Musicworks #29

CanadaFlagContinuo’s Canadian Week


  1. Loop from Udo Kasemets ‘Earthspin’
    by Gordon Monahan & Chris Devonshire,
    fade into a breathing recording by John Oswald
  2. Rooster/chickens recording by John Oswald,
    NS Subramaniam & Trichy Sankaran tuning,
    then the latter in Concert at Toronto’s Music Gallery, 1984
  3. Clock/heartbeat sounds
    Trichy Sankaran Interview by Casey Sokol & James Tenney
  4. Albert Mayr ‘Horos Harmonica (excerpt #1)’
  5. Albert Mayr ‘A Rythm Found At The Sea’
    + ‘Horos Harmonica (excerpt #2)’
    + interview w/ Albert Mayr
  6. Gordon Monahan ‘Thaddeus Holownia’s Circular Clock’
  7. Robert Stevenson ‘It’s About Time’
    performed by the Evergreen Gamelan Ensemble, December 1984
    + Albert Mayr ‘Horos Harmonica (excerpt #2)’
  8. Crickets recorded by Andrew Timar
  9. Udo Kasemets ‘Earthspin’
    Hildegard Westerkamp ‘New Year’s Eve In Vancouver’
    Albert Mayr ‘Horos Harmonica (excerpt #4)’
    Breath recorded by John Oswald
    Surf and wind recordings by Dan Gibson
  10. Udo Kasemets ‘Celestial Timescapes’
    Realization: Chris Devonshire & John Oswald at Mystery Tape Laboratory in Toronto

Total time: 40:00
Edited and produced by John Oswald
Released 1985

First a supplement in a 1978 Toronto literary journal (‘Only Paper Today’), Musicworks evolved into a regular newspaper shortly after, while Andrew Timar was chief editor – a position he quit in 1982, when Tina Pearson took up the baton until 1987. The companion cassette appeared in 1983, so possibly on Tina Pearson’s initiative. Toronto’s Music Gallery was to be Musicworks editor from 1987 on. From the mid-1980s issues I have come across, the Musicworks journal had a particular interest in literature and illustrations – for a music magazine, that is. Issues included poems, diary excerpts, eastern philosophy, cosmology; illustrations consisted of: historical documents, archive photographs, diagrams, middle-ages or esoterical documents. Maybe due to the fact that several contributors had been R Murray Schafer students or collaborators, many articles in the journal stem from outdoors activities: urban soundscape, participatory events, sound ecology, nature as the composer’s playground.

An ambitious Tina Pearson/John Oswald project, the ‘Times & Tides’ cassette deals with the notion of time in music, taking its sound examples from contemporary Canadian music of the 1980s. It strikes me how various Canadian composers have dealt with this issue from the 1960s till today, think Udo Kasemets or Andrew Timar, for instance. The inclusion of ‘Tides’ embarks lunar influence and cosmological calendars in the project. Additionally, the presence of raga music philosophy (see Trichy Sankaran’s music and interview, tracks #2&3) as well as javanese gamelan music (by Robert W. Stevenson and the Evergreen Club Gamelan Ensemble, Canada’s foremost gamelan ensemble, featured track #7), further widens the scope of time concerns in music. As Sankaran puts it in his interview, in Indian raga, ‘tala’ means time, that is: measure. This gorgeous compilation also include rythm examples from natural sounds, such as human breathing, heartbeats, waves, rooster (early in the morning?), crickets, thunderstorm, clocks sounds, harmonics from slowed down piano notes, …

Active in Canada from the 1950s-60s till today, Udo Kasemets (b1919, Talinn) is a Cage-influenced composer with works including aleatory music, participatory sound events, installation pieces and an interest in architecture. According to Wikipedia, Kasemets calls himself a ‘temporal man’. Many of his works deal with time: 1990’s ‘Lun(h)armonics’ is based on the Chinese lunar calendar; ‘Calendar Round’ from 1989-90 has similar interest; his rendition of Beckett’s Nothing (1971) uses pendulum-pushers along 4 readers and 4 tape recorders. Gordon Monahan performed several of Kasemets sound works, as in the present ‘Earthspin’ (tr.#1). The B side of Times & Tides is devoted to ‘Celestial Timescapes’, a composition for long electronic drones in various pitch along slowed down surfing waves sounds, plus additional piano notes, where electronic white noise represent the sun and electronic drones the 12 zodiac constellations (see release info for details). The music sounds like the flickering of time enormously slowed down to reveal the pulse of time. This recording was realized in John Oswald’s Mystery Tapes Laboratory studio in 1985.

Italian composer Albert Mayr (b1943) was born and educated in Bolzano and Florence conservatories. He was first influenced by Pietro Grossi, whose assistant he was from 1964 to 69, before he left for Canada where he was to be lecturer at Montreal’s McGill University till 1973. Mayr is the author of a book on ‘epistemology of time’ and ‘Hora Harmonica’ (as it is now called) is said to ‘propose an alternative form of measuring’. So he might as well have inspired the idea of this Musicworks ‘Times & Tides’ issue. Conceived in 1983, ‘Horos Harmonica’ use extremely slowed down piano sounds to reveal the pulses of the fundamental note. It has been performed worldwide in the 1990s under the ‘Hora Harmonica’ title.

I feel I should mention a few other remarkable things in this release, as well: you will notice from the included info sheet that side A represents one day, with morning, midday and evening tracks matched accordingly. Side B represents 22 cosmological days. Of course some tracks are more or less intertwined together and I had to make a few perilous choices to cue them in a manageable way for the listener – myself included, to track down who is doing what.

Information for this post came from:
Musicworks journal #29, 1985
The Soundscape Newsletter,
1993 (Hildegard Westerkamp ed.)
The Canadian Encyclopedia
Various music websites

[Link removed 12/09. Complaint received]

2 Responses to “Musicworks #29”

  1. 1 mac February 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    that’s a great rare one, thanks a lot!

  2. 2 j.henry February 20, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    this, especially, is really fantastic to see. whitehead had mentioned this somewhere too — eager to listen. ..

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