Artistes Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp a émigré au Canada en 1968 et a donné naissance à sa fille en 1977. Après qu’elle ait complété des études en musique au début des années 70, ses oreilles l’ont attirée au-delà de la musique vers l’environnement acoustique comme vers un lieu plus large ou un contexte culturel d’écoute intensive. Que ce soit dans le domaine de la composition, de l’éducation ou de l’art radiophonique, la plus grande partie de son œuvre depuis le milieu des années 70 est centrée sur les sons de l’environnement et sur l’écologie acoustique.

Elle a donné des cours en communication acoustique à la Simon Fraser University (1981-91) à Vancouver (BC), et dirigé des ateliers sur le paysage sonore partout dans le monde. Elle est l’un des membres fondateurs du World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE, 1993) et a dirigé le bulletin The Soundscape Newsletter de 1991 à 95.

La plupart de ses compositions traitent de certains aspects de l’environnement acoustique: paysages sonores urbains, ruraux ou naturels; voix d’enfants, d’hommes et de femmes; bruit ou silence; musique et sons provenant des médias; ou encore, sons de différentes cultures, et ainsi de suite. Elle a composé des bandes sonores de films et des documents sonores pour la radio, et a réalisé et animé des programmes radiophoniques tels que Soundwalking et Musica Nova sur les ondes de la Vancouver Co-operative Radio.

Dans un certain nombre de ses compositions, elle a allié de façon importante son traitement des sons environnementaux à la poésie de l’écrivain canadien Norbert Ruebsaat. Plus récemment, elle a elle-même composé des textes pour une série de morceaux pour texte récité et bande. En plus de ses compositions électroacoustiques, elle a créé des morceaux pour ‘sites’ spécifiques, tels que Harbour Symphony (1986) et École polytechnique (1990). Dans des œuvres comme Into India, elle explore les répercussions plus profondes rattachées au transfert de sons environnementaux d’un lieu étranger vers le contexte nord-américain de la composition électroacoustique et de la culture de l’art audio.


Hildegard Westerkamp

Osnabrück (Allemagne), 1946

Résidence: Vancouver (Colombie-Britannique, Canada)

  • Compositrice
  • Rédactrice

Sur le web

Hildegard Westerkamp [juin 2014]
Hildegard Westerkamp [juin 2014]
  • Hildegard Westerkamp [2003]
  • Hildegard Westerkamp [Photo: Peter Grant]
  • Hildegard Westerkamp [Photo: Lincoln Clarkes]
  • Hildegard Westerkamp

Parutions principales

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 1031, IMED 1031_NUM, IMED 9631 / 1996, 2010
Earsay / ES 02002 / 2002


Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 09100, IMED 09100_NUM / 2009
Artistes divers
Cambridge Street Records / CSR 0501 / 2005
Artistes divers
Earsay / ES 98001 / 1998
Artistes divers
Earsay / ES 98005 / 1998
Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9004, IMED 9604, IMED 9604_NUM / 1990, 1996


MIT Press / MITP 9780262539302 / 2020
  • Hors-catalogue
The Agriculture Records / AG 049 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
University of Alberta Press / UAP 9780888644749 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue

La presse en parle

trans_canada Festival: Trends in Acousmatics and Soundscapes

Wibke Bantelmann, Computer Music Journal, no 29:3, 1 septembre 2005

The trans_canada festival of electroacoustic music by Canadian composers at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe was certainly no everyday experience for the interested German public. A festival of acousmatic music—and acousmatic music only—is quite unusal. The German avant-garde music scene is still uncommonly lively, but most composers prefer either instrumental music (with electroacoustic elements) or multimedia works. The idea of invisible music seems not to touch the German musical sensibility.

Despite this, 460 visitors found their way to ZKM. During 10-13 February, 2005, they experienced a four day-long plunge into the Canadian way of composing, and had the opportunity to learn more about the “Canadian Example” as Daniel Teruggi of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) called it in his paper. According to Mr. Teruggi, the liveliness and outstanding quality of the electroacoustic music scene in Canada is the result of good composers but also of academically sound research and training and a wide range of philosophical approaches to music. The opening of the festival showed another aspect of this “example.” Paul Dubois, the present Canadian ambassador to Germany, came from Berlin to open the festival—cultural policy in Canada apparently knows and supports the electroacoustic scene intensely, quite contrary to German policy.

Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau, Gilles Gobeil, Nicolas Bernier, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Louis Dufort took part in the festival and presented works (Ned Bouhalassa was invited but for health reasons was unable to attend). Nine pieces were commissioned by ZKM and received their world premieres at the festival.

trans_canada not only offered an occasion for Germans to learn about Canadian acousmatic music; apparently, it also connected the Canadians themselves. “It seems we had to come to the ZKM in Karlsruhe to get together,” said Robert Normandeau at the last concert. And so, the Francophone composers from the east, rooted in the Paris school of “musique concrète,” met the Anglophone soundscape composers from the West coast. “I was very much surprised when Francis Dhomont told us that he does not like the original sounds to be changed so much that you can’t distinguish their origin any longer,” said Hildegard Westerkamp. “We are not as far away from each other as I used to think.”

This proved to be quite true, as could be heard. The parallels between their new works, Brief an den Vater by Mr. Dhomont and Für Dich—For You by Ms. Westerkamp, were striking. Both compositions were not only inspired by but also formally based on literature and the structure, the sound, the rhythm of the text. The work by Mr. Dhomont, with the scraping of a pen as a sort of leitmotif, was no less abstract than Ms. Westerkamp’s music with its sea-sounds (gulls, wind, waves). And her fantasy land called “home” is not more “real” then his world of inner struggle. Both works showed an extreme sensitivity for subtle, delicate sounds which were spread in many layers, throwing shadows of sound, and constantly and slowly developing into new shapes and shades. The differences between the works seemed after all (to this listener at least) to be ones of personal style and expression than of basic principles.

Another new work with words came from Darren Copeland. I don’t want to be inside me anymore was quite singular in the festival due to its definite focus on content, on a “real story.” This fact gave the piece a strong dramatic quality leaving hardly any room for imagination. The intention of the sounds to build around the absorbing, sometimes even vexatious, words seemed to force the listeners to constantly keep their full attention on the meaning of the text. It was a deeply impressive piece, even if it was to a certain extent more dramatic than musical. (Although other listeners might experience it differently if they do not understand the German text.)

In a way, this work resembles a compositional style of a very different kind, that of Barry Truax. The connection may be found in the very sense of reality in both composer’s works: the reality of the feeling of isolation on one hand, and the reality of an existing landscape (streams, peaks, caves) on the other.

Even Gilles Gobeil’s magnificent medieval drama, Ombres, espaces, silences…, followed roughly this direction. This piece was not about feeling or landscape, it was about reality, too, in this case the reality of history, only by far more sublime, sensitive, and imaginative. Not “cinema for the ear” but a “novel for the ear” (something like The Name of the Rose?)! However, the form and structure of this work is by far more of a narrative nature than strictly abstract-musical.

It was Robert Normandeau and the youngsters of trans_canada who were most abstract, and therefore the strongest advocates of a true “invisible music.” It was not only not to be seen, it was not to be imagined. There was nothing real, nothing you could get hold of, it was more or less a complete deconstruction of sounds, ideas, narration. They appeared not to start from any landscape, be it imagined or real, inside or outside the head; they started from ideas, ideas of sound, ideas of form. Even the antique Writing Machine in the work by Nicolas Bernier was more a (slightly exotic) sound than a sense, more a historical reminiscence than an element of form.

Coincidence shows her unaccountable face, experiment and surprise follow. You could hear experience and mastery in the work of Robert Normandeau, of course. You were always sure that it was him who played with coincidence and not the other way round. His world premiere, ZedKejeM, was highly dynamic, with the energy and rhythm from a dancefloor, but still showed the deepness, density, and versatility of a deep-thinking organizer of energy and fantasy. Every single sound seemed well calculated, the effects carefully set.

The music of his younger colleagues, Mr. Bernier and Louis Dufort, was more spontaneous, wandering dreamily through all the possibilities of technique and sound, to find out what would happen. Mr. Dufort spread a richness and variety of colors in a free, open structure that simply followed the beauty of the sounds created. In contrast to that, Mr. Bernier followed an intellectual plan, he set his rules and let them work. One always sensed the will behind the music, one always tried to follow and understand the experiment instead of just enjoying the result. But, on the other hand, this method produced a certain strong energy in the work. This composer had the power to raise and hold the intellectual interest of the listener.

All in all, it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities, and to learn a little about their methods.

trans_canada also provided the chance to meet the composers in person. Each of them delivered a paper about their work. They could only give a rough survey, of course, in a 45-min talk. Rather than concentrating on techniques or software, most composers just tried to acquaint their colleagues and the small number of other interested people with their sources of inspiration, their opinions, their philosophy. Remarkable was the clear delivery of all the composers and the relaxed atmosphere of these sessions. There seemed to be no need to impress anyone, and not so much need to discuss, let alone debate. Everybody was open-minded and respected the others, as if trying to learn and understand, not to question fundamentals.

It was like a good talk between colleagues and friends. Mr. Normandeau provided insight into his large archive of sound and his permanent work on the human voice. Mr. Gobeil expressed his preference for the sound of exotic instruments (like the Daxophone) and his dislike of techno music (inducing him to write a techno-piece). Mr. Dhomont talked about the relation between accident and control in his work, marking his own position somewhere between Pierre Boulez and John Cage:Boulez would say: ‘This is incidental, throw it away;’ Cage would say: ‘This is incidental, so I take it;’ I say: ‘Look, there is an interesting incident, but should I take it?’” He also used the opportunity to call for more polyphony in electroacoustic music instead of the exclusive concentration on creating the most original, most exotic new sound: “In an orchestra, you mix different instruments, but the single instrument becomes not less beautiful.”

The exceptional environment of ZKM supported this beautiful richness of sounds and the inventiveness of the composers immensely. The two concert venues offer exquisite acoustics. They were equipped with 70 concert loudspeakers, placed in either circles or in a kind of “acousmonium surround environment.” This, in conjunction with the timbral and spatial qualities of the works, created an extraordinary musical experience.

… it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities…

Espaces de sons: les sons environnementaux dans l’électroacoustique

David Turgeon,, 1 juin 2003

Les sons environnementaux (field recordings) ont toujours fasciné les compositeurs électroacoustiques, ceci depuis les Cinq études de bruits (1948) de Pierre Schaeffer et ses enregistrements de trains modifiés. Avec le Vancouver Soundscape 1973 (1972-73) de R Murray Schafer, ces sons du quotidien s’articulent autour d’un discours qu’on nommera «écologie sonore», où les sons gardent leur signification originale, et ne servent plus comme contenu anecdotique à la merci du compositeur. Le lecteur curieux notera que Jonty Harrison fait une intéressante synthèse de ces deux approches dans son texte {cnotice:imed_0052-0001/À propos d’Évidence matérielle/cnotice}.

En fait, chaque compositeur semble privilégier une approche différente par rapport aux sons environnementaux. Alors que l’écologie sonore voit fleurir des artistes du microphone tels que Claude Schryer et bien sûr Hildegard Westerkamp et sa fameuse Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989), des préoccupations autrement plus documentaires alimentent un disque tel que Corazón Road (1993), carnet de voyage sonore du duo français Kristoff K Roll. Entretemps, le compositeur new-yorkais Jon Hudak part d’une palette extrêmement minimaliste afin de trouver l’«essence» des sons utilisés, ce qui donne à l’auditeur de doux «soundscapes» planants. Élève du ci-haut mentionné Harrison, Natasha Barrett se rapproche davantage de la tradition acousmatique tout en concevant des paysages sonores de toute beauté à partir de sons environnementaux très discrets.

De jeunes compositeurs s’ajoutent constamment au paysage (sonore…) et il serait malvenu de les confiner au silence tant leur travail nous semble digne d’intérêt. Mentionnons d’abord le californien V. V. (de son vrai nom Ven Voisey), qui intègre ses sons trouvés dans une architecture rappelant la musique concrète «vieille école» — ce faisant, il montre combien Schaeffer n’est peut-être pas si éloigné esthétiquement de Merzbow… Avec Relisten, l’autrichien Bernhard Gal nous fait découvrir ses épisodes, soigneusement choisis, de «musique trouvée» (c’est-à-dire de structures musicales existant déjà dans le matériel environnemmental.) Enfin, de par son foissonnement d’idées et son rythme toujours soutenu, le surprenant flume ridge.halifax.lisbon (2001) du montréalais Cal Crawford réjouira sans doute les auditeurs à l’affût de nouvelle acousmatique.

Deux petites friandises pour terminer. D’abord, le joli mini-CDR Aenviron: one présente cinq instantanés sonores (et ce, sans aucun traitement!). Après tout, s’il existe du cinéma pour l’oreille, alors pourquoi pas un album photo pour l’oreille! Question de boucler la boucle, nous proposons également de s’arrêter au récent mini-CD de Lionel Marchetti au titre évocateur de Train de nuit (Noord 3-683) (1998-99). Cette œuvre pour un seul haut-parleur, dédiée (on s’en douterait!) à Pierre Schaeffer, nous rappelle, une fois de plus, l’importance toujours renouvelée des sources environnementales dans l’océan électroacoustique.


Joyce Hildebrand, Encompass, 1 octobre 2000

Remember that afternoon on the beach just a few months ago? The flash of sunlight on water, the feel of hot sand under your feet, the tang of lemonade on your tongue. Chances are the sounds of children laughing and icecubes tinkling will come to mind last, if at all. Why does hearing so often take a back seat to vision or taste? Have we been suppressing unwanted noise for so long that we have dulled our capacity to hear? Vancouver-based composer Hildegard Westerkamp offers our ears a wake-up call, reminding us that sounds are as much a part of place as images and smells.

Westerkamp records whatever reaches her microphone in a particular place and then transforms and combines those sounds electronically. Her “instruments” include everything from creeks and ravens to truck brakes and train whistles. “I transform sound in order to highlight its original contours and meanings,” she says in the extensive liner notes of her CD Transformations. “This allows me as a composer to explore the sound’s musical/acoustic potential in depth.”

If you are thinking “Solitudes” music, you’re on the wrong track. The first composition on the CD, A Walk Through The City, explores the sounds of Vancouver’s Skid Row’ carhorns, jackhammers, voices. Although perhaps the most challenging of the five works on this recording, it captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.

In Kits Beach Soundwalk the “intimate sounds of nature” like clicking barnacles and sucking mussels are set against the pervasive hum of the city, blurring the line between nature and non-nature. Beneath The Forest Floor offers an opportunity to experience the deep peace that the composer felt while recording the sounds of BC’s Carmanah Valley.

Cricket Voice emerged from a Mexican desert region called, strangely enough, the Zone of Silence. The cricket’s high-pitched trills become the desert’s heartbeat when slowed down in the studio. Cacti spikes, dried up roots, and the echoes of an old water reservoir provide the instruments for background percussion.

Westerkamp thinks of sound as a part of ecological systems and is careful not to overmanipulate it. “I feel that sounds have their own integrity and need to be treated with a great deal of care,” she says. She also recognizes that her compositions, played far from the places in which they originated, become part of another “soundscape.” Indeed, my dog spontaneously howled through Fantasie for Horns II, adding his voice to those of foghorns, train whistles, and a French horn!

More recently, Westerkamp has been working with photographer Florence Debeugny on At the Edge of Wilderness, a sound/slide installation about ghost towns left by industry in BC. It opens as part of a larger exhibition on September 8, 2000 in Vancouver. She also travels widely, giving workshops, lectures, and concerts, and she plans to put out a double CD in the next year with works based on her experiences of India.

… captures the beauty and complexity even in those sounds that we often try to filter out.

Autres textes

The WholeNote no 10:7, Radio Patapoe: Adventures in UNsound no 76


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