Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

December 05, 2002

Music prof provides sound basis for learning

Music says a lot about a society and culture and may even foretell the future, according to a new University of Guelph professor who specializes in experimental forms of music.

"Music is a very potent means of communication," said Ellen Waterman, who joined the School of Fine Art and Music this fall. "It is the most pervasive, expressive and inclusive art form. Precisely because it is so mobile and flexible, music acts as a carrier of cultural signs and may tell us important things about society."

Waterman studies non-commercial and collaborative music-making and the intersections between music and cultural studies. She edited the recently-published anthology Sonic Geography Imagined and Remembered. It is a collection of articles from eight countries and diverse disciplines ethnomusicology, radio, composition and cultural studies) and forms the first cultural critique of acoustic ecology, the work pioneered by R. Murray Schafer, the renowned Canadian composer, dramatist and music educator. Waterman spent 10 years working with Schafer, who is best known for Patria, a massive and wholly unconventional 12-work series of music/theatre works, many of which are performed in unusual urban or wilderness venues. "One of the most interesting things about Schafer is his unconventional approach to performance," Waterman said.

"All of this interests me very much as a performer of experimental music myself. I want to see the ways performers interact with their audiences, with each other and with other aspects of the arts, but even beyond that, how the administration and publicity work to influence the performer's identity. What are the other social interactions that come together to make a performance happen? All of these elements are also important."

Waterman is also a professional flutist with a PhD in critical studies and experimental practice from the Department of Music at the University of California, San Diego. She came to spent four years at Trent University teaching cultural studies before coming to Guelph. This semester she taught a seminar on local and global identities in music and winter semester, she will teach a seminar on sound and the environment, one of four new pilot Learning Seminars for first-year students in the bachelor of arts and science program. "The School of Fine Art and Music attracts a diverse and vibrant group of students who are not afraid of new approaches," she said. "It's a good place for my odd combination of critical musicology and creative work."

Waterman is currently working on two research projects funded by grants from the Ford Foundation and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The first, titled "Performing Identities Across Borders," is a collaborative effort involving the creation and performance of interdisciplinary works addressing issues of identity in a transnational context. She's working with colleagues in New York and Trinidad on the project. The second effort, "In and Out of the Studio," is a ethnographic project on women and sound technologies, which will be published in both print and electronic form. The main thrust of this effort is to provide positive role models for women who are struggling to enter the male-dominated world of audio.

Waterman added that one of the things that drew her to Guelph was the chance to form and lead a group devoted to current trends in music making. Her Contemporary Music Ensemble held its first concert Nov. 19, performing works by Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Pärt, as well as student compositions. "Sometime during the dress rehearsal, I realized that coming to U of G had been the right decision," she said. "The students were wholly committed to the concert and excited about their musical explorations. It's a great pleasure to play with them."

Prof. Ellen Waterman
School of Fine Art and Music
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 4578

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338.

Email this entry to:

Message (optional):