Vol. 25 Issue 2 Reviews
Hugh Le Caine: Compositions-Demonstrations 1946-1974

Compact disc JWD 03, 2000; available from JWD Music, 146 Ridge Road West, Grimsby, Ontario L3M 4E7, Canada; electronic mail ridge@vaxxine.com; World Wide Web www.hughlecaine.com

Reviewed by alcides lanza
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

This compact disc is a must for electroacoustic teachers, researchers, and lovers of music with a technological edge. Canadian inventor, scientist, and composer Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977) was a pioneer in the development of machinery used for electroacoustic music. He was also responsible for the design and installation of electronic music studios at the University of Toronto (1959) and McGill University in Montreal (1964). His earliest creation, the Sackbut Synthesizer, dates from 1945.

The musical examples included on this CD are very impressive. The musicality, versatility and playability of Mr. Le Caine’s early instruments is quite evident. Regrettably, no model of the Sackbut has survived. Also included is his last composition, Paulution (1971-72), produced using the polyphonic voltage-controlled synthesizer he developed for McGill University in 1970, a machine that was ahead of its time. The prototype and only copy of the "pauli" (or "Poly," as it was affectionately referred to around the McGill EMS), was donated in 1987—together with other Le Caine machines—to the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

The music on the disc is grouped into two sections: Compositions (1955-1972), and Demonstrations (1946-1957). The compositions are short, but are quite clearly more than mere demonstrations. They are witty, imaginative, and based on solid musical ideas. Dripsody, Mr. Le Caine’s best-known composition, appears in the original monophonic version from 1955. Also included is the stereo version from 1957, basically the same but extended by about 30 seconds. A definite plus, and enough justification for purchasing the CD, is the inclusion of a recording of Mr. Le Caine explaining the making of Dripsody, which uses his sensational Multitrack Tape Recorder (also known as the Variable Speed Tape Recorder, or the Special Purpose Tape Recorder). This machine could play back any combination of up to 10 reels of stereo tapes (or loops) utilizing speed control. This enables up to 20 channels of diversified information, speed control, flexible mixing, and stereo spring reverberation on the final mix.

Other tracks offer enjoyable and informative examples for creating music using his other inventions. Especially remarkable are 99 generators (1956), produced on the machine bearing the same name (imagine having 99 generators at once at your fingertips!), and Music for Expo (1967), done using his Serial Sound Structure Generator (SSSG), an apparatus permitting total integration of all units in the studio—with no splicing required.

This is a rich document reviewing the lifelong achievements of this extraordinary Canadian inventor and composer. It features beautifully recorded sound, well-written liner-notes, and hard-to-find photographic documents. Gayle Young, author of the Le Caine biography, The Sackbut Blues, produced the CD and wrote the booklet. [Editor’s note: For a review of The Sackbut Blues, see Computer Music Journal 19(4):96-99.]