The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada
The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada

Aquaeolian Harp


Lynn Creek, North Vancouver, September 29, 2007
The Western Front, Vancouver

Gordon Monahan’s audio installation Aquaeolian Harp was installed on the banks of Lynn Creek in North Vancouver, BC on September 19 and 20, 2007. The work was installed as part of the Western Front New Music series, Remote Access. Ellen Waterman was commissioned to write an essay about the project and its relation to experimental music practice and an ecological worldview. You can find the complete article at   The video here was taken as an aide memoire rather than as a document for others to view – it shows the elaborate amplification established to capture the low thrumming vibrations produced along four, thirty-five meter piano wires stretched between trees on the bank and anchored in the creek.

Excerpt from:
When it Rains: Experimental Music and “the Cultural Ecology”
By Ellen Waterman

Why not a concert under a waterfall, or a dramatic presentation in a blizzard?1

September 20, 2007. I am standing on the bank of Lower Lynn Creek, just south of Bridgeman Park in North Vancouver listening to Barry Truax’s classic multichannel soundscape composition Riverrun in the midst of a rainstorm of biblical proportions. A sizable audience strains to hear the subtle blend of granular synthesized electronics and natural sounds of running water that constitute Riverrun through the pounding of rain on umbrellas and the raging creek below. Not being a native Vancouverite, I am astonished that someone thought it was a good idea to put a 4-channel speaker system out in the rain, and even more at the drenched yet remarkably phlegmatic audience. The composer grins cheerfully, pleased with this synergetic performance of art and nature.

Just down the way, at the edge of the swollen creek, lie a bit of bright orange snow fence and some tarped equipment: the forlorn remnants of Gordon Monahan’s Aquaeolian Harp installation that has, quite literally, been washed out. It took several hectic days to install the piece in which 4, 35-meter long piano wires are stretched from tree/resonators on the bank and anchored in the creek bed. Activated by the water, the long, vibrating strings perform—emitting low, eerie frequencies made audible, in this case, with the aid of contact microphones and an amplifier.2 Monahan, who has created aquaeolian installations in several permutations since 1990, forewarned the event’s producers about the fragility of this particular work. But September is generally a dry month, and only the day before the creek had mainly been a bed of exposed stones. Who could have expected that it would rise more than a meter during the night, asserting itself with a violence that denied any possible access? Monahan and the crew are disappointed but resigned at this demonstration of nature triumphing over art.

Produced in collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre’s “New Music in New Places,” and B.C. Rivers Day, the Western Front’s Remote Access I has got me thinking about the ecology of experimental music. The impulse behind Remote Access, a series of three concerts curated by DB Boyko and realized by Ben Wilson and the Western Front’s intrepid technical crew, was to explore “our competing desires for new experiences and belonging within a community”.3 This same dichotomy is expressed somewhat differently by the Western Front's suggestive mandate to promote “the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology”.4 As the heroic efforts behind producing Remote Access I demonstrate, asserting the relevance of contemporary music is an ongoing battle in a society that has largely devalued “art” as “entertainment”. How might thinking “ecologically” about experimental music affect our ideas of its meaning and value? Just what is the role of experimental music in determining “the cultural ecology”? My purpose in this essay is to address these questions through an analysis of Remote Access I based on my documentation of the event and interviews with those involved, and drawing on performance theorist Baz Kershaw’s ideas about “performance ecology”.



1. R. Murray Schafer, “The Theatre of Confluence II” in Patria: The Complete Cycle (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2002): 93.

2. Other installations of Monahan’s Aquaeloian and Aeolian projects are documented on his website:

3. Remote Access included the following events: Remote Access I – River Works, September 20, 2007, 3 pm (including works by Truax, John Korsrud, Michael O’Neill, as well as Monahan’s installation); Remote Access II – Women in Electroacoustic Music, Saturday, October 13, 2007, 8:00 p.m. (including works by Tara Rogers, Sandy Scofield, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Katherine Norman); Remote Access III Lee Hutzulak (electronics) Friday, October 26, 2007, 6-11:00PM.

4. The slogan follows the Western Front’s brand on its website used until quite recently.