Pictured above: Brock Visual Arts graduate Taylor Elliott (BA ’23) has been engaging in creative sound work at the Sound Art Innovation Lab in downtown St. Catharines.
Early on, Brock researcher Troy Ouellette realized the power of electronics to create virtual instruments.
Merging this lifelong passion and his academic interest in sound art, Ouellette is bringing his expertise to the local community to connect people interested in experimental sound work.
An Assistant Professor of Digital Media in Brock’s Department of Visual Arts (VISA), Ouellette specializes in technology and conceptual art. He co-founded the Sound Art Innovation Lab (SAIL) earlier this year in partnership with Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) alongside a powerhouse team of local artists.
SAIL brings together community participants, scholars and students to generate interdisciplinary discussion around sound art and aims to encourage underrepresented groups to participate in all aspects of sound production.
The fully equipped recording studio and control room in downtown St. Catharines houses an audio suite with thousands of plug-ins for virtual instruments for users to experiment with. The space also includes an electronic drum set, guitars and keyboards to create dynamic sound works.
Ouellette said SAIL is encouraging people to think about sound and acoustics differently and to promote scholarly discourse in the community.
“We have a library of about 50 books that are dedicated to sound art and its history, especially within the practice of field recording,” he said. “In addition, there are important texts about composers who have contributed to minimalism, experimental and electroacoustic music.”
SAIL is also affiliated with local musicians such as Wayne Petti, who has worked as an audio engineer with Blue Rodeo, giving Brock students the chance to network with the professionals in the music industry.
Ouellette’s work with SAIL was largely inspired by his grandfather.
“He had a home recording studio, which fascinated me,” he said. “I noticed immediately that the different switches on his keyboard created different effects, like ‘reverb’ or ‘vibrato’ and ‘sustain’ and I was enamoured with these new possibilities.”
The name SAIL was also inspired by the small sailboat in which he plied the waters of Lake Erie as a kid, immersing himself in the natural soundscape and profoundly impacting his sonic experiences while on the water.
At Brock, Ouellette teaches classes engaging with digital foundations and interactive arts, sharing the rich history of sound art in Canada and exploring how sound in the digital age can feed into a human’s emotional capacities whether through a film or video score or an experimental recording.
Third-year VISA student Caleb Awinoron and recent graduate Taylor Elliott (BA ’23) have collaborated at the SAIL facilities, developing their creative skills and making valuable community connections.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time working at SAIL; there’s a sense of exploration and playfulness while keeping an academic interest,” Elliott said. “Sound art and design opens up so many possibilities and is such a versatile medium. It’s a great thing to become familiar with.”
Awinoron found he became more creative with repeat visits to the SAIL studio.
“Because I work with a lot of rap music, I’ve learned the different styles individual musicians use when recording and how to add to those moments as a developing producer,” he said.
SAIL will be hosting tours of the space on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 2 to 5 p.m. and will be hosting an artist talk for the public featuring sound artist Ellen Moffat on Saturday, Oct. 20 at NAC. Brock University and Moffat will also host a contact mic workshop for Brock students at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts on Sunday, Oct. 21. Details can be found on the SAIL website.