Barry Truax

Soundscape Composition: From the Real to the Virtual

Soundscape composition has matured into an important practice, both as an artistic form and to promote environmental awareness, with works ranging from documentary to the construction of imaginary soundscapes. Just as the concept of “soundscape” embraces all forms of sound and emphasizes how sound is understood by listeners, so too soundscape composition creates simulated environments of sound within which the distinctions between voice, music and environmental sound are blurred. In the author’s soundscape compositions, the sound material is elaborated using contemporary digital signal processing techniques, while maintaining listener recognizability, and the structure of the work and its narrative are guided by the composer’s contextual knowledge of the real world. The presentation includes an introduction to the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University, and examples from the composer’s electroacoustic and soundscape works.

Barry Truax is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Communication (and formerly the School for the Contemporary Arts) at Simon Fraser University where he taught courses in acoustic communication and electroacoustic music. He worked with the World Soundscape Project, editing its Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, and has published a book Acoustic Communication dealing with sound and technology. As a composer, Truax is best known for his work with the PODX computer music system which he has used for tape solo works, music theatre pieces and those with live performers or computer graphics. In 1991 his work, Riverrun, was awarded the Magisterium at the International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France. Truax’s multi-channel soundscape compositions are frequently featured in concerts and festivals around the world. Since his retirement in 2015, Barry has been the Edgard Varèse Guest Professor at the Technical University in Berlin, and Guest Composer at the 2016 BEAST Festival in Birmingham, as well as similar events in Hamburg, Lisbon and Milan. He has guest edited two theme issues on soundscape composition for the Cambridge journal Organised Sound, and is co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Sounding Art.

The Shaman Ascending

for 8 digital soundtracks, 2004–2005

The Shaman Ascending evokes the imagery of a traditional shaman figure chanting in the quest for spiritual ecstasy. However, in this case, the listener is placed inside of a circle of loudspeakers with the vocal utterances swirling around at high rates of speed and timbral development. The work proceeds in increasing stages of complexity as the shaman ascends towards a higher spiritual state.

The work and its title are inspired by a pair of Canadian Inuit sculptures by John Terriak with collectively the same name, as well as Inuit throat singing. All of the vocal material heard in the piece is derived from a recording of the Vancouver bass singer Derrick Christian.