Hildegard Westerkamp was born in Osnabrück, Germany in 1946 and emigrated to Canada in 1968. Her daughter, Sonja Ruebsaat was born in 1977 and is the designer of this webpage. 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 in her, but it also changed her ways of thinking about music, listening and soundmaking. Her ears were drawn to the acoustic environment as another cultural context or place for intense listening.
The founding of Vancouver Co-operative Radio during the same time provided an invaluable opportunity to record, experiment with and broadcast the soundscape.
One could say that her career as a composer, educator, and radio artist emerged from these two pivotal experiences and focused it on environmental sound and acoustic ecology. In addition, composers such as John Cage and Pauline Oliveros have had a significant influence on her work.
While completing her Master's Thesis, entitled Listening and Soundmaking - A Study of Music-as-Environment, she also taught courses in Acoustic Communication together with colleague Barry Truax in the School of Communication at SFU until 1990. Since then she has written additional articles and texts addressing issues of the soundscape and listening and has travelled widely, giving lectures and conducting soundscape workshops, internationally. She is a founding member and is currently active on the board of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE). as well as the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology (CASE). 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 new publication of the WFAE.
Her compositions have been performed and broadcast in many parts of the world. The majority of her compositional output deals with aspects of the acoustic environment: with urban, rural or wilderness soundscapes, with the voices of children, men and women, with noise or silence, music and media sounds, or with the sounds of different cultures, and so on. She has composed film soundtracks, sound documents for radio and has produced and hosted radio programs such as Soundwalking, and Musica Nova on Vancouver Co-operative Radio.
In a number of compositions she has combined her treatment of environmental sounds extensively with the poetry of Canadian writer Norbert Ruebsaat. (Cordillera, A Walk through the City, Cricket Voice). She also has written her own texts for a series of performance pieces for spoken text and tape. In addition to her electroacoustic compositions, she has created pieces for specific "sites", such as the Harbour Symphony, and École polytechnique. In pieces like The India Sound Journal she explores the deeper implications of transferring environmental sounds from another culture into the North American and European context of contemporary music, electroacoustic composition, and audio art. In 1998 she collaborated with her Indian colleagues Mona Madan, Savinder Anand, and Veena Sharma on a sound installation in New Delhi entitled Nada-an Experience in Sound, sponsored by the New Delhi Goethe Institut (Max Mueller Bhavan) and the Indira Ghandi National Centre for the Arts. In 2000 she created together with photographer Florence Debeugny, At the Edge of Wilderness, a sound installation about ghost towns in British Columbia, commissioned by Vancouver's Western Front Society. And in her latest compositions Für Dich/For You and Liebes-Lied/Love Song, based on poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke and its translation by Norbert Ruebsaat, she explores the theme of love and connectedness with the sounds and languages of her German/Canadian existence.
By focusing the ears' attention to details both familiar and foreign in the acoustic environment, Westerkamp draws attention to the inner, hidden spaces of the environment we inhabit. Her compositional work has been discussed in various articles, but most extensively in Andra McCartney's dissertation Sounding Places with Hildegard Westerkamp .
Excerpts of Hildegard Westerkamp's compositions have been included in the soundtrack of Elephant and Last Days, two films by Gus van Sant. See Randolph Jordan's article:
"The Work of Hildegard Westerkamp in the Films of Gus Van Sant"
CDs of both soundtracks have been released in France by mk2 music.