Audio Art in New Brunswick
Imagine an orchestra of children’s toys emitting bizarre sounds from hacked circuit boards. Picture a radio show broadcast from a traveling transmitter in a wheelbarrow. Now, envision a symphony of car horns honking out musical compositions on a starry summer night. These are just a few examples of audio art projects created by New Brunswick artists who are gaining international reputations in their fields and in our backyards.
While Vancouver and Montreal may be known as the leading hotspots in Canada for audio art and electroacoustic music, there is certainly a growing community of sound artists right here in New Brunswick. Sackville based artist, Linda Rae Dornan suggests that, “there is more of an awareness about sound, possibly because music plays such a large part in all our lives, as does sound pollution, and because more artists are using it - with video and in sound installations. [Yet] there is a limited understanding or appreciation for sound art [because] it isn't played in the mainstream media at all.” In the upcoming months, however, locals will have opportunities to acquaint themselves with audio art from around the world, at two cutting-edge festivals: namely the RE:FLUX Festival of Music and Sound Art in Moncton (May 15 - May 31) and the OK.Quoi?! Festival in Sackville (July 28 – August 2).
For those of you who may not be familiar with audio art, it is a hybrid art form straddling the boundaries of music and visual art, stemming back to a 1913 manifesto called “The Art of Noise” by Luigi Russolo. Decades later, a new generation of audio artists were inspired by John Cage’s statement that “Music never stops, only listening does.” It is this notion that drove Canadian artists in the 1970s to develop the genre of soundwalking, which was described by Vancouver based artist Hildegard Westerkamp as “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are.” In addition to soundwalking, audio artists work in many other genres, including radio art, circuit bending, ambient sound recording, and electroacoustics.
Paul Bossé is an excellent example of a local artist combining the genres of soundwalking and radio art. In his Radio-Barrow project, Bossé installed a radio transmitter into a wheelbarrow and walked around downtown Moncton while broadcasting the walk to listeners over a 1 km radius. Marc Xavier LeBlanc and André Boudreau also worked with radio as a platform for audio art in their project called El Chaos Ambienté that involved multiple layers of found sound recordings with ambient loops for broadcast. LeBlanc continues to host a radio show on new and experimental music, called La Photo Sonore that can be heard every Thursday night from 7-9pm on CKUM 93.5 FM.
Linda Rae Dornan, whose work has shown across North America, South America, and Europe, also works in radio as she creates pieces that explore interior spaces and processes of being through the layering of sounds and voices. You can hear samples of audio art on her radio show every Thursday from 11pm to midnight on CHMA 106.9 FM and on the internet. In addition to radio, she also creates audio performances such as hackinthesack, in which she and Ian Crutchley presented an orchestra of circuitbent children’s toys at the Symposium of Art Cabaret in Sackville.
Circuitbending involves hacking the circuit boards in existing toys and machines to modify the sounds that they make. Will McCleod (also known as Oxygenfad), hailing from Moncton, but now living in Quebec, circuitbends toys like Speak‘n’Spell, among others, to incorporate with his electronic music that you can find on the internet at www.oxygenfad.com.
Another field related to circuitbending is electroacoustic music, which combines acoustic sounds with electronic processing. Sbot N Wo is an electroacoustic duo from Sackville who tour extensively throughout North America and Europe. Their performances often involve Helen Pridmore working with her voice while W. L. Altman processes it on his laptop. If you are interested in checking out some of their performances, you’ll have a chance at the upcoming RE:FLUX festival.
The Motion Ensemble also explores the realm of electroacoustics and experimental music by preparing and presenting regular concerts of international works in Fredericton, Saint John, and Sackville. TheMotion Ensemble is also a regular participant at the annual OK.Quoi?! Festival as they organize and perform the Honk Symphony; a symphony of cars honking out experimental music compositions.
As you can see, New Brunswick has an active community of internationally known audio artists, but you might miss them if you’re not out looking for them. As Dornan so aptly puts it: “[Sound Art] is quite big everywhere in recent years if you are tuned in to the right wavelengths, otherwise it is a sideline to the consumer pop music industry.”