Soundwalking With Hildegard Part 1: The depth of Acoustic Ecology

Front and back of open brochure cover saying Happening 2012.
Ms. Westerkamp (and a few others) was marvelously invigorating. Image from the first concert programme.

What would you do if you were sitting in a formal concert hall, dressed for a night of highly educated performances by acclaimed composers, and you began hearing a cricket, very clearly, and no-one seemed particularly perturbed, and it began to develop harmonically and chronologically, transforming into something quite beyond the normal sound of a single cricket, developing rhythmically and musically until it swims through your awareness like a goldfish? Or a horse-sized cricket.

Losing your mind? Acid flashback? Another dream like those you’ve been having while driving (I’ll just get out here, if you don’t mind . . .)?

Or, Hildegard Westerkamp’s famous “Cricket Voice” (1987), intended to draw your awareness to the subtleties of sound and silence which most urban dwellers (and many rural dwellers) have lost contact with.

“We have unlearned to use our ears in our society, so to me it’s still very important to be able to speak about this; to work with people, faculty, students, anybody really, on ‘How do we listen?’ To bring people to the awareness of their own listening, and to understand ‘What kind of listener are we?’ ‘What is our relationship via the ear to the environment?’ and ‘Do we know what’s going on out there aurally?’

In my compositions I’m putting that into an artistic context, where the listening is transformed into a contemplation of a place or a situation in a more musical sense.”

Though she’s participating in Happening 2012: A Festival of New Music and Media as a composer, if it sounds like Ms. Westerkamp is a ‘listening counsellor, she doesn’t disagree:

“A bit, yes. Finding out whether we have a relationship in our listening sense to our environment, and, though it’s always been important, why is that important now? That’s why we do soundwalks, because that gives you the opportunity to spend an hour of extraordinary listening to the environment, which is an unusual experience. We don’t do that normally. But that gives us a chance to practice that kind of listening as if it was the kind of listening that we do in concerts. That experience of not speaking and just listening to our environment usually has a strong impact on people because it’s new: they are beginning to subtly notice things in the (sound) environment that you don’t when you’re preoccupied with work or whatever.”

Hildegard and her more prosaic contemporaries rub shoulders this week at the University of Calgary’s Happening Festival from January 25 – 28, mostly ;in their amazing Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. The daytime and evening events will include world premieres, workshops, local and international performers and composers, pre-concert talks before every performance, and, maybe, crickets.

It’s hard to be a night in the desert/Without the crickets/You make it with stars” Norbert Ruebsaat

More to come . . . .


Posted by Paul Verhaegh

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.