Vale Susan Frykberg (1954-2023)
The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology is saddened at the loss of Susan Frykberg, who passed away in Whanganui, New Zealand on Friday, April 7, 2023. She was 68 years old.
Susan was a much loved and active member of the acoustic ecology community, and was instrumental in the founding of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology and delivery of acoustic ecology courses at Simon Fraser University.
Cat Hope, Susan's PhD supervisor, wrote an obituary for Susan in Australia's CutCommon Magazine, reproduced here with permission:
"Susan Frykberg was an electronic music composer and sound artist whose music practice became an increasingly spiritual one. A citizen of both New Zealand and Canada, she lived most recently in Melbourne where she was a key part of the music scene over the last 10 years. Frykberg composed more than 80 musical works during her life, including music for acoustic, theatre, and religious settings in addition to many electroacoustic works. For her, music was an expression of her creative, intellectual, and spiritual life, and she was involved in key electroacoustic music scenes wherever she lived. She passed away in Whanganui, New Zealand from a terminal illness, amongst her family.
Born in Hastings, New Zealand, Frykberg undertook her undergraduate music studies with a minor in Theatre at the University of Canterbury, where she focused on computer music. Over time, she studied with composers such as John Rimmer, Barry Vercoe, Barry Conyngham, Barry Truax, and took classes with Iannis Xenakis and John Cage. She moved to Toronto, Canada in 1979 where she worked as a freelance composer, collaborating on the Structured Sound Synthesis Project with Bill Buxton at the University of Toronto, with the Canadian Electronic Ensemble and the composing collective Gang of Three. A key work from this period is Transonances (1984), a 50-minute piece characterised by voices subjected to and augmented by a range of treated and synthesised sounds. These were soundworlds she would return to throughout her life, as she sought a way to address what it meant to be a human continually augmented by technology.
In 1986, she moved to Vancouver where she completed a Masters Degree in Electroacoustic Composition at Simon Fraser University. She taught Acoustic Ecology there for several years, immersing herself in what was the centre of soundscape studies at that time, working alongside Hildegard Westerkamp and others. This period would profoundly influence her approach to composition and life thereafter, and she remained in close contact with her colleagues after she moved back to New Zealand in 1998. There she undertook studies in Classics and Theology at the University of Otago, and a five-year hiatus from composing ended in 2002 with the notated a cappella vocal work Virgin Mother, performed by Baroque Voices for RNZ Concert. She moved to Melbourne around 2014.
Frykberg’s music has been performed around the world in radio, concert and academic settings. Key works include Astonishing Sense of Being Taken Over by Something Far Greater Than Me, (1998) from the Astonishing Sense album released on Canadian label Earsay. Featuring violinist Nancy DiNovo, it is a beautiful, deep, and haunting piece that makes part of her extraordinary Audio Birth Project, a collection of works based on interviews with women about giving birth, including her sisters and mother, whose voices feature alongside cello, violin, piano, and soundscapes processed via a wide range of electroacoustic techniques. Women were often at the centre of her works – both conceptually and practically. The project was widely acclaimed, with articles in international publications such as Computer Music Journal, eContact and SplendidZine, and went on to be programmed as part of the 2008 Congress for the International Alliance of Women Musicians in Beijing, China.
More recently Frykberg was the lead composer and librettist for the multiplatform opera by Matthew Sleeth, A Drone Opera (2015-2020), commissioned by Experimenta, Melbourne and premiered at Arts House. The opera developed into a film that was shown at the Sydney International Film Festival (2019), an installation at Carriageworks (2019), Sydney and went on to be shown at Ars Electronica, Austria in 2020. In the words of her close collaborator and vocalist in the opera, soprano Judith Dodsworth, the work was a commentary on our tenuous and complex relationship with technology and its ability to simultaneously seduce and menace us, where the main dramatic thrust focused on the increasing distancing and ‘outsourcing’ of modern warfare as drones are employed to carry out the butchery1. Into what could have become a very stark landscape Frykberg brought reverence, wonder, compassion, and humanity2. Dodsworth remembers Frykberg as constantly curious, searching for connection and meaning, always reaching out to share ideas and collaborate with extraordinary warmth, humour and generosity of spirit3.
Theatre was often a feature in her work. Machinewoman (1985) uses dance, movement and live saxophone, with pre-recorded sound emanating from a portable sound-system as part of the performers costume. Her improvisational group Let The Art Sing (2010-2012) combined instruments from different cultures with electronics that interacted with works of art in various regional galleries across New Zealand. She saw music and theatre as one entity functioning to transform the people within the society.
Frykberg’s other contributions to music are notable. She was a founding member of two core international organisations: the Canadian Electroacoustic Community and the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology, and and received an Honourable Mention in the International Alliance of Women Musicians New Music Competition in 2014. She produced programs about electroacoustic music for Radio New Zealand, and documentaries about Canadian composers for the Canadian Broadcasting Commission program Two New Hours. Her written publications include MusicWorks, Organised Sound, the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, a range of conference proceedings and a forthcoming co-authored chapter with Dodsworth in the upcoming volume The Composer, Herself: Contemporary Snapshots of the Creative Process edited by Linda Kouvaras, Natalie Williams, and Maria Grenfell. She wrote an academic teaching text entitled Dimensions of Acoustic Communication, on which she based a series of workshops held for the public in Melbourne in 2019. In addition to her teaching in Canada, she also taught in Melbourne at RMIT and Box Hill TAFE.
Susan commenced her PhD in Music Composition at Monash University in 2018, completed shortly before her passing. I had the pleasure to be the supervisor of her project on spirituality and electronic music, alongside Professor Constant Mews. She was working on a range of new compositions exploring the nexus of spirituality and electronic sound, including chants with electronics she had devised together with A Drone Opera collaborators Dodsworth and Hamish Gould. She was also developing larger scale electronic works that examine her own life through time, sounds created in space and the theories of the sixth-century music theorist, philosopher, and theologian Boethius, exploring a wide range of iPad applications for sound synthesis and editing. Other university graduate students note Frykberg’s enthusiasm to collaborate and support others, as someone with a genuine interest in others4, passionate and generous5, kind and caring6.
It is important to acknowledge these wonderful contributions Susan Frykberg made to music worldwide, and their impact closer to home. Whilst this summary by no means considers all her achievements, as I met Susan later in her life, I hope this provides some insights to the importance of her work. The staff and students at Monash University will miss her joyous contributions. We are lucky to her wonderful, adventurous music to remember her by."
Additional commemorations will be published on the WFAE In Memoriam page for Susan.
To share your own memories of Susan here, please email WFAE Secretary Jesse Budel on email@example.com