Courses in Electroacoustic Music & Art



Instructor: Barry Truax, K-9676, phone: 778-782-4261, email:

Website: &

Course Description:

The general theme of this course is music composition based on real-world contexts, of which soundscape composition, as developed at Simon Fraser University and elsewhere, is a prime example of how real-world contexts can inform electroacoustic music practice. However, text-based work and pieces dealing with other social issues such as gender will also be considered. The course will attempt to blend aesthetic criticism with applied studio work, including multi-channel composition.

Texts: (on 24-hour Library reserve)

FPA. 389 Readings (two copies on reserve in Library)

Pre-Requisite: FPA. 347, or CMNS 358, or permission of the Instructor

References: (on 3-day Library reserve)

Contemporary Music Review (ML 197, C752) vol. 15(1-2), A Poetry of Reality

Organised Sound, 7(1), 2002, Soundscape Composition (non-circulating & Professor copy)

Organised Sound, 8(1), 2003, Gender (non-circulating & Professor copy)

Organised Sound, 11(1), 2006, Memory (non-circulating)


Grading: Grading will be based on a letter grade average of four projects, namely two written projects (a project outline and an essay, weighted 20% & 30% respectively) and two applied projects (an exercise and a compositional project, weighted 20% & 30% respectively). A range of topics involving voice, text, environmental sound and music will be available, plus others with permission.

Project Descriptions and Deadlines:

Week 4: Project outline

Week 7: Applied exercise

Week 10: Essay

Week 13: Applied compositional project

1. Project outline: (20%)

Describe a possible compositional project (even if aspects of it are not feasible to realize within the context of the course) where you base the artistic design, materials and form of the project on a particular real-world context. The form of the project might be a concert piece, a radiophonic work, an installation, a music theatre work, or some other format where electroacoustic technology is involved. Describe the materials you would use and how their organization would support the theme of the project. Pay particular attention to how a listener's knowledge of the specific context and its psychological dimensions would be invoked. Suggested length: 2000-2500 words.

2. Applied Exercise: (20%)

This is a free-form exercise in which you utilize field recordings (from the WSP collection or made by yourself) to evoke a particular context. The use of text is optional. Include a brief documentation of how the exercise was created and how it intends to utilize the listener's knowledge of a particular context. Suggested duration: 2-3 minutes.

3. Essay: (30%)

Write an essay on any topic in soundscape composition, including an analysis of specific works wherever possible. You may wish to concentrate on a specific composer, or thematic approach, or compare more than one. Your paper should include at least 5 references outside of the course texts. Web references may be used to supplement, not replace the course readings, and should be documented appropriately. Suggested length: 3000-3500 words.

4. Compositional Project (30%)

A compositional project either in stereo or 8-channel format that illustrates the themes of the course. Duration to be discussed with the Instructor, but not longer than 10 minutes.


Seminar Topics and Readings:

Note: The numbered articles are found in the FPA.389 Readings. Readings to be done for the date shown.


Week 1

Organizational meeting


Week 2

Inner & Outer Complexity

Articles 1 & 2 (Truax)

Week 3

Soundscape Composition I

Articles 3 &4 (Norman, Truax

Week 4

Soundscape Composition II

Articles 5 & 6 (Truax, Westerkamp)

Week 5

Soundscape Composition III

Article 7 & 8 (Drever)

Week 6

Text-based Approaches

Article 9 (Lane)

Week 7

Gender I (Feminist Approaches)

Article 10 & 11 (Bosma, McCartney)

Week 8

Gender II (Homoeroticism)

Articles 12 (Truax)

Week 9

Artists: Hildegard Westerkamp

Article 13-15 (Kolber, McCartney, MacCormac)

Week 10

Artists: Hildegard Westerkamp

Article 16 (McCartney)

Week 11

Artists: Steve Heimbecker

Articles 17 & 18 (Friz, Truax)

Week 12

Artists: Barry Truax

Articles 19 & 20 (Truax)

Week 13

Artists: Anna Rubin, Damian Keller & Matthew Burtner

Articles 21-23 (Burtner, Keller)




Soundscape Composition

1. B. Truax, "The Inner and Outer Complexity of Music," Perspectives of New Music, 32(1), 176-193, 1994.

2. B. Truax, "The Aesthetics of Computer Music: A Questionable Concept Reconsidered," Organised Sound, 5(3), 119-126, 2000.

3. B. Truax, "Soundscape, Acoustic Communication & Environmental Sound Composition", Contemporary Music Review, 15(1), 49-65, 1996.

4. K. Norman, "Real-world Music as Composed Listening," Contemporary Music Review, 15(1), 1996, 1-27.

5. B. Truax, "Techniques and Genres of Soundscape Composition as Developed at Simon Fraser University," Organised Sound, 7(1), 5-14, 2002.

6. H. Westerkamp, "Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology," Organised Sound, 7(1), 51-56, 2002.

7. J. L. Drever, "The Exploitation of 'Tangible Ghosts': Conjectures on Soundscape Recording and its Reappropriation in Sound Art," Organised Sound, 4(1), 25-29, 1999.

8. J. L. Drever, "Soundscape Composition: The Convergence of Ethnography and Acousmatic Music," Organised Sound, 7(1), 21-27, 2002.


Text-based Approaches

9. C. Lane, "Voices from the Past: Compositional Approaches to using Recorded Speech," Organised Sound, 11(1), 3-11. 2006.


Gender-based Approaches

10. H. Bosma, "Bodies of Evidence, Singing Cyborgs and other Gender Issues in Electrovocal Music," Organised Sound, 8(1), 5-17, 2003.

11. A. McCartney, "Cyborg Experiences: Contradictions and Tensions of Technology, Nature, and the Body in Hildegard Westerkamp's Breathing Room," in Music and Gender, P. Moisala & B. Diamond, eds., University of Illinois Press, 2000.

12. B. Truax, "Homoeroticism and Electroacoustic Music: Absence and Personal Voice," Organised Sound, 8(1), 117-124, 2003.


Analysis of Specific Works

13. D. Kolber, "Hildegard Westerkamp's Kits Beach Soundwalk: Shifting Perspectives in Real World Music, Organised Sound, 7(1), 41-43, 2002.

14. A. McCartney, "Alien Intimacies: Hearing Science Fiction Narratives in Hildegard Westerkamp's Cricket Voice," Organised Sound, 7(1), 45-49, 2002.

15. S. MacCormac, "Conversing with Nature: Reflections on Hildegard Westerkamp's Talking Rain," Musicworks, 74, 8-13, 1999.

16. A. McCartney, "In and out of the Sound Studio," Organised Sound, 8(1), 89-96, 2003.

17. A. Friz, "Steve Heimbecker," Musicworks, 94, Spring 2006, 33-57.

18. B. Truax, "Foreword", in Steve Heimbecker: Songs of Place, Oboro Press, 2005.

19. B. Truax, "Composing with Time-Shifted Environmental Sound," Leonardo Music Journal, 2(1), , 37-40, 1992.

20. B. Truax, "Sounds and Sources in Powers of Two: Towards a Contemporary Myth," Organised Sound, 1(1), 13-21, 1996.

21. M. Burtner, "Ecoacoustic and Shamanic Technologies for Multimedia Composition and Performance," Organised Sound, 10(1), 3-19, 2005.

22. D. Keller, "Compositional Processes from an Ecological Perspective," Leonardo Music Journal, 10, 55-60, 2000.

23. D. Keller & A. Capasso, "New Concepts and Techniques in Eco-composition," Organised Sound, 11(1), 55-62, 2006.