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The Poetics of Space

The World Soundscape Project group in 1973 with Barry Truax, second from the right.

Last weekend I attended the thirteenth edition of the Sonic Acts festival. This year’s theme was “The Poetics of Space”. I heard some interesting pieces of music, lots of noise (literally), saw a lot of abstract moving images and a few interesting lectures.

Barry Truax

I found some of the Saturday sessions especially interesting. Barry Truax gave a lecture on acoustic space and composing with the environment. Barry is well known for his electroacoustic and computer music and was part of the World Soundscape Project group (pictured above), a group founded by R. Murray Schafer at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver to research the changes in the sonic environment. He also created the first implementation of real-time granular synthesis in 1986.  

During his lecture he spoke about how spaces influence sounds, how sound have spaces inside them and how we can use this in compositions. When you record a sound, you automatically record the space around that sound as well, so in Barry’s words:

Each sound tells us where it has been.


We were treated to some beautiful sound examples on the eight-channel system (“Eight channel is the new stereo”), including a preview of his newest work Challice Well, which was played later that day in its full length at Paradiso. 

Hildegard Westerkamp

Later that day Hildegard Westercamp spoke about her ‘Soundwalks’. Hildegard joined the World Soundscape Project group in the early seventies after completing her music studies, and is a founding member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, concerned with the state of the world’s soundscapes. 

Soundwalks are organized walks in which a group of people silently follows a leader, listening to the world around them, listening to the urban soundscape, together. I like this idea a lot. I have been on soundwalks before, but combined with pre-recorded material, and although I think the idea of combining an environment with the sound of another place is fascinating, I remember taking my headphones off and being astounded by the beauty and the clarity of the natural sounds around me. Sounds we do not pay attention to during our everyday lives! In Hildegard’s words: 

We are going to open our ears so much that we do not even realize we are not talking.

This weekend it became clear again that the purest sonic beauty lies in the sound that are already surrounding us. It is great to be able to record whatever we want and use technology to process, archive and compose with this material, but every piece of equipment, microphone or even cable that gets between the original sounding object and our ears will color and transform the source material. 

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