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“a tour de force in both composition and subject… sumptuous and dynamic sound textures throughout.”

—Anna Rubin, Computer Music Journal

Biography

I’m a sound artist and composer of electroacoustic, instrument and vocal music and chant. I like to try different approaches to sound and composition and so my output is an expression of the variety of my creative, intellectual and spiritual life.

EARLY YEARS
In my early compositional days in New Zealand, I was involved in computer-music research at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, in the areas of notation, compositional aids, aleatoric processes and harmonization. I even co-authored a paper with a a team of about six from the School of Engineering, Canterbury University. It was published in the then prestigious International Journal of Man-Machine Studies http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00207373/9. I helped with much of the overall project but my main interest was in devising stochastic processes that I could control in real-time, to create compositional drafts which were then fine-tuned by hand. These found their way into a number of compositions – most notably three short pieces for clarinet, available from the composer. I also attended the renown Cambridge Music School for several consecutive years, studying composition under John Rimmer and Barry Connyngham among others.

In 1978, I had the privilege to attend two very important summer compositional schools in Europe – The Centre Acanthes in 1978 http://www.acanthes.com/historique/historique.html with Iannis Xenakis and the Fete Musicale De La Sainte Baume with John Cage. Both of these composers, interested in aleatoric processes yet from vastly different perspectives, have continued to influence me to this day.

TORONTO
After a brief spell in London, my computer music interests led me to Toronto, Canada to work with Bill Buxton at the Structured Sound Synthesis Project (SSSP), at the University of Toronto. I spent eight years in Toronto, very actively involved in composition with the SSSP, the Music Gallery https://www.musicgallery.org/ and with the Canadian Electronic Ensemble https://www.facebook.com/CEEnsemble. I was also part of a composing collective called the Gang of Three with Bentley Jarvis and Jim Montgomery. I wrote for the contemporary music magazine MusicWorks. https://www.musicworks.ca/, and briefly worked for the CBC, for the radio program Two New Hours, creating documentaries on contemporary Canadian composers.

An important work during this time was Machinewoman http://www.worldcat.org/title/musicworks-31-women-voicing/oclc/54668540 which used dance, movement and live saxophone as well as pre-recorded sound, diffused by the main character Machinewoman, a portable sound-system which was part of her costume. This was performed a number of times at Harbourfront, an outdoor public space on Lake Ontario. The work addresses issues of what it means to be human when we are being continually augmented by technology so many levels.

Other 80’s works explored voice, synthesis and piano and can be heard on the cassette(!!), Transonances, released at that time by Underwhich Editions but now available online.http://thethingonthedoorstep.be/blog/2013/08/susan-frykberg-transonances/

VANCOUVER AND SOUNDSCAPE STUDIES
After the birth of my son Esha, in the mid-80s I moved to Simon Fraser University to do an MA with Barry Truax. Here, I learned a large number of computer and electroacoustic music techniques including granular synthesis – a method that has an aleatoric component. As a consequence of my minor in theatre, I also began to incorporate more non-musical elements into my compositions, as can be seen in works such as Woman and House. Most significantly however, I was introduced to the idea of soundscape. A decade before, pioneering Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer began significant research at Simon Fraser University that resulted in a brand new field called Soundscape Studies, or Acoustic Ecology. From this discourse I finally learnt to listen! It is a remarkable thing to learn to really hear everything round you, identifying rhythms, pitches, textures and the huge variety of acoustic relationships found in the simple sonic stuff of our lives. The experience of soundscape has had a major effect on many aspects of my life, from my relationship with others, to the environment and of course on my compositional approach.

THE AUDIO BIRTH PROJECT
One of my most important large scale works during this period is called The Audio Birth Project, funded by the Canada Council. It is based on interviews with my sisters and mother on the process of labour and birth. The suite of four works explores the terrain of labour and birth from three different perspectives. The works contain spoken voice recordings, instruments – cello, violin and piano – soundscapes and a large variety of electroacoustic techniques including granular synthesis. Crucial to the concept was the use of the actual words my sisters and mother spoke, which were also edited, abstracted and embedded into the large-scale soundscapes. I wanted to make music with not only what they said, but how they said it. Thus the timbre, rhythm and tonal qualities of their voices were hugely influential on the compositional quality and structure of the works themselves. For example, each of their voices inspired specific modes; there was a certain amount of intuitive transcription of their rhythmic qualities and the gestalt of their voices gave me a sense of how each work would be ‘orchestrated’. Specific aspects of how concepts around birthing can be explicated in instrumental writing can be seen in the work for violin and EA track called Astonishing Sense of Being Taken Over By Something Far greater Than Me.

The Audio Birth Project is a suite of four works. I Didn’t Think Much About It uses my mother’s voice with piano; Astonishing Sense of Being Taken Over By Something Far Greater than Me uses my sister Margaret’s voice with violin; Remembering Robin uses my sister Kate’s voice with ’cello. There is a fourth work Margaret, which is a short pre-recorded prelude to the violin work. All of these, with the exception of Remembering Robin, can be found on the CD Astonishing Sense of Being Taken Over By Something Far Greater than Me http://earsay.com/earsay/soundshop/earsay/CDs/as.html, or in itunes. Labour and birth is a fascinating subject for musical exploration and I believe there are many more compositional explorations to be done in this area.

In 1998, I moved back to New Zealand. This was in part so that my then 13 year old son could get to know his New Zealand family, in part so that I myself could get to know New Zealand again, but also because I had decided to attend to my religious inclinations which included serious study in theology, ancient languages, gregorian chant, Christian spirituality and christian notions of social justice.

CHANT
For some time, my studies precluded much composition but I did learn and regularly sing Gregorian Chant within a mass setting. This inspired me to compose three chants: Virgin Mother, http://www.radionz.co.nz/concert/programmes/resound based on a text from Bernard of Clairvaux found in Dante’s Paradiso in English; Sancte Venite in Latin and Kai in Ancient Greek. I also composed a mass in Gregorian Style for International Women’s Day, and later an anthem called Ubi Caritas for the 21st Century.

LITURGIES
From 2005 to 2010 I created a number of community liturgies for the churches I was working for. These were either for particular spiritual seasons – e.g. Advent and Lent; focussed on a particular historical church character e.g. Hildegard of Bingen; or celebrated an aspect of the church culture, such as multiculturalism. I also composed a number of short prayers, chants and hymns for community use, as well as an organ voluntary for one of my liturgies.

CHANT AND ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSIC
From 2009-11 I incorporated Gregorian chant into my electroacoustic music practice using the software Ableton Live. Salve Regina Electronica was first presented at the ACMC 2009 in Auckland and Ubi Caritas Electronica at the International Festival of Women Composers in Pennsylvania. Suffering, a work for live and fixed media, large shadow puppets and poet, was presented at ACMC 2011. From 2010 to 2012 I had regular radio shows on Radio New Zealand on Electroacoustic music. These were thematically based, dealing with such issues as world music, spiritual and sacred music and protest music. Most of these are still available as podcasts from Radio New Zealand.

PIANO MUSIC
Other works include composing for piano: Music to Watch Cows By, written when I lived in Taranaki, a dairy farming area; Five Studies on Ancient Idioms, commissioned by Ross Carey; a short birthday present called For Kate’s Forty-Sixth Birthday and an even shorter work called Dead Cow By The Road Side, written for photographer Peter Peryer from a photo of his.

MUSIC IN ART GALLERIES
Between 2010 and 2012 I started working in regional art galleries of Whanganui and New Plymouth with an improvisational group called Let The Art Sing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-Wwj6O4cFc, who played world instruments, western ones and electronics. Our work gave ‘voice’ to visual art. It was a joy to work with so many highly skilled musicians who, given a rigorous structure, were allowed to let their creativity fly when it came to realizing high quality visual art in a sonic medium.

SOUND ART
A Day of Hours http://www.rmit.edu.au/rmitgallery/soundbitescity, was a 2012 sound art commission from RMIT Art Gallery, Melbourne, created as a kind of poetic re-sounding of the city of Melbourne through time, from pre-settlement to now. This installation, situated in a multi-speaker environment in the gallery for several months, offered an almost archeological approach sonic design, with a large number of layers of sound, (natural, industrial, instrumental and media), constantly revealing then occluding themselves. It was a great project for me and I loved exploring my new city through this sonic lens. I also wrote about this in a short article called Sonic Archeology – to be found here. http://www.ceiarteuntref.edu.ar/sites/default/files/texts/SonicArcheology_SusanFrykberg.pdf

In January 2015, I have a residency in New Plymouth at SCANZ 2015, where artists, technologists and Maori leaders come together to dialogue and create art works on the theme of Water and Peace. http://www.intercreate.org/2013/05/scanz2015water-peace/

ART SONG
I’ve recently begun work on a series of simple art songs. The first was written for my mum’s 90th birthday. Ninety’s a Number That Doesn’t Mean Much is for soprano, oboe and piano. The text is by my mother and is a love poem to my father, who died about seven years ago. I’m trying to portray him in the oboe part, as he accompanies her in her life, even past his own. I’ve also just completed an ANZAC song for tenor and piano,The Day Is Come based on a text from an Australian soldier. My current art song composition is for Mezzo and piano, from a poem of Hilary Davies, called Christ Receives His Cross.

Source: Susan Frykberg, December 2014

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