Music from the New Wilderness at the Cultch
This February, the Cultch, in partnership with Western Front New Music, is presenting a unique show, Music from the New Wilderness, curated by D.B. Boyko. This original performance incorporates archival wax cylinder recordings from the Okanagan, recent field recordings from the Broughton Archipelago, new musical and voice compositions and much more.
One of the six primary participants is electro-acoustic composer from Montreal Adam Basanta.
“Music from the New Wilderness is a concert … which aims to explore the meaning of wilderness in contemporary culture,” Basanta told the Independent. “What does wilderness mean in a world of increased connectivity? What is the function of the wilderness? How has the wilderness changed, not only ecologically but also in terms of human inhabitants and their communities, or in terms of their economies?”
The intertwining of music and wilderness generated new acoustic esthetics, and Basanta was drawn by the unlikely synthesis. In previous installations, he has blended two other waves of recognition: light and sound. “I started experimenting with combinations of light and sound in 2010, while studying for my master’s degree at Concordia University,” he explained. “I am really interested in ways in which light and sound can be combined, and the ways in which both elements influence our perception of objects and space.”
Despite the frequent fusion of video and audio in his compositions, music is the lens through which he experiences the world. “Even if it involves light without sound, music is the sensibility through which I conceive of material (sounding or otherwise) in time. Of course, a lot of my work falls outside of music and into the visual or media arts, but the guiding outlook emerges from a musical perspective.”
Basanta rarely performs, and considers himself predominantly a composer. “When I do perform and improvise, I usually use a laptop and custom software which I create,” he said. “I am interested in ways in which the laptop can be used as an instrument, as it is such a versatile and powerful tool and yet lacks a certain performative capacity that all musical instruments have. This tension between a possibility and limitations interests me and guides most of my work with technology.”
With a predilection for expanding his acoustic frontiers, Basanta was excited to work on the new piece for Music from the New Wilderness. He explained: “I will première a new electronic composition where all sounds come out of speakers (13 speakers to be exact); there is no performer on the stage. Entitled ‘When You’re Looking for Something, All You Can Find is Yourself,’ the work is a product of collaboration with the acoustic ecologist and researcher Jennifer Schine.” Basanta called their mutual piece “cinema for the ears.”
Unlike Basanta, Schine is not a composer. She is an ethnographic researcher and a sound artist. Explaining what the latter term means, Schine told the Independent, “Saying that I’m a ‘sound artist’ is a way to explain that I work with sound and think about listening.… Listening is a way to receive other peoples’ stories and witness the changing environment, soundscape and cultural landscape around us. The idea to witness is commonly thought of as a visual sense, but there are other ways to witness and receive information.”
Her collaborative work with Basanta has its roots in a research project that she began several years ago.
“In 2009, I volunteered at the Salmon Coast Field Station on the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands along the coast of B.C.,” she explained. “Once a thriving fishing and logging community, this part of the world is now a fading echo of Canada’s early, labor-intensive resource extraction industries. During that time, I met Billy Proctor. He has spent a lifetime studying, living and listening to the rhythms of the coast…. My ethnographic work has involved documentation of Billy’s private museum, the Billy Proctor Museum, where I have been audio recording antique and disappearing sounds relating to Canada’s settler history. These recordings also include Billy’s stories and how his artifacts reflect the history and ecology of the area.”
Her next step was to find a way to share the unique audio chronicles she created with the public, and that’s how her association with Basanta connects to her research.
“Music from the New Wilderness isn’t just about creating music,” she said. “As citizens of British Columbia and the world at large, we are affected by the industrial extraction happening in the forests and oceans of the Broughton and beyond. We are part of this seismic shift in the way we use and connect to our wilderness areas. And so, in this moment of environmental threats, we must begin to realize that the Broughton Archipelago is important because it stands as an example of how to live on this coast. And Billy is important because he is a link into this way of life.”
Schine described her role in the show as “lead researcher, dramaturge and recordist. This composition was inspired by my ethnographic work in the Broughton Archipelago and was really made possible because of the long-standing working relationships I had made with the community and with Billy. This past summer, I took Adam to the Broughton for two weeks and brought him to places that I already knew were acoustically interesting. We were able to record the soundscape and get personable recordings.… As part of our collaboration, in September I went to Montreal, where Adam is based, and worked in his world, the sound studio.”
Schine also created a solo piece for the show, a sound installation called “Conversations with Billy Proctor.” She said: “During intermission, audience members can sit down and hear more stories from Billy Proctor. I hope to provide more of a context of the Broughton Archipelago and Billy’s life story.”
Music from the New Wilderness – winner of the 2014 Rio Tinto Alcan Award for music – runs Feb. 11-15. For more information and tickets, visit thecultch.com/events/music-new-wilderness.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].