Steam is a homage to the unique Canadian whistles and foghorns that populate the nation's soundscape from coast to coast. Some are actual steam whistles, but most are the air horns designed by Robert Swanson to imitate their earlier counterparts, the most famous being the E-flat minor triad of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway and the O Canada horn in Vancouver. Other horns that are heard in the piece are a shift whistle in Prince Edward Island, a steam foghorn in New Brunswick, the Royal Hudson steam train, the West Coast Express, the CPR and Chemainus mill shift whistles, all from the West Coast. The rich timbres of these horns provide a set of pitches that are elaborated in the live part. The work is dedicated to the memory of Robert Swanson, one of the most significant designers of the Canadian soundscape. Steam was commissioned by Kathryn Cernauskas.
Original sound recordings by the World Soundscape Project and the composer.
Steam is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD, Spirit Journies, the CD, Big Flutes, published by Chenoa Anderson, and online on Ex Machina with Lindsay Vickery, alto flute.
Sound Example available
The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which incorporates the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer with software for real-time granular synthesis and signal processing (such as digital resonators) developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.