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January 7, 2009
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v2.1 Reference

Sonic Mosaics

Conversations with Composers

It is a common misconception that it is difficult or impossible to discuss music, that a piece of music simply speaks to the listener-or not. Paul Steenhuisen, in conversation with composers, offers readers insight into the creative process, and ways of listening and entering into works of new music. Steenhuisen, himself a composer of merit, talks one on one with thirty-two of his contemporaries-twenty-six of whom are Canadian-with a colleague's candour, sympathy, and expertise. These rare intimations afford fellow composers, musicologists, students, and inquisitive listeners a comparative look into the lives of the people who write some of the most innovative, challenging, and sublime music today. Composers Interviewed: R. Murray Schafer; Robert Normandeau; Chris Paul Harman; Linda Catlin Smith; Alexina Louie; Omar Daniel; Michael Finnissy; John Weinzweig; Udo Kasemets; Pierre Boulez; Barbara Croall; James Rolfe; John Beckwith; Yannick Plamondon and Marc Couroux; George Crumb; Peter Hatch; John Oswald; Francis Dhomont; Martin Arnold; Helmut Lachenmann; Juliet Palmer; Christian Wolff; Mauricio Kagel; John Rea; Gary Kulesha; Howard Bashaw; Christopher Butterfield; Keith Hamel; Jean Piché; James Harley; Hildegard Westerkamp;

About the Author

Paul Steenhuisen is an award-winning composer of art music for acoustic and electroacoustic media. He has been commissioned and performed by outstanding musicians around the world. He also writes articles on topics in contemporary music. In addition to earning his doctoral degree in composition from UBC under the direction of Keith Hamel, he has studied with composers Louis Andriessen, Michael Finnissy, and Tristan Murail.


"And on those nights when it is absolutely too cold to go out, I'll most likely be curling up with Paul Steenhuisen's new book Sonic Mosaics: Conversations with Composers. Beyond being a highly accomplished composer in his own right, Steenhuisen is also a recognized interviewer of his creative colleagues. Over numerous years, he has conducted and recorded dozens of one-on-one conversations with some of our country's leading composers (many of which appeared in these pages between 2001 and 2005). Now, after much anticipation, these insightful interviews are available in one volume. Paul’s well-documented conversations offer the reader entry into the creative process and ways of listening to new musical works. He calls on his own experience as a composer to lend these 32 interviews a colleague's openness, understanding and expertise." Jason van Eyk, Wholenote, February 2009"Steenhuisen shows an understanding of the work of everyone he interviews, no matter what their musical style. This especially pays off with an experimental composer like John Oswald, whose technique of plunderphonics challenges traditional approaches to composition. Things get lively when he asks Oswald whether his pieces have an expiry date. Steenhuisen's questions are thought-provoking, and his thorough preparation allows him to follow wherever the subject takes him. A surprising answer can turn things in an entirely different direction....[M]any things in this important book have been particularly well-considered, from the design, the photos and the cover art, to the discography, annotations, and index (which even has an entry for playfulness)." Pamela Margles' BookShelf, Wholenote Magazine, March 30, 2009 (full entry at"[I]f you want to find out about recent developments in Canadian contemporary composition, Sonic Mosaics is where to go." Philip Clark,The WIRE, May 2009"The reader is impressed by the intellectual prowess of so many underrated creators, and the special relationship between composers gives the work more substance. [If] one is interested in Canadian music, or composers who seem preoccupied by music history, they would be well-advised to look into Steenhuisen's book. Special praise is to be given to the Lachenmann interview, which captures the essence of his work in a simple, elegant and moving way." René Bricault, La Scena Musicale, May 2009"Paul Steenhuisen carried out a series of 31 excellent interviews with Canadian and international composers beginning in 2001. The book runs the gamut from Schafer to Boulez, and includes composers of all generations. So much of a good interview depends upon the knowledge and imagination of the interviewer, and Steenhuisen gets high marks in both areas. We are desperately short of informed information about Canadian composers of our time, and both Steenhuisen and the University of Alberta Press are to be congratulated for this long overdue achievement." Lawrence Cherney, Artistic Director, Soundstreams Canada, September 2009"An articulate composer coaxes revealing shop talk from diverse peers." Ethelbert Nevin, Tome Tweets / La Folia Online Music Review, September 2009"Most texts dealing with Canadian music are organized as surveys. An alternate approach is to present in a single volume a collection of interviews or conversations with selected composers. Although this approach is less inclusive and does not address explicitly any larger trends or developments, it often provides better insight into the musical activities of each composer, conveys a stronger sense of his or her individual personality, and explores the musical works on their own terms rather than in the way they fit into a larger picture. Paul Steenhuisen has chosen the latter path and the result, Sonic Mosaics: Conversations with Composers, is an excellent and welcome view of contemporary music activity in Canada. Sonic Mosaics makes no attempt to be inclusive or comprehensive. It provides instead a glimpse of the new music scene in Toronto during the early years of the twenty-first century. Steenhuisen is excellent in his role as interviewer. He is an accomplished composer with strong new music affiliations. Steenhuisen approaches each composer on his or her own terms, asking questions that are unique and appropriate to each rather than following a set formula. He is also adept at asking good opening questions and then stepping aside to let the composers speak for themselves. In most cases a strong sense of each composer's personality is apparent. Steenhuisen also provides a discography that lists a maximum of five recordings per composer, so that listeners can be introduced to or explore further the music of the composers interviewed. Whereas most books on music have difficulties addressing the twenty years prior to publication, Steenhuisen focuses almost exclusively on the current decade to reveal the thoughts, challenges, and artistic endeavors of contemporary Canadian composers." J. Drew Stephen, Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres, Fall 2009"It's nice to see Sonic Mosaics by Paul Steenhuisen reviewed in BookShelf this month. As noted in the review, a lot of the composer interviews in the book were incubated here in WholeNote over the years. The debt we owe Steenhuisen is that he carved a niche in our magazine for lengthy interviews, in which the voice of an artist being asked good questions has a chance to shine through." David Perlman, Wholenote Magazine, March 2009"One might fear that a book of interviews in which one specialist interviews another in the same field would result in an impenetrable, jargon-ridden read that would send the reader crying out for generalists to give them something understandable and relevant to their own experience. This book, though not for the uninitiated, rarely crosses the line into the specialist realm....Steenhuisen's questions and style sometimes probing, other times knowingly prodding the subject create a text that never lags.... Considering the interviews' length and generalist purpose, they are remarkably thorough.... A highly-recommended read." John Oliver, Sequenza21, January 27, 2010 [Full review at]"Paul Steenhuisen's conversations with thirty-one then living composers ... feel expansive and are frequently revelatory. Steenhuisen is himself a composer. His questions are deeply informed and smart, and they invariably elicit interesting responses. It is wonderful how articulate composers can be, not just about their own work, but about music generally and even about the other arts as well.... In almost every case these composers have provocative things to say. Readers untutored in the language of music may find themselves left behind sometimes, but, surprisingly, most of these talks will engage even the musically illiterate.... These interviews in the aggregate give us a good sense of what the contemporary 'classical' music world consists of and feels like from the composer's point of view." Bruce Whiteman, Canadian Review Service, July 2013 [Full article, Regaining Our Composure, is at]
University of Alberta Press

9780888644749 : sonic-mosaics-steenhuisen
Paperback / softback
344 Pages
$38.99 USD

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