré au lointain ou laissant glisser dans l’évanescence ce qui, à première vue était riche de sens, mais qui ne révèle que le trivial par lequel on entre dans une dimension autre. (Là-dessus la fascination du compositeur à utiliser le mot «chambre» dans ses titres est à la fois guide et symptôme).

On peut regretter deux choses, la première, que le compositeur ait présenté des extraits, ce qui dilue le potentiel expressif des pièces ainsi sorties de leur contexte. La seconde, qu’il ait choisi de diffuser une pièce d’art radiophonique, Simulacres: un autoportrait, qui, si on entend bien qu’il a sa place à la radio, tombe royalement à plat en salle et ennuie sans espoir possible. Il le sentait bien, lui qui s’est presque excusé de l’allure pédagogique que son travail prenait en ce contexte. Cela a malencontreusement entaché toute la joie du concert.

Ceci dit, Dhomont fait ravaler les propos que j’ai tenus précédemment. Oui la forme temporelle médiane peut apporter quelque chose de valable. Sa dernière œuvre, Cosa mentale [titre provisoire de Les moirures du temps], est une magistrale démonstration de maturité. Le cliché n’a pas de sens ici, l’aboutissement des idées, leur mise en forme, prouvent que Dhomont atteint à un classicisme serein où la poésie n’a plus peur de se faire abstraite. Le plaisir du compositeur devant les sons (donc les idées) qu’il manipule laisse entrevoir un bien bel horizon.

Encore une fois vendredi soir, Rien à voir nous en a mis plein les oreilles.

100 Records That Set the World On Fire, While No One Was Listening

Betty Davis, The Wire, no 175, mardi 1 septembre 1998

Canadian electroacoustic composer Dolden champions a ‘theory of excess,’ a belief that the intoxication and seduction of information overload is a desirable condition, one that frees us to perceive the world afresh. L’ivresse de la vitesse compiles nine devastating sonic manifestos to make his point. Several hundred painstakingly scored and multitracked solo acoustic instruments collide to produce a super-dense musical black hole that even Iannis Xenakis would have shied away from. Trying to actually follow the impossible complexity drags you across the event horizon into a world where consciousness survives but meaning has been obliterated. Futile relief comes on a few tracks where virtuoso soloists battle in vain against the taped chaos Nirvana or nihilism? No matter, you can listen to it a thousand times without wanting it to make sense.

[one of the] 100 Records that set the world on fire

Contrasting Noise and Quiet

John Pareles, The New York Times, vendredi 8 mai 1998

Bang Out an Old Soft-Shoe

Kyle Gann, Village Voice, mardi 3 juin 1997

[…] Dolden’s shtick is fantastically complex computer music using samples or orchestral instruments with textures of more than 200 lines at once, so dense that the ear can’t possibly make out individual lines. Admittedly, his The Frenzy of Banging on a Can was a makeshift attempt to work live instruments into his mix, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, for all their hectic virtuosity, pretty muchdisappeared into the taped cacophony, presumably as planned. It was a chaotic mess, but a really interestingly articulated mess, and as with all of Dolden’s music, you had to admit that his mind-boggling computerized detail creates timbres possible in no simple way. The resulting noisefest left some listeners ready to wring his neck, others (like myself) stunned by the pandemonium.

… and as with all of Dolden’s music, you had to admit that his mind-boggling computerized detail creates timbres possible in no simple way.


Hal London, Array Online, no 17:2, dimanche 1 juin 1997

There is so much musical output contained on these two discs that it took me several listenings to come to grips with it all. In the liner notes, Dolden describes his current artistic intentions as involving the “speeding up of an excess of musical ideas so that the composition and its materials exhaust themselves in the shortest time possible”. Most of the works here reflect this principle in different ways. Another perceptual factor in listening to these pieces is the manner in which Dolden intersperses pieces for tape alone with works featuring solo performers backed with material from the solo tape compositions. This approach has the twofold effect of emphasizing hitherto unstressed aspects of the tape pieces and also of blurring to some extent the distinctions between the individual works. These considerations aside, Dolden constantly varies his approach, not hewing to a quick-cut, sound-mass approach to the exclusion of linear development.

Dolden first composes simultaneous lines of music on manuscript paper, then digitally records each line as performed by an acoustic instrument. The parts are then digitally mixed with little or no signal processing. His exclusive use of acoustic instruments is justified by his opinion that electronic synthesis techniques are unable to produce a large palette of convincingly different timbres. A huge palette of acoustic sounds are used tor these pieces, including nearly every orchestral instrument, voices, ethnic and folk instruments, and percussion. And although he does not use signal processing, he occasionally achieves DSP-like effects through ingenious mixing of his sound sources. The mixing often involves overlays of 40 or more tracks, and the massed effects and climaxes achieved are impressive. His use of digital editing is equally responsible for the results, as the pace and mood of the pieces are largely controlled this way.

The title cut and the last work in this collection, both for tape alone, could not be more contrasting. L’ivresse de la vitesse (1992-93), encapsulating as it does the composer’s more recent methods, is an exhilarating outburst of contrasting ideas and styles at a rapid-fire pace. Veils (1984-85) is a halfhour, 3 movement composition which explores a sonic world of subtly shifting timbres, comprising drones on acoustic but ambiguous-sounding origin. After the adjustment is made to the leisurely pace of this piece, it is thoroughly satisfying.

With the exception of these two pieces, I gravitated toward the pieces that featured solo instruments because of the focus they provide. This may be because Dolden does not emphasize spatial placement in these wtirks. Often, the sound struck me as completely up-front and two dimensional. No doubt this is partly because he eschews most signal processing,but the overall sound of the acoustic instruments tends to be a little washed-out. Experimenting with different microphones and preamplification should help — quality of engineering is important when this approach is taken, especially when there is extensive mixing and overlaying. The solo instruments help to impart more of a spatial quality. Revenge of the Repressed. Resonance #2 teatures a performance by cellist Peggy Lee which ranges from fleet passagework to elegiac phrases and extended techniques.

The harpsichord part in Physics of Seduction. Invocation #2 takes on a thunderous and threatening aspect in the hands of Vivienne Spiteri, thanks to Dolden’s multitracking and close-miking techniques. Two pieces feature saxophonist/clarinetist Francois Houle. One of these, In a Bed Where the Moon Was Sweating. Resonance #1, strikes a perfect balance between the virtuostic solo clarinet part (often multitracked with amazing etfect) and the tape part with its echoes (or “resonances”) of preceding events.

Physics of Seduction. Invocation #1 features the composer on electric guitar in a technically adept performance which also makes use of the processed timbres which are the domain of the instrument. Dolden shows a flair for these changes of tone. His performance on guitar here gives further evidence of his mastery of the sonic resources at his disposal.

Hal London is a freelance, part-time composer who divides his time equally between acoustic and electroacoustic music. Dolden’s approach in this respect is of special interest to him.

His performance […] gives further evidence of his mastery of the sonic resources at his disposal.

New-music concert a lively, varied evening

Richard Todd, Ottawa Citizen, jeudi 1 mai 1997

Sonic Boom

Robert Jordan, The Georgia Straight, jeudi 20 mars 1997

[…] Far more engaging was Paul Dolden’s The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5, for flute and piccolo (both excellently played by Chenoa Anderson) accompanied by taped sounds. The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 turned out to be a volte-face for the typically irascible Dolden — it sounded as though he was having fun sending up classical showpiece clichés. This tonal and melodious music is a long way from the noisy, chaotic territory his music usually explores.


Thomas McLennan, Musicworks, no 64, mercredi 1 mai 1996

Paul Dolden has been touted by many critics as one of the most original and innovative musical voices to take us into the next millenium: a fin de siècle artist. With his emphasis on a maximalist æsthetic, he walks a compositional tightrope by combining traditional western music practices with electroacoustic techniques, non-orchestral instruments, and the energy and drive of popular culture.

Dolden has kept in sight the fact that one can be simultaneously entertained and challenged by the conceptualization of a reality never dreamt of before. One is seduced on many levels: by the virtuosic manipulation of musical language; the myriad gestures, colours, and contrasts; the speed; and the vigorous forcefulness of expression. One can be held in a state of rapture in the presence of music of such unreal beauty, but this sphere of existence continues long after the music stops. The voluptuous sound world of Paul Dolden always leaves one motivated to contemplate oneself and the world in novel and fantastical ways.

Since 1981 Dolden has won eighteen national and international awards for composition. These include three first prizes and a Euphonies d’or at the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition in France, and, most recently, Canada’s Jean A Chalmers Award for his composition L’ivresse de la vitesse. His works have appeared on numerous recordings includinq two solo CDs.

Thomas McLennan: What in your mind creates a good performance of a piece for live instruments and tape?

Paul Dolden: First, you must have a good sound system and everyone must know their musical parts extremely well. Beyond this, a richer musical experience happens when the performers know the tape part extremely well and therefore can play in a manner which seems as if they anticipate or lead the tape’s gestures, colours, rhythms, etc. If the live parts are played with this type of savvy, then the difference between the live part and tape seem to disappear and the two components seem to be working together on the same musical goal or idea. I should say that this illusion is possible only when the writing of the live and tape parts relate to each other timbrally, rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically. What is musically boring is if the performers sound like they are just following the tape, or are “slaved” to the tape.

Could you comment on your reuse of materials in the current works of the Resonance cycle for live performer and tape.

The mother piece for the Resonance cycle is the tape piece L’ivresse de la vitesse. All of the works for live instruments and tape in the Resonance cycle at particular moments allude to, or “resonate,” to the mother piece. This self-quotation is intentional and is an attempt to deal with the balancing of old and new information in the musical discourse. Moreover, it becomes a type of musical play or game of recognition, semi-recognition, and non-recognition. This game plays with musical memory which is the basis of musical structure. In the same way, the Walls cycle uses the Walls of Jericho tape pieces as a basis or “resonator” for the soloist and tape cycle entitled the Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3. Therefore, I am usinq the word “cycle” in its historical sense as each of the cycles could be played in their entirety and produce an evening-length work.

Reflect on musical performance as you perceive its importance to musical language and composition.

It is hard for me to imagine not having the experience of being a performer and trying to be a composer. Instrumental and vocal performance is the living history of musical thought and gesture, and to really understand instrumental writing a background in performance is necessary. Also, during a performance, whether it is for six friends in the front room or more than 800 at a professional concert, there is an excitement, an adrenalin rush, and a certain type of concentration that one can understand as a performer. To write utilizing that energy and style of thought will always lead to more interesting music.

In the last two years, performance, for me, has taken two directions. I no longer play other people’s music. I have learned two of my own compositions, one for guitar and tape, and one for violin and tape. This process has informed me of what it’s like to play one of my scores, and what it’s like to be a soloist with a tape accompaniment. The other type of performance I am doing is free improvising on guitar, violin, and cello. For me this is primarily an exploration of sound and gesture that I keep more private because I do not find it musically profound. It is a process to go through in which i enjoy the discovery of combining notes, sounds, and colours wliich sometimes feeds back into my compositional practice.

How do you retain a balance between the individual character of instruments and orchestration with so many tracks? (For example your work with 400 tracks or musical parts occurring simultaneously.)

First of all understanding orchestration, and secondly, engineering. In terms of orchestration, it is important to understand how each instrument sounds in each register, and what happens when different instruments are combined. This goes beyond a textbook knowledge and requires a good aural memory because there are endless permutations. Important aspects of this are knowing which instruments mask which sounds, and which ones fuse with others at particular dynamics and/or ranges.

After one has created a score of notation, this must be translated to a recorded signal which is well produced. For my music, the most important aspects of engineering are: microphone placement during the recording of instruments; submixing (because I do not have a 400 track board to control levels between different members of the orchestra); and panning and equalization. Panning is not used much because each track is a beautifui stereo image using a particular technique of stereo microphone imaging. What is more important is which instrument receives what type of EQ curve to achieve a particular musical sound.

As far as maintaining the individuality of instruments, my work in the ‘80s was primarily concerned with the concept of the fused sound, therefore there was a decreased emphasis on being able to hear a particular line or instrumental colour. Over the last few years I have become more interested in hearing individual lines or groups of lines in the multiplicity of 400 parts.

Could you comment on your present exploration of twelve-tone equal temperament? And, do you see this continuing?

Tuning has been very important in my work. In the ‘80s I was only writing in microtonal systems, many of which I designed myself. I used just intonation and particular microtonal systems which often meant there would be anywhere from thirty to sixty notes per octave, which led to the fused sound of those works. I do find a certain clarity in twelve-tone equal temperament, and in some ways it almost seems sparse after ten years of microtonal work.

The main reason for the return to equal temperament is that all microtonal systems, I discovered, led to a certain type of stasis. It seems that I have, at this level, reinvented the wheel, because equal temperament was designed to facilitate faster moving harmonic rhythm. My music has gradually become more concerned with harmonic rhythm, so that moving to equal temperament has been quite a natural progression.

I find the return to equal temperament makes writing much easier because everything is instantly transposable and invertible. The problem with many microtonal systems is that when a harmony is inverted or transposed many notes have to be slightly adjusted. So I am able to write much faster now. One of the reasons I left twelve-tone equal temperament originally is because all of the intervals are mistuned except the octave, and you hear this particularly with the more consonant intervals.

However, I am primarily writing fast music these years, so you do not really hear the mistunings, because at higher speeds the ear does not have enough time to register this aspect of equal temperament. I am slowly starting to think about how to integrate my current writing with all of the experience I gained in microtonal music. I am trying to envision a type of music that has a very fast moving harmonic rhythm, but also moves through different types of microtonal ideas, and comes back to equal temperament and keeps moving to avoid that whole static aspect of microtonal systems.

You have stated a belief in the revolutionary potential of music lyinq in the transcendental aesthetic experience or moment. Can this moment live on in the listener/society and develop into something beyond itself?I believe that one of the important aspects of successful aesthetic perception is the search for the ecstatic moment: that moment of the loss of self which we also experience during extended drug usage and during sex. In these moments there is a loss of memory of who you are, what you stand for, what/where you are, etc. What is fascinating about these moments is that they allow for new ideas, visions, feelings, and thoughts to emerge. Now, the aesthetic/artistic experience is unique among these three experiences in that it is a completely safe environment, you can never physically harm yourself.

I would like to think this ecstatic aesthetic experience is always goinq on in every culture. Certainly in western culture/society it has a different emphasis in different art forms, and areas of human endeavour, at different times. At present we definitely live in a film culture as people say to me they go to the film to “lose themselves.” For art music right now, most people do not search out these moments. In fact, the most common response we receive is that we tend to confuse people rather than allow for transcendental ecstatic experiences. But this is a larger social problem because the musical languages we are using are currently unrepresented in the media, which is where most people find out about works of music.

Which composers are your major influences now?

Composers who always inspire me, and will probably always inspire me to write, are Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Mahler, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ligeti, and Berio; and Lutoslawski and Xenakis to some extent. After this I have musical flings with different composers at different times that last anywhere from a few months to a few years. Right now I am very fascinated with Brahms, and with contemporary composers Magnus Lindberg, Robert Saxton, and Alfred Schnittke.

How often do you visit historical structures in your music? What are the forms you create yourself?

When you listen/write/perform music all of the time, inevitably you absorb without thinking the historical structures. For instance, we all speak in sentences and paragraphs, which immediately creates a structure in our verbal discourses. Obviously not all structures are equally fascinating or equally great. I think most historical musical structures operate implicitly in my music and I may not even be aware of them. I am, like most composers, more aware of structures that I think are more original, or at least those I had to spend a certain amount of time consciously thinking about.

Recently, I started writing pieces not knowing ahead of time where I am going, whereas before I would compose the structure first. Currently, I consider how much new information do I keep introducing, and how much information previously in the piece will be repeated or reiterated with variations. It is that tension between old and new material, and working it out, that becomes the structural tension I am conscious of when writing. For the listeners, structure is somethinq to hang their hats on, so I am always aware of the tension between when they are beinq completely confused and when they are kept at the edge of their seats in anticipation.

Explain the extensive relationships that exist in your cornpositional language between melody and harmony, and notes and timbre. Also, how do you accomplish syntax in the field of electroacoustics, where the focus traditionally has been on sound collections?

Good music is always about numerous things - notes, counterpoint, melody, harmony, colour, and structure. Electroacoustic theory over the last few years has created a paradigm for discussing music in which syntax, or the language of music, is contrasted with morphology, which is the actual sound type, including anything from the sound of footsteps, to oboes, to the final textural quality of the sound. Traditional electroacoustic theorists have argued that what makes electroacoustic music special is its focus on morphology, while instrumental music is mainly concerned with syntax. I do not find this distinction new or revealing. I am convinced that good composers throughout history have always been aware of the colouristic possibilities of music making, but perhaps did not have all of the terminology for it that is currently at our disposal. I would suggest that we could select very syntactically based composers such as JS Bach and Brian Ferneyhough, and one could listen (as I often do) to these composers morphologically. That is, listen to their music in terms of changing orchestration, colours, and density. Likewise, one can listen to what is considered morphologically based music - for instance, Francis Dhomont or Edgar Varèse - in terms of note movement and organization.

To place myself on this continuum: I have always been interested in a maximalist aesthetic, in creating music that somehow combines everything. In some ways I am always conscious of both syntax and morphology when composing. For me, a fundamental link between syntax and morphology is harmony. If one listens to a great piece of music in a musical way, then one listens both syntactically and morphologically as the two work together; in other words, one listens harmonically. Let me expand. The question asks about the relationship between the melody and harmony. I have always loved harmony, and often when composing I define the harmony and then create the lines for each instrument from that. You do not need a PhD in contemporary music theory to know that harmonies and chords lead to a morphological way of listening. Specifically, chords lead to fused chords, which lead to fused timbres or fused textures. By working with notes and building harmonies of thirty to fifty note chords with their horizontal/melodic implications, I am in fact defining the morphology. In short, the 400 tracks have a predefined morphological sound, which is the sound of the harmony being articulated by all the lines. Seventy to eighty percent of my 400 tracks in any given piece are traditional western orchestral instruments, the remainder being gamelan, hand percussion, drum kits, electric guitar, and voice (but we are used to choral and orchestral mixtures). So I would say that at one level, morphologically speaking, there is nothing new about my music, it is just extended orchestration. In other words, morphological transformations are a minor compositional strategy in my music. Ultimately the perceived motion is created through syntax: large scale variety, contrast, harmonic direction, different types of counterpoint, and instrumental gestures and articulations.

With his emphasis on a maximalist æsthetic, he walks a compositional tightrope…

Canada’s Electroacoustic Success Story

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Words & Music, no 2:7, samedi 1 juillet 1995

Canada is famous for hockey, the Rockies and sockeye salmon, medical research and film animation, even space age technology. There is reason to be proud.

But could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music? Odds are, most Canadians don’t even know what it is.

Yet Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil from Quebec, Barry Truax and Paul Dolden from Vancouver, and Toronto’s Bruno Degazio are counted among a growing number of internationally acclaimed Canadian electroacoustic composers.

“Canada occupies a unique place in the area of electroacoustics,” says Toronto composer Al Mattes. “You just have to see who wins the major prizes each year at Bourges in France and other important events. Canadians are always up there near the top.”

Mattes, who co-founded Toronto’s avant-garde Music Gallery two decades ago, is current president of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), the country’s only coast-to-coast support group for the sonically obsessed. Significantly, membership in the CEC has almost doubled in the last two years.

“I think you could make a legitimate claim that electroaccustic music was invented in Canada,” says Mattes. “There are a number of different roots of course, but the idea of voltage control really comes from Hugh Le Caine’s work.” Le Caine (1914-1977) was an extraordinary figure and it’s no wonder SOCAN Foundation’s annual electroacoustic composition award, one of five categories in the society’s Awards for Young Composers, bears his name. As director of the Electronic Music Laboratory at the National Research Council in Ottawa dating back to the 1940s, Le Caine was driven by an urge to create new instruments and sounds. A number of the inventor/composer’s remarkable instruments, such as the Sackbut and the Serial Sound Structure Generator, were precursors of today’s synthesizers. Le Caine also laid the foundations for Canada’s earliest important electroacoustic studios, first at the University of Toronto and later at Montréal’s McGill University. Ever since, music departments in universities across the country have been a fertile environment for the burgeoning electroacoustic scene. Now-retired pioneers like Istvan Anhalt (Queen’s University) and Otto Joachim (who has had his own private studio since the mid-1950s) have been followed by the likes of Gustav Ciamaga (University of Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill), and Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

The CEC has about 250 members but, according to administrator Ian Chuprun, “there’s a much larger number of electroacoustic composers who aren’t members yet. Pop culture has started to use more electroacoustic techniques all over the place — in television, in film, in commercials — and that has made the whole field more accessible.”

Kevin Austin of Concordia University in Montréal agrees: “This is not music in the traditional sense. A large part of it is the use of sound without direct reference to pitch and rhythm as we’ve come to understand it. But electroacoustic music is much easier to appreciate now than when it was first developing, because many of the sounds are no longer perceived as being so different. We’ve grown accustomed to sounds being ‘morphed’.”

Austin, actively involved in the electroacoustic scene for more than 25 years, founded the MetaMusic ensemble in 1972 and the Concordia Electroacoustic Composers’ Group in 1982. He was the driving force behind the creation of the CEC in 1986.

While the media have made electroacoustic ideas more accessible from an audience point of view, technology has made the process more approachable from a composer’s perspective.

“To ‘morph’ a sound in the ’50s might have taken weeks of computer time,” Austin says. “Today, you can sit down with a sampler, attach a vocal resonance to the attack of a guitar, and presto, you have a new sound.”

One of Canada’s top electroacoustic composers, Paul Dolden has a different point of view: “I just don’t like the word ‘electroacoustics.’ I would prefer to say I’m a composer who uses technology. My work is basically glorified orchestral music. The fact is, I like notes. I’m not much interested in so-called ‘sound objects’ and I hate synthesized sounds. However, since I do work on tape and none of my pieces can be performed live, I suppose it can all be classified as electroacoustic. But I just don’t think we need the term.”

Today Dolden is $10,000 richer, having just won one of two Jean A. Chalmers Musical Composition Awards, along with Montréal’s Jean-François Denis. Denis, who taught electroacoustic music at Concordia University [in 1985-89], captured his $10,000 award for his valuable work as a concert presenter and editor, and for launching the successful record label empreintes DIGITALes. Dolden was recognized for his composition L’ivresse de la vitesse (“Intoxication by Speed”).

“It’s 400 tracks of all acoustic instruments,” Dolden explains. “You should see the score. There are millions of notes! Basically what I’ve done is reduce five symphonies down to 15 minutes. The idea was to speed up music to the point of intoxication.”

Last month, Dolden premiered his latest work at a concert presented by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in Montréal. “I called it The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3. It’s a piece for string orchestra and tape. The tape part uses a lot of pop culture artifacts. It’s a rocker for intellectuals.”

At the other end of the electroacoustic scene, in Vancouver, is Barry Truax of Simon Fraser University. He has been an influential electroacoustic academic and composer since the early ’70s. Two years ago, on the strength of his piece Riverrun, Truax was awarded the coveted Magisterium Prize at Bourges, the most prestigious electroacoustic festival competition in the world.

“In the old days, there was tape music, electronic music and computer music,” Truax recalls. “They were separate communities with an emphasis on the technologies. The three groups didn’t really interact a lot. Eventually, the barriers started coming down and you can certainly point to a breakdown in the difference between analogue and digital as a factor.”

Truax is acclaimed for his work in the area of computer-assisted music, and was among the first to program his own software. “That was a necessity in the ’70s,” he says. “Today it’s just an inconvenience.”

The composer is currently at work on a major commission for the annual International Computer Music Conference in early September. The event was staged in Copenhagen last year and in Tokyo in 1993; this year it will be held in Banff, Alta.

A long time Truax associate is Vancouver composer Hildegard Westerkamp, whose acoustic explorations have always focused on environmental sounds. “A lot of the time I am walking the edge between sound ecology and sound composition,” she says. “I’m hoping to premiere a new piece at ISEA (the International Symposium for Electronic Arts) in Montréal in September.”

Westerkamp, who recently returned from a two-week sound symposium organized by the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin, is editor of The Soundscape Newsletter, official voice of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. “The electroacoustic medium is so fascinating,” she says. “I find it unfortunate that so few women are in the field. I think the big stumbling block is the technology. It doesn’t discourage everyone, but the circumstances can be quite difficult.”

Just ask Bruno Degazio. “Right now I’m working with a WX7 wind controller and a Yamaha VL1,” says the accomplished sound designer and composer from Toronto. “The VL1 is a physical modeling synthesizer that plays and feels like a musical instrument. It’s the way of the future.”

This year, Degazio is booked solid on IMAX film projects. His recent work includes impressive soundtracks to Titanica, The Last Buffalo and the Oscar-nominated documentary The Fires of Kuwait.

As it is in many other areas, the electroacoustic scene in Quebec is distinct. Many Québécois composers have been profoundly influenced by the school of “musique concrète” in France, which focussed on the electronic manipulation of “sound objects” rather than on electronically created sounds. As a result, their entire creative approach tends to be different.

A key organization in Quebec is the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), established by Yves Daoust and Marcelle Deschênes in 1978. A string of outstanding composers have been affiliated with ACREQ. Among them are Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil, all of whom have won numerous international awards. Gobeil recently captured second prize at Ars Electronica, a festival in Austria.

“The scene is very stimulating right now,” Gobeil reports. “There have been a lot of changes and what I especially like is that we’re starting to communicate more and listen to each other’s work.”

One proof of that is Jean-François Denis’s label empreintes DIGITALes. “Right now we have 24 CDs on our label and yes, there’s an audience for it! I don’t just make these CDs, I sell them too,” Denis insists. “I’m not surprised by the potential of electroacoustic music either, because there are many sensitive artists working within the field.”

To get a measure of the electroaoustic talent that is out there, curious ears can explore DISContact! II, a recent compilation of 51 works on two CDs by members of the CEC. Though each piece lasts just three minutes or less, the development of acoustic ideas is often extraordinary.

… could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music?

L’art de la transformation

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no 2:7, samedi 1 juillet 1995

Le Canada est célèbre pour son hockey, ses Rocheuses et son saumon rouge, ses recherches en médecine et ses films d’animation, et même pour sa technologie de l’ère de l’espace. De quoi étre fier!

Mais qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique? La plupart des Canadiens, selon toute vraisemblance, ne connaissent même pas ce style de musique.

Cela n’empêche pas Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, du Québec, Barry Truax et Paul Dolden, de Vancouver, et Bruno Degazio, de Toronto, de faire partie d’un groupe grandissant de compositeurs de musique électroacoustique canadiens acclamés partout dans le monde.

«Le Canada joue un rôle unique dans le domaine de l’électroacoustique, affirme le compositeur torontois Al Mattes. Il suffit de consulter la liste des lauréats des principaux prix qui sont remis tous les ans à Bourges, en France.»

Cofondateur il y a deux décennies de l’avant-gardiste Music Gallery de Toronto, Mattes est actuellement président de la Communauté électroacoustique canadienne (CÉC), le seul groupe de soutien pancanadien pour les obsédés sonores. Fait révélateur, l’adhésion à la CÉC a presque doublé depuis deux ans.

«Je crois qu’il serait légitime d’affirmer que la musique électroacoustique a été inventée au Canada, dit Mattes. Il existe plusieurs souches différentes, naturellement, mais l’idée du contrôle du voltage est véritablement issue de l’œuvre de Hugh Le Caine.»

Le Caine (1914-1977) était une personne extraordinaire et il n’est donc guère surprenant que le prix de la composition de musique électroacoustique de la SOCAN, remis annuellement, porte son nom. En tant que directeur du Laboratoire de musique électronique du Conseil national de recherches à Ottawa au début des années 40, Le Caine était habité par la motivation de créer des instruments et des sons nouveaux. Certaines de ses plus remarquables inventions, tels la saqueboute et le générateur de structures sonores sérielles, furent des précurseurs des synthétiseurs d’aujourd’hui.

On doit aussi à Le Caine d’avoir jeté les fondations des premiers studios électroacoustiques d’importance au Canada, d’abord à l’Université de Toronto et ensuite à l’Université McGill de Montréal. Les départements de musique des universités de toutes les régions du Canada constituent depuis un environnement fertile pour l’univers effervescent de l’électroacoustique. Maintenant à la retraite, des pionniers comme Istvan Anhalt (Université Queen’s) et Otto Joachim (qui a son propre studio depuis le milieu des années 50), ont été suivis par des compositeurs tels Gustav Ciamaga (Université de Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill) et Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

La CÉC compte environ 250 membres dans ses rangs, mais selon l’administrateur Ian Chuprun, «le nombre d’électroacousticiens qui ne sont pas membres est beaucoup plus élevé. La culture pop a commencé à faire davantage appel aux techniques électroacoustiques dans tous les secteurs — à la télévision, au cinéma, dans la publicité — et l’ensemble de ce domaine est du même coup devenu plus accessible.»

Kevin Austin, de l’Université Concordia à Montréal, abonde dans le même sens: «Nous ne parlons pas de musique au sens traditionnel. Dans une large mesure, il s’agit d’une exploitation du son sans l’intervention directe des notions de hauteur et de rythme telles que nous les comprenons. Mais il est beaucoup plus facile d’apprécier la musique électroacoustique maintenant qu’à l’époque où elle faisait ses premiers pas, étant donné que plusieurs des sons utilisés ne sont plus perçus comme étant très inhabituels.»

Très actif dans les milieux de la musique électroacoustique depuis plus de 25 ans, Austin a mis sur pied l’ensemble MetaMusic en 1972, ainsi que le Groupe électroacoustique de Concordia en 1982. Il a aussi joué un rôle déterminant dans la création de la CÉC en 1986.

«Dans les années 50, la transformation d’un son pouvait prendre des semaines, déclare Austin. De nos jours, il suffit d’utiliser un générateur et de raccorder une résonance vocale à l’attaque d’une guitare, et bingo! vous venez de créer un nouveau son.»

L’un des compositeurs de musique électroacoustique les plus en vue du Canada, Paul Dolden, ne partage pas cette vision des choses: «Je n’aime pas du tout le mot électroacoustique. Je préférerais dire que je suis un compositeur faisant appel à la technologie. Ce que je fais, c’est de la musique orchestrale embellie. J’aime les notes, cela est indéniable. Je suis peu intéressé aux soi-disant ‘objets sonores’ et je déteste les sons synthétisés. Mais comme je travaille sur bande et qu’aucune de mes œuvres ne peut être exécutée en direct, je suppose qu’on peut classer le tout dans la catégorie ‘musique électroacoustique’. Mais je crois sincèrement que nous n’avons pas besoin de ce terme.»

Ces jours-ci, Dolden s’est enrichi de 10 000$ en remportant l’un des deux Prix de composition musicale Jean A. Chalmers, l’autre étant allé à Jean-François Denis. Ce dernier enseigne [de 1985 à 1989] les rudiments de la musique électroacoustique à l’Université Concordia, et son prix lui a été remis afin de souligner sa contribution à titre de présentateur de concerts, d’éditeur et de fondateur d’empreintes DIGITALes, une étiquette de disques accumulant les succès. Quant à Dolden, c’est sa composition L’ivresse de la vitesse qui a retenu l’attention du jury.

«Cela consiste en 400 pistes d’instruments acoustiques, explique Dolden. Vous devriez voir la partition. Elle contient des millions de notes! Ce que j’ai fait, essentiellement, c’est réduire cinq symphonies à une durée de 15 minutes. Le but visé était d’accélérer la musique au point d’en arriver à un état d’ivresse.»

Le mois dernier, Dolden a présenté sa récente œuvre en première dans le cadre d’un concert de la Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) à Montréal. «Je l’ai appelée The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3, précise-t-il. «La portion sur bande fait appel à une grande quantité d’artefacts de la culture pop. C’est du rock pour intellectuels.»

À l’autre antipode de l’univers électroacoustique se trouve Barry Truax, de l’Université Simon Fraser. Compositeur et académicien influent depuis le début des années 70, il a reçu, grâce à sa pièce Riverrun, ie très convoité Prix Magisterium à Bourges, où se tient le plus prestigieux concours de musique électroacoustique au monde.

«Jadis il y avait la musique sur bande, la musique électronique et la musique informatique, se souvient Truax. Il y avait des regroupements distincts qui mettaient l’accent sur les technologies. Les trois factions entretenaient peu de rapports. Mais les barrières se sont mises à tomber, notamment en raison de la différence entre l’analogique et le numérique.»

Truax doit sa réputation à son travail dans le domaine de la musique assistée par ordinateur, et il fut l’un des premiers à programmer ses propres logiciels. «Cela était nécessaire dans les années 70, dit-il. De nos jours, c’est devenu un inconvénient.»

Le compositeur de la côte ouest travaille actuellement à exécuter une importante commande pour le compte de la International Computer Music Conference, qui aura lieu au début de septembre. Cet événement annuel marquant s’est tenu à Copenhague l’année dernière et à Tokyo en 1993. Cette année, c’est Banff, Alberta, qui en sera l’hôte.

Les expérimentations acoustiques de la compositrice vancouveroise Hildegard Westerkamp, une associée de longue date de Truax, ont toujours porté sur les sons environnementaux. «Il m’arrive souvent de concilier l’écologie et la composition sonore, explique-t-elle. J’espère donner la première d’une nouvelle pièce à l’ISEA95 Montréal (Symposium international des arts électroniques) en septembre à Montréal.»

Récemment revenue d’un symposium de deux semaines sur les sons, organisé par l’Akademie der Kunste à Berlin, Westerkamp est l’éditrice du Soundscape Newsletter, l’organe officiel du World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. «Le médium électroacoustique est tellement fascinant. Je trouve dommage qu’il y ait si peu de femmes qui s’y intéressent. Je crois que la technologie représente l’obstacle majeur. Méme si cela ne décourage pas tout le monde, il y a aussi le contexte plutôt difficile lié au domaine qui peut parfois aussi rebuter certaines personnes.»

Le cas de Bruno Degazio, un compositeur et concepteur de sons chevronné de Toronto, illustre bien ce point de vue: «Actuellement je travaille à l’aide d’un contrôleur d’instruments à vent WX7 et d’un VL1 de Yamaha. Le VL1 est un synthétiseur de modélisation physique qui réagit comme un instrument de musique lorsqu’on en joue. C’est la voie de l’avenir.»

Cette année, Degazio est engagé à plein temps dans des projets de films IMAX. Parmi ses récentes œuvres, on retrouve d’impressionnantes trames sonores dont celles de Titanica, The Last Buffalo et The Fires of Kuwait, un documentaire mis en nomination aux Oscars.

Comme cela se produit dans nombre d’autres domaines, l’électroacoustique se conçoit différemment au Québec. Beaucoup de compositeurs québécois ont été profondément influencés par l’école de la musique concrète en France, qui s’attarde surtout à étudier la manipulation électronique d’«objets sonores» plutôt que les sons crcés électroniquement. Par conséquent, leur approche créative tend à être différente.

L’Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), mise sur pied par Yves Daoust et Marcelle Deschênes en 1978, est l’un des regroupements importants de la province. Bon nombre de compositeurs remarquables lui sont affiliés, dont Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, qui ont tous remporté plusieurs prix internationaux. Gobeil a pour sa part décroché le deuxième prix au Ars Electronica, un festival présenté en Autriche.

«Le milieu est en pleine effervescence à l’heure actuelle, dit Gobeil. Plusieurs changements sont survenus et je suis particulièrement heureux de voir que nous commençons à communiquer davantage et à écouter les œuvres de nos collègues.»

L’étiquette empreintes DIGITALes de Jean-François Denis permet de mesurer l’ampleur de ces déblocages. «Notre catalogue contient maintenant 24 compacts et, oui, il y a un marché pour eux! Je ne me contente pas de fabriquer ces disques. je les vends aussi!» insiste Denis. Je ne suis pas surpris non plus par le potentiel de la musique électroacoustique, étant donné qu’il y a beaucoup d’artistes sensibles qui ont opté pour ce genre.

Pour obtenir un aperçu du talent de ces musiciens, on peut écouter DISContact! II, une compilation récente de 51 œuvres de membres de la CÉC. Bien qu’aucune des pièces ne dure plus de trois minutes, plusieurs d’entre elles témoignent d’un développement d’idées acoustiques sortant de l’ordinaire.

… qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique?

Chalmers Award Recipients

Robert Crew, The Toronto Star, mardi 16 mai 1995

Paul Dolden, winner of the composers’ award for L’ivresse de la vitesse, his 15-minute piece for [recorded] orchestra, Eastern instruments, choir and found sound objects, was praised by the jury for producing “an image of music for the next millennium.” A leading figure in Canada’s electroacoustic community, Dolden has had the same piece praised in London and Prague, where it won first prize in the Musica Nova ’94 International Competition.

Jean-François Denis, winner of the presenters’ award, “is central to the growth and success of electroacoustic music in Canada.” He programmed an annual concert series featuring original works and Canadian premieres as a professor of electroacoustic music at Concordia University in Montréal from 1985 to 1989 and is one of the founders of the organization Canadian Electroacoustic Community. Denis’ magazines Contact! and Flash! and recording activities have had a widespread influence.

A leading figure in Canada’s electroacoustic community… is central to the growth and success of electroacoustic music in Canada.

Soundcheck Review

Phil England, The Wire, no 135, lundi 1 mai 1995

Most people use the recording medium for purely documentary purposes; Paul Dolden’s project is to highlight the way the recording studio can create ‘impossible’ effects and musical events. This CD finds him multitracking up to 400 tracks of expanded orchestral instrumentation to create a kaleidoscopic music of dazzling complexity.

Dolden’s stunning debut CD worked with the transmuting effect of speed — not speed as an end in itself, but as a gateway into another sonic and textural reality. L’ivresse de la vitesse, by contrast, sounds more conventionally orchestral. Wagnerian vocal passages give way to humour, fragmenration and objection. Aaron Copland and morning-in-America passages move into hyperspeed and cascade into huge, finely detailed washes of sound. Like Conlon Nancarrow or the New Complexity school, Dolden sets different tempos and time signatures against each other. Such a vast amount of musical information demands a new way of listening, the imposition of patterns on apparent chaos.

Spiritually, Dolden seems to have plumped for being a postmodern rootless soul fascinated with surface. “Seduction threatens all orthodoxies with their collapse as it is a blacK magic for the deviation of all truths” he writes in the sleeve notes. He seems able to incite controversy witn ease. Since his appearance at last year’s LMC festival, idle talk has centered on his “objectionable” personality; one composer has even called for Dolden’s music to be banned for its alleged misogyny.

This double CD (selling for the price of a single) also contains a number of works for instrumentalist and tape. Dolden magnifies tne tiny sounds made by the instruments and then uses them to surround the soloist along with his usual orchestral apocalypse. Francois Houle (soprano saxophone, clarinet) and Peggy Lee (cello) both worked on developing the parts and put in excellent performances here. Veils, the final 30 minute track, takes a different tack completely with dense, lush, sustained chords — possibly the final word on drone music, with a closing passage which will make your windows death-rattle.

Dolden’s music is like viewing a landscape from a helicopter, or at Koyaanisqatsi hyper-motion: a postmodern lens through which to view complexity. Do not miss the work of this important “fin de siècle” artist.

Do not miss the work of this important “fin de siècle” artist.


Brian Duguid, Electric Shock Treatment (EST), no 6, mercredi 1 mars 1995

The title of Paul Dolden’s first CD, The Threshold of Deafening Silence says a lot about the method and aims of this Canadian electroacoustic composer. As does the title of this new release (it translates as “Intoxication by Speed.” All Dolden’s pieces use mainly acoustic instruments, with in several cases several hundred separate instrumental parts painstakingly multitracked and mixed. The result is music of overpowering density, great contrast and frequently startling and fascinating texture. Several of the cornpositions are for thesed taped instruments only. Others use the impenetrable tapes as backing for solo instrumentalists. For example, Peggy Lee’s cello on Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3 highlights extremes of romanticism and potency, throwing the tape scrum into sharp relief. Dolden’s aim is to bring the listener to a point where the complexity and intensity of the music prevents any orthodox listening response, resulting in a transcendent sensual experience. The admirable CD booklet includes plerity of provocative and thoughtful notes from the composer, but even without the points of entry that it provides, I could hardly fail to be seduced by this astounding album. For anyone who wans to hear new music that doesn’t lack in passion, that addresses the information age in an apt way, that enlists noise, complexity and beauty in its qufft for excess, this is it. There are few other composers whose music even seeks out such awe-inspiring power (Glenn Branca, possibly, although Xenakis also comes to mind), and few other modern composers who can be so effortlessly assured of a place in history.

… few other modern composers who can be so effortlessly assured of a place in history.

Nos compositeurs triomphent en France

SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, mercredi 1 juin 1994

On compte trois compositeurs canadiens parmi les gagnants du 3e Concours international Noroit de composition acousmatique, qui a eu lieu en mars dernier à Arras, France. Le montréalais Stéphane Roy s’est vu décerner le premier Prix du jury, d’une valeur de 3000$, pour Crystal Music, commandée par l’ACREQ (Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustique au Québec) avec le concours du Conseil des Arts du Canada. Cette œuvre a été composée au Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustic de l’Université Stanford, Californie, et complétée à la Faculté de musique de l’Universilé de Montréal. Paul Dolden de Vancouver, a reçu le deuxième prix pour L’ivresse de la vitesse, alors que le Prix du public est allé à Robert Normandeau, de Montréal, pour sa pièce Spleen (il avait reçu le premier Prix du jury et du Prix du public en 1991). Des 73 œuvres soumises provenant de 17 pays, le jury en a sélectionné six de l’Angleterre, du Brésil, des États-Unis et du Canada. Celles-ci seront publiées sur CD au cours de l’année 1994.


Titus Levi, Keyboard, lundi 1 octobre 1990