In 1992, CBC Radio Music commissioned Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis to create a new form of audio composition in celebration of Canadian Pianist Glenn Gould’s sixtieth birthday and the 10th anniversary of his death. Not exactly music, but not exactly spoken word, this audio documentary brought words and music together to depict Canada’s thoughts on their nation.
Haztis’ composition was inspired by experimental radio documentaries produced by Glenn Gould in the 1960s and 1970s, the most well-know of which is The Idea of North. To start the process, Hatzis asked CBC to send him radio and television broadcasts across Canada that showed Canadians talking about their country. “What we got was a roomful,” says Hatzis. “It was boxes upon boxes. And it was paralyzing because we had to go through all the tapes.” The Charlottetown Accord of 1992, which proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada, provided rich fodder for Hatzis and his producers but he didn’t feel it was quite sufficient. “In the end of that process, I just felt we didn’t have enough,” says Hatzis. “So what we started doing was taking people who had expressed strong opinions about Canada and bringing them in the studio. The final version of the audio documentary features voices from various CBC newscasts from across the country in addition to material collected from interview subjects in the CBC studio.
So, what was Christos hoping to achieve with The Idea of Canada? “We really didn’t know…We knew we wanted to create a kind of mosaic of all sorts of opinions and ideas [of what people thought about Canada],” he says, stressing that the piece is not about taking sides but rather presenting the widest possible approach to thinking about the country.
In the piece, Canadian voices talk about what Canada means to them as a backdrop of music and sounds, inspired by national landscapes, compliment their thoughts. Through the adjoining of music and spoken word, it offers a dialogue between varying perspectives of the nation. With the use of 1992’s most advanced computer technology, elements of the piece use a technique to create unique “sound shadows,” where words are stretched and altered to create distinct music and pitches. This gives the speech a haunting and compelling quality where the shadow can be created as a single sound (for example, a cello, a saxophone or synthesized sound) or a combination of sounds. Hatzis establishes a polyphony of two independent melodies which is emblematic of the conflicting viewpoints that recur throughout the work. While the composition does not favour any one side of the debate, it remains a powerful reflection and especially relevant to the discussion around Canada’s identity today.
Hamiltonians can experience The Idea of Canada on Friday, May 9 between 7 – 9 pm at various Art Crawl locations on James Street North, including The Baltimore House, HAVN, CBC and Hamilton Artists Inc.