Networked_Music_Review

Net_Music_Weekly: Hildegard Westerkamp

hildi1s.jpgComposer Hildegard Westerkamp works exclusively with environmental sounds. I first came across her work while producing the New American Radio series (1987-1998). We included A Walk Through the City (1981) and Cricket Voice (1987) – both described here. Cricket Voice, which uses recordings made on a trip to the so-called “Zone of Silence” in the Mexican desert, and particularly the cricket’s night song, remains one of my favorite environmental compositions.

Hildegard Westerkamp was born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1946 and emigrated to Canada in 1968. After completing her music studies in the early seventies Westerkamp joined the World Soundscape Project under the direction of Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver.

Her involvement with this project not only activated deep concerns about noise and the general state of the acoustic environment, but it also changed her way of thinking about music, listening and sound making. She discovered, as she was later to write, that environmental sounds were the perfect compositional “language” for her. The founding of Vancouver Co-operative Radio during the same period provided an invaluable opportunity for her to record, experiment with and broadcast; and it was from within this context of ecological concern for the soundscape and the availability of an alternate media outlet that her compositional work – now called soundscape composition – emerged.

Acoustic ecology or soundscape studies – the study of the inter-relationship between sound, nature, and society – is the arena in which Westerkamp continues to work. Since 1990 she has written articles and texts addressing issues of the soundscape and listening; and has traveled widely to give lectures and conduct workshops. She is a founding member and is currently active on the board of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE). Between 1991 and 1995 she was the editor of The Soundscape Newsletter and is now on the editorial committee of Soundscape -The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, a publication of the WFAE. Her most recent articles reflect a growing interest in soundwalks. She belongs to a Vancouver soundwalking collective and is currently working on a commission for Vancouver New Music to be performed this coming February.

Westerkamp’s compositional work is discussed extensively in Andra McCartney’s dissertation Sounding Places with Hildegard Westerkamp. Her compositions have been performed and broadcast in many parts of the world. Here’s Breaking News, commissioned by CBC Radio in 2002:


Dec 5, 2007
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Networked_Music_Review (NMR) is a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.

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