ENTERTAINMENT

Made-to-measure music that eliminates musicians

GEORGE PYKE March 24 1962
ENTERTAINMENT

Made-to-measure music that eliminates musicians

GEORGE PYKE March 24 1962

Made-to-measure music that eliminates musicians

ENTERTAINMENT

Three professors at the University of Toronto have been practising for three years to perfect the music of tomorrow. They create it directly on magnetic tape, using sounds produced by electronic generators and reshaped in transistors, filters and reverberation chambers. Now, says Dr. Myron Schaeffer, one of the trio, they have mastered their “instrument” well enough to graduate from manufacturing sounds to serious composition. Some of their compositions, broadcast by the CBC last month, were described by a Toronto Star reviewer as “ear-caressing, tender, lyrical and very transparent . . . melo-

dious and rhythmically uncomplicated.”

Electronic music is made to measure; the shape and timbre of every note can be controlled precisely. It eliminates the performer, but it can create the sound of any instrument, or of instruments that never existed, or even the human voice. It can be simple, or as bewikleringly complex as the composer wishes, since it does not have to be played by a performer with human limitations.

The original material of an electronic composition — probably unrecognizable in its final form—-can be anything from bumps, tinkles or the wind in the wil-

lows to the sound of a symphony. Dr. Hugh Lc Caine of Ottawa, a physicist who is the father of Canadian electronic music, manufactured one piece from the splash of a raindrop. He calls it Dripsody. Some producers of the new music combine electronic sounds with music from conventional instruments; Henk Badings of Holland wrote a concerto for violin and two sound tracks.

In the Toronto studio, though, little use is made of natural sound effects or of orchestral instruments. Instead, the music starts in a machine that produces simple sound waves (sine waves) at any desired pitch, and creates a de-

sired timbre by combinations of sound waves. Then it is fed into Schaeffer’s key invention, the “hamograph” (“ham” from the first initials of Harvey Olnick, Arnold Walter and Myron Schaeffer). This imposes on sounds the rhythmic pattern previously pasted or painted by the composer on a continuous loop of tape. He thus controls tempo, rhythm, even the individual characteristics of every tone, with complete precision. Finally, the complex sounds on several different tracks are combined on a single tape.

The Toronto studio was established after Dr. Walter, who is head of the U. of T. music faculty, met Le Caine at a conference and listened to his ideas.

Dr. Walter sees “space acoustics” as one fascinating future field for electronic composition. The new sound would be made to travel around an auditorium to 25 or more loudspeakers and inundate the audience from all sides — a sort of 25-w'ay stereophonic sound. This, he thinks, would make the ghostly wails of science-fiction movies (which have already discovered electronic sound) as old-fashioned as the C major scale. GEORGE PYKE