Alumni Making Waves

A studio of one's own

Music production has seen a huge technological shift in recent years, but what has not been as quick to change is the diversity of the people behind the soundboard. Innovators Hildegard Westerkamp (BMus'72) and Kiran Bhumber (BMus'14)  talk about tech, gender, and trusting your inner voice.


By Aryn Strickland

 Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp

When Hildegard Westerkamp (BMus'72) looks back on her decades-long career as an experimental composer and sound ecologist, she marvels at how much music production has changed. During her student days, there were no computer screens, no visualizers, no such thing as ‘digital.’ Everything was analogue and you relied solely on your ear as you edited. She remembers working in her studio, surrounded by pieces of audio reel that she had cut, marked, and hung up for quick reference until they could be spliced — literally taped together — into ambitious compositions that embraced unpredictability, merging music, found sounds, and field recordings.

Her chosen instrument — the sounds of the environment — and the limitations of the technology available at the time necessitated deep listening and spurred creativity: “I tried to find the musicality in the sounds that I had recorded,” Westerkamp says. She experimented with painstaking production techniques such as pitchshifting (that is, slowing down and speeding up the recordings), filtering and equalizing, and delay feedback among others, to achieve the effects she wanted.

In so doing she helped pioneer the field of ‘sound ecology.’

 

Hildegard Westerkamp, The Edge of Wilderness (2000)

 

Westerkamp and the other composers and producers of her generation — she cites R. Murray Schafer and Barry Truax as important influences — developed ideas and techniques that during the shift to computer-based production became standard tools in the producer’s repertoire.

“Working in the studio totally aurally then as opposed to now, where soundfiles are displayed visually on computer screens, makes an absolute world of a difference,” she says. 

Indeed, new technologies have both democratized music production and made new things possible: “Anyone can be a bedroom producer nowadays, and that is a very powerful thing in itself,” Kiran Bhumber (BMus’14), a graduate of the School of Music’s Music Technology program, says.

The up-and-coming composer, producer, and performer cut her teeth on software like Cubase and Garage Band while still in high school. At UBC she created work that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago, blending cutting-edge technology, visuals, and using some of the same compositional techniques Westerkamp helped to develop. In the Digital Performance Systems class (SUBclass) at UBC, Bhumber developed RUBS, the ‘Responsive User Body Suit,’ which melds composition and performance.

“I was thinking, I wonder if there is a way we can look at contact improv and use technology as a bridge between triggering a music sample or changing a visual on screen,” she says.

The RUBS suit allows performers to compose music as they move and dance on stage, touching or stroking different sensors sewn into the fabric to trigger sounds and sequences. Her innovative suit has brought her recognition from within the electronic music world with an invitation to present her work at the New Interfaces for Musical Expression Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark last year and a coveted spot at the University of Michigan to continue her work in the Masters of Media Art program there. 

“I am interested in fusing not just music but also emerging technologies, dance, interaction and visual arts together,” Bhumber says.

 

Excerpt from "Raula," a piece by Bhumber (using the RUBS bodysuit) and J.P. Carter (trumpet)

 

Westerkamp long ago made the switch to computer-based production, and she embraces some of the visual possibilities new technologies present. But she remains committed to the idea that listening — slow, deep listening  — is central to the art of composition. In installations such as Seascapes (2008), her compositions are paired with photography and sculpture by other artists. But her most visually performative works are the sound walks that she leads together with members of the Vancouver Soundwalk Collective every year around Vancouver, where she teaches people how to appreciate environmental sound. For Westerkamp, hearing is still the dominant sense.

Westerkamp, Schafer and the other members of the World Soundscape Project created soundwalks in the 1970s. Today, Vancouver New Music runs annual soundwalks open to everyone. For an hour, participants walk in silence taking in sounds that are usually written off as noise. According to Westerkamp, soundwalks do more than just teach people how to listen. “When you do that kind of listening in a safe context, inspiration emerges, new ideas emerge and when you get that inspiration you can tackle the world quite differently,” she says.

Hildegard Westerkamp, Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989)

 

Much of her time is now spent organizing and travelling to international conferences about sound ecology. “People are really interested in acoustic ecology and soundscape studies. There’s just a huge amount happening — at universities, there are many scientists who are now realizing that if they do any studies on sound they have to include the listener as an important source of perceptual information about the sound environment into their studies, into their data,” she says.

If technology has influenced the course of both Westerkamp’s and Bhumber’s development as artists, gender is another important factor. Music production and electroacoustic composition was — and remains — a male-dominated field. Although the World Soundscape Project (WSP) was a source of inspiration early in her career Westerkamp was surprised by her male colleagues attempts to relegate her to jobs at the typewriter and the photocopier. “The group consisted of five men and me. I was passionate about my research work. This and a basically good relationship with my colleagues enabled me to nip in the bud these unconscious assumptions about the work given to a woman.”

Ultimately, though, Westerkamp was forced to leave the WSP because of gender discrimination. Her enthusiastic and committed contributions to the group’s research inexplicably caused problems within the group, she says. Refusing to be deterred, Westerkamp decided to strike out on her own as an independent artist.

You have to trust your own inner voice. Listen to where your passion is located.
— Hildegard Westerkamp

Bhumber arrived in the industry at a very different time, not long before the rise of #MeToo and what has become a wholesale reconsideration of gender and gender discrimination in the workplace.

But while the example of women like Westerkamp and the hard work of generations of feminist activists have opened up the conversation about equality, and while the move to digital production has opened up the industry to people of different backgrounds, women remain greatly underrepresented.

Particularly, Bhumber says, women of colour: “There was never someone that looked like me growing up, there was never anyone that I could relate to identity-wise,” she says. “It’s tough because it’s not just music production, all these tech fields are male-dominated it’s not just music production itself.”

Her experience within the Digital Performance Systems class (SUBclass) that reignited her interest in music technology is an exception, she says. 

“I think [because it’s an interdisciplinary program] you are going to get people coming from different backgrounds, including gender. So I think that’s one of the main reasons, because if it was just an engineering or music tech engineering group it might not be that diverse.”

Bhumber and Westerkamp believe that greater equality is inevitable, but change depends not just on movements but on individuals. 

Westerkamp’s advice for young women starting out in music? Trust your own internal voice: “Listen to where your passion is located, where your skill is located and how that resonates with which part of society. Trust your own ears, trust your own inclination on, especially for women, where your interests lie.” 

World premieres, new commissions, a Juno nomination, and more

 Stephanie Nakagawa.  Photo: UBC

Stephanie Nakagawa. Photo: UBC

Awards, announcements and other news from our alumni
 

In November, Stephanie Nakagawa (BMus’09, DMA’17) received a Barbara Pentland Award from the Canadian Music Centre BC for her remarkable doctoral project, The Canadian Opera Anthology for Soprano.
 

Nicole Linaksita (BMus/BSc’16) was named as a finalist in the 2018 Shean Piano Competition. The finals will take place May 17–19, 2018 in Muttart Hall, Alberta College in Edmonton, Alberta. 


Composer and saxophonist Colin MacDonald (BMus’93) premiered The Sky Is a Clock, his ambitious, hour-long audio installation at the Roundhouse Community Centre in November 2017. Presented by Redshift Music as part of its “Sonologues” series, Colin’s piece interweaves recordings of 16 saxophones to “create a pulsating and slowly evolving texture of sound that mimics the rotation of the stars in the sky.”

 

 Jared Miller.  Photo: CBC

Jared Miller. Photo: CBC

Jared Miller (BMus’10) was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) to create a new work inspired by classic techno music. DSO and Leonard Slatkin will perform the piece for the very first time on May 31st and June 2nd, 2018 along with works by Chopin and Stravinsky. CBC News recently profiled Jared.


Composer Michael Oesterle (BMus’92) wrote a new work for the Sea and Sky Trio, which they performed as part of the Vetta Chamber Music concerts in Vancouver in March.
 

Producer and recording engineer Will Howie (BMus’04) recently published a new article on “Listener Discrimination Between Common Speaker-based 3D Audio Reproduction Formats” in AES Journal and delivered a paper on three-dimensional audio recording techniques for orchestra at the 142nd convention of the Audio Engineering Society in Berlin.

 Fraser Walters

Fraser Walters

Fraser Walters (BMus’03) and his group The Tenors were nominated for a 2018 Juno Award in the category of Adult Contemporary Album of the Year for Christmas Together, which “captures the joy and magic of the season, combining a mix of holiday classics, contemporary favourites and original songs.” This was The Tenors' third Juno nomination — they won in the same category in 2013.
 

Kristin Fung (BMus’07) has had a busy year, to say the least. She debuted her experimental vocal/movement trio, Celeste, at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto; recorded with free jazz master Anthony Braxton in New York; worked as a wedding singer in Hong Kong; and taught ukulele in parks across Toronto as part of the city’s “Arts in the Parks” initiative — as well as in Bermuda.

 

Cellist, composer and Erato Ensemble member Stefan Hintersteininger (BMus’04, MLis’09) recently premiered arrangements of songs by 50’s cult singer-songwriter Connie Converse at the group’s POP ART! concert at the Orpheum Annex in Vancouver. 


Lani Krantz (BMus’00) became Acting Principal Harp with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in January.

 Samatha Ballard

Samatha Ballard


Samantha Ballard (BMus’15) released her first solo album, On Christmas Night, on iTunes and Google Play. Twice a month she also posts new arrangements and covers on her YouTube channel, which has attracted over three million views to date.


James Mitchell (BMus’82) has produced a video with the National Library of Scotland to mark the March 25th centenary of the death of Claude Debussy (1862-1918).

 

Stephanie Bell (BMus’14) recently won the 2nd flute and piccolo position with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Stephanie studies with Brenda Fedoruk.

 

Two UBC Music alumni, Kathleen Allan (BMus’11) and John William Trotter (BMus’98), have been named to the shortlist for artistic director of the Vancouver Chamber Choir

Alumni Making Waves: An outstanding new book, a (very) modern adaptation of Handel, orchestra news, and more  

This November, Rose-Ellen Nichols (BMus ’05, MMus ’08) performed the role of the Native Mother in Missing, the new Pacific Opera Victoria/City Opera Vancouver co-production that “gives voice to the story of Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women.” 

Julia Chien (BMus ’14, MMus student) has won the Principal Percussion position with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and the Principal Timpani position with the Kamloops Symphony, while Stephanie Bell (BMus ’14) is the new Second Flute with the Victoria Symphony. Catch Julia at Barnett Hall on Feb. 14th, 2018.

  Left to right: Julia Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

Left to right: Julia Chien, Debi Wong, and Rose-Ellen Nichols

Choral composer Matthew Emery (BMus ’14) has been awarded the University of Toronto’s 2017 William and Phyllis Waters Award. The $25,000 award recognizes “graduating students… who are deemed to have the greatest potential to make an important contribution to the field of music.” 

Debi Wong (BMus ’08) debuted Acis & Galatea: A Gender Liberation Opera, her adaption of the Handel opera, in Vancouver this fall. The production also featured performances by UBC alumni Rachel Fenlon (BMus '10, MMus '12) and Peter Monaghan (BMus '14, MMus '15), with Alan Corbishley (BMus ’98) directing. Debi performs in Barnett Hall on March 7th, 2018 as part of the Wednesday Noon Hour series. 

Music theorists and editors Laurel Parsons (MA ’91, Ph.D ’03) and Brenda Ravenscroft (Ph.D ’93) won the Society for Music Theory’s 2018 award for the Outstanding Multi-Authored Publication for Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music, 1960-2000 (Oxford University Press, 2016). It is the first of a four-volume series. 

Fiona Blackburn (BMus ’82, BEd (Sec) ’02, MMus ’10) was recently appointed as Conductor of Pacifica Singers, a select vocal ensemble that exists as part of the Vancouver Chamber Choir organization. Fiona's eclectic musical career has included performing as a classically trained soloist and recording artist, teaching voice, adjudicating festivals, conducting choirs, and educating in classrooms.

Natalie Calhoun (BMus ’95) was nominated for an East Coast Music Award as part of the ensemble Atlantic String Machine. Their album, Lost Time, was nominated in the category of Classical Recording of the Year.

Shang Ko (Sunny) Chan (BMus ’16) was named as a finalist in the Shean Strings Competition. The finals were held May 18–20, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Nicole Linaksita (BMus ’15) has had a busy few months. She was Guest Artist for Music Without Borders, performed Moszkowski’s Piano Concerto Op. 59 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, and won a Silver Medal and Best Performance of a Canadian Work at the Vancouver International Music Competition. She also performed numerous concerts with Musica Moderna Camerata and others.

In May, world-renowned pianist and former School of Music student Jon Kimura Parker, O.C, received an honorary Doctorate of Lettershonoris causa, from the University of British Columbia in recognition of his countless contributions to the world of classical music. 

Jocelyn Morlock (MMus ’96, DMA ’02) and John Estacio (MMus '91) were among four composers commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra for Life Reflected, an “immersive symphonic experience” that celebrated four exceptional Canadian women. Jocelyn’s piece, “My Name is Amanda Todd” tells the story of the vibrant 15-year-old who, after suffering for years from cyber abuse, spoke out against harassment and bullying on YouTube. For his piece, “I Lost My Talk,” John draws inspiration from the life and work of acclaimed Mi'kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe. Life Reflected premiered in Vancouver in October.  

Violist Sarah Kwok (MMus ’11, DMA student) and percussionist Julia Chien made their debuts with the award-winning Turning Point Ensemble during International World Music Days in November. You can watch their performance here

An all-female orchestra, tours in Europe and Canada, and awards galore

School of Music alumni who are making waves in the world of music and beyond

Composer Matthew Emery (BMus’14) released Sing Your Song, a new choral album with Amabile Choirs of London, on CMC Centrediscs. The album was featured on CBC Music in February. In 2016, Emery was named one of CBC’s “hot Canadian classical musicians under 30.”

 Cynthia Yeh teaches a masterclass in Paris.  Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography

Cynthia Yeh teaches a masterclass in Paris. Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography

Cynthia Yeh (BMus’99), principal percussionist with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, gave a masterclass at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris during the CSO’s European tour this winter.

Jocelyn Morlock (MMus’96, DMA’02), the current Composer-in-Residence for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has been recognized with a City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award in the music category.

Pianist Bogdan Dulu (DMA’15) recently embarked on a seven-week, 19-date Canadian tour with Jeunesses Musicales du Canada.

David Sabourin (BMus’79), owner of Tapestry Music in White Rock, recently opened a new location in Vancouver. Tapestry specializes in classical instruments, school band rentals, and private music education, and more.

The Canadian Music Centre recently welcomed five UBC alumni among its latest cohort of Associate Composers: Kathleen Allan (BMus’11), Adam Hill (DMA’16), Stefan Hintersteininger (BMus’04), Lucas Oickle (MMus’15), and Michael Trew (BMus’72, MMus’82, DMA’86). The CMC “represents composers working in a variety of areas including concert music, music for instrumental and vocal ensembles, electroacoustic music, improvised music, educational music, music with other disciplines, and music that crosses a variety of genres and responds to different cultural influences.”

 Janna Sailor (MMus'08, DMPS'12)

Janna Sailor (MMus'08, DMPS'12)

Conductor and violinist Janna Sailor (MMus’08, DMPS’12) recently formed Allegra Chamber Orchestra, an all-female orchestra devoted to performing the work of female composers. One of the few of its kind in the world. Listen to Sailor’s interview with Sheryl MacKay of CBC Radio’s North by Northwest about the genesis of ACO and its mandate “to empower women and those who identify as women through music, maintaining the role of the artist in society to bring to light issues that need to be addressed, while provoking creative thought and solutions.”

In 2016 John Trotter (BMus’98), an associate professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, directed a production at Wheaton College called Handel’s Messiah: Unexpected. This was the culmination of Trotter’s years-long dream to offer a convincing and semi-staged performance of Handel’s masterwork during the Easter season. It featured 10 student soloists and a number of unexpected elements. Watch the performance here.

Pianist and composer Lisa Cay Miller (DMA’07) debuted “Lessing Stories,” a piano concert inspired by the work of British writer Doris Lessing, at Pyatt Hall in October 2016. Guest artists who performed alongside Miller included fellow UBC alumna Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa (DMA’07).

Composer Christopher Tyler Nickel (BMus’01) received a 2016 SOCAN Award for Achievement in Music for a Television Movie, for his score for the TV movie Honour Student. Always busy, Nickel recently completed scores for the movies Anything for Love, starring Erika Christensen, Love in Paradise, starring Luke Perry, as well as for the TV series Highway Through Hell for Discovery Channel.

 Annie Yim (BMus'02) 

Annie Yim (BMus'02) 

Pianist and Minerva Piano Trio founder Annie Yim (BMus’02) recently completed her DMA at City University of London and was selected — alongside her group — for the prestigious St. John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme. They will perform three different concerts at St John Smith’s Square in London over the course of the concert season.

Antonio Bittar (MMus’16) is now working at Vancouver’s Goh Ballet Academy as Administrative and Operations Coordinator. In his other life as an opera singer, he recently performed in Opera Kelowna’s production of The Magic Flute.

Clara Shandler (BMus’12), also known as the Sidewalk Cellist, recently released “Lights in the Dark,” a brand new single. You can listen to it here

Three School of Music alumni won prizes at the SOCAN Music Foundation Young Composer Awards. Roydon Tse (BMus'13) won the Sir Ernest MacMillan Award for his composition "Genesis 2015," while Joseph Glaser (BMus'14) was second runner up in the same category for "Ecstasis."  David Storen (MMus'16) was first runner up for the Serge Garant Awards for "Mångata." Tse also placed third overall in the Pierre Mercure Award category for "Meditation."   

Music theorist and pianist Dr. Lucas Wong (BMus’04) published “Humour in Late Debussy: multiple perspectives on Douze études,” a fresh take on the composer’s Twelve Etudes, in the British journal The Musical Times. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Piano at Soochow University School of Music in China.  

Sergei Saratovsky (DMA’12) and his brother, Nikolai, recently completed their tour of British Columbia. The four-hand piano duo performed in Nelson, Oliver, West Vancouver, and Vancouver.

Pianist Natalie Lo (BMus’16) won the 2016 Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra Clef Concerto Competition (Senior Category). 

Pianists Jocelyn Lai (BMus’13) and Natalie Lo won second and fourth prize, respectively, in the 2016 Shean Piano Competition, taking home prizes of $5,000 and $3,000. Natalie also won the $1000 Paul J. Bourret Memorial Award for Best Performance of a Test Piece. She played The Lark by Mikhail Glinka, transcribed by Mily Balakirev, revised and edited by Leopold Godowsky.

 Mark Takeshi McGregor (BMus'95, DMA'12)

Mark Takeshi McGregor (BMus'95, DMA'12)

Mark Takeshi McGregor (BMus’95, DMA’12) recently stepped down from his role as artistic director of the Powell Street Festival Society to join the faculty at the University of Victoria School of Music as Instructor of Flute for the fall semester. He also recently served as invited flute faculty for Nucleo Musica’s International Symposium of New Music 2016, a week-long festival of masterclasses, workshops, and performances in Curitiba, Brazil. 

Harpist Samantha Ballard (BMus’15) performed at the Rio Harp Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. Ballard played two full programs and made special appearances at two other concerts. She performed a number of works by Canadian composers, as well as some of her own arrangements.

A number of UBC alumni have performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra recently! They include violinist Sunny Chan (BMus'16), clarinetist Syndey Tetarenko (BMus'16), and percussionist Graeme Tofflemire (BMus'15).

Pianist Amy Seulky Lee (BMus) has been appointed a fellow for the 2017 Toronto Summer Music Festival. Lee studied with Terrence Dawson during her time at UBC School of Music.