Barry Truax ‎– Digital Soundscapes



The Blind Man 16:01
Aerial 9:32
Wave Edge 9:38
Solar Ellipse 11:15
Riverrun 19:44

Versions (2)

Cat# Artist Title (Format) Label Cat# Country Year
CSR-CD 8701 Barry Truax Digital Soundscapes(CD) Cambridge Street Records CSR-CD 8701 Canada 1987 Sell This Version
WER 2017-50 Barry Truax Digital Soundscapes(CD, Album) WERGO WER 2017-50 Germany 1988 Sell This Version

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May 3, 2011
referencing Digital Soundscapes, CD, CSR-CD 8701
Barry Truax’s Digital Soundscapes is a collection of five pieces that integrate computer and electroacoustic music. The tracks were released between 1979 and 1986, soon after the Canadian composer Murray Schafer introduced the idea of “acoustic ecology,” which refers to the relationship between people and the sounds of the environment that surround them. Each of the five tracks reflects this relationship to a certain degree, such that they include material from outside sources that have been manipulated digitally and also material formed through computer synthesis that mimics authentic sounds.
The first piece, The Blind Man (1979), combines the recitation of a poem by Norbert Ruebsaat with electronic sounds such as clicks and snaps that are formed using bells, doors and other objects. In the first half of the piece, Truax appears to use snippets of the words—both syllables and consonants—as well as clear language to produce a rhythmic, repetitive and overlapping texture. At some points, the speech stops altogether and the eerie, ambient background (much of which includes a kind of Darth Vader-like breathing sound) is clearly heard. About halfway through, the speech that had clearly taken the foreground earlier decreases in volume and attack, fading to the background, while the loud sounds of objects clanging and clashing move to the foreground.
Steven Field is featured on the horn in Truax’s second track—Aerial (1979). The piece contrasts the sharp notes of a horn with smoother, computer-synthesized sounds. Unlike the first track, Aerial is not exactly rhythmic and is certainly more dissonant; however, the slow, drawn-out sounds do make it auditorially appealing. Although the horn catches the ear because it is unique among the other sounds, it still blends with the computer-synthesized sounds very well. Ultimately the sounds all fade out together, and the piece ends with 18 seconds of silence.
Wave Edge (1983) and Solar Ellipse (1984-85) epitomize the idea of soundscape. In Wave Edge, the sounds of waves on a shore form the basis of an electroacoustic environment. Over the course of the piece, the digital elements begin to overshadow the natural sounds of the ocean. Computer sounds fade in and out, much like how one might imagine waves rising and breaking. Similarly, the soft, drawn-out sounds that pan across from left to right in Solar Ellipse produce images of revolving solar bodies. The pitch and amplitude of the sounds do not vary quickly, but slowly range up and down throughout the piece.
The last track on the album, Riverrun (1986), is arguably the most well known of Truax’s works. Truax creates a soundscape environment that mimics the flow of a babbling brook or river with its very rich and distinct texture. Riverrun is a great example of granular synthesis, the specific technique that the composer used to produce the piece. In granular synthesis, audio signals are broken down into short, overlapping grains. Each grain has a distinct waveform, amplitude envelope, duration, density and position in space. In this way, the grain can be modified in pitch without changing its duration and vice versa. The piece incorporates both sounds that are produced from controlled, modulated grains as well as noises formed when random variation in introduced into the process. The use of small grains to compose larger, fluid textures is symbolic of a flowing river that is comprised of smaller water droplets.


April 18, 2010
referencing Digital Soundscapes, CD, CSR-CD 8701
In his grand composition Riverrun, Barry Truax uses a widely varied plethora of sounds in his then-revolutionary real-time granular synthesis technique to create a moving soundscape that carries the listener on an auditory journey. While he was not the creator of granular synthesis, which involves layering multiple sound grains on each other at different frequencies and pitches, he was nevertheless one of its pioneering users and certainly made quite an impact on the field of electronic music. Truax begins the piece with some soft clicking noises coming from the left, then right, then both. While created electronically, these sounds begin to mimic the sound of water droplets, especially as their frequency increases. He next adds a spacey kind of background tone that contrasts nicely with the more natural sounding clicks; the futuristic sound grows slowly in volume and creates what feels like a cloud of sound enveloping the listeners as other, smaller sounds flit in and out in the background. Once the tone dies down, a new kind of clicking metronome rises to the forefront, similar to the original in its similarity to water but not quite the same. The clicks slowly transform into more electronic tones as a slightly ominous-sounding cloud of noise emerges from the background. The clicks fade and for a few minutes there is only this foreboding ambience, rising and falling in volume as its tone and pitch subtly change. The noise then shifts to a sound that seems to imitate the wind blowing and rushing through the air as softer tones in the background bring to mind thoughts of dripping water and streams. But soon these sounds too fade away, and we are left with nearly silence, and only a low, deep ambience accompanies us to the next phase of our auditory expedition. Once again this deep sound dominates while smaller, more distinct, sharper noises appear sporadically within the cloud of sound. Truax next integrates some kind of whirring, sparkling electronic noise that evokes images of night stars and a sort of spacey yet natural feeling. This tone dominates for the remainder of the composition and the piece slowly ends with what sounds like a warm night filled with chirping crickets and other little sounds of nature playing in the background. It’s fitting that the piece ends with the same natural sounding tones it began with, albeit a contrast between starry night and dripping water. Upon completion of this journey of sound, the listener feels a great sense of completion but also a slight weariness from the nearly 20 minutes of meditative focus required to fully appreciate this classic masterpiece. And this truly is a masterpiece, a landmark of electronic music and a historic development for the genre that has impacted a tremendous number of artists since its creation in 1986. Riverrun really is a journey, as you listen you can see in your mind the natural landscapes and scenes evoked by the sound, and immerse yourself in the complex but beautiful music. It truly is a composition for the ages.