Music from the New Wilderness, performed at The Cultch from February 11 to 15, was presented by Western Front New Music, winner of the Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award in 2014 — a $60,000 prize. New Wilderness was the first project to come to fruition as a result of that money.
Curated by DB Boyko, six artists set out to get intimate with the landscape of wildly diverse British Columbia, creating compositions that marry history, field recordings, and information about each location with the artists’ own subjective experiences. The process hearkens back to 19th century romantics who sought immersion in nature as a reflex and refuge against the growing thrum of urbanity.
The balcony section of The Cultch was closed to accommodate the array of specialty sound equipment which made for an absolutely incredible and immersive experience.
I spoke with Jenni Schine and Adam Basanta, two of the six artists involved with the project. Their component offers a vision of the Broughton Archipelago — the largest marine park in BC with, according to the BC Provincial Parks website, “a wonderful collection of dozens of undeveloped islands and inlets.”
Schine first volunteered at Broughton after hearing about the Salmon Coast Field Station from Scott Rogers (station manager at the time) who introduced her to Billy Proctor, an incredible story-teller whose perspective on how to be was infectious. He approached new-comers with the utmost welcome, always ready to demonstrate how to live with permanence in this unique off-the-grid location.
“There are fewer people living in wilderness [meaning] there are fewer people who are witnessing what is happening to our natural world.”
Jenni Schine, artist
Schine quickly discovered a deep fascination for the place and assumed the role of ethnographer, beginning a process of recording her surroundings and the people therein.
Schine and Adam Basanta had met in a class on acoustic communication. The two wanted to work together from the start and one day Basanta got a green light call from Schine; he made his first trip to the Broughton Archipelago with high quality sound equipment on his back. In the composition, we hear Schine say, “You can’t run away, you can’t busy yourself, you kind of have to just go there,” a feeling Basanta identified with on his first trip.
Schine was thrilled with the technology; it meant unprecedented volume for the subtle sounds of their environment, and the eventual delivery of those sounds to an urban audience who might, as she described, “listen to [them] deeply and make connections to the places they call home and experience as sacred.”
Basanta recently finished a MFA at Concordia University in the individualized program for students with specific research goals for a multi-disciplinary project. A composer at heart, the program facilitated his fascination with connecting visual and aural elements.
Music from the New Wilderness was lacking in visuals save the glow of the lidless piano on stage, some sheet music on a stand, and some very soft lighting effects. Going in, I wondered if I would crave something to look at, but in fact I wished the room had been darker so as to focus on my sense of sound.
Basanta composed the piece in three vignettes, creating a narrative. “One will be mine, one will be yours, one will be Billy’s,” we hear him say in a measured tone as the calculated and elegant chaos of the composition envelops his words.
In the first part, we hear the Broughton Archipelago as experienced by Basanta, the first-timer who wouldn’t call himself an outdoorsy type. In the second, Schine who comes and goes, moves through the brush, the sound of crisp branches crackling beneath her feet. In a voice for long distances, we hear her calling for Billy.
The third and last movement hones in on Billy, a somewhat mythical man who we hear speak in a filtered, old radio tone: “Well, you just gotta find a way to stay here — everyone who comes here loves it.”
Music from the New Wilderness is experimental, elegant, disparately but deeply historical, and attuned to a sense of foreboding that seems to be waiting just around the bend.
“It’s about place-finding, trying to find home and where you belong,” Schine said.
“What became clear to me when I was there is that there are fewer people living in wilderness and what that means is that there are fewer people who are witnessing what is happening to our natural world. What happens to our resources? Are the salmon coming back year after year? Are the trees being logged and if so, what areas are being affected? So my big question is: what happens when there are no more people living in the wilderness?”