Photo credit: Tanya Petreman

Students, GLS

Graduate Student Profile: Andrew Czink, GLS

March 27, 2017

Andrew Czink likes to think of the word music as a verb rather than a noun: “it is something we do, not something we have. Music is not an object that sits on a shelf but is a practice we engage in.” Czink, an SFU alumnus (BFA, Contemporary Arts; MA Graduate Liberal Studies, GLS), is a composer, performer, sound engineer, and educator. He is also a member of the inaugural cohort of students admitted to the PhD program in GLS (2013). His dissertation focuses on philosophical aspects of musical practices from the perspective of the performer/creator.

Czink’s main instrument is the piano, which he has been playing for 48 years; he also plays and composes for Javanese Gamelan. Four years ago he took up the lap steel guitar and, in 2016, Japanese Taiko drumming. Along with his partner, Tanya Petreman, Czink studies Tango dancing, which he has come to view as a musical practice as well.  He is a founder and co-director of a record label, earsay productions, and is one half of the musical duo Bent, with Doug Blackley. Czink engages in musical practices that explore soundscape (the perceived sonic environment), and acoustic ecology (the study of the relationship between human beings and the environment as mediated through sound).

Listen to audio samples of Czink’s music. Image: earsay productions.

Czink began studying in SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts in 1981. The program, with its emphasis on composition and integration of analog and digital electronics, was for Czink, “very exciting,” and the antidote to his disappointment with the “very conservative approaches to music education in Vancouver.” Czink studied with Barry Truax, who, along with fellow composer and music educator R. Murray Schafer, established the World Soundscape Project at SFU in the late 1960’s. Truax’s influence was crucial for Czink, as he “brought a unique perspective to music and sound studies by integrating compositional concerns with those of acoustic ecology.”

Andrew Czink in SFU School of Communication's Sonic Research Studio in 1985.

SFU's GLS program has proved to be another strong fit for Czink, who completed his MA in GLS in 2013. Czink explains that the program gave him “a strong understanding of, and appreciation for, interdisciplinary studies. My thesis project, Sound Means: Towards an Epistemology of Auditory Experience, was the synthesis of a range of approaches and perspectives on auditory experience that I don’t think I could have arrived at without the wide ranging ground of the GLS program and especially its faculty.”

Czink says his PhD project has been emerging for a long time. He decided to pursue graduate work to develop his “conceptual and writing skills in order to explore aspects of music and auditory experience in general.” Czink’s process is also his practice: “in engaging in musical practices,” he explains,” we have an opportunity to build a dynamic relationship to history, in learning musical traditions, and to pursue the freedom to transgress those codes to create new forms of expression.” For example, “piano is my main instrument and I continue to discover new ways to make it sound ‘strange’ and unfamiliar. I work to wring sound out of it that one wouldn’t expect. This attitude really characterizes my approach to making music.”

Czink (Right, standing), performing with Doug Blackley, as the duo Bent. Photo: Jon Vincent.

Thus, Czink says, his PhD research grew out of his dissatisfaction with traditional approaches to studying and making music. “Not that there aren’t valuable things to be learned from those approaches,” he notes, “but they are inherently limiting, and in a debilitating way. I have learned much from my traditional musical training, but at a certain point I realized how much had been missed: how many holes there were in my understanding of music and its cultural embeddedness.”

In his PhD, Czink contends with a number of aspects of musical practices that he says are mostly marginalized in ‘Western’ musical thought: “that making music is a situated practice – it is done in a particular historical, cultural, and geographical milieu; that it is an embodied practice – it depends on the particularities of our embodiment, meaning all of our senses, both the traditional ‘exteroceptive’ ones (sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch) as well as the ‘interoceptive’ ones (proprioception, vestibular, kinaesthetic, haptic) in an integrated way; that making music is a cognitive practice contributing to our knowledge of the world (in a most inclusive way); and that it is a sonorous practice, in that the primary result of musical practices is the creation and articulation of sound.”

Czink argues that traditional, more formalistic, approaches to the study of music and its creation “leave us weirdly disconnected with music itself, with our environment, with our culture, with our historicity, and ultimately with each other.” A more ‘holistic’ approach, he suggests, may offer models of intersubjectivity that “can help us live exemplary invested lives: ones that may be less dependent on consumer dynamics and more on imaginative attunement to our surroundings and each other.”

Thus, “in my musical work, I would like to move people in ways that they haven’t experienced, to connect people, and to connect with people. I would like them, and myself, to hear and experience the world differently.”  In terms of his teaching (he teaches audio and music production at The Art Institute of Vancouver), the motivation is similar: “I would like students to have extraordinary experiences. I would like them to understand themselves, the people they interact with, and the world in general in new and motivating ways. I would hope to inspire students to live their lives most fully, and to enact their world and to continually remake themselves.”

Hear Andrew Czink perform (solo piano) and speak as part of the GLS Shadbolt Seminar, “Travel Study in Your Own Hometown: Arts, Criticism, and the City” on Monday, May 15th, 7:30-9:00pm at the World Arts Centre, SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Open to members of the public.