Reflections: An Evening with Hildegard Westerkamp

Reflections: An Evening with Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp on São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal. Photo © 2017 Eric Leonardson

On Thursday March 22 a large multi-generational gathering of artists, activists, and educators were hosted at the Chicago home of MSAE founder and co-chair at Eric Leonardson to meet and talk with Hildegard Westerkamp, the renowned Vancouver-based composer, sound ecologist, and radio artist.

This was Westerkamp’s first visit to Chicago, hosted as a visiting artist in residence by the Department of Sound at The School of the Institute of Chicago (SAIC). A member of the influential World Soundscape Project started by R. Murray Schafer in 1968, Westerkamp is also a founder of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE), established 25 years ago during Tuning of the World: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology, at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Her notable achievements include numerous internationally respected soundscape compositions, speaking and authoring keynotes and articles on this and the ecological practice of soundwalking. Westerkamp also founded Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, annually published by the WFAE since 2000.

Our gathering provided an enjoyable and productive opportunity to connect with leading members in the city’s academic and creative fields. Among them many SAIC students, with all our guests variously engaged in sound studies, sound art, music composition, performance, new media art, people with disabilities, soundscape ecology, soundwalking, and social practice. MSAE Co-chair, Jonathan Eiseman addressed our group while Leonardson informed us of the historic moments, among these WFAE’s 25th year of operation, his own approaching 60th birthday, as well as Westerkamp’s soon to follow.

Following birthday cake and homemade pie, dialogues on topics ranging from environmental ethics and relations with gender, race, and class; to personal healing and community building: the evening was a highly successful forum cohering a shared and refreshing sense of place and community, solidifying a base for the MSAE as we consider our mission and new relationship with local actors and the global partners, and begin to grow and learn from contemporary community leaders. The timing was opportune as the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology launches its new identity and initiatives, in building an acoustic awareness, relevant for these times.