Sound, Art & Technology: Composer Nicole Lizée

Nicole Lizée and one of her musical instruments.  Image source here.

In CTCH110, we consider the marriage of art and technology; thus, we must consider the relationship between music and the application of atypical technological methods and tools.  Our class was recently visited by composer Nicole Lizée, whose collage-like composition style accesses numerous musical genres, while drawing on other media and tools such as film, turntables, and other machines.  With Lizée were quartet performers Leanne Zacharias, cello, Eric Platz, percussion, and Ben Reimer, percussion.

Early Life and Influences

Lizée has been experimenting with musical composition since her childhood.  At age 15, she recorded her voice with boomboxes and cassettes, playing the sound back and recording it on another boombox, layering and synthesizing the tracks.  She remembers, “There would be hiss and warping, and the first track would recede into the background with an odd timbre.” (source)  This experimental theme and fascination with the varying sounds of technology has remained a common thread throughout her career.

Lizée’s father had a workshop with a plethora of technology, as well as a high turnover rate for the gadgets, as it was outmoded and reinvented through the years.  These workshop sounds stuck with Lizée, and are a central theme of her works today.

A fascination with musical genre has also shaped her creations.  Lizée’s obsession with the MTV music scene in her teenage years lived alongside her classical piano training.  She recalls even at the time, she didn’t view the sounds of these genres as exclusive.

At Brandon University, Lizée completed a degree in classical piano performance.  Her Masters was completed at McGill University in composition.  Later in her education, she began incorporating turn tables into her compositions.  She experimented with notation and genre as she created a new space for the turntable in concert music.  Lizée stresses that this process includes lots of trial and error.

Glitch, Malfunction, and Obsolete Devices

As previously mentioned, Lizée was exposed to the rapidly developing technology of the 1970s and 1980s in her father’s workshop.  He made a point to hold onto the various machines even though many of them didn’t work, or worked only for a short period of time before malfunctioned.  “Cathode ray tubes, resistors, capacitors, and solid-state wiring” were among the tools that surrounded Lizée in her youth. (source)  Later in life, the sounds were still with her and she started to consider their ability to be instruments and her ability to notate music for the new instruments.  Lizée’s work with obsolete devices has shown her,“Things can fail in spectacular ways.” (source)

Lizée experimented with sound from objects such as oscillators and stylophones (a robot oscillator that reacts to light).  She believes in re-purposing these machines, giving them new life and function: a place in orchestral music.  According to Lizée, “anything that makes sound can be an instrument.”  Unique challenges come with the addition of obsolete devices as instruments: musician control is decreased due to the irrationality and inconsistency of the glitching machines, and artists must also locate specific obsolete devices in order to play a piece.  The payoff from the technology-art relationship is defined and enriched by these challenges.

Compositions and In-Class Performance

Lizée’s earlier compositions were with turntables, which she focused on for approximately 20 years.  Her later pieces are a tribute to the film and orchestral industry and incorporate visual media with sound.  With this additional layer of content, Lizée attempts to “suspend the scene,” and find what the director has hidden within a particular moment or scene.

The piece “Tarantino Études” for bass flute and glitch includes footage from four films.  In each one, Lizée endeavors to zoom in or “damage the tape,” in order to find “ghosts” and dimensions in the scene the director didn’t intend as a focus, such as singular words in a monologue, or seemingly insignificant sounds produced by characters.

“Kubrick Études” for piano and glitch was commissioned by Megumi Masaki with the Canada Council for the Arts in 2013.  The audio for the piece was recorded from various points in a room, which manipulated the pitch and tone subtly.  Lizée carefully crafted this work to mirror the movie’s contour and framing.

The ensemble commented after the performance on the unique nature of performing Lizée’s works.  Zacharias likened the inclusions of a visual film component to another member of the ensemble.  This enables and encourages a relationship between artists and and technology.  Lizée’s work has been an international success and “has been performed worldwide in venues including Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall” (source).

The use of the click track in Lizée’s work allows both composer and performer to delve deeper into mixed-meter experimentalism, helps players keep time by acting as a conductor, and adds a sound evocative of glitch.  This metronome-like tool paired with Lizée’s use of film leads Richard Simas, arts and literature freelance-writer, to suggest, “If there is a single notion that might capture the context for viewing her work, it is time: historical, metered, and anachronistic. She filters through icons of the past, makes selections, and recasts them in new surroundings. She skews rhythm and twists tempo in surprising fashions, inviting the listener to attend to the notions of forwards and backwards.” (source)  None of this experimentation would be possible without the bridge and relationship Lizée forms between click-track and performer, film and performer, art and technology.



24 | 2016 | Classical Composition of the Year | Nicole Lizée

3D Hologram Project


The first part of the project that I completed was the pyramid frame with which to view my video.  I made a half-sized pyramid, drawing out a template on paper and cutting my four triangle shapes based on that shape.  The online tutorial made the actual cutting seem pretty simple, but I had lots of issues with CD case breakage.  My dad hooked me up with a variety of tools and after a lot of trial and error, I ended up using a method of scoring one edge of the shape at a time and then breaking it along the line.

I wasn’t successful with every attempt, but eventually I got four fairly clean, somewhat consistent pyramid planes. Yay!


The other aspect of the project I completed in Photoshop.  I found Ben Halsall’s Skillshare tutorial pretty easy to follow and I learned lots, considering I didn’t even know you could upload video files into Photoshop.

Here I am nearing the end of the tutorial, learning how to export my file in the proper format and upload it to YouTube.

It was difficult to completely eliminate some white specks of dust from the original, unedited video, but the levels layer and the “Lighten” layer effect made a drastic difference in the appearance of the footage, as seen below.

Here is the finished video that I uploaded on my YouTube channel:

The hot gluing of the pyramid planes together was messier than I had hoped, but they definitely came together to form a working hologram frame, Pepper’s Ghost-style!  Below is a video of my pyramid and my oboe reed hologram video being played on an iPad mini.

Concept to Production: My Reflections

3D Printing in Contemporary Culture

In class, we talked about Anouk Wipprecht.  She’s an innovative artist who is creating a connection between technology and art, especially fashion.  I think this is the key with 3D printing: it’s such an accessible (and will become more and more) way for an average person to use their creativity, marry it with technology, and create something useful and impactful to our environment.

There is so much hope that comes along with 3D printing in the medical field.  Custom implants for different body parts can be made precisely for an individual, such as ears or other prostheses.  With bio printing and the precision that humans are gaining in the field of 3D printing, there is more and more we can do.  I looked a little further into it and found this terrifying but awesome list of stuff we can or will soon be able to do with this technology.

Phase 1: Origami

Making origami is one of my favourite things to do, but I don’t make time to do it.  Visiting with my Grammie as a kid, we’d sit for hours trying different designs.  I’m so excited I was forced into some folding time by having this lab in class; so relaxing!

I tried a few designs, but didn’t reach any decision on what I wanted to draw in Tinkercad.  My favourite design was the purple diamond.

Here is the YouTube video tutorial:

After some more weekend folding, I opted to take this cactus design into Tinkercad:

Using Tinkercad

The Tinkercad controls were pretty easy to grasp, and I’m shocked this kind of platform is free.

It wasn’t without its bugs, and I was slightly unsatisfied with my final product because even though I made my 7-sided prism the same side as the 7-pointed stars I used for the pokey bits, they didn’t ever line up perfectly on each corner.  Even when it looked like two points matched up, the other side of shape was off.



To the dismay of some, I chose to make the little guy a little crooked, just like his origami cousin.  In the end, I came up with a cactus who looks like this:


Here is the link to the shareable file on google drive.  If you follow that link, you’ll see another glitch: the file would only save sideways.

Final Product

After sending my file to the library, selecting 10% infill and “army green,” and waiting a few business days, I picked up my cactus.  I was pretty excited that the librarian recognized it as such.  It’s still a little rough around the edges, with stringy stuff hanging off much like hot glue gun strands.  After a bit of work on the body of the cactus and around the base of the flower pot, it will be polished up for the showcase!


Dear Data: My Experience and the Final Product

The Data Collection:

Throughout the week, I attempted to track my “desires.”  For my purposes, I defined this as a general yearning for something… I included eating, but most of what I defined as a desire is otherwise unnecessary to sustain life.  For example, I didn’t need to include my desire to breathe and bring oxygen to my brain, but I did track when I desired to be out of class early or buy myself a coffee.  I tracked when I really just wanted to call my mum, or when I wished I had the motivation to get to work on school projects.

In hindsight, I wish I had narrowed this down further.  I still think it was an effective week where I had to be a lot more present than usual; however, I probably could have tracked a whole week of people I wanted to interact with or when I wanted to buy food out, etc.

Check out my previous entries to see each day’s raw data as it was collected.

The Drawing:

I really loved the drawing aspect of this project and found it meditative.  It was equal parts mechanical and creative- I love when those two concepts are married!

During the lecture where we watched the video of the original creators, I doodled inspiration from their art in order to spur my ideas later on.


I had fun trying different ideas out.  Pictured below is one unused design where I drew a vine for each day and added leaves.

One thing that is tough about the drawings is there is (obviously) no undo button.  I love my final product; however if I could alter them in any way, I would

  1. see how big each bubble/flower/sphere was and then space them differently (although I think it’s kind of fun that even I wasn’t totally sure how the drawing would look/be spaced in the end).
  2. leave a bigger gap in day three’s bubble/flower/sphere in my data void.  It’s not pronounced at all and I think it would have made my piece more visually interesting.

Other Observations:

I noticed that on the first day, I was really conscious of my thoughts and excited about the project.  The week as a whole was the most difficult academic week of the semester, and thus, my thoughts were of a different nature.  I noticed a lot more “green” thought; more negatively fueled thoughts, and more data voids.  I wasn’t being as mentally present and it totally affected my mindset, my thoughts, my desires, and thus, my postcard.