CBC HamiltonThe Idea of Canada was first broadcast on CBC Stereo on October 2 and 4, 1992.  Today it makes its return to the CBC…CBC Hamilton that is, in the form of a sound installation during Art Crawl as part of the What Next Festival of New Music.

Here are the cassette liner notes from the CBC’s original release of the piece:

The Idea of Canada is a new form of audio composition. Speech and music combine as equal partners, each enhancing the effect of the other. The words are the voices of Canadians, speaking from the heart about what Canada means to them. Some don’t believe in Canada at all. Some believe passionately in this country. Some see it as a good idea that has somehow gone wrong. The music complements and comments on these thoughts and is often actually derived from them using the pitch, rhythm and timbre of the spoken word. All this is supplemented by an aural backdrop drawn from the sounds of the Canadian landscape. 

The Idea of Canada is a counterpoint of music and ideas inspired by the experimental radio documentaries produced in the 1960’s and 70’s by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. It was produced in 1992 using the latest computer technology – wizardry that Gould could only have dreamed of! For example, one particularly effective innovation is a technique which allows the spoken word to turn itself into music by triggering its own distinctive ‘sound shadow’, giving the speech a haunting and compelling quality. Sometimes the ‘shadow’ is a single sound (a cello, a saxophone, or a synthesized sound), sometimes a combination of sounds. One voice, asking the question “do you believe in Canada?” was given a shadow made up of drums, bass and electric guitar. Gould’s vocal counterpoint, featured so strongly in his radio documentaries is greatly developed and extended in The Idea of Canada, thanks to computer sequencing and MIDI technology. By assigning phrases and words to notes on a keyboard, Christos Hatzis was able to compose elaborate polyphony; a clash of voices and viewpoints which is musically complex, but remarkably easy to follow and understand. The thoughts constantly re-appear in new forms and new contexts, giving them surprising twists and subtle shadings. 

The Idea of Canada was conceived by CBC producer Steve Wadhams as an attempt to express Canadians’ competing beliefs about what this country is. It does not argue one side or another in the national debate, it simply tries to reflect it in a powerful and poignant way. As voice and music flow around each other easily and dramatically, there are moments of chaos and quietness, anger and hope. There is humour too, with a comic cameo appearance by Glenn Gould himself, springing forth from the archives to comment on a national unity hotline!”

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Guests can also enjoy The Idea of Canada over a latte and a treat at the Baltimore House, in a gallery setting at Hamilton Artists Inc. or in a unique outdoor experience at Hamilton Audio Visual Node, through a Scion car provided by our friends at Red Hill Scion.

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