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October 24, 2002 Inter-university project on the frontiers of music and art



Mark Corwin, Liselyn Adams

Music professor Mark Corwin and Liselyn Adams, associate dean of Fine Arts

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Julie Parkins

Private void. Channelling Scriabin. Distance is relative. These phrases may seem mysterious, but they represent an artistic challenge to Liselyn Adams and a group of music students from Concordia and McGill who are involved in an inter-university research project in music and design.

“Rather than working strictly from a composer’s score, we’re asking the musicians to create a collaborative composition based on text,” she said.

“Musicians take a look at this text and make decisions. They can make things sound like what the text looks like. They can create something that would sound like private void. They can go by the meaning, or create the mood that is suggested by the phrase. They can create background music to someone reading the text.”

Adams began using text to make music with her own musical group, The Blue Rider Ensemble. This is one aspect of a three-year research program being undertaken in Concordia’s Departments of Music and Design Art and McGill’s Faculty of Music through a grant from the FQRSC (Fonds Québécois de recherche sur la société et culture) whose goal is to break down the wall between acoustic music and the world of experimental performance and digital media.

The theory goes that true cultural innovation and aesthetic research happen only when new techniques are fully understood and internalized by artists. The project acknowledges this theory, and seeks to create a synergy among a range of artists and researchers, freeing them to explore and connect with each other.

“This is just a new incarnation of an experimental mode that musicians and visual artists had back in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Mark Corwin, chair of the department and director of electroacoustic studios at Concordia.

“Making noises was one thing, but now it’s about making sounds and trying to evoke things. It’s about trying to break new ground, find new ways of doing things that were done in the past — because it’s just so much fun!”

The music created in the program this semester will be presented at a concert in December that will also feature a visual representation of the texts and music under the direction of Design Art Professor P.K. Langshaw. She and Corwin will also document this “visual chamber music” with multi-channel recording and mixing techniques, and on video.

The second year of the program will add detailed research on sound reinforcement and multi-channel sound diffusion. In the third year, computers will be brought into the mix, both as instrumentation in a chamber ensemble and as a tool for creating, transforming and controlling acoustic and electroacoustic sounds.

Different university students will be involved with this project throughout the three years.

“We wanted to spread the wealth out, get them to think about performance in a different way because they’ve been involved in this project,” Corwin explained. “The more people we can get involved at the student level, the better, because they will then take it into their own classes and other places.”

In addition to the student project in each of the three years, there will be a larg-scale production by one of the professional groups of the research team.

In this first year, Adams’s Blue Rider Ensemble will finish and perform their work commissioned by writer Michel Garneau and called Blue Rider Marmelade.

In the second year, Tim Brady’s Bradyworks Ensemble, which is ensemble in residence at Concordia, will work with several composers on works for string quartet and computers.

Throughout the three years, the recording and sound manipulation research will be undertaken by Mark Corwin and Philippe DePalle, of McGill. Compositional aspects will be overseen by Alcides Ianza (McGill), and students will be drawn from both universities.

The full team comprises Adams, Langshaw and Corwin, the two professors from McGil, and Tim Brady, an independent musician, researcher and innovative performer, who was instrumental in organizing this project. The total value of the grant is $173,750, which includes $20,000 equipment and 51,250 per year operating funds.