A Boat Saves Christmas

Gale-force winds? Waves seven metres high? Lobster fishing? These things permeate students’ lives in Grosse-Île on the Magdalen Islands, and what better way for me, a landlubber based in Montreal, to learn more about the students’ experience than to ask them to tell stories. To kick off the storytelling, I gave the Gr. 3-4 class a cliff-hanger I wouldn’t have been able to resist as a child, with a nod to the wild weather on the Islands…

‘It was a dark and stormy night. The reindeer were scared and didn’t want to pull the sleigh. How was Santa going to get around?’

I furiously transcribed the story, trying to keep up with the students. We worked and played hard – it isn’t always easy to come to consensus, as anyone knows who has been part of a team – and made something together that was more and different than any one of us could have done on our own. Seeing the excitement on the students’ faces during the creation of the play and their pride on sharing their work was a testament to what the arts do to bring people together.

Les Îles de la Madeleine

To hear two students and myself speak about our project with guest host Julia Caron:

To hear the play, complete with narration and sound effects created and recorded by the students:

Many thanks to Grosse-Île School, CAMI and Artists Inspire for making this project possible.

Happy holidays to everyone! May you all find a boat this Christmas.

Not so silent films

How many digital devices are in the room you are currently in? How many of these have capacity for video and sound? Probably quite a few: in the age of the internet, video and sound hold a large place in how people access information. Especially true for youth, how can we play with and use this fascination with video and sound in the classroom? Click here to read the pedagogical guide I wrote for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on the silent film era for a few ideas …

Music at your fingertips, part one

What happens when you make music with the tech-y tool many people carry around in their pockets? You guessed it – this blog post is about making creative music using cellphones.

I first used cellphones as a sound source to create the illusion of a forest filled with birds – many thanks to choreographer Louisa Rachedi and the dancers at the Banff Creative Gesture Lab 2017 for humouring that whim! I wanted birdcalls to come from many places and move as they would in nature, so I asked the dancers to play a pre-recorded track of birdcalls from their phones that they kept on them while they danced. I had some trouble-shooting to do (pressing play on a phone is not exactly a great dance move) but the effect was magical – the space came alive with sound with a dimensionality I usually only experience when camping.

To recreate this experiment, cue up the following track on 6-8 cellphones, launching each phone at different times over the course of 45 seconds:

Songbird@Banff, by Louise Campbell Banff Centre Creative Gesture Lab Open House 2017.

Now for using phones in a creative music process with high school students:

  1. Set all phones to airplane mode to eliminate unwanted interruptions during recording and playback.
  2. Using the phone’s built in microphone and recording app, ask students to record 3-5 long tones separated by long silences. Mic sensitivity varies greatly from one phone to another, so give students time to do several takes with the phone 1 foot, 2 feet and 3 feet away to determine what sounds best.

Example: Cellphone cue from sound design by Louise Campbell for Waxworks by Trina Davies, directed by Glenda Stirling (CUE production, 2017)

  1. Set the track to repeat and/or turn off the advance to next track function. If neither of these options is possible, record a ten second silence after the last long tone to give the student an opportunity to stop the sound file before it advances to the next song on their playlist.
  2. Ask the students to play the recordings starting at different times.

Example: Four cellphones playing the previous example track. I was going for an eerie, disembodied atmosphere to accompany a fairly disturbing scene from the play Waxworks.

  1. Repeat #4, asking students to spread out around the room in different configurations. How does it sound when students are bunched together compared to spread far apart? How does it sound when 6 phones are playing compared to 26? How does it sound when the recordings are started close to the same time, compared to started at different times over the course of 1-2 minutes? What other ways can you imagine playing this tracks?