What is a soundscape? For us, it is a musical composition that is site specific, and includes both natural sounds and sounds created by human activity that are heard in that environment, both historical and modern. This includes new music or sound that we and our audience create in response to the environment.
We originally approached soundscape from a historical perspective. We had done a lot of training in early music, performing music on reproductions of historical instruments from that period. Most of the music was European. We started to wonder, what would Canadian “early music” sound like? Many of the European pieces we were playing dated from around the time that European settlers were starting to arrive in North America. Some of them must have brought instruments and music with them. So the research began. Not only research into early European settler music, but also learning as much as we could about Indigenous musical traditions. This led to compositions like our Red River Dances, where we created an arrangement that demonstrated how Ojibwe, French, and Scots music merged into what became the Métis fiddle tradition.
Most of our information came from Eastern Canada. We started to wonder about traditions that were specific to the West. This led to speculation about what a site specific historical piece would be like, with layers of sound and music that would build up like layers of an archaeological dig. We started to blog about this idea.
Then an amazing thing happened. The Edmonton Heritage Council put out a call for proposals for site specific works of art that would interpret the heritage of the River Crossing area of Edmonton, which includes the original Fort Edmonton site. We thought our idea of a site specific composition, created with community involvement, was a good match for their criteria, so we sent in a proposal. We figured that they were looking for visual art, not a musical performance, so we didn’t really expect to be selected. Surprise! We received a grant to create the River Crossing Soundscape Project. This was a wonderful opportunity to have the resources to put our ideas into practice. We were very grateful to be able to work with the Mountain Soul Singers on this project. They were very generous with their teachings and we learned so much from them.
Like all creative projects, this one spawned further ideas that we are eager follow through. We’ll be posting updates on new projects. In the meantime, if you are intrigued by the idea of soundscape creation and have a site in mind, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.