Saturday, July 28, 2007

Acoustic Ecology

I was listening to CBC 2 radio this week and they played Canadian acoustic ecologist performance artist and composer R. Murray Schafer.

Who in the 1980's blew me away with his eight hour invocation of RA at the Ontario Science Centre. While I was not there, I got to hear it on CBC. Which of course I would not hear on private for profit radio.

Schafer shows that musick is magick and vis versa, that it is one of the key elements to ritual, and thus all music is sacred, even when it is profane.

If you like the minimalist and avante garde music of Edgar
Varèse ,Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, or Steven Reich, you will love Schafer.

R. Murray Schafer has achieved an international reputation as a composer, an educator, environmentalist, scholar and visual artist. Born in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1933, he was raised in Toronto.

Schafer entered the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto in 1952 to study with John Weinzweig. His casual contact with Marshall McLuhan on campus in that period could arguably be singled out as the most lasting influence on his development.
He went to Vienna in 1956. After two years he went to England, studying informally with composer Peter Racine Fricker. While in Britain Schafer supported himself by writing (resulting in a book, British Composers in Interview) and by the preparation of a performing edition of Ezra Pound's opera Le Testament (1920-1) broadcast by the BBC in 1961.

As the 'father of acoustic ecology' Schafer has been concerned about the damaging effects of noise on people, especially dwellers of the 'sonic sewers' of the city. His booklets The Book of Noise and The Voices of Tyranny are pleas for anti-noise legislation and urban soundscape improvements through reduction of potentially destructive sounds. Of the various publications Schafer released after his work with the World Soundscape Project, the most important is The Tuning of the World (1977) where he summarizes his soundscape research, philosophies, and theories. The concept, central to Schafer's thinking, has influenced his composing. The background rhythmic structure for String Quartet No. 2 ('Waves') is based on the intervals at which ocean waves crest; the graphic notation of No Longer Than Ten (10) Minutes was influenced by charts made of Vancouver traffic noise.

While Schafer's focus in the 1970s was his soundscape work, in the 1980s it was Patria, a 12-part cycle of musical/theatrical works begun in 1966. Schafer's dramatic works employ music and theatre in a manner which he calls the 'theatre of confluence' (a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk reflecting his urge to explore the relationships between the arts). Schafer has used ritual as a way of revitalizing contemporary theatre, several works transforming the theatre audience into participants. Patria 6: RA is a dusk-to-dawn ritual enacting the descent to the underworld and resurrection of the Egyptian sun god. For its Ontario Science Centre premiere in Toronto, the audience was led through 29 different performance sites during the 11-hour ritual.

And again this August he will be performing in the wilderness.

Princess of the Stars

R. Murray Schafer, Banff Festival of the Arts, 1985. Performed in Two Jack Lake, near Banff, August 8-10, at dawn for the Banff Festival of the Arts (photo by Scott Rowed).

Suppressing a youthful urge to become a painter, Schafer entered the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto in 1952 to study with Alberto Guerrero (piano), Greta Kraus (harpsichord), John Weinzweig (composition), and Arnold Walter (musicology). In view of Schafer's later proclivities, however, his casual contact with Marshall McLuhan at the university might be singled out as the strongest and most lasting influence on his intellectual development. Disillusioned by what he came to view as the confining atmosphere of the university, Schafer terminated his formal studies in 1955 and embarked upon an intensive autodidactic routine with an emphasis on languages, literature, and philosophy. The LRSM remains his only formal diploma.

The CBC recorded Schafer's Wolf music which he has performed for 15 years, in a forest for a select audience, but mostly for the ambiance of playing in the forest. So if a trumpet sounds in the forest do we hear music? The wolves do.

Wolf Music is not only a composition: it is an annual ritual music-drama involving sixty to seventy people over eight days, taking place on a lake in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. The composer and six professional musicians each lead small groups of people whose very presence are part of the performance. So, too, are the flora and fauna, the lake,the wind and even a passing jet. This description of the work could be very unappealing to those who are not attracted to ecologically-based spirituality, or those that feel this style of composition is passé. However, apart from Schafer's narrative (which, frankly, I could have done without) the listener is easily able to bypass the philosophy to get at the music, which is beautiful and imaginative.

R. Murray Schafer's environmental music drama, And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon (1988- ), stands at the nexus between the lived experience of performance in the Canadian wilderness and Schafer's romantic idea of the North. A collaborative project involving 75 volunteer participants, the work takes place over an entire week each August in the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve near Ontario's Algonquin Park. It forms the epilogue to the composer's massive Patria series (1966- ). Simultaneously performers, creators and audience, the participants camp together as they enact Schafer's participatory and ritualistic theatre - a theatre specifically designed for performance in the Canadian wilderness.

When they camp and work together each summer, members of the Wolf Project participate in Schafer's idea of the North, his vision of a Canada reconciled to, and integrated with, its wilderness environment. They return from this liminal realm to their urban lives distinctly changed, no longer the uneasy inhabitants of a humanly undigestible wilderness.

My articles on music:

What's Opera Doc

Summer Solstice Give Or Take A Day

Thick as a Brick

Dion Sucked



Christy Moore Viva La Quince Brigada

Brown, Ford, Castro

The N Word

Hip Hop Gun Culture

John Lennon Working Class Hero

Revolutionary Music Flashback

Happy Birthday Mozart

Soul of a City

Before MTV


Happy Birthday Bob

Daniel Barenboim's Dream

Rich Man's War

Classical Rock

Ennio Morricone A Fistful of Composer

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