New book by Alexis Luko heralds the spooky season

Dr Alexis Luko (photo: Tori Jones)

On a stormy Halloween weekend back in 2019, School of Music director Alexis Luko hosted an international symposium titled “The Gothic, the Abject and the Supernatural: Two Hundred Years of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”. Fast forward to Halloween 2022 and that conference has now evolved into the new essay collection she has co-edited, Monstrosity, Identity and Music: Mediating Uncanny Creatures from Frankenstein to Videogames (Bloomsbury).

Created together with her original conference co-organizer, co-editor and colleague from Carleton University, Dr. James Wright, Monstrosity, Identity and Music explores notions of monstrosity through different media — including comic books, film, music, videogames, art and theatre — and through different academic fields ranging from film, literary and gender studies to psychoanalysis, identity politics and even videogame analysis.

“We’ve stitched together several disparate discourses across different disciplines — just as Dr. Frankenstein assembled disparate body parts — to present a multi-faceted image of Shelley’s monster and his impact,” Luko explains, pointing to such varied examples as Marvel’s Frankenstein comics and Afro-Futurism to Maestro Fresh Wes’s “Let Your Backbone Slide” and the first cinematic adaptation of Frankenstein in 1910. “Taken together — and animated — these parts give us a powerful illustration of the undying importance of Shelley’s monster and monstrously human vision.”

But the book also looks more generally at monstrosity in music, film, and videogames — including chapters about queer counter-discourses, a re-evaluation of the white women in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, 12-tone compositions in monster movie soundtracks, the representation of Indigeneity in film and the role of female monsters in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt videogame.

Click here to listen to Alexis Luko’s October 22 interview on this topic on CBC Radio’s North By Northwest (jump to the 11:30 mark, interview runs to 23:10).

It all goes back to her parents

A musicologist with an international reputation in film music (as well as renaissance music), Luko says she has always been drawn to scary things.

“When I was 7, my Dad gave me my own beautiful volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which I used to read quietly to myself before going to bed — often focused on the scariest ones, and then would spend most of the night hiding under my covers in a state of fright,” she says.

Add in family viewing nights featuring the likes of The Twilight Zone, Alien, The Fly (both versions), Invasion of the Body Snatchers — as well as more accepted cinematic classics like Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Akira Kurasawa’s Rashomon, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Roland Joffé’s The Mission — and it’s easy to see how a combined passion for film and music developed.

“I built up my love for film, art and music because I was lucky enough to have parents who constantly challenged me to open my eyes and ears — even if it meant getting a bit scared at times,” she says.

The sound of terror

When asked for her expert option on the scariest movie soundtracks, Luko singles out the sounds of psychological horror films like Midsommar, Get Out, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining as prime examples where atmosphere is built through both music and effects like screams and voice. “Often the viewers’ or protagonists’ fears are exploited through sound itself,” she explains. “It’s sound that helps to amplify the imagination, often lurking offscreen. Sound is the filmmaker’s most powerful tool for horror, because it’s all about asking the audience to scare themselves.”

Despite living in an era when CGI and special effects tend to dominate screens both big and small, Luko feels the worst scares are the ones we create for ourselves—something Frankenstein originator Mary Shelley well knew on that  original dark and stormy night on Lake Geneva in 1816.

“There’s nothing scarier than what’s already in your own mind,” she says. “It’s important to remember that Shelley’s original monster didn’t look anything like the cliché of the shambling green grotesque that we so often see: he was much less obviously threatening and much more human—well-spoken, well-read, thoughtful and empathetic. It’s the people he meets, and their reactions to him, it’s our society that ultimately drives him to become truly monstrous.”

Two Music concerts highlight the spooky season

The School of Music is also presenting two timely concerts: “Sorcery, Witchcraft & Fantasy” on October 27 at the Phillip T Young Recital Hall and “Nosferatu Live” on October 30 at Cinecenta.

Organized by professor Merrie Klazek, “Sorcery, Witchcraft & Fantasy” offers an interdisciplinary evening of music, theatre and poetry celebrating the history, reality and misconceptions of witchcraft. Music selections include brass quintet renditions of seasonal favourites like March to the ScaffoldMacbeth, and Nordic Tales, plus readings from the likes of Macbeth and the upcoming Phoenix Theatre production of Vinegar Tom, a contemporary political allegory set during the 17th century witch hunts. We’ll also hear poems by the late witch and celebrated UVic Writing department founder Robin Skelton, as well as a performance of the contemporary “Wiccan Goddess Chant” — a timely occasion to ring in the season of spirits.

Click here to listen to Merrie Klazek’s October 26 interview about this concert on CBC Radio’s On The Island. 

Then Music professor Bruce Vogt will offer a live improvised score to a new print of the silent horror classic Nosferatu at UVic’s Cinecenta movie theatre, as well as Buster Keaton’s 1921 short The Haunted House.

Discover Shane Book’s world of words

When Shane Book began teaching poetry workshops at the University of Victoria in 2017, he had to fill out a form listing the number of times he had moved. After some mental gymnastics, he arrived at an approximate number: 65.

“I think I’m on the spectrum of it’s beneficial and then it’s not beneficial,” says Book, who was born in Peru to a white Canadian father and a Black Trinidadian mother. His father worked for the Canadian International Development Agency, helping communities establish clean drinking water, so Book spent much of his childhood split between Ghana and Ottawa. Book’s mother was a teacher at Ghana International School. As an adult, Book crisscrossed the continent several times over chasing degrees, fellowships and teaching gigs, with stints in New York, Philadelphia, Iowa City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Nashville, Bowling Green, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, to name a few. He also lived in Brazil, Cuba, Italy, France and Trinidad and Tobago.

“It’s made me a little bit more flexible than the average human being in terms of change,” Book says. “You have to be when you’re a kid and you’re moving around and you’re the new kid in the school—and culturally more fluid because I’m comfortable in a lot of different cultural milieus. It probably would’ve made me a good spy.”

Multiple art forms

As it turns out, the skills required to be a secret agent are transferrable to that of an award-winning poet and filmmaker who graduated from the very department for which he now teaches. Book’s first poetry collection, Ceiling of Sticks, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. His second collection, Congotronic, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. According to publisher House of Anansi, “Book’s poems splice, sample, collage, and jump-cut language from an array of sources, including slave narratives, Western philosophy, hip-hop lyrics and the diaries of plantation owners.”

In 2013, Book made a short film called Dust, based on one of his poems. His second film, 2017’s Praise and Blame, is billed as “a dark comedy about poets, exiles, burglars, secrets and the intellectual elite,” and stars Costas Mandylor of the Saw movie franchise. Both films screened at more than 50 festivals around the globe and won numerous awards.

Lately, Book—now an associate professor in the Department of Writing—has been delving into the Criterion Channel’s enjoyably gritty catalogue of blaxploitation films from the early 1970s, such as ShaftSweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Across 110th Street, while completing his third poetry collection, slated for release later this year. All Black Everything is a mashup of voices and styles that’s both performative and musical.


“It has a lot of hip-hop references and these kinds of attitudes that you see in hip-hop, this kind of braggadocio and that kind of stuff that is maybe not as common in poetry. And then it also has more modernist, lyric poems. So, it’s a real mixture.”

—Shane Book

Originally, Book had intended to sample lyrics from rappers throughout the collection until his publisher informed him that securing permission would be costly—to the mic-dropping tune of $26,000. So, Book’s been rewriting 93 of the passages that contained hip-hop lyrics, keeping only three. He won’t say who made the cut except that the trap-infused rhymes of Atlanta rapper Young Thug will make an appearance. “I feel like a lot of poems that I read now are very sanctimonious. People are really like, ‘I’m going to teach you something. This is my wisdom.’ And I just was getting tired of that. I wanted to write something not trying to teach people. There’s meaning hidden in there, but it’s trying to be fun, entertaining.”

Form and freedom

Book’s first exposure to rap and hip-hop came while living in West Africa, when his school friend Kevin, an American kid, introduced him to hip-hop records and breakdancing.

“It blew my mind. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ So we started breakdancing. We claim to have introduced breakdancing to Ghana. I think we probably did.”

Book says rap’s wordplay and “progressive elements” had an immediate and lasting impact on him, from its DIY aesthetic to connecting him to his roots.

“Just making something out of very little, like just a turntable and a microphone,” he says. “There’s also something simpatico [about rap]. It is essentially a Caribbean music. Like it’s morphed into what we know of it today, but I think of the similarities to old-school dancehall, reggae, and then even going to calypso [from] Trinidad—like that political talk, talking about the day, the news, that way of music being super verbal. I think it’s in all of those forms and it probably really influenced me because it’s really valued. And I think verbal dexterity in Black communities is really valued.”

Despite the lyrical nimbleness, sampling, remixing and cross pollination that hip-hop offers, Book is also a fan of traditional poetic structures. In his poem “Santa Cruz,” for instance, he employs a sestina, a form that goes back to the 12th century, and features the intricate repetition of end-words in six stanzas and an envoi (or short final stanza).

“I think that’s the benefit of form—it allows you to have something to work against.”

Back to his undergrad roots

The creative spark that experimentation within tight structures can ignite is also what attracted Book to the early bebop of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and later the more avant-garde jazz explorations of Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. Before setting his compass on poetry, Book had aspirations of becoming a professional jazz saxophonist. “I think I liked jazz because it seemed like individuals would coalesce as a group and then leave, go off and do their solo and then come back, always returning… There’s something about the formal constraints of jazz with moments of freedom.”

Since joining UVic’s writing department, Book has had time to reflect on his own experiences as a student in the 1990s. During his first year as an undergrad, Book lived in a tricked-out 1979 Dodge extended van with raised fibreglass roof, evading UVic security and the ever-vigilant local police and parking enforcement. Now he occupies his former writing instructor and novelist Jack Hodgins’ office and walks the same halls of his early mentors, poets Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.

He says returning to the very place that helped form his younger self made him reflect.

“It definitely made me look at my life again in a pretty unvarnished way, like really take stock and face certain things that I thought I had overcome and try to not feel like I’m part of a Groundhog Day scenario. Like what was that last 20 years of struggling? What was that about? But it’s been great.”

Like most poets, Book has spent much of his professional life hustling—for grants, scholarships, fellowships and teaching positions. It’s arguably the least romantic aspect of a poet’s life.

As for the current state of poetry, Book is cautiously optimistic. If book sales might be down, the internet is also helping poetry reach a younger generation. “I was never worried about why anybody would read [poetry] or if they wouldn’t, because if I think about it too much I would probably go into a state of despair,” Book says, laughing. “But I think poetry will always exist as long as people have language… I think poets really revivify and clean up the language and restore the dignity to the language and at their best give people the experience of what it’s like to be a human being.”

—Michael Kissinger

This story originally ran in the spring 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine 

Fine Arts well-represented at 2022 GVRA Awards

For over 50 years, Fine Arts has been an incubator for young artists, technicians, arts administrators, volunteers and audience members. And while our alumni and faculty members continue to make a vital impact on Victoria’s arts community, it’s also important to recognize the ongoing contributions made by our students.

With that in mind, Fine Arts is more than pleased to present the annual Faculty of Fine Arts Student Community Impact Award as part of the annual Greater Victoria Regional Arts Awards, presented on September 29 at a public downtown event at Club KWENCH.

Created in 2021 by the Dean’s External Advisory Committee, the $1,000 Student Community Impact Award recognizes individual achievements or outstanding efforts made by one or more full-time undergraduate students for a local arts organization. And thanks to Fine Arts donors—especially the Saanich Peninsula chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, who donated an additional $1,000 to this award in memory of one of their members, local artist Margaret Little—we were able to present awards to two students this year.

Our first award went to Visual Arts student Tori Jones for her work organizing (Un)Expected, an undergraduate exhibit held at Sidney’s ArtSea Community Arts Council Gallery in May 2022. With less than two-month’s notice, Tori was able to coordinate 13 Visual Arts students to curate, hang and run what was, for most of them, their first off-campus exhibit; this not only offered these students an opportunity to connect with the community at large, but also provided invaluable “real world” experience in working with a community art gallery.

Our second award went to School of Music voice student Isolde Roberts-Welby for her continued work with the Victoria Children’s Choir. Isolde began singing with the VCC when she was just 10 years old; now, a decade later, she continues to perform with them and has also taken on leadership roles by conducting, teaching and leading sectional rehearsals. Indeed, her work with the Victoria Children’s Choir has directly led to her current position as a choral scholar at Christ Church Cathedral and a soloist with the likes of CappriCCio Ensemble, Victoria Philharmonic Choir and the international Pacific Baroque Festival.


Dean Allana Lindgren with Tori Jones (left) & Isolde Roberts-Welby

Alumni recipients

In addition to these awards, three Fine Arts alumni received recognition at the GVRAAs as well: a great reminder about the role Fine Arts continues to play in Victoria’s creative community. Congratulations go out to:

  • Andrew Barrett (Impulse Theatre) on winning the $3,000 City of Victoria Creative Builder Award
  • Mercedes Bátiz-Benét (Puente Theatre) on winning the $2,000 PARC Retirement Living Mid-Career Artist Award
  • Chelsea Kutyn (School of Music, not present) on winning the $2,000 John Mears Achievement in Music Award
  • Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre—represented by Rebekah Johnson (Theatre) & Department of Theatre professor Brian Richmond—on winning the $15,000 JAYMAC Outstanding Production Award for their production of Betrayal by Harold Pinter.
Read more about our 2021 winners: Kyla Fradette (Music), Alison Roberts (Theatre) and Dani Neira (AHVS). 

School of Music stars now in orbit

The Lafayette String Quartet (from left): Joanna Hood, Ann Elliott-Goldschmid, Sharon Stanis, Pamela Highbaugh Aloni

While they’ve long been considered stars in the world of classical music, UVic’s Lafayette String Quartet are now officially astronomical, thanks to the newly named asteroid (613419) Lafayettequartet.

Longtime LSQ follower Dr. James Hessler—director emeritus of Victoria’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory—wanted to mark the recent announcement of the quartet’s forthcoming retirement in 2023, so he approached Western University professor Paul Wiegert, discoverer of an as-yet-unnamed asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, who then proposed 613419’s new name to the International Astronomical Union.

“We got an email about it from someone at the Vatican Observatory just before a concert and thought it was a hoax . . . but it was, in fact, true,” says LSQ violist and School of Music professor Joanna Hood. “After we told the audience about it, we got a very long round of applause!”

Hessler says it was his admiration for the LSQ that inspired this unusual honour. “Throughout their decades of wondrous music-making at the University of Victoria, my wife and I have marveled at the Lafayette String Quartet,” he says. “Largely through their concerts—and those of their students—our knowledge of the richness of string quartet literature has developed into a real passion . . .  when I learned last year of their decision to retire after their 35th year, I imagined and hoped that their brilliant careers would be recognized widely.”

Western University’s Wiegert—a world expert on small bodies in our solar system—then “generously and enthusiastically agreed” with the idea of naming one of the asteroids he’d discovered in the Quartet’s honour and proposing that to the IAU, says Hessler.

While undoubtedly their most out-of-this-world achievement, the LSQ has other, more earth-bound events planned to celebrate their final year as the world’s only all-female string quartet with all-original members.

Up first is the 17th (and last) Lafayette Health Awareness Forum on October 6—appropriately enough, titled “Our Planet, Our Health”—followed closely by a faculty concert with guest clarinetist James Campbell on October 20. (“They are never less than amazing,” says Campbell, who has known the LSQ since he first performed with them in 1988.)

Another legacy project is their commissioning and premiering of six new works by women composers—five Canadian and one British—including this month’s performance of “For Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times” by Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy, which the LSQ will debut on October 20 with Campbell. Add in three further on-campus concerts (November, February, March) and more than a dozen out-of-town dates, plus their final Quartet Fest West student intensive in June, and the quartet is looking at an extremely busy and productive creative year before their gala retirement performance in August 2023.

“We could never have dreamed of the adventure we’ve had over the past 35 years,” says LSQ cellist Pamela Highbaugh Aloni. “We’ve really had a great run.”

Given all the activity in the LSQ’s final year, the International Astronomical Union citation for their asteroid now seems entirely appropriate: “The Lafayette String Quartet have mentored countless students to musical excellence, while championing contemporary music in concerts worldwide alongside mastery of the most demanding classical repertoire.”

Next time you’re looking at the night sky, cast a glance just beyond the orbit of Mars, where (613419) Lafayettequartet can be found nearby its asteroid belt neighbour (150145) UVic—two of the most stellar accolades for both the university and the internationally acclaimed School of Music faculty members.

The location of asteroid (613419) Lafayettequartet

Faculty Equity Survey


UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is conducting an Equity Review in preparation for Strategic Planning. We want to hear from members of the Fine Arts community to understand what we are doing well and what else we need to do to become a place where everyone is welcomed, included and respected for who they are.

This anonymous, 10-minute survey runs from Oct 3-17, 2022, and you can take it here.

We welcome the participation of all members of the Faculty of Fine Arts: faculty, staff, instructors, and current students. The survey asks about your experiences with oppression, discrimination, harassment, Indigenization, Indigenous inclusion and decolonization in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and covers all of our units: Art History & Visual Studies, School of Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing. We also are eager to hear your suggestions for making the Faculty a more inclusive space for all.

Full details about the survey—including how the data will be used, who will see the results, how your privacy is protected & the project timeline—can be found here on the Fine Arts website.

Thank you for your involvement in this important process. As a Faculty, we are looking forward to hearing a full range of views from the diverse members of our community. Your time and openness will help us build a more inclusive community for all.