12 trumpets, 12 trombones, 15 saxophones and 3 bass drums

In 1983, I was a young composer who wanted to make a lot of noise. I had lots of ideas, one of which was to create a New Music Festival in Toronto, where I was living at the time. So I talked to lots of musicians, prepared an elaborate document with programming, budgets and promotional plans, all nicely laid out, and submitted it to several arts organizations in the city. No news. A few months later, I heard that one of the organizations had miraculously decided that they were going to produce a new music festival that looked remarkably like my proposition. In fact, they had stolen my idea. I was very angry.

So I wanted to compose a work which was so loud, so impossible to ignore that nobody could steal it. Hence, Sound Off. The original title was another rather well worn English phrase also ending in “off”, which better expressed my anger at these cultural kidnappers.

In 1997 I met Philippe Keyser and his ensemble KAPPA, which, in collaboration with Innovations en concert, made the creation of this work possible 16 years after its composition, in 1999. I would like to thank KAPPA and the eight other “chefs de groupe”, the 88 young musicians, and the Innovations en concert team for giving me the chance to create a work that is out of the ordinary.

The work explores two basic ideas: the idea of developing a musical idea not only in time but in space (the 108 musicians are placed in two groups facing each other in order to create many antiphonal and surround-sound effects), and the idea of using simple musical ideas, multiplied by large musical forces, to create complex sonic experiences. The work moves between composed sections and sections with more structured improvisations, and can last from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the space and social context of the performance.

The work was premiered in September 1999 in Montreal and was most recently performed in February 2005 at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Centata New Music Festival. It is available on the CD Unison Rituals, on the Ambiances magnétiques label.

Tim Brady, 1999