R. Murray Schafer (b. 1933)

RA (1983)

01 Procession - Excerpt (5:56)

02 Aria of Amente-Nufe (14:42)

03 Aria of Hasroet (11:36)

04 Duet of Isis and Nephthys (10:08)

Total time 42:20
LP released by Centrediscs, Toronto, 1983

Raymond Murray Schafer’s RA is a sundown to sunrise outdoor musical and theatrical ritual performance, commissioned by the COMUS Music Theatre who premiered it at Ontario Science Centre, Toronto, in May 1983. RA was later added by Murray Schafer as Part 6 of his month-long Patria cycle, whose hero is Theseus the Wolf, appearing in RA as Anubis. The outdoor performance of RA is devised for solo singers, chorus, actors, musicians and 75 robed and masked attendees Murray Schafer calls Initiates, who are invited to revive Ra’s descent to the Netherworld as described in The Egyptian Book of the Dead. They are supposed to feel exhausted after their nightly journey, until they revive when the new day finally comes, experiencing a kind of rebirth. During the night, they’ve been offered tea and food, as well as quieter moments called Suspension:
At approximately 2:40 a.m., the Initiates are left alone, in darkness, for nearly an hour, to rest, perhaps to meditate. At the end of this period, called Suspension, the Initiates are gently roused and served small cups of tea. At the same time (around 3:30 a.m.), the voice of Amente-Nufe (‘Beautiful West’) is heard, accompanied by the tolling of 75 varied gongs and bells (corresponding to the 75 magic names of Ra). [from Murray Schafer's liner notes]
As RA is conceived as a night-long piece, this LP merely offers key moments of the performance, and is therefore entitled RA – Selections. Said selection highlights a number of vocal pieces that might not be representative of the entire work, which also included periods of silence and various processions with instrumental accompaniment, including “Egyptian music” written by qanûn player George Sawa. In a final analysis, the disc offers yet another example of Murray Schafer’s mastering of vocal and choral music, with two of the lead singers having performed with COMUS before, namely contralto Maureen Forrester (#2) and soprano Katherine Terrel (#4). The lyrics are entirely based on the Ancient Egyptian text established with University of Toronto Egyptologist D.B. Redford. The music is essentially provided by percussion instruments, with the exception of violin and qanûn. Some sections with qanûn part reminds Soliman Gamil’s music, while the percussion sometimes sounds like a Chinese opera’s liveliest moments. The score of RA is beautifully illustrated by Murray Schafer’s drawings.

Liner notes by Continuo


Born in Sarnia, Ontario, he then studied at the Royal Schools of Music in London, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and the University of Toronto. At the latter institution he was a pupil of Richard Johnston.

His music education theories are followed around the world. He started soundscape studies at Simon Fraser University in the 1960s.

In addition to introducing the concept of soundscape he also coined the term schizophonia in 1969, the splitting of a sound from its source or the condition caused by this split: "We have split the sound from the maker of the sound. Sounds have been torn from their natural sockets and given an amplified and independent existence. Vocal sound, for instance, is no longer tied to a hole in the head but is free to issue from anywhere in the landscape." Steven Feld, borrowing a term from Gregory Bateson, calls the recombination and recontextualization of sounds split from their sources schismogenesis.

In 1987 he was awarded the first Glenn Gould Prize in recognition of his contributions. In 2005 he was awarded the Walter Carsen Prize, by the Canada Council for the Arts, one of the top honours for lifetime achievement by a Canadian artist. In 2009, he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

Schafer is particularly famous for his situational opera The Princess of the Stars.