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This document was prepared for the colloquium Trésors de l’œuvrement : La pratique artistique comme mode de vie et manière de réfléchir le monde (Treasures of Work : Artistic practice as a way of life and a way of thinking about the world), scheduled for May 8-9, 2020 in Lévis, Quebec and which unfortunately was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am publishing a modified version of this presentation as part of the conscient: art & environment blog.
When I first became aware of this conference in October 2019, I had just made the decision to retire (see retired) after 21 years at the Canada Council for the Arts in order to return to my artistic practice and a slightly calmer life.
This colloquium proposed the exploration of a theme that is particularly close to my heart:
…artistic practice as a form of augmented experience that engages the Being of the artist in a creative interaction with matter and the world.
I will explore how this theory of augmented experience applies to my artistic practice in sound art, to my Zen spiritual practice and to my social practices, notably my concern for the environment.
I was born in Ottawa in 1959.
I grew up in the North Bay, Ontario area where I was a pianist, clarinettist, composer, hunter and fisherman.
I was introduced to science by my father Maurice, who was a doctor, and to culture by my mother Jeannine, who is an artist.
As a result, I developed a passion for both the environment and art, and this has become a focal point of my life.
I moved to Montreal in 1982 and travelled extensively for residencies, tours and productions.
Among other things, I worked on acoustic ecology projects with composer R. Murray Schafer, who taught me that:
soundscapes are continuous musical compositions
I have also worked with French composer Luc Ferrari who taught me:
… it’s about recognizing sounds one above the other and in relation to each other, that is, in layers, and this is learned through the sensitivity that one develops and through consciousness.
I will come back to this.
During the 90s, my artistic approach was to listen, record and analyse soundscapes in order to produce electroacoustic and instrumental creations for concert and radio.
For example, the first movement of Marche sonore 1 (Soundwalk 1) produced in 1992 in collaboration with Hélène Prévost at Radio-Canada, is an example of my interest in editing from voices and soundscapes :
In 1997, I tried to describe my artistic practice in the following way:
I want to write electroacoustic novels that use the sound environment as a paramusical language. I want to use wind as a noun, water as a verb and the beep-beep of a truck backing up as an adjective. I want to conjugate noise with the past future and bring the listener to the heart of a sound story, perhaps without words and perhaps even without music …
In other words, it was the context of sound that fascinated me back then (and still does today).
I’ve always loved what surrounds music: the atmospheres, the noises, the empty spaces, the mistakes, the conversations, the random noises, etc. In essence, everything except (and this might seem contradictory) the final product in the concert hall (with no offence to my dear musician colleagues).
I’d rather go for a walk.
I was married to Sabrina Mathews in 1998 and our son Riel was born also in 1998 and our daughter Clara arrived in 2001.
The ‘electroacoustic composition’ chapter of my artistic practice came to an end on August 9, 1999 when I accepted a position at the Canada Council for the Arts in Ottawa to lead the Inter-Arts Office.
It was at this time that I met Danielle Boutet, one of the organizers of this colloquium.
Danielle’s writings have greatly influenced my work at the Council and my personal reflections on art.
I particularly like this excerpt from her essay, Reflections on Interdisciplinary Practice in Canada, which she wrote for the Canada Council for the Arts in 1996:
Everything can serve as an artistic medium. Everything has already served as an artistic medium in history: there is no object, no material, no form, process, subject or concept that is excluded on principle from artistic practice. These mediums are put to work within given dimensions of space, time and meaning – and no dimension or context is excluded on principle from artistic practice. The artistic field is infinite in this respect, and it rapidly extends to any new tool or new concern.
In 2016, I am ready to return to my artistic practice.
I produced www.simplesoundscapes.ca, a series of 3-minute audio and video recordings that explore conscious listening in relation to my Zen practice.
Soundscapes have always been a form of knowledge, pleasure and discovery for me.
A way of life.
I love the process of recording soundscapes.
I feel present moment when I capture a sound or an image.
I then follow my creative instincts and produce artistic works from these fragments.
For example, episode 74 – Sky, recorded on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal during the spring of 2018:
During this time I became a student at the Ottawa Zen Centre, under the guidance of Venerable Anzan Hoshin roshi, who taught me that:
… Zen is simply a matter of paying attention to our real experiences and our lives as they are.
The simplesoundscapes chapter of my artistic practice comes to an end in July 2019 with a 175th broadcast.
I decide to take a break from my microphone in order to reflect on the climate crisis.
In January 2020, I launched conscient: art & environment and I publish my first blog, terrified.
What triggered my climate denial bubble to burst? I feel compelled to share this personal experience, in the hope that it might help others who are also struggling with the current sustainability crisis and searching for a path forward…
My goal is to explore the contribution of art and culture to environmental awareness and action.
In this blog, I quote George Marshall, from his book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, who sees climate change as a “perfect problem”, confusing the psyche with cognitive ‘inattention’.
Marshall believes that our minds are set up to believe compelling stories that appeal to our ’emotional brain’ and that we need passionate storytellers to break our habits, imagine new values and new perspectives.
But how does one get there?
Thank you to the colloquium organizers for this opportunity.