Mr. Porter | Saint Laurent Given how pretty, stylish and charismatic the…
- Posted on May 18th 2011 4:30PM by Tony Dekker, Great Lake Swimmers
Courtesy of National Parks Project
In honour of the disc, Spinner recruited various musicians who participated in the expedition to share their experiences making music in the depths of Canada's wilderness. Our forth report comes courtesy of Great Lake Swimmers frontman Tony Dekker who visited Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
I'd like to start by saying that the National Parks Project is hands-down one of the best things I've been a part of in my musical career so far. It's really opened my mind to thinking conceptually about writing music in tandem with experiencing the natural world. It's something that I've been striving for in my own music over the last decade, so to be part of something so thoughtful in depth and scope was an invigorating challenge.
Our trip started near the town of Ingonish on Cape Breton Island. One of the first things I noticed after arriving at night was the roar of the Atlantic waves in the thick dark, which were not visible, but audibly present under the enormous, starry canopy of a cloudless night sky, devoid of any hint of big-city light pollution. I'm always struck by how clear it is in the northern part of my home province of Ontario, but seeing it stretch over the Atlantic Ocean somehow amplified the endless maze of ancient constellations.
By morning, we began a hike to the top of Franey Mountain. Our guide, a Cape Breton park ranger, explained that this particular hike is an instance of the forest changing from the southerly Acadian to the northerly Boreal. Different species and entire ecosystems transition as the path winds towards the top.
We arrived at the peak with our instruments and the beauty of surroundings immediately spoke to us. Leading up to the trip, it seemed daunting to enter such a remote region with relative strangers for a period of five days, but the group of musicians (myself, Chris Luedecke and Daniela Gesundheit) and filmmakers (Keith Behrman, Steve Cosens), along with the film and audio crew from the National Parks Project documentary series, were an extremely positive group to be on the adventure with. Our varied artistic sensibilities coalesced quickly.
The basic premise was to make a short film and soundtrack based on the experience of the landscape, as one of thirteen different groups traveling to a National Park in each of Canada's provinces and territories. There was also a parallel film crew documenting the creative process of the filmmakers and musicians, filming at all hours. Creatively, there was free reign to interpret the environment, and to use a collaborative spirit to weave the project into a cohesive whole.
To me, this was really the crux and the beauty of the project: to take it as far out or to draw it as closely in as we could. All of the musicians involved were the principle songwriters in our respective outside projects, so the songwriting process began almost immediately, but there were also many improvisational pieces that we created in direct response to the environment around us. At points, we found ourselves combining pieces of driftwood, rocks, and other detritus with our instruments in an attempt to fuse and glean our individual and collective meanings from the place.
We set up camp at Corney Brook campground for the majority of the trip, a site situated between the base of a mountain and an ocean beach. Over the course of the next several days we encountered many forms of wildlife, including a family of moose, which had wandered into our camp site early one morning. It was also my first time seeing whales at such a close range. It was absolutely inspiring to be so close to those elusive, majestic animals.
Much of our evening reflection took place at a weathered picnic bench inside a shelter on the site. Amid the crackle of a wood-burning stove and the whistling ocean wind outside, we presented and composed songs based on the day's inspirations.
The trip ended with a kitchen party in the wonderful East Coast tradition, and we were able to connect with some truly awesome local Cape Breton musicians. Though we only had five days to complete our narratives, I can say that personally the trip left an indelible mark on the way I think about music. It was an honour to be part of it.