Sounds from the field

Welcome to Sounds from the field: what I hope will be regular blog entries on library collection additions related to contemporary, electronic/electroacoustic, and experimental music. To start the ball rolling, musical/hardware offerings from Tristan Perich.

When is a CD not a CD? When it’s an electronic sound-making device! This summer the Music Library acquired a copy of 1-Bit Symphony by New York composer and visual artist Tristan Perich. Described as an “electronic composition in five movements on a single microchip”(1), this object is both the musical composition and the hardware (microchip, toggle selector, volume control, battery, on-off switch and headphone socket) to reproduce the composition. It’s the ultimate in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)!

Though in recent years there’s been a penchant in electronica for 8-bit digital audio (think Space Invaders video games) Perich is exploring the sound world of beeps and blips from the most basic of everyday electronics. As Sukhdev Sandhu notes “only alarm clocks or microwaves deal in one-bit tones”(2). Nonetheless, the non copyrighted music is surprisingly arresting, engaging the listener through repetitive tonal motifs ranging from a simple melody to multi-layered complexity.

From a library staff perspective this item presents wonderful challenges for descriptive cataloguing (hence 1 electronic sound-making device) and circulation (it comes in a handy CD container, to which we have added our library call number of CD 28028). Fetchingly minimalist, both musically and visually, I recommend the hands-on approach to listening to this piece. You can even examine the programming code on the accompanying liner notes! However, the musical recording of this work is also available online through Naxos Music Library.


Four Strings Good

The ‘Ukulele: A History by Jim Tranquada and John King

The ‘Ukulele: A History (University of Hawai’i Press, 2012 : ML1015 U5 T73 2012) was clearly a labour of love for authors Jim Tranquada and influential performer, the late, lamented John King. To date, it is the best presentation of the instrument’s Portuguese-Hawaiian origins, early history, and undulating fortunes in the wake of the initial mania generated by its appearance at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition. Included is a generous selection of historical photographs and advertisements supporting the authors’ positions on ukulele history and reception. Collectors and performers will be interested in the two appendices that conclude the main text: Chronological List of Early Hawaiian Luthiers, and Annotated Checklist of Selected ‘Ukulele Methods and Songbooks, 1894-1920. Informative, entertaining and wonderfully documented, the book is only marred by an occasional defensiveness in tone, most pronounced when the text addresses negative public and journalistic perceptions. The modern ukulele revival, now two decades old, is not covered extensively, but the section does introduce several of the movement’s central figures. Here are a few YouTube performances to illustrate the ukulele in a variety of modern stylistic contexts:

Aloha, malama pono!!

A more portable Chicago style guide!

Chicago Manual of Style purse

Rebound Designs

Inspired by a music citation guide prepared by Prof. Julie Cumming for past Schulich School of Music courses, Music Library staff have produced an updated guide based on the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. The most commonly consulted rules for bibliography format are summarized and models are provided for all major types of documents, with an emphasis on music resources (e.g. scores, recordings, Grove articles).

Find the guide, “Citing Music Resources Using Chicago Style (Bibliography Format),” on the Library’s website, along with other reference sources for style manuals, writing guides, and citation guides. Of course, the complete Chicago Manual of Style (online and in print) is still the essential guide to issues of complex citation as well as general writing style and manuscript preparation.

For a look at the broader issue of academic integrity, see Brian’s recent blog post on the topic.


As ever, there’s rarely a quiet moment around the Music Library. This year saw a flurry of library instructional initiatives including one which was part of the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS) graduate student practicum programme. SIS student Mark Rowland—supervised by Music Liaison Librarian Cathy Martin, with additional input from the Music Library staff—wrote, filmed and edited two instructional videos: Finding Scores in Complete Works Editions Using Grove Music Online and Finding Recordings Using the Catalogues and Online Sources. These videos, we hope, are an important way to offer detailed yet highly-accessible instruction to our library users.

For my part, I was the “face” in front of the camera. Whilst it is somewhat of a shock to suddenly see how you must appear to everyone else in real life (in my case, sort of a library equivalent of Mr. Bean reading the BBC news) filming these videos was a valuable experience. It forced me to think about the ways we communicate within the context of library instruction and how our presentation might be perceived by our users. It was great fun, too!

More recently Cathy Martin—with staff input—wrote a third video script Using Uniform Titles to Find Scores and Recordings. Filmed by Library Assistant Gabrielle Kern, the video is currently in “post production” and slated for “release” later this semester. Apparently the blooper reel is rather long, this time around!

2012: Celebrating Massenet, Cage, and Solti

This year, the classical music community celebrates centenary anniversaries of three musical titans, composers Jules Massenet (1842-1912) and John Cage (1912-1992), and conductor Georg Solti (1912-1997). The Marvin Duchow Music Library’s audio/video collection provides a great starting point for those wishing to explore their influential contributions. Here are a few recommended recordings to begin the journey.

Jules Massenet: Recently acquired, the Blu-ray version of Manon with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón [DVD 2085] features moving performances and fantastic sonics. On a related note, members of the McGill community can access’s streaming video service to see ‘Une Journée à Lyon avec Rolando Villazón,’ a fascinating French film documenting Villazón’s approach to staging Massenet’s Werther.

Hérodiade by Jules Massenet

Reveling in luxuriant mid-twentieth-century European vocal sound and style, Hérodiade [CD 29165] was recorded in 1957 and released in 2011. It stars French diva Andréa Guiot as Salomé, Dutch soprano Mimi Aarden in the title role, tenor Guy Fouché as Jean, and baritone Charles Cambon as Hérode. Four works from Massenet’s piano output are well served in a recent recording by award-winning French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet [CD 28804].



John Cage: Mode Records, self-described as ‘A record label devoted to New Music,’ has been doing a phenomenal job presenting the music of such progressive luminaries as Feldman, Scelsi, Xenakis, Subotnick, Reynolds, and, of course, Cage. In volume 34 of Mode’s Cage Edition, internationally-lauded pianist Margaret Leng Tan brings her ‘A’ game to the world premiere recording of Chess Pieces (reconstructed from an exhibition painting!) and the classic Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano [DVD 2171]. Audio excerpts can be heard here.

Georg Solti


Georg Solti: Audio recordings of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro [CD 261] and Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 [in Mahler/Symphonies no. 1-9 – CD 2747] are two of the conductor’s numerous Grammy Award-winning releases. View the complete list here. Solti devotees may also be interested in a couple of DVDs documenting the great conductor’s musical process: Solti, the making of a maestro [DVD 155] and Georg Solti in rehearsal [DVD 924].