Reviews & Comments

The Garage: CD OF THE WEEK

The Feather Songbook & CD (2016)
Sylvi MacCormac introduced herself in the ’80s with cassettes that showed her to be a talented songwriter in the Joni Mitchell/Bruce Cockburn vein. She later won acclaim for her soundscapes (sometimes no more than a taped conversation over tea). The Feather, her first album in years, manages to combine all her pursuits. The front half is about 50 minutes of her songs, the most pleasing of which is the title track featuring an ethereal yet intimate vocal plus equally moody instrumentation such as a melancholy violin. The rest of the CD is taken up by her soundscapes. These abstractions are an acquired taste, but are more concise than formerly with layers of sound and some arrangement. Both halves suggest sophistication (or maturity).


“Sylvi is an inspiration to the world. A superb composer and sound artist who easily rises above every conceivable obstacle to create memorable and demanding projects with extremely positive social values. Her music is wonderful to experience and participating plumbs the depths of emotion. To WITNESS her presentations is an emotional experience that has literally brought tears to my eyes and is unparalleled in the world of sound, music and happenings. My recommendation is unequivocal and pales in the truth of her realities.” Charlie Richmond –


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Songs create a communal soundscape
Folk Rock: MacCormac’s only concession to MS was trading guitar for harmonica

Tom Harrison,The Garage, The Province, Published: Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A remarkable thing happened to sylvi macCormac on her way to becoming a folksinger.
Remarkable because you can’t call being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis funny.
Remarkable because, even though she gets around in a wheelchair, macCormac has become a folksinger.
Remarkable because she hasn’t let the perceived disabilities hold her back. She has become internationally recognized for her soundscapes, contributed tracks to two Vancouver Adapted Music Society comps and two videos sponsored by Shore FM.
Wednesday, she and her group, Horizon (Dave Symington, Wendy Solloway, Brenda Baird, Ross Barrett), will perform songs from her forthcoming The Feather at the Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture Festival.
The Feather, which is being recorded at the VAMS studio at G.F. Strong, will be her fourth album. MacCormac no longer plays guitar, but flashes about a harmonica, which has become part of her sound.
“It had got to the point where I couldn’t play guitar, that folk-rock,” she recalls. “So the MS pushed me to it.
“I was a picture framer and I was a folk-rock singer,” macCormac continues. “I wanted to tour Canada. That was my vision. Now, I’ve returned to folk-rock. It was kind of returning to my first love.”
The Feather will be re-recordings of songs that have stood out on her three previous albums. macCormac sings with a hushed intimacy not unlike one of her primary influences, Joni Mitchell, but she also evokes her Irish heritage and a love of nature.
“I think they’ve summarized the feeling I originally had,” she says of the songs chosen for The Feather. “As I was doing the soundscapes, I thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to put a band together.’ Seeing the audience enjoying it. It’s really lovely to go back to the old songs. “It’s really lovely to go out there again.”
The soundscapes have become an important adjunct to her identity.
They are found sounds, a collage of bird songs, waves hitting the beach, insects buzzing, tea kettles whistling, conversations overheard. They are not merely ambient abstractions.
“I think there are different philosophies,” macCormac says. “It can be about the awareness of sound around us. It can be about what is healthy or unhealthy and how it affects us.”
She got into making soundscapes by studying SFU’s Barry Truax, a modern classical composer, but her guide was Hildegard Westerkamp’s Voices Of The Place. She made her first soundscape not long after she was diagnosed with M.S. and still able to walk in on her own to the VAMS studio.
In 1999, one of her soundscapes received an honourable mention from the International Electro-Acoustic Foundation and she’s been recognized for another, Voices And Wheels.
She was appearing as a clown at the Children’s Festival when she realized something was wrong. macCormac was tired, numb, losing her vision. She’d be fine one day and then she’d be sick the next. She was told she had multiple sclerosis in 1982.
Since then, macCormac has endeavoured to live by her belief in respect, understanding, compassion and came to a conclusion. “It wasn’t about me,” she says. “I was part of the horizon. It’s about community and being supported by the community. I didn’t have an image of myself. I just wanted to be a folksinger.
“MS teaches you in a way,” she observes. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.”

In concert sylvi macCormac Where: Slocan Hall, 2750 East 29th When: June 4 Tickets: $3-$10

© The Province 2014



Sylvi MacCormac introduced herself as a songwriter but her succeeding releases have incorporated soundscapes (of varying lengths and of interest). On Sept 6 & 7 MacCormac will combine both at the Roundhouse during the Kickstart 5 Festival Of Disability Arts. On the same bill is the estimable Crista Couture. MacCormac is at the VAMS Studio working on an album, The Feather.
Tom Harrison, The Province, August 20,2013

“Musician-turned-multi-media artist, Sylvi MacCormac, has had her film, Patience and Absurdity, selected to run at the Paralympics in London, Sept. 1 and 2 during the Liberty Arts Festival. MacCormac has branched out from songwriting. She’s been experimenting with soundscapes for years and now is directing.” Tom Harrison, The Province, July 16, 2012.…/07/16/b-c-indie-music-round…/

“sylvi macCormac is a fine songwriter in the Joni Mitchell vein but she has branched out considerably and now is about to add film maker to her resume. Her documentary Patience And Absurdity debuts March 22-25 at the WAM Festival.” Tom Harrison, The Province, March 10, 2012.



Last night, Sylvi MacCormac oversaw the CD release of her Coastal Chants at Iron Works. This might be her most accomplished and focused collection, with its pronounced sense of atmosphere and MacCormac’s dusky folk voice. She’s been immersed in spoken word, sound collages and other projects, but she first was recognized as a folk-influenced singer and is impressive in that role. Tom Harrison, The Province – Tuesday, November 18, 2008 –

CONCERT – Sylvi MacCormac’s Coastal Chants

Where/When: Siwash Rock, Stanley Park, Coast Salish Territory, tomorrow, noon;
Ironworks, 235 Alexander St., Mon., 7 p.m.
Why: This local singer is the sort of person who stops you in the street to play some harmonica and offer you a sonnet. With a firm grasp of spiritual music and lyrical twists and turns, she has honed her art over three albums and is now releasing Coastal Chants. MacCormac keeps good company with guests including Sexy Pierre (violin), Wendy Solloway (bass), Astrid (sax), Alyssa Serpa (guitar), cowboy poet Jeff Standfield, MC Betty Rebel 67 aka T’Uy Tanat / Cease Wyss and Pepé Danza.
Tickets: $10 at the door; others free

The E-List – Great things to do weekend with Stuart Derdeyn
Stuart Derdeyn, The Province
Published: Friday, November 14, 2008


Phoenix (Independent)
Sylvi MacCormac has been busy lately, reissuing all her sometimes bewildering catalogue on CD. Many of her recordings, such as Phoenix, were only available as cassettes and she soon branched out into spoken word and soundscapes. However, it was with Phoenix that Sylvi first was noticed. She has a husky folk voice not unlike Joni Mitchell’s and the production by Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts’ guitarist is admirably sympathetic and atmospheric. MacCormac made more confident records later on but this 1996 recording was the start of something that has turned out to be challenging’ Tom HarrisonThe Province
Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Raven Shadows (2006) & Voices & Wheels (2000) “macCormac’s two current releases are like her e-mails: They make sense but are nearly incomprehensible. So there is a struggle to understand, not impossible, as there is an intelligence behind both CDs but a challenge nonetheless. Both start off as straightforward singer-writer fare in which macCormac impresses as a Joni Mitchell types but each gives way to tapes of conversation that create a lengthy audioverité that might be listened to once. Combine that with found sound and other abstractions and you have curios dressed as art” Tom Harrison, the province, june 20 2006 –


“SYLVI … her warm rich alto is enveloping, but she’s at her most interesting when she’s pushing her voice. A quiet strength laced with youthful earnestness pervades her emotional ‘scapes’. Sylvi’s bluesy and melancholy musings are matched by her adventure in textures … she’s quickly gaining accolades from her peers for her powerful, emotive performances. ‘Voices & Wheels’ is an even more ambitious recording featuring some of her multidisciplinary collaborations (dance, electronic music).” Ellie O’Day, 2000, Pacific Music Industry Association past-pres, Brava : Women in Music

sylvi9“Canada is producing some of the most interesting and most talented female singer songwriters…here’s another one called Sylvi…intense, introspective, idealistic…coming from her own strong perspective.” Tom Harrison, 1996, CFox 99.3 –

“I wish to call your attention to the importance of this performer. Through my position as Artistic Director of Blue Skies Music Festival, I have exposure to many performers that enrich our lives throughout this country. When she played at our festival, the audience felt her strong impact … I was stunned with her capture of the transcendence of nature through the lives of the people of the west coast. Sylvi has a very clear and soaring voice. Her songwriting is superb – one dreams of coastal shores with tidal flats and wheeling birds.” Ken Lunn, Blues Skies Music Festival, 1992






21st Century Electroacoustic & Soundscape

“Extensive signal processing was applied to a recording of a penny whistle in penny: a process (1998) by sylvi macCormac (Canada), combined with poetic words. One occasionally recognizes the source instrument, with its Irish folk-music resonances.” Computer Music Journal, Reviewed by James Harley, Moorhead, Minnesota, USA

“One of my favorite works is Sylvi MacCormac’s Spirit Wheels: Journey (part 1 of a puppet opera) (1997). The way in which she uses the processed pennywhistle motif to enclose her composition produces a definite sense of arrival by the end. It is this, combined with the processing effects used on the spoken and sung voices, and the lyrical lines, that create a satisfying listening experience.” Reviewed by Patricia Dirks (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada),originally published in Computer Music Journal 25/2 (Summer 2001). Reprinted with kind permission of the publisher. doi/abs/10.1162/comj.2001.25.2.82

Echo Location (Vol. 1) / Changing Locations (Vol. 2) By I. Khider
“These two audio documentary CDs are affiliated with Co-op Radio 102.7 FM based out of Vancouver, BC. … The most fascinating piece however is ‘Co-op Radio: Changing Times‘ compiled and arranged by Sylvi MacCormac. This piece offers not only a panoramic glimpse of some of the programming on 102.7 FM, but a history of the station in the community from its inception in 1975 to the present. ‘Co-op Radio…’ has savoury bits of music, interview dialogue, confessionals as well as a glance at the initial mandate by the CRTC for 102.7: to offer informative controversial non-mainstream programming.

“A contrasting, but equally compelling work by sylvi macCormac, Penny: a Process, twists the sounds of a pennywhistle beyond recognition and accompanies them with a sepulchral spoken passage.” Christain Carey. e-Zine SPLENDID review of electroacoustic compilation PRESENCE III –

Spirit Wheels: Journey – ” is an ethereal collage of voices, penny whistle, bells and bowed drones which I found to be one of the most striking works on these discs.” Reviewed by Ross Bencina. Chroma, issue number 30 –

Spirit Wheels: Journey – ” Clearly, this is not the usual, common electroacoustics either. The lonely whistle opens to denser walls of fire, crowded with voice near, distant, clear and intelligible or permutated, senseless, with bell-like sounds around the corner, different languages – in short a vivisection of human existence on planet Earth. All this is enveloped in the vibrancy of electronically generated sounds, which sometimes shake and de-dust your speakers.” Ingvar Loco Nordin. Sonoloco Record Reviews –



does this SOUND like me? – ” macCORmac wove the voices of th artists, the sounds of art production (sanding, sawing, scraping brushes, clicking camera, phones ringing, a voice singing) and subtle percussive sounds into a richly layered musical tapestry of echoing thoughts and ideas about art and disability.” Pat Feindel BC Community Living, February 2001 –

sylvi4“I’m sitting in th foyer of th HSBC Building on Georgia Street, the giant pendulum swinging overhead, a mirror in front of me, earphones pumpng questions into my head: ‘Does this look like me ? Does this sound like me?‘ … No one pauses to look at the art on display here. Stopping to sit at a mirror and listen to the tape is out of the question. Heels click, watches tick, the pendulum swings and I’m thinking, this is exactly the experience theses artists want me to have. Aren’t they clever. The experience is the warp in time and space caused by disability, and it’s captured here in an Exhibit called ‘Outside the Lines : Self Portraits by Artists with Disabilities.'” Paula Brooks, ‘Where People With Sight Just Can’t See’ Vancouver Sun, 02.28.2001

E.u.C.u.E. October 14, 2005, 3rd Concert, 24th Series, Report By Talli Gadon

Railway Lines: Trains Of Thought, an eight-minute autobiographical and narrative work by Sylvi MacCormac was next. She is a Canadian composer who studied Electroacoustics at Simon Fraser University in B.C. The piece was met with surprise as the narrative format disturbed the flow and changed the direction of the concert. It was a pleasant change however. Backed by guitar and environmental sounds, she speaks of dreams and about her life with the reoccurring theme of bravery and strength through the words “I was a strong child, I was a brave child”. We learn of her suffering and are taken with her through her transgressions, healing and redemption from her troubled past. This piece was a little out of place and could have been more appropriately set in the program.


20th Century Folk Rock 

“Before Lilith Fair… Before Canadian Diva’s Took Over The Grammy’s … There Was Grrrls With Guitars! ” .. ” So Sue me … Grrrls with Guitars is obviously a labour of love by people who like music … Sylvi macCormac’s *Carving Canoes* combines bird sounds, swooping violins, and understated vocals to evoke, well, carving canoes in the wilderness.” Shawn Conner – Vancouver Courier / Georgia Straight http://www.GRRRLSWITHGUITARS.com –

“Technically and naturally articulate…easily navigating between textures of folk, rock, blues and jazz…Sylvi’s poetic, highly sentient lyrics predominantly address issues of relationships (with oneself and others) and most express a profound reverence and respect for nature … her songs are soothing, joyous and sometimes mournful.” Carlie Aileen Alida, Angles

“An exciting talent on Vancouver’s music scene…we were very impressed by the power of her songs.” Rogue Folk Club

“A spirit mover, opening up the core, illuminating the truth…her songs leave the listener with a sense of hope …every performance is an uplifting experience…this woman sparks a fire!” Nadine Davenport, concert producer and songwriter

“Sylvi…I truly enjoyed your music…it’s a staple in my collection.” Gaye Feighner, A&R Seattle, Capital Records


Kickstart Festival of Disability Arts kicks off at Roundhouse
Sylvi MacCormac credits her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 1982 at the age of 21 for her decision to create music full-time.

Jennifer Thuncher / Vancouver Courier – September 5, 2013

– See more at:

Sylvi MacCormac’s life course changed forever when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982 at the age of 21.

The multitalented artist credits the diagnosis for helping with her decision to create music full-time.

“I went from girl with guitar to woman composer,” she said, explaining she was previously a part-time picture framer and guitar player.

Even MacCormac struggles to categorize her art. When pressed, she characterizes her two focuses as soundscape composition and West Coast Siwash rock — a wordplay nod to Stanley Park’s legendary boulder. But a closer look at her discography and biography proves she does much more. She is a singer, songwriter, musician, electronica devotee, poet and activist. She also teaches and makes films.

On Saturday, MacCormic will be at the Kickstart 5 Festival of Disability Arts, wearing two of her many hats. She will teach a workshop on soundscape and later perform her unique style of folk rock with her band the Horizon.

MacCormac said she feels musicians with physical challenges are often underestimated.

“Hardships can kind of teach us,” she said. “It is amazing what you can do.”

MacCormac’s path has led to places she never dreamed.

After her diagnosis she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree studying electro-acoustic and soundscape composition at Simon Fraser University. Other career highlights include the release of Wheels Soundscapes: Voices of People with Dis Abilities, which features a varied cast of voices—including local big band legend Dal Richards— mixed with MacCormac’s soundscapes. She has received numerous awards such as the City of Vancouver Remarkable Women award in 2012. And her music has reached an international audience as far away as Nashville, Italy, Russia and England.

MacCormac is currently working on her fifth album, The Feather, which will include a book and a DVD and is set to be released in 2014.

Her soundscapes combine sounds of nature, voices and, of course, music. Common themes include First Nations rights, environmental damage and the “able” in disability. According to MacCormac, her activism comes from her “sonic ecological awareness.”

“When you listen, you hear,” she said.

The complexity of her art is a reflection of her dynamic personality.

She is equal parts playful and soberingly philosophical. Asked about her MS, which requires she use a wheelchair, she said, “I was disabled in a Vaudeville sound check… The joke being there were no mixing boards in Vaudeville.”

Then reflecting on what she imagines listeners are doing as they hear her soundscapes, she said “deconstructing abuse.”

She also peppers her speech with poetry. One of her favourite quotes, which reflects both her art and her personality, is from poet Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

For more on MacCormac, go to

Kickstart 5 Festival of Disability Arts runs Sept. 5 to 8 at the Roundhouse Community Centre. More details at

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