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Functional Electroacoustics in Three Recent Operas


Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, Session 3: The Electroacoustic Voice
Friday 8 August, 14:15–15:15. Faculty of Music, University of Toronto
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At the inaugural Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium 2007, Trevor Wishart spoke of a contemporary normalization of electroacoustic art. One of the forms that this takes is the new extent to which electroacoustic means are employed within the “traditional” art forms and genres, not as a chemical combination of otherwise freestanding activities but as a utilization of the full range of electroacoustic means by the older forms. In 2007-8 the greater part of my own artistic efforts went into three distinct opera projects, each of which involved electronic sound as an integral element but which took shape within the social and technical environment of the older tradition.

In The Translator (with librettist Leanna Brodie, commisioned by Tapestry New Opera) four singers interact with a series of live electronic patches to tell the story of a military translator who stands up to her superiors following the abuse and murder of a detainee. Peace of My Heart (with librettist Dave Carley, also commissioned by Tapestry New Opera) recounts an angioplasty in black comedic fashion. The score is again for four singers, who sing over a “tape” part that is diffused live, with some additional live electronic elements that were added during the production of the piece’s premiere. In the full-length ambient opera Opera On The Rocks, four singers perform a “collective libretto” (from the pens of Leanna Brodie, Dave Carley, Lisa Codrington and Krista Dalby) in the more or less nonstaged environment of a pub. The “orchestra” is provided by a single classical guitar, scordatura and connected to laptop patches for electronic sound and video.

I propose to discuss concrete aspects of these three works that I think may be of general utility, as well as offer reflections on the challenges and rewards of functional electroacoustics, electronic sound art in the service of aims outside of itself.


Freely traversing borders and genres, David Ogborn is a composer, guitarist and performer of electronic sound and video. At the centre of his work is the combination of traditional performance arts with electronic elements — whether these be recordings of diverse outdoor environments around the world, improvisations on a laptop or altered guitar, video projections influenced by live musical gestures, or massive synthesized sounds on immersive arrays of loudspeakers. He is an Associate of the Canadian Music Centre, a founding member of Toronto’s angelusnovus.net group, and is the President of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). During the 2008–09 academic year he is teaching composition at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan. More information about his music, writing and software development activities can be found on his website.


Paper originally presented at the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium 2008, August 2008.

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