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Stephanie Conn

writer, researcher, producer

Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music

I’m fascinated by memory and the many ways it comforts, shapes, or confounds us. Maybe this was one of the reasons I became involved with Gaelic singing in Cape Breton — I was drawn in not just by the songs themselves but the way they refer to the collective memory of that culture, and are enmeshed with the memories of individuals. But memory plays a vital role in many, if not all, kinds of music; at the most basic level, this is why we are tickled by references to other works. Snippets of one song mentioned in another or quotes from a poem in a novel (‘signifying’ in jazz, and intertextuality in literature) spark associations and call upon our memories of past experiences.

While working at CBC Radio I became familiar with Gavin Bryars and his music, and noticed that memory seemed to be a key feature of many of his works. Back in 1993, he saw his composition “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” climb the pop charts, and he has boxes of letters from listeners telling him how this piece touched them. Continue reading “Memory and Gavin Bryars’ music”

transitions

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St. Ann’s bay, looking towards River Bennett

Cape Breton looks different in every season. In summer it is dark green and blue and smells of salt and pine; the fire- and churchhalls are bursting with dancers and spilling over with fiddle music. In the winter it is quiet, the snowy hills carved like stone, every social visit celebrated and wrung out for all it can be. But here is Cape Breton in the Fall, all contradictions: soft yellow marsh grass, bays as still as a millpond one day and as wild as the North Atlantic can be the next. Cafes closing for the season, and the Celtic Colours festival club pressing on into the wee hours. Continue reading “transitions”

interactions

Screenshot 2015-10-11 15.26.37So often as artists or presenters we create and then share works with no idea of how they will be received by audiences. We start from a place of excitement or fascination and hope that those who consume our work will feel some of that, too. After it is over we try to gauge its reception with the sound of applause, box office numbers. But even in more traditional performance contexts, there are examples of performers inviting more direct audience feedback, such as when guest fortepianist Malcoln Bilson urged Tafelmusik audiences to talk or applaud during a piece or encore individual movements. Continue reading “interactions”


(
Originally published on StereoIQ’s Best Albums of 2012 )

Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Early in this album Fiona Apple shouts, “Look at me! I’m all the fishes in the sea!” and we can’t help but take notice. The sparsely-arranged Idler Wheel, which features just voice, piano and percussion, is a brave and sometimes difficult tour-de-force. But it’s Apple’s lyrical prowess that raises this album to “Best Of” status. Continue reading “Brilliant songwriting and brave performances”

Ondaatje, music and archival inspiration

With typically intriguing introspection and detail, Michael Ondaatje talks about his writing inspiration and process in video interviews recently released by The Lousisiana Channel of Denmark. In one he compares poetry to novel-writing. But in the second, he talks about his relationship with music. “The rhythm of music has been the biggest influence on my writing — it’s not Wordsworth, it’s Ray Charles,” he explains. This is no surprise to me; he’s my favorite writer mainly because of the cadence of his prose.

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In that interview, Ondaatje explained that music and writing are so connected that they must sometimes be separated. Continue reading “Ondaatje, music and archival inspiration”

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