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.



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!