Nick B and I have been looking forward to this since we began to dream about NATION in 2012. Halifax has a bit of a magic quality for me after being away for a number of years now. Seven actually. It was in the summer of 2012 in the back café of Plan B on Gottingen street where Nick and I sat down to chat about the possibility of collaborating. We sat for probably around an hour drinking coffee and talking about Canada, nationalism, technology and nature and found out we had a lot of overlapping interest in these areas. We decided then to move forward with lots of inspiration to create something but not much of a plan of what we were going to make.
In February 2013 Nick came to Lethbridge for our first of three creation workshops. We were to be the first artists in residence and the newly constructed community arts facility CASA. For two weeks we played and dreamed together with the goal of figuring out what shape the show might take – both physically and figuratively. We came up with a design of 10 hanging scrolls at that point, which we prototyped with news print paper, dowels and fishing line. We created about 20 minutes of material then as well, all based on landscapes and the idea of connection to them. All but one of those compositions made it through to the final show in some form or another, but I think the most important thing we established in those two weeks was a certain mood and a sonic+visual tone. The first notions of the show’s narration started here too, and we were using the working title “Myth of Canada”.
Also during the exact same two weeks, in classic contract artist style, we both produced and participated in a run of DaPoPo’s The Drinking Game in Lethbridge. Meaning we drank almost constantly for two weeks while searching for complete honesty and truth within ourselves and our co-performers. All of that was either an excellent idea or a terrible one. Ask me when I’m 80 years old.
In the summer of 2014 Nick and I connect once again, this time in Riverport Nova Scotia at the Old Confidence Lodge Stage and Studio. We spent a week in the serenity of the south shore and this seems to be where the concept really grew and we glimpsed what actually could be considered a realized concert. After sleeping each night on huge couches and mattresses in the main room where we were creating we’d rise each day and write for about 30 minutes outside by the LaHave river. We chose topics that resonated with us (technology, cars and oil, nature, forests, media, Canada, national identity…) and wrote freely before cutting our writing up into bits, pasting it back together more or less randomly and then highlighting interesting phrases that came up. As this material started to amass, we used it as jumping off points for new compositions and images. The decision to create the music entirely from found sounds and field recordings was made early on during this phase, and so each day also contained a session of sampling our surroundings. Our world was starting to take shape, and so was our physical set. We implemented the centre hanging scroll and Ian McRuer, Matt Miller and Mark Desloges began designing the free-standing frame that would make our set possible in a touring situation.
Near the end of our time in Riverport, we knew we wanted to approach Lethbridge actress/singer and The Drinking Game cohort Erica Hunt to record the narration for the show. Much to our joy and the shows benefit she was into the idea and so shortly after returning to my home studio in Lethbridge we set up a session to do the recordings. The show now had a voice and with our completed “script” the full scope of the show was in view. Our third a final major creation phase took place in November 2014 in Chester, Nova Scotia, at Nick’s family cottage. During this extremely productive week-long session we created and programmed the final compositions, tweaked the live performance systems programming and planned and executed the arc of the show. Here we added in the narration and worked on the audio and video mix. Ian McRuer and Mark Desloges built the frame for the set and Mark D with Matt Miller consulted on the entire show technically. Finally the full meal deal got its legs in front of an invited audience at the NSCC where we received feedback and generally got an idea for how the show played out on a stage at full volume. To say we were stoked was a major understatement.
We recognized at this time that our working title was not appropriate for the show. It really wasn’t about Canada as much as it was about the human experience as it relates to progress (technology) and nature (landscape). The title NATION was applied and it felt right. Nation states give to humans a sense of complete agency over the land, sea and life which the nation occupies. This re-categorization of nature from an inseparable part of the human experience into a resource and commodity to control is a major inspiration for the create of NATION. At the same time, since the show relies heavily on technology at every level, this re-categorization is what makes the piece possible to begin with.
In March 2015 Nick once again traveled to Lethbridge to present the first public performance of NATION at CASA. Matt Miller also came from Halifax and the three of us along with Richie Wilcox took a few days at Club Didi (a space I help operate with Theatre Outré) to put some more polish on the show. We put the show up in a couple of hours at CASA and had the chance to have a dress rehearsal before giving NATION her maiden voyage to a sold-out house. It was a very distinct moment for me when the show finished and Nick and I took our bows. I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of the people who worked to make NATION possible. Not only that but a deep sense of gratitude for all of the experience I’ve been privileged to gain through years of touring with The Jimmy Swift Band and Scientists of Sound, the time and effort from my piano teachers and the support of my family and friends. I feel great about this next step and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Extra special thanks to Arts NS, Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the City of Lethbridge for their generous financial support of this project, and to Plum, the Melliorist, and Theatre Outré for their support. For this special Halifax presentation, thank-you to Angels & Heroes for their belief in NATION and our team, and for their support as co-producers of the event.