What can fish see?

The gap between the molecular basis of fish vision and the colour calibrations of a large-format printer may seem as wide as the space between UVic’s Biology and Visual Arts departments, but a recent collaborative project brought the two much closer together.

It started when Tom Iwanicki, a MSc candidate studying starry flounder opsin genes with Biology professor John Taylor, contacted Cliff Haman, Senior Academic Assistant in Visual Arts, with a very basic question: what is colour?

Iwanicki (left) with Haman and Taylor

Iwanicki (left) with Haman and Taylor

“As biologists, we can ask ourselves questions about things like opsin genes and colour vision in fish and then, you would think, come up with various strategies to answer those questions” said Taylor. “But we quickly realized we lacked some very basic knowledge. For example, we wanted to print a particular colour on a sheet of paper. That is, we wanted the paper to reflect a particular wavelength of light. We had no idea how to do that, or even if it was possible. What about a second sheet of paper that reflects the same amount of light, but at a different wavelength? We asked the physics department, but they offered astronomers. So Tom focused on Visual Arts.”

The eyes have it

The experiment in question dealt with checkerboards and starry flounder camouflage. Starry flounders change the pattern on their back when they settle on a traditional black-and-white checkerboard—but what about one with red and green squares? Opsin genes encode the light receptors in the eye, and while humans are trichromatic—we have three different types of light receptors distributed among the ‘cone’ cells of our retina—fish have many more. “We know that species with only two cone cell opsins, like cats and dogs, can’t discriminate among as many colours as we can,” says Taylor. “We want to know if the surprisingly large fish opsin gene repertoire enhances their colour vision.”

Starring . . . the starry flounder

Starring . . . the starry flounder

Iwanicki’s two-year experiment also hoped to discover if opsins could be influenced by raising the fish in different light environments. “We’re very passionate about going from molecular data to actual behavior,” he explains. “We discovered these flatfish are capable of active camouflage—they can change colour quite quickly and convincingly—so we honed in on using differently coloured and patterned checkerboards as a model for studying vision in general.”

After living in UVic’s Outdoor Aquatic Unit for six weeks under broad-spectrum (as a control) and green-filtered (test) lighting that mimicked ocean conditions, Iwanicki set out to discover if the opsins changed under different light environments—and if this also influenced their ability to camouflage. Unfortunately, Taylor and Iwanicki were out of their depth when it came to creating the essential test patterns; fortunately, UVic offers diverse facilities for interdisciplinary research.

The theory of colour

Using the large-format printer in the Fine Arts building’s Studios for Integrated Media, Cliff Haman was able to create consistent, reliable prints that matched the spectrophotometer-measured colour intensities. “We work with colour daily, and our labs are very well-equipped for the creation and manipulation of digital media,” says Haman. “[Biology] had specific requirements for various swatch colours and luminosity values, particularly when laid out in checkerboard patterns. Our imaging software provides superb control and accuracy with such colour data.”

The team with their colour patterns

The team with their colour patterns

Haman also assisted with photo documentation, which required calibrated, diffuse lighting and a fairly complex camera installation. “It can all boggle the mind of someone who’s not familiar with it,” admits Iwanicki. “Visual Arts wasn’t the first place that came to mind, but we luckily ended up going there. It’s just been fantastic.”

To be clear, the goal of the experiment was to see if the fish echoed the pattern, not the colour. “If we give them a red and green background, we’re not expecting the fish to turn red and green,” says Taylor. “Instead, we’re looking to see if they adapt to a smooth, mottled or disruptive pattern; the fish can do each of those things. If it recognizes a smooth pattern, it will turn a single colour, whereas mottled or disruptive patterns will result in a stippled or big-block colours.”

Final results

And the result? “They’re definitely camouflaging differently—which is quite exciting,” says Iwanicki. “As far as I know, no one has explored camouflage response as a way of figuring out what fish can and can’t see.”

Taylor is clearly pleased. “Obviously, we don’t know everything about vision, but if you think about the opsin repertoire as a toolkit, there’s way more tools in there than we expected,” he says. “The job of light sensitivity is much more diverse than we thought it was.”

For his part, Haman enjoys the opportunities offered by such interdisciplinary research. “When we collaborate in other environments, we’re actively exposed to new ways of thinking and doing—which to my mind is fertile soil for sprouting new ideas.”

Ultimately, Iwanicki is excited about how it all went. “A lot of research tends to reduce things down to their component parts, but if you can incorporate the bigger picture all in one study, that’s one of the more important avenues we need to be shifting towards,” he says. And while he may speaking about his individual experiment, his thoughts clearly apply to the unexpected pairing of Biology and Visual Arts. “And that is really cool and exciting.”

Joan MacLeod’s work goes from headlines to centre-stage

When it comes to researching a new play, internationally celebrated playwright and Department of Writing professor Joan MacLeod often takes inspiration from the headlines.

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod in rehearsals at the Belfry (UVic Photo Services)

From the murder of Victoria teenager Reena Virk to issues facing new immigrants and the importance of righting historical wrongs, MacLeod’s plays are universally acclaimed for their ability to present realistic characters grappling with key emotional situations. When her latest play, The Valley, makes its BC premiere at the Belfry Theatre this month, audiences will find themselves catapulted into a head-on collision between two of the defining issues of our time—law enforcement and mental illness.

MacLeod—also an alumna of the Writing department—says she was inspired by the case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekański, who died as a result of RCMP tasering at the Vancouver airport in 2007. But rather than focus on that one situation, she decided instead to look at the pressures that may have caused the RCMP’s controversial response. “I started thinking about an altercation between a police officer and a person in distress,” she says. “As I did more research, I became really interested in that intersection between the mentally ill and the police, who are often front-line workers with the mentally ill—and not necessarily by choice.”

TheValleyWhile the psychotic breakdown of an 18-year-old university student on Vancouver’s SkyTrain may be the spark that ignites the play’s dramatic powder keg, the heart of The Valley is how two families—both the boy’s and the police officer’s—each battle depression. “There’s an assumption that it’s going to be about police brutality, but at the end of the day, this is a play about the ‘everydayness’ of mental illness. I didn’t want it to be an ‘us and them’ thing; I want people to look at the world in a different way.”

Much like policing, MacLeod acknowledges how the perception of mental health has changed over her lifetime—something she’s witnessed first-hand as a university professor. “This is about a first-year student who falls apart, and anyone who teaches post-secondary has had that experience. He’s not based on  any specific student, but as a professor I’m aware of the pressure our students are under, their vulnerability.”

As a playwright, a big part of MacLeod’s research is ensuring the authenticity of her scenes. While writing The Valley, she consulted a police officer and a psychiatric nurse, as well as Andrew Solomon’s definitive 700-page study, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. “Based on the people who have seen the show, the mental health issues are portrayed pretty accurately,” she says. I’m proud of the fact that everyone in this play gets a fair shake—the police officer, his wife, the boy, his mother.”

Is there a trick to achieving that level of authenticity on stage? “That’s just what playwrights do,” she says. ”That’s our job—to get inside a character and make the audience feel that way.”

More than books or television, MacLeod feels the stage is the best place to bring these kinds of emotional issues to light. “Theatre is ideal for that. When it’s done right, you’re having a true emotional experience. And it makes for a very powerful combination when you base it on a real event.”

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Joan MacLeod (far right) with director Roy Surette (right) and some of the creative team (UVic Photo Services)

Her plays—including Jewel, Toronto, Mississippi, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, The Hope Slide, Little Sister, The Shape of a Girl, Homechild and Another Home Invasion—have been translated into eight languages. She is currently writing her 11th play, Gracie. “It’s based in part on the polygamous community in Bountiful. I never know what I’m going to write. It’s almost like I have to trick myself into getting really interested in something.”

MacLeod has won every major Canadian playwriting prize, including the Governor General’s Award and the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize. “Joan is a master of expressing the profoundest human emotions, putting to paper the vulnerability, the compassion,
the weaknesses and strengths of the human spirit,” said the Siminovitch jury chair.

But when it comes to teaching playwriting, MacLeod says the trick is to find truth and common ground. “It comes down to a sense of veracity, of remaining true to your characters,” she says. “All I can teach students about is language and what good
dialogue is. It’s up to them to make it feel true.”

The Valley runs Feb. 2–28 at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. The Belfry will also be hosting a special UVic Alumni event on Feb. 7, where MacLeod—an alumna of UVic’s writing department—will speak after the show.

Writing alum Billeh Nickerson offers publishing workshop

Exciting news for students and community writers: celebrated Department of Writing alumnus, author & editor Billeh Nickerson (BFA ’98) returns to campus with an exciting new workshop. “Getting It Into Print” will reveal the trade secrets of getting your work published in literary journals.

Billeh Nickerson

Billeh Nickerson

Learn valuable tips from an industry professional, including the key do’s and don’ts of cover letters and what writers can learn from rejection letters. (Believe it!) This workshop, co-presented by Geist magazine and the Writing department, is as fun as it is instructional. A frequent Geist contributor, Nickerson well knows the ins and outs of the Canadian lit scene.

As the author of five books, including the 2014 City of Vancouver Book Award-nominated Artificial Cherry, Nickerson is the ideal instructor for this workshop. A former editor of both PRISM International and Event (two of Canada’s most respected literary journals), and a previous writer-in-residence at Queen’s University and at Dawson City’s Berton House, he is now Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Vancouver’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Getting It Into Print” runs 11am – 2 pm Friday, January 29 at UVic’s Legacy Gallery, 630 Yates. This $50 workshop also includes a one-year subscription to Geist for yourself or a friend. Register now.

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Carl Wilson is Writing’s 2016 Southam Lecturer

When it comes to writing about popular culture, Carl Wilson’s heart will always go on. That’s partially because, as a music critic for Slate and Billboard magazines, Wilson is deeply passionate about the impact music can have on everyone’s lives; but it’s also because his book about Céline Dion struck a chord that rivaled the power of love.

Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson

Originally published in 2007 as part of the acclaimed 33 1/3 music criticism series, Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste deftly deconstructed Céline Dion’s dichotomous popularity and vilification. Described as “a thought experiment,” Let’s Talk About Love prompted readers to second-guess what they like and dislike, and to really consider what they value or scorn.

“Different forms of culture are lenses through which we can look at our lives and society,” says Wilson. “It’s more about engaging in dialogue with the work than a knee-jerk thumbs-up/thumbs-down reaction. When you’re writing about music or movies or books, you can write about anything; it potentially encompasses all experience.”

As the 2016 Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Department of Writing, Wilson will be offering students the benefit of his experience as a contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Pitchfork, The Nation, Exclaim!, Spin and others—including nearly 15 years as a feature writer and editor at The Globe and Mail. “One of the reason I like to work in pop culture is that it’s a more immediately accessible and relatable form,” he says. “Whether or not you’re deeply versed in the history of those forms, it’s a medium you have direct access to that works as a conversation with other people through this common experience of popular culture.”

With his class running in the winter semester and a public lecture planned for the end of February, Wilson intends his course to be “a collective workshop on approaches to critical writing about popular culture. It will be really hands-on—I want the students to read a lot of things that will give them ideas and then try to put those ideas into practice.”

let's talkReprinted in 2014 as a stand-alone edition subtitled “Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste,” Let’s Talk About Love now includes additional essays by the likes of novelists Nick Hornby and Sheila Heti, musicians Owen Pallett and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), cultural critics Ann Powers and Sukhdev Sandhu, scholars Daphne A. Brooks and Jonathan Sterne, and many others. And while not quite as popular as Ms. Dion herself, Wilson’s book has sparked debates about taste in the music-writing community as well as on blogs and podcasts, in cultural studies departments and across traditional media outlets ranging from The Village Voice to The Colbert Report. It even got a shout-out from actor James Franco on the red carpet at the 2009 Oscars.

As the ninth Southam Lecturer for the Writing department, Wilson follows in the footsteps of the likes of CBC Radio’s Jo-Ann Roberts, author Richard Wagamaese, humour writer Mark Leiren-Young, and sports journalist Tom Hawthorn, among others.

He does admit to being “kind of excited and scared” about teaching. “I feel like academia was the shadow life I never had,” he says, adding that he holds a BA from McGill. “I intended to stay in school, but that never happened. But a lot of the work I do is academically informed—I read a lot of cultural studies, because a lot of the questions that interest me are broad theoretical questions and to do that work you have to know what’s been done before, and what you can add to that.”

Of course, it helps that Let’s Talk About Love has become academically popular. “One of the really surprising things is how much it’s been adopted as an academic text,” he says. “It’s been taught in a lot of places and courses have been designed around it, which I never considered at all when I wrote it. But I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms over the past few years because of that.”

The big question, then, is whether or not he’ll be using his own book in class. “I’m still deciding,” he says with a laugh. “It’s slightly hubristic to make your own text required reading—but, on the other hand, it does deal with the same questions we’ll be dealing with in the course.”

Victoria Wyatt argues for the importance of visual studies

Art History and Visual Studies professor Victoria Wyatt was once again invited to offer an essay as part of the prestigious Edge.org annual question: “What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news? What makes it important?”

Wyatt’s response:  “The Convergence Of Images And Technology.”

edgeFor those not familiar with the site, Edge.org is an online salon whose mission statement pretty much says it all: “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.” Now, of course, the “room” is a website where the thoughts and opinions of prominent thinkers are aggregated.

Victoria Wyatt

Victoria Wyatt

Wyatt’s 2016 essay argues for the importance of visual studies in promoting a paradigm shift that we need to address global problems. “The news is in pictures, literally and figuratively,” she writes. “Visual images have exploded through our world, challenging the primacy of written text. A photograph bridges the diversity of cultures and languages . . .  Never before have visual images so dynamically pervaded our daily lives. Never before have they been so influentially generated by amateurs as well as editors and advertisers . . . . Social media coalesces around visual imagery. Written text works brilliantly in so many ways, but it has never worked in quite this way.” You can read the full essay here.

This is the second time Wyatt has had an essay on Edge.org; the first was in response to the 2014 question, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” Her essay focused on the cliche of “The Rocket Scientist”—as in, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know . . .”

It’s notable that Wyatt has once again been included among the nearly 200 correspondents, as most of the contributors are either scientists or social scientists. The Edge.org has been described by The Guardian as “the world’s smartest website” and “a salon for the world’s finest minds.”

In search of the mighty beaver

The next time you pull out a nickel, spare a thought for the humble beaver. Perhaps one of the most misunderstood mammals, the beaver has played a more significant role in shaping our continent than any other animal.

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Beaver researcher Frances Backhouse . . . and friend (UVic Photo Services)

Not only did beavers directly influence North America’s exploration, settlement and economic development but, after being hunted to near-extinction, they’re currently experiencing an ecological revival—all of which is summed up in a new book, Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver by Writing instructor and alumna Frances Backhouse.

“They’re one of the most important ecological stories happening today,” says Backhouse. “As a keystone species, I can’t think of any other animal in North America that has had such an impact as Castor canadensis.”

By definition, a keystone species plays such a crucial role that an ecosystem would be dramatically different—or even cease to exist—without it. The beaver used to live everywhere—from the Rio Grande to the Arctic treeline and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In fact, North America’s only beaver-free regions were extreme deserts like Death Valley and the alligator-infested Florida everglades.

HatsBackhouse’s original research into beavers provided the basis for her Master’s degree in Fine Arts. She also has a zoology degree and five other books under her belt, and her acclaimed gold rush family history, Children of the Klondike, won the 2010 City of Victoria Book Prize.

The first book of its kind, Once They Were Hats is already garnering acclaim in the likes of the Globe and Mail (“fascinating and smartly written”) and the National Post (“deeply, enthrallingly, page-turningly fascinating”), where it was also named one of the best 99 books of the year (coming in at #47).

She also spoke with CBC Radio on January 6 about the reappearance of beavers in Vancouver’s False Creek area, which you can listen to here. And, south of the border, Backhouse did this interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting in January.

Describing the beaver as a “history maker, landscape shaper and national symbol,” Backhouse’s extensive research led her not only to archives and museums but also to bogs, traplines, fur auctions and Canada’s leading hat-maker. “I see the beaver as something where biology and history intersect,” she says. “North American exploration was largely beaver-driven. There was a rolling ‘beaver frontier’ that kept moving across the continent, always getting pushed west.”

But it’s the beaver’s role as landscape shaper that surprised her the most. “When I began, I didn’t know Castor canadensis had been transforming our landscapes for a million years. But then I found research that suggests an ancestor, the prehistoric beaver Dipoides, was also a tree cutter and dam builder . . . and that potentially puts beaver landscape-shaping in North America back to 24 million years ago.”

An example of Backhouse's dam good research

An example of Backhouse’s dam good research

While dam building can affect the course of streams, the hydrological impact often results in irrigation of land that might otherwise remain dry. The beaver also influences the type and quality of trees and plants that we think “naturally” occur in an area.

Backhouse is equally impressed with the beaver’s resilience, and its human-assisted rebound from near-extinction.

“We’ve suffered from a sort of ecological amnesia for over a century now,” she says. “All the settlement came after the fur trade and we came into this land thinking it was a certain way. Then, as beavers were reintroduced, people found them difficult to live with because they change the hydrology and landscape.”

But the hard-working beaver may also play a pivotal role in our ability to adapt to climate change. “There’s a real interest in reintroducing beavers these days because they offer a solution to drought problems.”

What impact does she hope her book will have? “I’d like people to see that beavers are beneficial to have around, and that we can co-exist with them. And to realize what cool animals they really are.”

Bonus beaver facts!

Bakchouse_Knowledge• The beaver today looks pretty much identical to a beaver of a million years ago, and it’s been on the Canadian nickel since 1937. It also appeared on Canada’s first postage stamp—the “three-pence beaver,” which was the first stamp in the world to not feature a monarch or head of state.

• After 300 years of intense trapping, North America’s beaver population in 1900 stood at less than one per cent of the most conservatively estimated pre-colonial population, which Backhouse says was between 60 and 400 million. “That puts the 1900 estimate in the low hundred-thousands.”

• The largest beaver dam on record was reported by 19th-century explorer David Thompson, who saw one that was 1.6 km long. The longest known beaver dam currently in existence is 850 metres long in Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta. Most dams are about 20 metres long.

• Once They Were Hats is a great example of how creative nonfiction books effectively combine research and narrative, which Backhouse is keen to pass on to her students in UVic’s Department of Writing. “The extensive interviewing and other research I did for this book gives me lots of real-life examples to draw on when I’m teaching creative nonfiction—everything from the kind of people skills you need for interviewing to how to find the story in an academic paper.”

This story originally ran in the Times Colonist on December 27 as part of the monthly UVic research KnowlEDGE feature. Read more KnowlEDGE stories here

TubaChristmas time is here

When it comes to the sounds of the holiday season, nothing says Christmas quite like a tuba. And, for 37 years now, Victoria’s Tuba Christmas Ensemble has been playing carols and raising funds for charities, becoming a cherished holiday event in the process.

Paul Beachesne on UVic's TubaChristmas float

Paul Beachesne on UVic’s TubaChristmas float

Once again, the euphonious tones of massed, low-brass instruments will be heard from 1-3pm Saturday, December 12, at downtown’s Market Square (560 Johnson), and again at the annual Tuba Christmas Reprise Recital at 8pm Sunday, December 13, in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Admission to both is by donation.

“TubaChristmas Victoria has raised thousands of dollars for local charities,” says event coordinator and School of Music instructor Paul Beauchesne. “Once again, this event will bring together tuba and euphonium players from all over the Pacific Northwest to band together to exchange musical ideas and enjoy each other’s company—and help the people most in need in our community.”

The Market Square concert will raise money for the Times-Colonist Christmas Fund, while monies raised from Sunday’s concert will be used to assist tuba and euphonium projects within the School of Music.

UVic's TubaChristmas float was cheered by thousands

UVic’s TubaChristmas float was cheered by thousands

It’s already been a busy year for Beauchesne and the Tuba Christmas ensemble, a handful of whom appeared for the first time in Victoria’s Santa Light Parade on November 28, playing on the UVic float—also a first! Crowds at the parade were estimated around 40,000, and cheers of “Tubas! Tubas!” could be heard along the route. But the larger TubaChristmas ensemble will include local musicians from the School of Music, public schools, community and military bands.

No stranger to local audiences, Beauchesne is a Yamaha Canada Performing Artist, a Distinguished Alumni for the School of Music and has been Principal Tuba of the Victoria Symphony for the past 10 years; last year’s TubaChristmas event saw him stepping in to assist the late Eugene Dowling, who founded the local event in 1983. This year Beauchesne is at the helm for the first time, continuing the tradition that has become such a big part of Christmas in Victoria. The Victoria TubaChristmas ensemble has been featured on CBC radio and television, CTV News and with the Victoria Symphony Christmas Pops program.

’Tis the season for TubaChristmas (photo: Kristy Farkas)

’Tis the season for TubaChristmas (photo: Kristy Farkas)

An international event, TubaChristmas was founded by the late Harvey Phillips of Indiana University back in 1974. It now takes place in over 200 cities worldwide, and honours the late William Bell (1902-1971)—Phillips’ teacher and former tubist with the New York Philharmonic—who was born on Christmas Day. From the first TubaChristmas in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink, the warm, rich, organ-like sound of the tuba and euphonium choir has won the hearts of audiences time and again. It’s no wonder that TubaChristmas has established itself as a Christmas tradition in cities here and throughout the world.

RSC honours Fine Arts professors

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds will be converging on Victoria this weekend as the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—comes to town. The RSC’s annual general meeting runs November 26-28 at the Fairmont Empress and will feature scientists, scholars and artists from across the country. But while such a grand gathering of vibrant minds is notable in itself, it’s triply important for Fine Arts as three of our own are being honoured.

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

Celebrated playwright, Department of Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod is one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows—the country’s highest academic honour—while noted composer and School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró has been elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (colloquially known as the RSC’s “rising stars”). Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins will be presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature, alongside two other UVic medal winners.

“The Faculty of Fine Arts is fortunate to have colleagues of the calibre of professor Joan MacLeod and Dr. Biró, both of whom bring their research and creative practice to bear on their teaching and mentorship of our students,” says Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “We congratulate our two colleagues on their appointments to the RSC.”

Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod

Lewis is quick to praise MacLeod’s creative output. “One of Canada’s foremost playwrights, MacLeod’s works explore contemporary social justice issues with characters who are often on the margins of Canadian society,” she says. “She has received numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award for Drama, two Chalmers’ Canadian Play Awards, a Dora Award and the Siminovitch Prize.”

For her part, MacLeod seems equally happy and surprised by the honour. “I’m pleased about the Royal nod because my research is my stage plays, of course—my artistic practice,” she says. “I have always had a sense of community in theatre and writing, but academic community is something else. To be included in a group of eminent scholars, scientists . . . it’s astounding.” MacLeod joins existing Faculty of Fine Arts Royal Society Fellows Tim Lilburn, Mary Kerr and Lorna Crozier.

Lewis, also the Director of the School of Music, well knows the work of her colleague Biró, noting his position at the forefront of music composition and research. “In 2011, Dániel was Visiting Professor at Utrecht University and in 2014-2015, Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. His compositions are performed around the world and he is internationally active as a composer, researcher, performer, lecturer and teacher,” she says.

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

“I am happy to be elected a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” Biró says. “Composing music is not only creating something new, but also discovering the past. It’s almost like we’re conservationists of culture.”

Biró notes that the Aventa Ensemble’s Mark McGregor will be performing one of his pieces—Kivrot Hata’avah (Graves of Craving), for solo bass flute—during the RSC Gala. “This composition was selected to represent Canada in the International Society of Contemporary Music 2013 World New Music Days in Vienna,” he says. “McGregor commissioned the piece and will premiere this new version.”

Be sure to check out this new UVic video featuring Biró discussing his work.

For those not familiar with his many books, the Comox Valley-born Jack Hodgins is an influential writer dedicated to chronicling the people and stories of Vancouver Island. Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 1979 for The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, he was also presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2006, was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009, and won the 2011 City of Victoria Book Prize for his recent novel The Master of Happy Endings. He taught with the Department of Writing from 1983 to 2002 and, in the process, became a mentor to a whole new generation of authors.

 Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Yet Hodgins’ creative efforts are not limited to the page. In 2014, he wrote “Cadillac Cathedral” which he performed live on stage with the Vancouver men’s choir Chor Leoni, composer Christopher Donnison created an opera based on several short stories from Hodgins’ book The Barclay Family Theatre, and his life has been commemorated in the NFB documentary Jack Hodgins’ Island.

The Royal Society AGM kicks off with a public event—a special day-long symposium on Canadian marine biodiversity on Thursday, Nov. 26—followed by the welcoming of new fellows and college members into its fold and awarding medals for outstanding achievement. UVic is undeniably proud to have eight researchers among those being honoured. “This incredible breadth of expertise and impact really speaks to this university’s research strength as a whole,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president research.

UVic President Jamie Cassels is equally excited by the event. “We’re very pleased to be the presenting sponsor for this event,” he says. “This gathering is an opportunity for all of us to welcome Canada’s eminent scholars and celebrate their impacts in areas vital to Canada and the world.”

UVic’s other new Fellows include chemist Frank van Veggel and philosopher James Young, while exercise psychologist Ryan Rhodes and astronomer Sara Ellison become members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Ellison also joins Hodgins as a medal winner, receiving the RSC’s Rutherford Medal for outstanding achievement in a branch of physics, as does cosmologist Julio Navarro, who wins the 2015 Tory Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy.

For those who want to stay up on our honorands’ creative practice, Joan MacLeod’s latest play, The Valley, will appear at the Belfry Theatre from Feb. 2-28, 2016. A stage version of Jack Hodgins’ Spit Delaney’s Island—based on the short story, which earned him his first Governor General’s Award nomination for the book of the same name—is being adapted for the stage by Victoria’s Theatre Inconnu from December 1-19.

Finally, Dániel Péter Biró was recently commissioned by the Klangforum Heidelberg to write a new work for voices and ensemble. The Schola Heidelberg and Ensemble Aisthesison at the University of Heidelberg premiered Biró’s Messiaen, Couleurs de la Cité Celeste in October 2015, with additional performances in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen that same month—but you can hear it right here.

A Force to be reckoned with

The force is definitely with Fine Arts PhD candidate David Christopher. One might even say it is his destiny. And when Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theatres next month, you can count on Christopher, a cinema and cultural theory instructor with the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, to be in line for the new movie.

Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate David Christopher (photo: Suzanne Ahearne)

Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate David Christopher (photo: Suzanne Ahearne)

Not only is he developing a course on Star Wars, but he also played the role of Darth Vader at his own Star Wars-themed wedding. And, when he was just seven, Christopher took in the very first movie from the back of his best friend’s family’s wood-paneled station wagon at an Ottawa drive-in in 1977.

Christopher points out that “Star Wars resonates on so many pop culture, individual and theoretical levels. We see it as a historical pivot point where the balance between spectacle and narrative in Hollywood begins to shift. This is the time where the privileging of spectacle really began and narrative took a secondary back seat.”

Star Wars gives you a wide berth of highly popular, highly populist films with which to measure the ideological temperature of American popular culture over the 40 years surrounding 9/11,” he continues. “Star Wars is certainly a significant artifact in the evolution from modernism to post-modernism. It hit so many of the right points at the right moment.”

Media interest in Christopher’s Star Wars passion has been high, resulting in interviews with the likes of The Province newspaper, Vancouver’s Metro News, and both CBC Radio and Television (not archived online). He also appeared on CHEK TV, Global TV, Vancouver radio stations Spice and CKNW, and UVic’s own student newspaper, Martlet.

David Christopher's Star Wars-themed wedding

David Christopher’s Star Wars-themed wedding

Whether it’s the mythological, sociological, psychological, theoretical or economical impact of the original trilogy, Christopher is well-versed in all things Star Wars. “It not only changed how movies were made but it changed how people talked about movies. People had a field day with this series for decades.”

“I don’t think anyone—certainly not George Lucas—expected it to be what it became,” he adds. “It changed Lucas from an incidentally brilliant filmmaker into a corporation. When he later made the prequel trilogy, a lot of critics recognized he had exhausted his creative energy in 20 years of corporate leadership.”

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterChristopher has a paper in peer review for publication, on the allegorical function of the prequel trilogy; has spoken about the cultural significance of Star Wars for the UVic Speaker’s Bureau; and his new Star Wars course will “look at the tectonic shift in cinematic practices it instigated and the discursive zeitgeist around its iconic status within popular culture.”

In addition to master degrees in cinema & cultural theory and theatre history from UVic, Christopher holds degrees in English and economics from Carleton University and was recently published in the Canadian cinema journal CineAction, the Online Journal of Arts and Humanities and in the Theatre Notebook (UK).

Christopher also recently composed a formal analysis of the three-minute teaser trailer for Episode VII. It was substantially longer than the trailer itself.

CUHCKziUYAAI563And he has what he describes as “a Star Wars commodity collection,” carefully encased behind glass.

Just like Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” For Christopher, he’s done it all for the iconic classic.

 

Free performance of Mary’s Wedding

It’s an eternal story: boy meets girl, they fall in love—but, since the year is 1914, the boy must go off to war and their love must face an uncertain future.

The School of Music is pleased to welcome Pacific Opera Victoria for a special free production of Mary’s Wedding, a notable new Canadian opera about the impact of the First World War on the homefront. Described as “a love letter to the power of memory and innocence, and to a generation of Canadians who were caught in the crucible of the First World War,” Mary’s Wedding is an apt way to mark Remembrance Day on campus.

Kaden Forsberg & Caitlin Wood in a scene from Mary's Wedding

Kaden Forsberg & Caitlin Wood in a scene from Mary’s Wedding

Originally written for the stage by Stephen Massicotte and later developed into a full-scale English-language opera featuring music by Andrew P. MacDonald and Massicotte’s own libretto, POV has now created a re-imagined one-hour version of Mary’s Wedding that they will be presenting at 7:30pm Friday, November, 13, in the Phillip T Young Auditorium.

Set in Western Canada in the aftermath of World War I, Mary’s Wedding was originally commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and had its world premiere in November 2011. This production—directed by Art History & Visual Studies alumna Glynis Leyshon—features a strong School of Music presence, with first-year Masters candidate Kaden Forsberg in the lead role as Charlie, as well as third-year undergrad soprano Margaret Lingas in the chorus; joining her in the chorus is also Music tenor alumnus Cedric Spry. “The chorus is only a quartet, so it’s nice that two of our students are there,” notes proud Opera and Voice professor Benjamin Butterfield.

Mary’s Wedding explores the fleeting nature of time and the lasting power of love, evoking prairie thunderstorms and ladies’ teas, and, as innocence rides off to war, the horror of the battles of Ypres and Moreuil Wood, in which Canada came of age as a nation. Much of the production’s power comes from its sense of the fluidity of time, the shifting of past and present, here and there, reality and dream. The emotional impact is stunning: everything becomes present for us here and now . . . we are the children of Mary’s Wedding.

Seating is limited, so do arrive early.