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Your composing with sound is really a language where you bring together all the elements of your artistic and musical world - dance, mask, theatre, folk music - I've noticed in particular that writing and text are very important in generating the form of your pieces: both "penny: a process" and "Echoes O' Home: All the way from Ireland" are built from poems... is this an extension of the storytelling metaphor also?

i thought i was closing the doors on folk music when i took up studies in Electroacoustics and Soundscape but it turns out that my folk work informs my compositional work and vica versa. In tracing the connections of my own story, i can't remember if i was a poet or sculptor first ... maybe it was when i heard Gordon Lightfoot's Canadian Railroad Trilogy that my love of music (via recordings) began ... maybe it was when i heard Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy that i realized the immense possibilities of sound with texts ... i can say that through SFU and my professors there, i have been introduced to amazing technological knowledge and skills as well as artistic visions. My instructors in the English Department have given me insight into the breadth and depth of literature. My love of language and words and storytelling, the human voice, instruments and sound finds its expression in my compositions.

'penny: a process', by sylvi macCormac, is featured on the Canadian Electroacoustic Community's latest release Presence III.
'penny' was created with signal processing transforming the source sounds of a penny whistle and the voice of Philip Murphy speaking words from sylvi's poem Composition:


returning to origins
destiny of sound leading home
past angels of revelations
past flowers thorned in desire
past pain and unrequited love
past and through to see
to the source and forward
into compositions of the soul
dreaming into coastal being
beyond words inside books
into the nature of composition
beyond applause and approval
into a deeper strata of acceptance
being one with words and music
a planet in the harmony of spheres
whole within whole within turning

opening doors to humming of drones
expanding like hours speed of sound
replaying in slow motion echoing
horizons of memory and days of soul
yet to come in sonar and over tones]

Your recent presentation on your soundscape composition to the Acoustic Engineers Society was entitled "Field of Sound: is Stochastic a Dirty word?". What does Stochastic mean to your work? does your use of the word have any connections with the Stochastic compositions of Iannis Xenakis?

Going directly to the etymology / definition of Stochastic = Random / Chance .... Stochastic - adj. pertaining to chance or conjecture (math.) random fr. Gk Stochastikos fr. stochazesthai, to aim at a target, to guess. Stochastic Process - (math.) in probability theory a system involving time parameters used to define a process utilizing random variables, eg. of the economy, ecosystem, etc. also random process.

That essay was in preparation for a presentation i gave about Witness: Round Journey and composing with the Audio Box. ( i referred to the role of chance elements and the Audio-Box (technology) in the compositional process. i was also making reference to rejections by Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as serialist composers, of stochastic processes and chance elements employed by Iannis Xenakis and John Cage. Later, Stockhausen along with Gottfried Michael Koenig and others embraced stochastic processes and random elements as valid compositional techniques in new music. My work sounds nothing like Xenakis with his densities of sound and my stochastic processes may be considered primitive to his, but you can hear that the word stochastic and the concept of chance in the compositional process has influenced my thinking.

It was also by chance that i discovered EA and Soundscape composition in 1997 at SFU when i continued music studies. i do alot of field recording, so i get my hands dirty so to speak, and i work in the field of sound or sound field. Speaking of chance, as a soundscape composer i jest with a bit of truth when i say, "you must keep the DAT running because you never know when the raven will sing. It is alot easier to catch a train and crickets than a butterfly or thunder, and a rose is next to impossible."

Coincidentally my step father is from Cyprus. i've grown up with Greek music and he is playing the Bazouki and singing a traditional Greek song with birds from France (wsp archives) in 8 Directions which i composed for 8 channel with the Matrix, the precursor to the Audio Box. And interestingly still, there were certain (set & random) variables that led us to be corresponding o'er cups of tea.

I take it "penny, a process" refers also to stochastic processes?

EA is like the weather, changing as fast or slow as clouds can go, where music is as old as the voice or as percussive as rain, where textures, timbre and time are infinitely played reel upon real. In penny : a process i began to think about the process of composing. By process i am referring to several meanings of the word process - ie - stochastic processes that occur while composing, stochastic processes utilized in composing, signal processing, computer processing, the process of composing, the process of listening to composition, to composing being a process ...

As i processed the source sounds of my brother's D penny whistle,
i found pennies transforming into sounds that evoke gongs, angelic choirs, sonar and the flocking of birds. Acousmatic except for the voice, which is extremely low in pitch, the sound source of Penny is relatively unknown as if Pythagoras might be playing an alto aulos from behind a curtain. Through the process of composing penny i came to ask myself, where a penny whistle through processing proves to sound like a gong or voices or birds in flight, can there not be an intrinsic unity, a harmony of the spheres, a DNA of sound, a process with no answer but an echo?

Last week two of your works were performed at the kickstART festival "Celebration of Disability Arts and Culture". It looks to be a very exciting programme - daunting and most inspiring, its a long time since I've seen a programme of such high quality and variety in an arts festival. Would you like to tell us a little about the week's programme and your involvement?

Joe Coughlin (male vocalist of the year 2000, Jazz Report) and Jayne Dinsmore from Canada are two of the finest vocalists i have ever heard. Light Motion, dancers from the USA, were amazing. i saw some of the best theatre i've ever seen when "No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability" performed. They were among several performers from Australia whose country leads the way in Disability Arts & Culture and from whom we learnt and gained alot of inspiration to continue the work here. Our community of misfits and royalty are wiser and stronger for the laughter, joy and insights, that ensued over the happiest four days i've known in a long time. If you'd like to learn more about the Celebration and the Society for Disability Arts & Culture their web site is

i composed a piece for S4DAC called does this Sound like me? with the voices of 21 artists w (dis) abilities and sounds of art making. It was presented as an installation piece with visual art at the Roundhouse Gallery (Aug 2001) and the Pendulum Gallery (Feb 2001). For Invisible Love, a dance-text piece about communication and miscommunication, i worked with art sounds from the hour long 'scape editing and adding sounds of internet connections, a computer generated voice (Netscape was unable to create a network socket connection. There may be insufficient system resources or the network may be down), breaking glass and the opening of Waves of Kokoro. i played folk tunes and recorded to make CDs for the Holdfast Choir (australia), Swamp Angels Choir (canada), Rasika Aklujkar (story dancer, canada) and Jayne Dinsmore (jazz/r&b, canada). does this Sound like me? is WHEEL5 of the WHEELs project i started at SFU in 1997, working with the voices of people w (dis) abilities. WHEEL3 Spirit Wheels: Journey is on Presence II

Looking at the way you write (dis) ability opened up a lot of possibilities in my mind - i began thinking about how in art quite often what is looked upon as a disability by others can actually be a spur or starting point for creativity. What is your intention/interpretation of the word (dis)ability?

i think what is really important it to define ourselves as people with (dis) abilities rather than have others decide for us. i put (dis) in brackets because i want to emphasize that (dis) is only part of a larger picture of being human that includes much more ability and passion than it does not. i want to overturn negative perceptions of people with dis-abilities and hope to do so by seperating the words and hopefully give people pause for thought. Many people live in fear of (dis) ability because they are afraid of their own immortality or lack of perfection and turn away or try to assist where there really is no need or request for assistance. Attitudes of pity or discrimination can be far worse than the (dis) ability itself. i think instead of assuming that people with (dis) abilities are needing help it is important to ask. Even if it takes us twice as long to do something it might be worth our effort. If everyone is constantly thinking that we are helpless we'll not be given the chance to do anything for ourselves and this breeds dependency and feelings of worthlessness. i also know people are trying to be considerate but sometimes it really is condescending when they make assumptions that we are totally helpless and have no sense of humour or live rich and full lives. (Dis) ability is a balancing act that we all need to be aware of in terms of communication, patience and sensitivity, on either side. There are so many different types of (dis) ability from physical to mental and variations and combinations of each. i am more (dis) abled than some and less (dis) abled than others ...

I can understand and relate very much to what you say... I have a (dis) ability of sorts too - albeit not one that is visible to people every day. I suffer from depression. It is an illness which causes me great pain, but at the same time it has become the source of my urge to create - from my experience I have found that disability or illness can lead us to find other paths, that give us insight in ways we couldn't have imagined otherwise.

I was actually surprised to find out from reading your biography on your website that you had MS, because from writing online i would never have known - and isn't that the point too! Why should a (dis) ability that is visible hinder someone... when my (dis) ability isn't visible, so most people don't know!

(Dis) ability is a curse and blessing ... (dis) ability, illness or other adversities, tests our abilities and opens avenues of awareness and paths in life that would not have been realized unless we were faced with these very human and compelling experiences. (Dis) ability opens us up to greater understanding to look beyond the norm. It can also be very painful but it does test you and gives you insights and reflections. (Dis) ability like ability is such a fluctuating thing, shifting like water. It is malleable and constantly changing along with perceptions and definitions of what it is to be human with all our frailties and strengths. i think people with (dis) abilities have alot to offer and are underestimated. A healthy society includes a diversity of people. Inclusion of people with (dis)abilities makes for a richer more vibrant cultural mosaic. To deny people with (dis) abilities access to all that society offers and simpler still to the ease of being that comes in shared and mixed company is everyone's loss.

'does this Sound like me? (outside th lines)' by sylvi macCormac, with the voices of 21 artists with (dis) abilities.



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Soula looking hungry
Miriam, on a visit to her family home in Australia.