All roads lead to the graveyard, but Mark Haney and Nicole Lizée are going there a little quicker than most—although it might be more accurate to say that it’s the Little Chamber Music Series That Could that’s heading to Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery, just days after its official relaunch party. But don’t worry. The newly undead society is bent on prolonging its second life, and a guest spot at the cemetery’s annual All Souls arts event is just part of Haney’s master plan.
Interviewed on his cellphone while he and Lizée are taking a brief break at Kits Beach, the busy bassist turned impresario explains that free Halloween concerts are just part of what he has in mind for the LCMSTC now that he’s assumed the mantle of artistic director.
“One part of our mandate is definitely what it always was, which is presenting really new works, mainly by local composers,” he explains. “The other side of the coin for me, coming in and renewing it, is also about removing financial barriers from new music, and branching out beyond just the downtown core.”
The work that Haney has begun with the LCMSTC draws on a number of sources, including his ongoing residency at Renfrew-Collingwood’s Falaise Park. Over the summer, and with the contrivance of the Vancouver park board, he presented a weekly series of sunset concerts, which met with an extremely positive response.
“The main thing that I found is that people love being able to interact with, on their own terms, contemporary music,” he reports. “People loved the Sunset Sounds events because there were no expectations on them. You did not have to sit down, you did not have to be quiet, you did not have to know when to clap—none of that. It was just come, experience, and enjoy, all on your terms.”
Haney’s also looking at the bigger picture, however, and unfortunately this often means declining audience numbers and shrinking public-sector support for many of the so-called classical art forms.
“I honestly worry that we’re at a crisis point,” he contends. “When a major institution like the Playhouse or whoever else is on the brink, the first argument the arts community brings up is how relevant we are to the life of the city, and the question I can’t help but ask is ‘Are we actually still relevant?’ I’m not convinced we are, and so the follow-up question has to be ‘How are we going to fix that?’ I think we need to put in a concerted effort to somehow connect with people in their lives to actually become relevant again.”
All Souls, which continues until Friday (November 1), offers one template for an arts event that combines a strong aesthetic component with an equally focused emphasis on multicultural engagement. Timed to coincide with Halloween, the Latin-American Day of the Dead, and the Chinese Moon Festival, among other global cultural traditions, it uses Mountain View Cemetery, with its stunning views of the downtown core and the North Shore mountains, as the canvas for an array of community-art activities around memory, family history, and thanksgiving.
“It’s very much a spiritual, reflective event,” says Haney, who volunteered at last year’s edition to get a feel for its pensive, fire-lit vibe. And that’s just about all he told the Montreal-based Lizée after determining that she would be the perfect person to write and help perform a suitably phantasmagorical piece for 2013.
Lizée might not be an obvious choice: her music can sometimes seem clangorous and aggressively modern, as with Hymnals, which received its Canadian premiere at the Kronos Quartet’s recent Chan Centre for the Performing Arts concert. But encoded within her dense brocade of sampled sound, acoustic instrumentation, low-tech synths, and expropriated film footage is a quirky and loving regard for her sonic and filmic forebears.
“I’ve always been drawn to artifacts from the past,” she says, once Haney passes her the phone. “Maybe that’s technology, maybe that’s sound, maybe that’s images, but somehow these entities were, at some point, very active, very much in our worlds. I’m fascinated by bringing them back, breathing new life into them, and creating new surroundings for them. I refer to them as dead icons, or lost relics, or forgotten notions, and those sounds or colours or notions or ideas still have weight for me. Like, they’re still very much something that I want to have interact with my [musical] language now.”
This blurring of boundaries between the past and the present is in keeping with the ethos of All Souls, which celebrates an exchange between the supernatural and mundane worlds. In Ouijist, which premieres at Mountain View Cemetery’s Celebration Hall on Halloween night, she’ll expand on that metaphor by smudging the lines between electronic and acoustic sounds, and between instrumental and vocal music.
“One thing that’ll happen in the piece is that the players will sing along with their melodic lines to kind of add this spiritual quality, this otherworldly quality,” she says. “It’s sort of like a phantom following them around.”
Lizée can’t help but joke about her first venture into cemetery music, but it’s clear that both this Little Chamber Music Series That Could commission and her conversations with Haney have got her thinking.
“Having a work that’s so site-specific, where already people will arrive in a certain frame of mind or with a certain emotional attachment to something, is very interesting,” she says. “I mean, I’ve had pieces performed in churches, but churches have sort of lost their function in that way. But the cemetery is kind of loaded; it’s kind of a heavy thing. So I think it would be interesting to create this whole cemetery genre of music.
“That’s what I’m working on,” she adds, tongue only partly in cheek. “That’s my goal!”