Most artists aren’t very pleased when their work receives a chilly reception. But when Visual Arts professor Paul Walde created a four-movement orchestral requiem for an audience of one—the Farnham glacier in the Kootenays—he was expecting to get the cold shoulder.
Paul Walde recording on Farnham Glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)
Accompanied by a 70-person choir and orchestra, Walde and a film crew trekked up the icefield in July 2013 to bring awareness to melting glaciers in general, and to the Jumbo and Farnham glaciers in particular. The glacier area is the site of a controversial resort development.
While composing music for a glacier may seem a bit odd, it’s simply part of Walde’s wider practice as an artist exploring the boundaries between sound, landscape and art.
“Is listening a natural act? Is perception a cultural act? What does it mean to overlay something completely natural with something overtly cultural?” asks Walde. “Those are the kind of questions I deal with.”
As an artist, Walde believes the combination of visual material with natural sounds allows for a different kind of listening experience. “If you can convince your brain that what you’re hearing is music, you’re going to listen to those sounds very differently,” he says.
Growing up in northern Ontario, Walde was influenced by his experiences with nature and landscape art. “On a larger scale, Canadian identity has always been wrapped up in landscape,” he says. “But I have a strong interest in science, and a lot of science is centered on the investigation of the natural world and how it works.
“Then there’s the larger socio-political dimension of climate change—if you consider the environment somehow integral to our Canadian identity, what does it mean when it’s threatened?”
Falling pine needles bring a piano to life (photo: Times Colonist)
As an acclaimed intermedia artist, Walde has fused his passion for nature and art by transforming mushroom spores, flitting moths, falling pine needles, beaver-gnawed trees and improvised soundscapes into numerous gallery pieces over the years—including Requiem for a Glacier.
Originally commissioned by the Langham Cultural Centre in Kaslo, Requiem received international media attention. Conducted by UVic Symphony director Ajtony Csaba, the performance was filmed as the basis for a video installation.
The soundtrack also incorporates field recordings taken on top of (and beneath) the glacier’s ice field. “The natural resonances of the glacial sounds almost elicit another melody,” he says.
The volunteer orchestra on the glacier (photo: Pat Morrow)
The final 9 x 32-foot, 40-minute projected video installation—which also includes material recounting the history of the glacier, the advent of electricity and climate change, and the government’s announcement of a year-round resort community in the Jumbo Glacier area (which Walde translated into Latin and used as the choral parts in his Requiem) has already appeared in two Kootenay-region galleries.
As the proposed $1-billion Jumbo Glacier Resort continues to generate controversy, Requiem for a Glacier has created new awareness about the issues of global warming and the development of wild spaces. “I offer information and allow people to draw their own conclusions,” he explains. “The video isn’t simply a documentation of the performance. I didn’t want to make a music video, I wanted to make a unique art work which operated more like a painting.”
As always, Walde leaves it to his audience to discover the impact of the art.
Walde’s “Interdeterminacy” offers art from mushroom spores
“I love leaving a gallery and seeing information in ways I never noticed before,” he says. “That’s one of the great experiences you can have with any art form—literature, theatre, film, visual art—the artist gives you a lens to understand the world.”
Walde is the new chair of UVic’s Visual Arts department and an old hand at engaging students in the contemporary creative process. “I try to convince them that their first idea isn’t always their best idea,” he says. “Consider that first idea an initial impulse and see where else it can go.”
He’s also excited by new opportunities in the art world. “There are great opportunities in technology,” he says. “We’re also seeing the development of an art market that’s unprecedented; it’s enormous compared to what it used to be. Really, it’s a great time to be an artist.”
Requiem for a Glacier runs September 11 to November 1 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam, then at Laval University Art Gallery in Quebec City until the end of December.
This piece originally ran as part of the KnowlEDGE UVic Research series.
Change is afoot in the Department of History in Art . . . a name change, to be precise. Starting next year, HIA will become the Department of Art History and Visual Studies.
“[The name] History in Art is unique—there is no other department in the world with that name,” explains department chair Catherine Harding. “[Department founder Alan Gowans] wanted to signal that we were not about the elite practice of art, but it’s honestly been the bane of our existence. People hear the name and they ask, ‘What’s that? Is it some different branch of history or art history?’”
Shifting to “Art History and Visual Studies” isn’t just about making fewer explanations, however; Harding says it’s also about being more inclusive within the department itself. “We’ve had people teaching with us for years who are film historians, not really art historians, and they’ve always felt like a bit of a sidecar.”
A new name also provides the opportunity for curriculum revision. “Instead of being focused on geographies and chronologies, we’re now going to have three streams: visual literacy, including all the film courses; intercultural/cultural understanding; and our experiential community base. We’re retooling what we offer, and the name change will be huge for that.”
Harding points to the recent brouhaha when US president Barack Obama took an offhand swipe at art history: “Folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree”—a remark for which he later apologized. (“As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school.”)
Ironically, she has been looking south of the border for examples of the increasing importance of visual literacy in society. “They do visual literacy In the American secondary school curriculum, but there’s no visual literacy in BC secondaries,” she says. “We can do an important job here advocating for visual literacy in BC’s schools. “
Now that all the planning and paperwork is completed, Harding is looking forward to their new designation. “It still has to go through Senate, but the signs are that everyone really supports it,” she says. “But it probably won’t show up until next year’s calendar—let’s say September 2015 to do all the administrative changes.”
Over the past few years, the School of Music’s string faculty has been working with the university to establish a program for young musicians to study intensively—not as individual artists, however, but as a quartet. The School of Music is now proud to announce the launch of the Masters Degree Program in String Quartet Performance—a first in Canada.
The Lafayette String Quartet
While there are other institutions where individual musicians can earn graduate degrees in string performance, UVic is now the first Canadian degree-granting institution to offer a Masters with a string quartet emphasis. This new program will allow previously formed quartets the opportunity to study both as a group and individually with the Lafayette String Quartet, UVic’s acclaimed Artists-in-Residence.
“This will bring an outstanding student quartet to UVic to work directly with the Lafayette String Quartet for a two-year residency,” says School of Music director Susan Lewis Hammond. “The program will bring the high level of the LSQ’s creative activity directly to students. The result will be an innovative student experience that builds directly on the creative and research expertise of the Lafayette String Quartet.”
The LSQ’s Ann Elliott-Goldschmid with students at QuartetFest West 2013
For more than two decades, the LSQ has taught some of Canada’s finest young string players, and also used their residency to enhance local performances and community involvement.
“Not all universities have a resident string quartet, and there’s a real mentoring by having all of the string teachers in one ensemble,” says LSQ violinist Sharon Stanis. And as the renewed success of their annual QuartetFest West summer teaching program for string quartet players proved, it seems only natural to create a Masters in String Quartet here at UVic.
School of Music professor and internationally recognized composer Dániel Péter Biró will be spending the 2014/15 academic-year at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, thanks to the prestigious Fellowship he recently received—a first for the University of Victoria. But he is also currently engaged with his latest round of international projects as well.
Dániel Péter Biró
Biró’s new composition Al Ken Kara (That Is Why It Was Called) will be performed on July 26 at the Teatro Fondamenta Nuove in Venice, Italy. It was originally composed as part of the film project Mediterranean Voices, which premiered in February 2014 at the Eclat Festival in Stuttgart, Germany. Biró was one of 12 international composers invited to participate in the ambitious undertaking.
“It’s a project that incorporates video, architecture and music,” he explains. “There are six rooms, so in between pieces they go to these rooms where there are 12 video screens. The video artist traveled for eight months through 12 countries shooting different themes.”
Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the video of the premiere of Biró’s composition Al Ken Kara Kara as part of the Mediterranean Voices project.
Biró in Tunisia
Mediterranean Voices explores themes like “public places” (religious buildings, demonstrations) and “borders” (both political and physical). Biró himself traveled to Tunisia in December 2013, where he visited the ancient El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, an island where the oldest Jewish community outside of Jerusalem has existed for 2,500 years.
Click here to listen imam Slah Ben Daoued’s amazing recitation.
“My piece dealt with the problem of language in the Mediterranean. It’s based on the Tower of Babel, is written for seven voice and uses 36 languages,” he says. “It was quite intense at times in Tunisia due to the tense political atmosphere. We witnessed a major demonstration just in front of our hotel.”
Biró also just returned from Istanbul in June, where he was participating in the Fourth International Workshop on Folk Music Analysis at Bogazici University. The conference dealt with computational ethnomusicology, the study of indigenous musical cultures using cutting-edge technology.
When asked how he gets involved with so many global projects, Biró chuckles. “People actually know about Victoria through our contemporary music scene,” he explains. “Last year I was in Vienna and just met someone by chance on the street and they said, ‘Oh, you run the SALT New Music Festival.’ So people know Victoria is a place for contemporary music composers. There’s a long history of this also—Victoria has always been known as kind of a weird place, a place for experimentation. Our students also go out into the world and they continue, and come back here.“
Biró and students
Biró feels the School of Music‘s alumni also enhance our reputation. “We just had our interviews with potential student composers and we asked them why they came here to Victoria and a number of them said, ‘I met this former student who said I should come here.’ So our students in the world are spreading the word that this is a place where students can develop a voice, experiment and do things.”
Ultimately, Biró sees the School of Music—and the Faculty of Fine Arts as a whole—as something of an incubator. “It’s small enough and lively enough that people are able to develop things here and not get too distracted,” he says. “That’s also a strength we have in our program too—a lot of people go to McGill or other large schools and they say it’s really a factory out there. But we’re not a factory; we’re small and personal and that’s necessary for not only acquiring skills but for incubating material.”
New faces will soon be seen in the faculty boardroom, as four departmental mainstays step into fresh administrative roles for three-year terms. Three new Chairs have been announced: Allana Lindgren in Theatre; David Leach in Writing; and Paul Walde in Visual Arts. Not to be left out, Evanthia Baboula of History in Art has been named the new Associate Dean.
“As we welcome the new leadership team we should also remember to thank those who have been serving in these jobs over the past few years,” says Dean Sarah Blackstone. “These individuals—Lynne Van Luven, Bill Gaston, Daniel Laskarin, and Warwick Dobson—have been working very hard on behalf of the Faculty, sometimes sacrificing their own scholarship and creative activity to be sure everyone else had the proper support to be successful in their own endeavours.”
“Good leadership is key to everything we do and all we want to accomplish as a Faculty,” Blackstone continues. “We have been very well served by the outgoing team, and I am looking forward to working with the new team.”
While appreciating the amount of work the position will entail, Lindgren is clearly looking forward to her new post. “I am grateful to my colleagues for their support and encouragement, and buoyed by our collective desire to solidify our reputation as one of the best theatre departments in Canada,” says Lindgren, a specialist in theatre history. “We’re going to continue to produce exciting theatre while preparing our students to be creative leaders.”
For his part, Leach is “thrilled and honoured” to lead the department he first joined as a student 25 years ago. “Every day, we hear good news about the creative success of our alumni,” says Leach, currently the director of both the Professional Writing and Technology and Society programs.
“I hope to increase the awareness of our program, nationally and internationally, so that any student seriously considering a career in the literary arts will put UVic on the top of their wish list . . . I also hope my hair doesn’t turn completely grey until after my second year!”
Both Leach and Lindgren highlight the importance of interdisciplinarity—in Fine Arts and across campus—as well as UVic’s core values of experiential learning, socially engaged research and community outreach. (Walde was out of town as of this writing.) Lindgren also notes the importance of the Phoenix as one of UVic’s most public faces. “In the coming years, I encourage everyone to catch a show and see our ideals in action!”
Walde (photo: Pat Morrow)
When asked for some words of advice, outgoing Theatre Chair Warwick Dobson offered this sage wisdom to the new Chairs: “Visit your Dean briefly and infrequently,” he quipped. “And know that you can usually help students—but faculty is trickier.”
Dean Blackstone also appreciates the time and effort taken by those who assisted with the appointments. “Join me in thanking the search committees who undertook this important work and congratulating the new administrative team,” she says.