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COMPOSER SHOWCASE

Hugh Le Caine: Biography

Hugh Le Caine
1914 - 1977
Region: Ontario

Hugh Le Caine

Canadian scientist and composer Hugh Le Caine (1914-77) was brought up in Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay, in northwestern Ontario. Throughout his youth he studied music, particularly piano, and dreamed of applying scientific techniques to the invention of musical instruments. At an early age he began building musical instruments and experimenting with electronic devices (as early as 1937 he had designed an electronic free reed organ) imagining "beautiful sounds" that he believed could be realised through these electronic inventions.

After earning his M.Sc. from Queen's University in 1939, Le Caine joined the National Research Council in Ottawa. There he worked on the development of the first radar systems and in atomic physics, distinguishing himself as a scientist and publishing significant papers in those fields.

At home he continued to pursue his interest in electronic music and sound generation. He established a personal studio in 1945, where he began to work independantly on the design of electronic musical instruments. On the strength of his public demonstrations of his instruments, he was permitted to move his musical activities to the NRC and to work on them full time in 1954.

Over the next twenty years he built over 22 different new instruments, and collaborated in the development of electronic music studios at the University of Toronto and McGill University. Le Caine taught at both Universities and influenced a generation of composers of electroaccoustic music. His composition "Dripsody" must still rank as the most played example of musique concrète, though he was extremely modest about his work: "I did not regard myself as a composer. However, I felt that the only way to understand the composer's interest in the apparatus was to use the equipment myself in the various current musical forms." When someone asked why he called his first composition "Dripsody" he repied: "Because it was written by a drip".

His works represent a duality of art and science: they extend the aesthetic field of electronic music while serving as clear demonstrations of the instruments he invented.

Gayle Young

1997 (ed.2002)

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