Sound Symposium

Sound Symposium. Multi-disciplinary event initiated in St John's, Nfld, in 1983 under the artistic direction of Don Wherry and the sponsorship of the Memorial U Art Gallery on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the province.

Sound Symposium

Sound Symposium. Multi-disciplinary event initiated in St John's, Nfld, in 1983 under the artistic direction of Don Wherry and the sponsorship of the Memorial U Art Gallery on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the province. Symposia followed in 1984 and every second year thereafter and have brought together musicians, filmmakers, actors, dancers, and visual, multi-media and environmental artists - local and international, 'New' and traditional - in 'a celebration of sound'. Presentations (concerts, workshops, screenings, etc) have been held at Memorial U, in local galleries and private studios, and at several outdoor locations in the St John's area. By 1990 the symposium enjoyed an international reputation and was rivalled only by the Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville for its initiative and vision.

Nearly 100 artists participated in the first symposium, 7-14 Jul 1983, including Émile Benoit, Figgy Duff, Fusion, the Jeff Johnston Trio, Gordon Monahan, R. Murray Schafer, Michael Snow, and Gayle Young. Performances were given of A Nobleman's Wedding, a 'folk opera' by Figgy Duff's Pamela Morgan, and of Harbour Symphony, a series of pieces written for the horns and bells of the ships in St John's harbour. Performed daily at 12:30 p.m., the Harbour Symphony (familiarly, the 'noon toot'), has come to typify the symposium's efforts to turn the city into an 'audio-visual lab'. A new work is performed each day of the symposium; Joe Carter and Paul Steffler wrote the inaugural 'symphony' and Schafer, Wherry, Snow, David Keane, Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Jean Piché, and Yu Wakao, among many other composers, have also prepared pieces.

Projects in a similar, environmentally-based vein have included Circular Road (by Robin MacKenzie, for bagpipes, voices, and ocean, performed in 1983); Sitelines (by Joe Carter, for ships bells, full moon, flashlights, and jet airplane, presented at St John's harbour in 1984); Aztec Dreams (by Don Stein and Rick Roberts, for four locomotives, pipe band, percussionists, etc, mounted at the CN railway yard in 1986); Gordon Monahan's 'Long Aeolian Piano' (a sound sculpture installed atop Signal Hill in 1988); Wherry's Bells, for alphorn, church bells and boat horns, performed in 1988); Yves Sioui Durand's Le Porteur des peines du monde, performed by native people from Canada, the USA, Bolivia and Peru at nearby Quidi Vidi Lake in 1988; and Wherry's Flume (for percussion, woodwinds and dancer, performed at the College of Fisheries' Flume Tank in 1990).

Schafer has made return visits to Sound Symposium, as have Benoit, Figgy Duff, Johnston, Keane, Monahan, Young, Anita Best, Lori Clarke, Paul Dutton, George Morgan, Public Hearing, Dorman Ralph, Christina Smith, Casey Sokol, the Thomas Trio and the Red Albino, and Buddy Wassisname. Other Canadians to participate include Raymond Gervais, Marvin Green, and John Oswald (1984), Kristi Allik, Bill Bissett, Mychael Danna and Tim Clement, the Evergreen Club Gamelan Orchestra, Michele George, Bryan Highbloom, Eleanor James (in the world premiere of Schafer's Tantrika), Catherine Lewis, Fred Stone, the Throat Singers, and Wondeur Brass (1986), Martin Bartlett, Ellen Band, Elise Bedard, Peter Chin, Jean Derome and René Lussier, André Duchesne, Graeme Kirkland, Jon Loretan, Claude Ranger, Rawlins Cross, Bill Smith, Art Stoyles, and Hildegaard Westerkamp (1988), and Sergio Barroso, Christopher Butterfield, Cymbali, Lisle Ellis, Four the Moment, Inter Le Lieu, Joseph Petric, David Prentice, Sound Pressure, Tomson Highway, the Richard Underhill/Tom Walsh duo, and Eric West and Heather Griffin (1990).

Among the US musicians at the symposia have been Jane Ira Bloom, Jay Clayton, Jerry Hunt, Richard Lerman, David Moss, and Pauline Oliveros (1986), Moss, Eugene Chadbourne, Alvin Lucier, and John King (1988), and Marilyn Crispell, Tom Guralnick, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Peppe, and Susan Rawcliffe (1990). Other performers have come from Belgium (Logos Duo, 1986), Japan (Yu Wakao, 1986), Britain (Trevor Wishart, 1986; Phil Minton and Roger Turner, 1990), Gambia (Mammatongue, 1988), Germany (Cassiber, 1988; Die Audio Gruppe, 1990), Brazil (Uakti, 1990), Czechoslovakia (Iva Bittova, 1990), and France (Vivenza and Jacques Dudon, 1990).

Performances from the festival have been issued on cassette by Musicworks and by the symposium itself. Documentary films have been made by Barbara Doran (A Harbour Symphony/Une symphonie du harve, from 1988) and by Fleeting Glimpse Productions (Alien Soundscapes, from 1990). In 1991 the Arthur and Beatrice Minden Foundation created the Freddie Stone Award for a musician who 'reflects musical integrity and innovation' and gave the symposium responsibility for selecting its recipients. Lisle Ellis received the first award.

Don (Donald George) Wherry (percussionist, composer, b Hamilton, Ont, 3 Jun 1935) studied with Art Cooper of the Detroit SO. He was a member 1961-73 of the TS and also played with the CBC Festival, COC, National Ballet, and Ten Centuries Concerts orchestras before moving in 1973 to St John's. There he has been principal percussionist with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and has collaborated with several local theatre and dance groups.

Wherry was a co-founder in 1976 with Paul Bendzsa and Mike Zagorski of the new-music ensemble Fusion, which toured Canada in 1984 with Jeff Johnston, Cathie Ferri, and John Oswald, performing excerpts from the symposium program of that year. Besides Sitelines, Bells, and Flume, Wherry's compositions include Mixtum (for percussion ensemble) and soundtracks for mixed-media pieces (The Pond, Birds) prepared with Frank LaPointe. In 1987 he began designing sound sculptures - eg, Kaddy's Trash Guitar (1990) which employs an aluminum rowboat - and subsequently worked in the related field of 'homemade instruments,' leading to such compositions as Basement Music (1990, for said 'instruments') and 105 MM (1990, for five artillery shell players).


Further Reading

  • Kelley, Linda. 'Intertwining the arts,' CanComp, 198, Feb 1985

    Perlin, John C. 'Eastern eclectics,' Music, vol 13, Jun-Jul 1990

    Ruebsaat, Norbert, Westerkamp, Hildegard. 'A little symposium on the symposium,' Musicworks, 49, Winter 1990

    Hammock, Janet. 'Newfoundland's unique audio-visual lab: organizing the Sound Symposium,' Musicworks, 49, Winter 1990