By: Camille Kiku Belair
This is the first excerpt in a six-part series that explores Gayle Young’s musical practice, drawn from the interview that took place with Camille Kiku Belair on December 14th, 2017 at the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto.
Gayle Young’s music includes electronic and orchestral instruments, industrial materials, and found objects such as stone and wood. She develops notational systems for unusual tunings, and designs and builds instruments to facilitate explorations in tunings. One of Gayle’s installations from the early 90s used multiple lengths of tuned tubing in an outdoor setting, so that waterfalls nearby were heard as pitched tones. Viewers could create their own melodic sequences of the local soundscape. She continues to combine her interests in tuning and soundscape by recording environmental noise (highways, railways, rivers, and ocean shorelines) through tuned tubing. She has worked with Pauline Oliveros, R. Murray Schafer, Michael Snow, James Tenney, Don Wherry of the Newfoundland Sound Symposium, and many other prominent names in contemporary new music.
Young is also active as a writer, exploring the histories and intentions of innovative composers and instrument designers. She authored the biography of Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977) the foremost Canadian inventor of electronic instruments, portraying a fertile period of invention in science and the arts from the 1940s to the 1970s. She has written extensively about tunings, soundscape, improvisation and sound exploration, bringing attention to the listener’s experience of sound. She edited Musicworks Magazine for many years.
Camille Belair: It seems like sound perception and the experience of sound is what you focus on in your work. I remember in our past conversation that you have an interest in continuity, seeking to bridge the gap between what we know – or what we think we know – and everything else that actually exists. You mentioned that you are from the St. Catharines area originally, and you studied classical piano as well as history and theory with the Royal Conservatory of Music’s curriculum growing up. However, you decided to go into a science research field?
Gayle Young: It wasn’t really science, it was cultural change. Scientific research lead to a lot of cultural change, so that’s what I was looking at.
CB: It was during this time that you decided to move into a cabin for the winter to be more immersed in a natural environment – could you elaborate on that?
GY: Before I went into music I was in an academic program, and I was pursuing an understanding of how the culture [English European cultural context] had changed, especially since the beginning of the scientific revolution. It was an academic program, and as you mentioned, I was playing classical piano. I was also playing singer/songwriter material on the baritone ukulele, and I improvised on the harmonica, but that was all as a hobby. I didn’t take music seriously as anything more than a hobby until after I finished the academic program. I left it [the program] to go and experience the natural environment without technological support because it suddenly occurred to me that all the people I