Barry Truax | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Barry Truax

Truax, Barry (Douglas). Composer, soundscape researcher, b Chatham, Ont, 10 May 1947; B SC (Queen's) 1969, M MUS (British Columbia) 1971.

Truax, Barry

Truax, Barry (Douglas). Composer, soundscape researcher, b Chatham, Ont, 10 May 1947; B SC (Queen's) 1969, M MUS (British Columbia) 1971. After training in mathematics and physics at Queen's University and in composition with Cortland Hultberg at the University of British Columbia, Truax studied 1971-3 at the Institute of Sonology, Utrecht University, with G.M. Koenig and Otto Laske. He met R. Murray Schafer while attending the University of British Columbia and, at the end of his studies in Utrecht, Schafer invited him to Simon Fraser University to work on the World Soundscape Project. On his return to Canada in 1973, Truax therefore began teaching in the Department of Communication and at the Centre for Communication and the Arts, Simon Fraser University, and became a research assistant (and later research director) with the World Soundscape Project there. In 1985 he was conference director for the International Computer Conference in Vancouver. Later he worked on an advanced computer music board at Simon Fraser's Centre for Image/Sound Research (CISR). He served on the City of Vancouver's Urban Noise Task Force 1996-7.

Though his first works (1969-71) were for acoustic instruments, Truax felt more drawn to electronic and computer composition. At Utrecht University and Simon Fraser University, he was the first to use real-time frequency modulation, a process that found its apogee in Solar Ellipse (1984-5). He also programmed computers as 'interactive compositional systems' for use by other composers and performers. The system, known as PODX, was used to achieve the first real-time granular synthesis, a method whereby 10-50 microsecond sound quanta, or "grains," from various sources (such as waveforms and samples) are organized in densities ranging from a few to thousands of events per second. This technique was used in Riverrun (1986) and Pacific (1990), where Truax honed the process to allow the prolonged sounds without changing pitch. His body of work includes combinations of traditional instruments and computer-synthesized soundtracks, electronic music, and tape music. He completed a multi-media opera, The Powers of Two (2004), while serving as composer-in-residence with Modern Baroque Opera. The work, which incorporates singers, electroacoustics, video, spatial lighting, and dance, is an exploration of "the nature of human desire and the quest for fulfillment in the contemporary world" (Modern Baroque Opera website). His works have been performed in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Truax's music is concerned with a "human scale to sound." Many of his samples are drawn from archives at the World Soundscape Project; he is careful about using references in his music that communicate to the public. He decries that ". . . people in computer music do not seem to have . . . broader concerns for social issues or the media . . . (Barry Truax website)." Elements of eastern mysticism have also permeated his later works, including Arras, Wave Edge, Riverrun, East Wind, and two multimedia works (Divan and Wings of Nike), which use computer-synthesized sound and computer graphics by Theo Goldberg. Truax's opera, perhaps his most personal work, addresses the social issue of sexual identity. Compositionally, his main focus is sound itself, from which he derives everything in a piece, even the overall structure, as is the case with his use of granular synthesis.


Recordings devoted to his compositions include Sonic Landscapes (1977, Mel SMLP-4033), Androgyne (1981, 2-Mel SMLP-4042-43), Sequence of Earlier Heaven (1985, Cambridge Street CSR-8501) and the CDs Digital Soundscapes (1987, Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER-2017-50), and Pacific Rim (1991, Cambridge Street CSR-CD-9101). He founded the Cambridge Street label in 1985.

Awards; Memberships
In 1977 his Sonic Landscape No. 3 won first prize in the computer music category of the Fifth International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges. Riverrun won the Magisterium prize at the International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France, in 1991, making Truax the first Canadian to receive the award. Truax is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. He began teaching electroacoustic composition and acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University in 1973, receiving a teaching excellence award in 1999.

See also Electroacoustic music.

Selected Compositions

Sonic Landscape No. 1. 1970. Hn, tape. Music Gallery Editions MGE-21 (James MacDonald)

She, a Solo. 1973. Mezzo, tape. Melbourne SMLP-4033 (Mailing)

Trignon. 1975. Mezzo, alto fl, piano, tape. Melbourne SMLP-4033 (Mailing)

Sonic Landscape No. 3. 1975 (rev 1977). Spatial environment for 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. Melbourne SMLP-4033

Nautilus. 1976. Perc, 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. Melbourne SMLP-4033 (R. Hartenberger)

Androgyny. 1978. Spatial environment for 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43

Aerial. 1979. Hn, 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43 (James MacDonald horn)/Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER-2017-50 (S. Field horn)

Ascendance. 1979. Tape. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43

The Blind Man (N. Reubsaat). 1979. Tape. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43/Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER 2017-50 (CD) (Reubsaat voice).

Love Songs (N. Reubsaat). 1979. Female voice, 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43 (I. Melita)

Arras. 1980. 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. 2-Melbourne SMLP-4042-43/4-ACM 37/Cambridge Street CSR-CD-9101

East Wind. 1981. Amplified recorder, 4 soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-8501/CSR-CD-9101 (Hannan)

Nightwatch. 1982. Mar, 4 soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-8501 (Hartenberger)

Wave Edge. 1983. 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER-2017-50 (CD)

Solar Ellipse. 1985. 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER-2017-50 (CD)

Divan (graphics, Theo Goldberg). 1985. Multimedia

Riverrun. 1986. 4 computer-synthesized soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-CD-8701/Wergo WER-2017-50 (CD)

Wings of Nike (graphics, Theo Goldberg). 1987. Multimedia. Cambridge Street CSR-CD 9101

Tongues of Angels. 1988. Ob d'amore, english horn, 4 soundtracks

Pacific. 1990. 4 soundtracks. Cambridge Street CSR-CD-9101

Pacific Fog. 1990. Soundscape with English horn

Dominion. 1991. Chamber ensemble and two digital soundtracks

Bamboo, Silk and Stone (with Randy Raine-Reusch). 1994. Asian instruments and two digital soundtracks

Inside. 1995. Bass oboe and two digital soundtracks

Powers of Two: The Artist. 1995. Electroacoustic musical theatre

Wings of Fire. 1996. Female cellist and two digital soundtracks. Text by Joy Kirstin

Twin Souls. 1997. Chamber choir and tape

Steam. 2001. Alto flute and two digital soundtracks

Also his Two Soundcapes, recorded by the World Soundscape Project, on Musicworks, 35, 1986 (cassette); and several works for musical theatre; for mixed media and tape; and for solo tape.


'The computer composition-sound synthesis programs POD4, POD5 and POD6,' Sonological Reports, no. 2 (Utrecht 1973)

'Some programs for real-time computer synthesis and composition,' Interface, vol 2, 1973

'General techniques of computer composition programming,' Numus West, 4, Fall 1973

'Computer music in Canada (1975),' Numus West, 8, Spring 1975

'A communicational approach to computer sound programs,' J of Music Theory, vol 20, Fall 1976

- ed. The World Soundscapes Project's Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (Vancouver 1978, CD-ROM edition 1999)

- and Battier, Marc, eds. Computer Music: Report on an International Project Including the International Workshop Held at Aarhus, Denmark in 1978 (Ottawa 1981)

Acoustic Communication (Norwood, NJ 1984, rev edn Greenwood, Connecticut 2001)

'The PODX system: interactive compositional software for the DMX-1000,' Computer Music J, vol 9, no. 1, 1985

'Real-time granular synthesis with a digital signal processor,' Computer Music J, vol 12, no. 14, 1988

'Electroacoustic music on the west coast: an introduction,' Contact, 3, Aug 1989

Plus numerous journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers.

See also Bibliography for World Soundscape Project

Further Reading