composition. 1992. Commissioned by CBC Radio Music, as part of a series of
broadcasts commemorating the 60th anniversary of Glenn Gould's birth and the
10th anniversary of his death, in the fall of 1992. Steve Wadhams, producer;
Laurence Stevenson and Rod Crocker, sound design. 37 minutes.
The audio of the entire work can be heard at:
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 CB 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!
(Liner notes from the CBC cassette release of The Idea of Canada)
My Canada (7:34)
Counterpoint: Do you believe in Canada? (4:51)
Northern Reflections (2:36)
Speak English Speak French (1:55)
Quebec: poetry and protest (6:22)
What do you do with all that freedom? (1:55)
Counterpoint: Je suis moitie moitie (6:44)
Stories that bind (3:48)
The Idea of Canada
was first broadcast on CBC Stereo on October 2nd and 4th, 1992
The Idea of Canada brilliantly mingles words with manipulated samples. Hatzis slips from synth accompaniment in some sung passages to pitched lines that transform spoken section into eerily contoured melodies. At times his handiwork underscores the meanings of words; elsewhere, by chopping speeches into "Porky Pig" stutters or letting Eskimo dialects unfold in hypnotic chants, he treats the voice as just one of several compelling sound elements... You don't have to be Canadian to emerge from The Idea of Canada with a feeling of wonder for the northern lands.
Robert L. Doerschuk, KEYBOARD (USA)
The Idea of Canada is an amazing piece of work.
Morgan Fisher (Japan)
Hands up, those of you who recall the last time a radio program took your imagination on a trip and dropped it of somewhere down the line. If that kind of mental excursion is your idea of what radio was meant to do, climb aboard The Idea of Canada...Describing the sound of The Idea of Canada is akin to giving a plot synopsis of a William Faulkner novel or attempting to transcribe the music of one of Ornette Coleman's freeform jazz pieces. Many of the voices are just fragments, jangling against and over each other, often in conflict. Native chants resolve into musical crescendos, fiddle tunes become ghostly owl screeches, voices worry catch-phrases repeatedly like a scratch mix on a rap recording... Hatzis arranged the various pieces of sound and music to form a seamless composition... "I wanted to compose a piece which had pluralism as its form, dissension its counterpoint and the search for unity its underlying harmony," says Hatzis. Mirroring reality, his composition doesn't achieve that harmony in the end, although his cascading voices and sounds propel you towards something you hope might be salvation. There are glimmers of optimism, but there is much anger, too.
James Hale, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN (Canada)
Don't touch that dial. Don't adjust your radio. The Idea of Canada is a new type of radio program, described by CBC as an audio composition where speech and music combine as equal partners, each enhancing the other. Sometimes it will sound odd-ball, surreal or just plain jumbled as Canadians speak from the heart about Canada and the music complements the thoughts, often using the pitch, rhythm and timbre of the spoken word... [a] counterpoint of music and ideas, creating moments of chaos and quietness...
THE LONDON FREE PRESS (Canada)
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