Lecture Series

The SSI lecture series occurs twice a month on Wednesdays between 7 and 8 PM, and include diverse topics related to sound research, scholarship, and artistic explorations with sound. In the 2021-22 year, we will initially continue to host our lectures as online events, but we are working to move to a hybrid model for the winter term (live in-person combined with live streaming).

Please note: the information below may be incomplete. Please check back often!

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Lecture Series 2021-22

Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

Unfamiliar Underwater Utterances:  Baffled by the Sounds of Alberta Lakes

with John Acorn and Yelena Cerezke-Riemer

Over the past winter, spring, and summer, we have had the pleasure of exploring three remarkable aspects of the underwater soundscapes of local lakes.  First, we pursued a puzzling “snapper-popper” sound under the ice in Wabamun Lake, and Yelena will premiere a video she put together on this subject.  Second, we began the process of matching the 41 species of sound-producing water boatmen (aquatic bugs in the family Corixidae) to their characteristic “stridulation” calls.  And third, we addressed another baffling mystery; the astonishing array of buzzes, ticks, sirens, and squeals that are audible in the shallows of Gull Lake and other similar water bodies.  Our goal was to document “biophony,” but the result was a greater appreciation of the difficulty one faces when attributing unfamiliar sounds to animal, vegetable, or mineral causes.

John Acorn teaches in the Department of Renewable Resources at the U. of A., and has broad interests in animal biology, including communication via sound.

Yelena Riemer is a recent graduate of the Environmental and Conservation Science program at the U. of A..  She now works in environmental consulting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

Re-sounding Cultural Voices: Digitizing the Ancestors Project

with Bert Crowfoot and Mary Ingraham

Through the Digitizing the Ancestors Project, we bring full circle the sounds of long-silent archival radio and television recordings from the late 1960s and early 1980s, re-sounding the voices, stories, music, and dances of Indigenous Elders, culture bearers, and youth that speak of urgent cultural revitalization and resurgence. In this presentation, we share voices from the AMMSA archive that have resonated in the decades since they were first heard, through stories, interviews, and performances of music and dance that reflect important social, political, and cultural issues of their time. These are voices of Cree Nations across the Canadian prairies; they sing, drum, dance, and speak of residential school restrictions on cultural expression and share stories of round dances, drumming circles, and singing the land. They talk of healing through music, rhythm, and words and of the need to educate Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. In re-sounding their voices for new listeners, we return their messages to the community and listen with them to the echoes within contemporary society.

Bert Crowfoot is a Siksika/Saulteaux digital storyteller. He is renowned as a community leader and an accomplished photographer, journalist, TV producer, and businessman and a pioneer in Aboriginal communications and media across North America. He is the founder and CEO of AMMSA, and the lead in the Digitizing the Ancestors Project. Bert is the great-great-grandson of legendary Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot.

Mary Ingraham is Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia. She is an interdisciplinary scholar whose recent collaborative projects explore social and political perspectives and influence on the creation and performance of music and sound in Canada, across arts practices, genres, and cultural communities.

Digitizing the Ancestors is a community-directed project to preserve and make accessible Indigenous multimedia radio and television broadcast recordings from the late 1960s to the early 1980 held by the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (Bert Crowfoot, CEO).

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

Becoming a Hadrosaur: Musical Instruments as a Window into Natural History

with Courtney Brown

Lambeosaurine hadrosaurs are duck-billed dinosaurs known for their large head crests. Researchers hypothesize these large crests were resonators for vocal calls. My work Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls and Dinosaur Choir bring these calls to life as singing dinosaur musical instruments. Musicians and participants give voice to these dinosaur instruments by blowing into a mouthpiece, exciting a larynx mechanism and resonating the sound through the dinosaur’s nasal cavities and skull. In a sense, they fleetingly experience being a dinosaur. In doing so, they and this work open up new ways of thinking and research about the ancient past and how it informs our present. While science is one way of knowing the world, my work explores how a musical instrument can also produce knowledge.

Courtney Brown is a composer/performer, software developer, and tango dancer. She creates new musical interfaces in which the act of creating sound is transformative in some way. People become dinosaurs by blowing into a hadrosaur skull, creating their own roar. Social dancers become musical ensembles. Her work has been featured and performed in North America, Europe, and Asia including Ars Electronica (Austria), National Public Radio (NPR), Diapason Gallery (Brooklyn), CICA Museum (Korea), New Interfaces for Musical Expression/BEAM Festival (London), ACM Movement and Computing Conference (Italy), the Telfair Museum (Savannah, Georgia). She received her D.M.A in Digital Media and Performance from Arizona State University and her M.A. in Electroacoustic Music from Dartmouth College. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the Center of Creative Computation, Southern Methodist University

Wednesday, November 3, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

Living Sound Better with Digital Musical Instruments

with D. Andrew Stewart

D. Andrew Stewart explores the concept of a Digital Sound Performer – a performer of sounds on digital musical instruments, also known as gestural controllers. Stewart suggests that the Sound Performer’s essential duty is to Live Sound Better; that is to say, the Sound Performer promotes respect for sound and all of its features and as a consequence, promotes respect for the recipients of sound: all hearing creatures on the Earth. Similar to society’s Keepers of the Peace, Sound Performers are the keepers and conveyors of healthy listening practices, creating an aural fascination in the world’s soundscapes which we all share. In addition, D. Andrew Stewart illustrates how digital lutherie offers unique opportunities to enhance the Sound Performer’s practice with sensor technology that captures and sonifies – gives sonic form to – movements (gestures and postures). In this way, the use of digital musical instruments makes the aural experience for the audience more palpable and visible – making the living sound better.

D. Andrew Stewart is a composer, pianist and digital musical instrumentalist. A convergence of acoustic and electroacoustic instrumental praxis is at the centre of Stewart’s oeuvre. His music is dedicated to exploring composition and performance for new interfaces for musical expression by adapting and evolving traditional praxis. Stewart’s work asks whether musical idea – concept, theory, material, technique and means – has kept pace with developments in digital lutherie; furthermore, what are the essential constituents for creating a viable digital instrument for the twenty-first century performer?

Stewart has contributed to the field of music technology through his demonstrations at: the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, International Computer Music Conference / International Computer Music Association, Electroacoustic Music Studies Network, Electronic Music Foundation, ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Society for Music Theory, and the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. Andrew Stewart’s music has been featured in countries such as: The UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, USA, Germany, France, Mexico, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Korea Republic and his home country of Canada.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

A Brief History of Electron-Tube Musical Instruments

with Jesse Acorn

Did you know that millions of electronic instruments were made prior to Moog’s synthesizer? As early as the mid-1930s, musical instruments using vacuum tubes constituted a multi-million-dollar industry, and a much greater boom followed WWII. My talk will focus on the history of tube-based all-electronic instruments from their earliest days in the 1910s to their almost complete demise in the 1960s. Many of these instruments were marketed as “organs”, but don’t let that fool you – they form their own category easily distinguishable from pipe organs, and each company had their own unique designs and hence sounds. I will especially focus on instruments that are now obscure, but which were highly regarded in their day. Demo recordings will be featured, and technical details will be discussed, with emphasis on what can be learned today from these early designs.

Jesse Acorn is a repairman and designer of electronics, a collector of old or otherwise good stuff, and an amateur musician. He was born in Edmonton in 1996, and from around age three, He’s had a strong interest in 20th century technology, especially audio and musical equipment. Around 2008, Jesse became especially interested in electronic instruments. Wanting to better know how to repair and design things, he studied Electrical Engineering at the U of A, and made two instruments as part of his studies: a transistor organ with a Janko keyboard, and an electron-tube synthesizer. After graduating in 2019, Acorn went straight into running his own repair business called Crasno Electronics, mostly focused on fixing vintage keyboards, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and vacuum-tube amplifiers. Jesse hopes to eventually market my own electron-tube instruments. He also maintains a “working museum” of these sorts of things, as well as electronic test equipment.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 7:00 PM MST

The Conditional Institution: Expanding Access in Music Institutions

with Julia Byl

Too often, the work of creating institutions is clear up close, but invisible at a distance. Such is the case with the institutions built by Dr. Regula Qureshi at the University of Alberta: the names (Sound Studies Institute, Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology) are short and formal, with no real place to log the decades of work that created them. Often, these institutions were formed by those outside of academia, for instance, the South Asian community in which Qureshi played since the late 1960s. This paper is an examination of how access and credit is expanded when we view institutions as conditional and informal. I draw on a few examples, including Qureshi’s work at the University of Alberta and the institution building of Portia Maultsby at Indiana University. Crucially, seeing how an institution is based upon relationships allows us to recognize the contributions of those structurally excluded from them.

Dr. Julia Byl joined the University of Alberta in 2015, after serving at King’s College London for three years as a post-doctoral fellow and Malay Case Study leader on the European Research Council project, “Musical Transitions to Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean.” She received her doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan, studying with Judith Becker and Richard Crawford. She has taught at King’s College London, the University of Illinois, Pomona College, and her alma mater, St. Olaf College, where she was a Mellon postdoctoral fellow. Her recent book, Antiphonal Histories: Resonant Pasts in the Toba Batak Musical Present was published in 2014 as a part of Wesleyan University Press’s Music/Culture series.

Julia’s research centers on the intersection between contemporary performances and the musical past, between ethnography, historiography, and archival work: How can we reanimate past musical activity that may now seem dry and inert, but was once vivid and alive to the vagaries of performance? Conversely, how do we decide when a musical legacy is still relevant to a contemporary tradition, and avoid fetishizing tradition at the expense of dynamic self-expression?