Soundwalking With Hildegard Pt. 1

by Carey Rutherford

Hildegard (and a few others) were marvelously invigorating.
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 rhuythmically 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 . . . .


Author: Paul Verhaegh

Music is oxygen for the soul. And there is so much music out there that you don’t even know about. If you like writing and need some oxygen now and then, writing about music is a natural combination. My love for music made me take piano lessons: after a few years it became clear that it didn’t really stick with me. Nor did the trumpet, which I tried to learn too. Well, maybe I should have tried it earlier in live. Starting it your thirties is a bit late, even when it is in your early thirties! A lasting legacy of this episode is that I realized that making music is like giving a speech without reading it from paper, although there are exceptions, like orchestras. But once they've started a song or tune it sounds like they just go with the flow, or, as the expression goes, be taken away by their own muse.