“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. . . . I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but to be involved. . . . So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” – Nina Simone
Speaking of the times, Bren Simmers and I collaborated on a small sound piece called “In Our Lifetime” that has been installed in the Ranger Station Art Gallery in Harrison Hot Springs, BC for the month. If you’re in the area, stop in and check it out.
I also got the chance to perform with Kevin Spenst recently at the launch for his newest book: “Flip-Flops Faces & Unexpurgated Lives”. It was a true joy to improvise the soundtrack to these poems along with live chalk drawing from Owen Plummer, the illustrator of the book. It’s an incredible choose your own adventure of words, each page cut into three parts with an exquisite corpse creature on every facing page. Definitely pick up a copy if you can.
And I’m hard at work on “Hey Buddy, Where Are You From” a new commission from Jason Hall and the BC Arts Council for tarogato and electronics. The rich textures of this Hungarian folk instrument are set against samples from interviews with refugees in an evocative piece that explores the immigrant experience. It’ll be premiered in the new year; check out the EVENTS page for all the details.
As the leaves are just beginning to shift from green to red, it seems like a good time for a change. And that’s just what’s happened around here. At the beginning of this month I moved into the top floor of an old decommissioned ranger station on Harrison Lake. Pines and water out the window, squawks of herons and hooting of owls overhead. I’m filled with gratitude for the Kent Harrison Arts Council and the fabulous space to live and create.
And I’ve got several projects on the go. First up is a new commission by Jason Hall with assistance from the BC Arts Council for a solo tarogato piece. The tarogato is a Hungarian folk instrument not too different from the clarinet, and the project is commemorating the migration of Hungarians to Canada following World War II. Stay tuned for details about the premiere in the early months of next year.
I’ve noticed recently that three years in Sea to Sky country has softened me a little in my driving habits. As I was making a foray into the city recently, I was reminded that highway driving with ten thousand of your closest friends is a different beast. So, in honor of that newly revisited skill, I’ll share a piece of mine called “Back in Traffic.” Marina Hasselburg and Zhimin Yu performed this at the Sound of Dragon Festival last April, and I think they capture the stressful intensity of the subject really well. Enjoy!
It’s the heart of the summer, and while we’ve managed to steer clear of the oppressive heat that much of the rest of the continent has been facing so far, there’s something awful refreshing about sleeping with the windows open and going days without wearing socks. And though a bumper crop of raspberries is behind me, I’m still looking forward to tomato season…
Likewise, while I’m up to my ears in new creative projects and looking forward to them coming to fruition later this year, in the meantime I’ll share with you all a fabulous performance by Erato Ensemble from this past spring of their commission “Orpheus Unplugged.” I was thrilled to work again with Kevin Spenst, my favorite Vancouver poet to grab takoyaki with, and Will George really owned his performance as an embodied “holographic noggin.” Take a listen…
Not long ago I found myself traipsing through downtown with a horde of literary enthusiasts on a poetry crawl organized by the always dynamic Vancouver poet Kevin Spenst. As we wandered from art galleries to cafes, we stopped briefly at each to take in readings by some of the country’s most fabulous writers. At Centre A gallery, I walked in the door to find every surface of the room covered with art. Stepping on the brightly painted loose canvases that plastered the floor took a little getting used to at first. But if you have a chance to take in Patrick Cruz’s “Bulaklak ng Paraiso (Flower of Paradise)” I highly recommend it. The installation is a full visual overload, and I’m so glad to be surrounded by so much amazing and inspiring art.
In recent weeks I’ve also been fortunate to hear Marina Hasselberg and Zhimin Yu premiere my duet for cello and zhongruan at the Sound of Dragon festival. The entire programme was phenomenal, and I believe it’s the first time that a piece of mine was followed by a dancer bouncing off of a piano accompanied by live improvisation erhu and painting. A huge thanks to Lan Tung, who expended an amazing amount of energy putting on the whole weekend of events. In the works later this spring is a new piece commissioned by Erato Ensemble entitled “Orpheus Unplugged” on a text by Kevin Spenst. I just heard a rehearsal the other weekend, and they are doing a fabulous job with it. For all the details on the concert, check out the EVENTS page.
The increasingly longer days have been keeping me extra busy these days. There seems to be an ever growing list of trails to explore, blossoms to smell, music to make, and seeds to plant. And lots of daylight to do it in; time to water the garden…
I was driving around Vancouver just the other day with the windows down, college radio blaring from the speakers. And when one Bjork song ended, another Bjork song started; then another and another. This went on for a good half hour; I really love college radio.
And I feel so supported by all the wonderful folks who spin tracks (Bjork and Bjork-less) on college radio. Old Paint spent a good eleven weeks charting on college radio, peaking at the number 8 spot on the national Folk and Roots chart. It’s still getting plays on over a hundred stations in Canada and the US, so don’t be shy to call up your local FM and put in a request.
Around these parts, the skunk cabbage is up, the bears’ll be around pretty soon, and with the lengthening days there’s an impending productive mode starting up. I’m just getting cracking on a new commission from Erato Ensemble which will feature an operatic tenor spinning in circles for six minutes accompanied by Motown-esque vibraphone. And later this spring, Marina Hasselberg and Zhimin Yu will premiere my piece Back in Traffic, for cello and zhongruan, at the Sound of Dragon Festival in Vancouver. Check out the events page for all the details.
That’s not all, of course, but that’s all that all for now. There are many more plans a-hatching, so stay tuned…
Wow, what a fall. In and amongst all the squirreling away of abundance for the lean winter months, there have been premieres and performances, writing and walking, great conversations and chuckles, and more music than you can shake a stick at (or shake a stick with?). I’ve been teaching a class on musical cultures around the world at Quest University, too, so my ears have been filled with Bibayak hindehoo, Carnatic varnum, and p’ungmul drumming. By the time I’ve gotten around to lifting my head out of the gamelan to attend to the interweb world, the leaves have dropped off the cottonwoods, the mountains have been dusted white, and we’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving twice. Apologies for being out of touch, electronic ether.
Michael Murray performed my piece for solo pipe organ, “Panic at the Discotheque,” a couple times over the last few months. A huge thanks to him for championing this work; it sounds better and better each time I hear it. And the UBC Centennial Quartet gave the world premiere of “A Springboard Not a Tombstone,” which was commissioned in celebration of the university’s 100th anniversary. Across the country over in Nova Scotia, “Five to Nine to Five” was given two fabulous performances by the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra. So great to see young musicians taking on contemporary music! I’m also working on a few new pieces, so stay tuned to hear about upcoming performances in the new year…
And kind words continue to stream in about “Old Paint;” check out the latest from Ear to the Ground. I’m so glad that so many folks are enjoying the record. It’s being played on over 100 radio stations throughout Canada and the US, too; so feel free to call up your local community, college, or public radio station and get a request in!
Finally, as the dark and wet and cold descends on us for the next little while, here’s a reminder of the summer festival season. Thanks to John Marsh for capturing this performance at the Tumbleweed Festival back in September…
“Like a band of gypsies, we go down the highway. We’re the best of friends, and we keep insisting that the world turn our way. And our way is on the road again.” – Willie Nelson
The last month has seen me putting some miles on the odometer. I’ve been pretty lucky to be met by fabulous and appreciative audiences across Western Canada and the United States. I’ve been invited over for bison burgers, offered the use of hot tubs, joined in on curbside jam sessions, and been met with so many stimulating and fascinating conversations I’ve lost count. The gratefulness that I feel for all the kind and hospitable people I meet along the road cannot really be measured, but the amazing company you find when traveling and playing songs for folks is why I love to tour.
One of the highlights of the summer’s tour was the two weeks spent as an artist-in-residence in Val Marie, Saskatchewan where I spent my days wandering around Grasslands National Park recording the natural sounds and talking with people about their experience in one of the most amazingly beautiful places I’ve ever been. I wrote some music too, and I mashed it all together into a piece whose title riffs off the fabulous work of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. You can check out the video for Of the Last Quiet Places below.
Some exciting things are coming up this fall. Michael Murray will give another performance of my piece for solo organ, Panic at the Discotheque, right here in Vancouver. And over on the other side of the country, the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra will give the premiere performance of my piece Five to Nine to Five. Be sure to check out the Events page for all the details.
Summertime sometimes seems like a dream, and what a dream. Looking out at the haze of wildfire smoke that’s been covering western Canada for much of the last few weeks, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. I think I saw three bands who had never met before pull out a request of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” at a festival in Vancouver. Or maybe I was sleeping. I think I watched an intricate dance of children’s feet and frog legs at a swimming hole in Clearwater where thousands of toadlings turned the sandy beach a dark green. Then again, perhaps I was asleep. I believe that I recall the taste of the first peaches in the Okanagan, fresh off the tree in early July. Or did that really happen…
A few things, though, I can be sure of. I am absolutely certain that Elevate the Arts was a fabulous way to kick off the festival season. So many wonderful musicians and such a great group of folks in the Comox Valley to festivate with. I’m positive that I’m looking forward to touring out to Saskatchewan and down through the States next month. In fact, I’m already itching to get cracking on the electro-acoustic sound installation I’ll be making out at Grasslands National Park. And I guarantee that I’ll be making my fretless banjo debut at the Wind Festival, right here at home in Squamish.
The reviews are starting to come in about the new record. Invisible Ink says “Hill’s musicianship is unparalleled,” The Modern Folk Music of America says that it “slaps and thrums with old-time energy,” and Lonesome Highway calls it “a really enjoyable experience for roots music fans everywhere.” For more insight into the creative process, read this interview I did with Confront Magazine. If you haven’t checked out Old Paint yet, you can take a listen over at Bandcamp or get your very own copy of the CD at CDBaby.
I’m also very excited to share with you all a recording from a fantastic performance by the Erato Ensemble of a new piece from earlier this summer. What A Dream was written using a Shakespeare text and numerous Google translations of that text. It’s a pretty dreamy, meditative piece, so find yourself a good cumulus cloud to gaze at and crank up the volume.
It’s been a little while in the making, but my new album is finally ready to see the light of day. I’m so pleased with it and super grateful to all the wonderfully talented people who contributed their talents to the final product. This album is a little different than the last one; all acoustic, all new-timey traditional tunes. It was such a joy to create, and I really hope you all enjoy listening to it. You can pick up your very own copy at the click of a finger over at CD Baby.
And to get on to the celebrating right away, this weekend I’ll be boarding a ferry over to beautiful Courtenay, BC to play a couple sets at the Elevate the Arts Festival. Let the summer festivating begin! I’ll be touring all over British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington throughout the next couple months, so be sure to check out the Events page for more details.
In other news, the Erato Ensemble gave a fabulous premiere performance of “What a Dream” this spring. Stay tuned for some audio/video samples of that concert. Plus, the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble will be premiering a new piece later this year; I promise to keep you updated as the details emerge. And I’ll be working on a new string quartet commissioned by the University of British Columbia this summer, so if you need to find me I’ll either be in my studio, at the festival du jour, or at the nearest swimming hole…
I recently read that eighty percent of the world’s population has never seen the Milky Way. It makes me awful glad to be able to stand on my front stoop and see the Pleiades on any of the few nights when this part of British Columbia isn’t covered in clouds.
And I’m extra glad to be spending a few weeks as an artist-in-residence at Grasslands National Park in southwestern Saskatchewan this summer, which has been designated as a dark sky preserve. And the darkest dark sky in Canada, at that! If you’re in that part of the world, be sure to stop by. I’ll be putting on a couple performances and installing a new sound piece that will address the idea of dark skies.
In other news, I’ve been really lucky to have received some fabulous performances of my music this spring. The JunctQin Keyboard Collective just performed “Tweets” (the only piece I’ve ever written for toy piano and melodica) and Ashlee Bickley sang “Ride Along East Hastings” at the Manchester New Music Festival, giving the piece its International Premiere. Later this month, the Erato Ensemble will premiere “What a Dream,” which gives three singers Google-translated Shakespeare lyrics mixed with harp, piano, flute, and cello.
Also, the new album is nearly ready for the world. It’s been mixed and mastered, and now Laurel Terlesky is putting together some beautiful album artwork. Stay tuned for a preview track and expect to hear the whole album this summer…