SPECIAL PLACES: Writing-On-Stone premiered in February at Denver’s IMERSA conference, a showcase of full-dome immersive experiences in a state-of-the-art presentation space.
Spring tour of Europe
Next stop: JENA full-dome Festival in May at the Zeiss Planetarium in Jena, Germany, a university town which has shaped a lot of Western philosophy since its founding in 1558 ; the dome’s namesake Carl Zeiss, the father of modern optical lenses opened his first manufacturing plant there in the 19th century. And famous alumni — Hegel, Marx, Luther, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche among other notables — either lived and worked in the east German city, went to school there, or taught at the university.
In June, SPECIAL PLACES next travels to the full-dome festival at BRNO Observatory and Planetarium in Czech Republic. And after that back home to Canada and Calgary’s SPARK, as part of a summer schedule of short 360 films in the planetarium’s dome (to be announced).
Next phase of development
A simulacra of SPECIAL PLACES and kindred locations I’ve recorded in Canada (and elsewhere) is in the works — an immersive cyclorama that builds from the 2007 [em/I] public exhibition; the replica will speak to and stimulate all modalities of human perception (not to be mysterious: I’ll reveal what that means in the months to come).
An immersive experience for domes, smartphones, and virtual reality headsets.
THEREARE “songs in the land,” says Leroy Little Bear, a Blackfoot elder and guide to SPECIAL PLACES, a panoramic tour of a spirit-filled land that hugs the border between Canada and the United States.
It’s a landscape of eerie hoodoos, endless sky, and a starfield that’s out of this world. What’s more “it’s the sound of the wind,” producer Don Hill recalls of his first encounter with Writing-on-Stone park in southern Alberta. “A sound that is felt as much as it is heard.” The sandstone cliffs are shaped by the persistent wind blowing out from the Rockies, which makes the curves and recesses of “the hoodoos sing,” says Hill. “They whistle with every breeze.” And they’ve been singing for millennia “with news from the ancestors,” says Leroy Little Bear.
Hill, along with Ryan Jackson and Sam Brooks of Full Circle Visuals, and Adam Kidd of Limbo Editing Services, recently made an 8 minute episode of SPECIAL PLACES, the first leg in a planned series that link extraordinary locations in Canada — some familiar, others not so much — that tell of the supernatural and an extraordinary way of knowing the country. It’s a 360 video that can play in planetariums and inflatable domes, VR (virtual reality) headsets, and even smartphones and tablets.
During the summer of 2016, the team built and field-tested a custom camera rig that delivers an 8K image that looks amazing, and is designed to complement high-performance projectors installed in large format theatres and planetariums. “We believe it’s a necessary step past the GoPro,” editor Adam Kidd says speaking for the team. It makes for a cinematic 360 experience that not only looks and feels immersive, but reproduces the wonder of a landscape that’s tricky to shoot with conventional gear.
From the shoot to the rendering and editing process, organizing workflow, and how to tell the story of a SPECIAL PLACE — every step was a challenge. Yet, the decision to build a custom-built camera and go beyond the GoPro model was a risk that paid off extraordinarily well. “It’s the kind of story,” says Leroy Little Bear that’s always been told “360 degrees around you.” And it’s in this respect SPECIAL PLACES is less a traditional documentary, and more of an ‘experience’ for people to enjoy.
The next episode of SPECIAL PLACES is in development for winter 2017.
Close to the Rocky Mountains, an ever-present wind lives on the southern prairie of Canada; it shapes Writing-On-Stone, a ‘special place’ in Alberta featuring miles upon miles of sandstone hoodoos and cliff faces adorned with petroglyphs — ancient images scratched and pecked out of the stone.
Leroy Little Bear, a Blackfoot elder and one-time executive director of Native Studies at Harvard University tells of the wind and spirits and how news from the ancestors is transmitted to those who can hear…
To experience the immersive wind of Writing-On-Stone, put on HEADPHONES or earbuds for the 3D SOUND presentation. Let the sound sneak up on you and adjust the volume to find the ‘sweet spot’ for your ears.
CHAPTER TWO is brought to you by:
Helen Verbanz, Karna Mital, Ted Chamberlin, Karsten Heuer, Cleo Paskal, Brian Harris, Sue Kenney, John Beardsley, Lynn Thompson, John de Jardin.
INSIGHT TREKS is on the march (actually, the first episode debuted in February on Cafe Acousmatic, my new programme of electroacoustic music, sound art, and 3D binaural sound).
There will be six episodes dropped in between now and the beginning of the summer (possibly more, if radio and podcast listeners support the making of more aural adventures; 3D ‘locative media’ audio of the sonic architecture of ‘special places’ on the land — more on that in future postings).
You — yes, you! — will always get the first listen to each new instalment. Let’s begin with episode one presented in 3D AUDIO.
Put on headphones or earbuds.
Let the opening sound sneak up on you, and adjust the volume until it feels comfortable to your ears.
This is memory.
Terrifying bolts of lightning on a mountaintop and the ringing of church bells. What do the two events have in common?
Why would bell ringers in 19th century France think a thunderstorm was something they could play with?
And why is persistent sound — the long drone after a bell has been struck — so literally appealing?
This episode of INSIGHT TREKS is brought to you by:
Donald Campbell, Brian Woodward, Rod O’Connor, Don Pugh, Gordon Freeman, Barbara Hartmann, David Whitley, Sarah Crummy, Gillian Pearlstone, Phaedon Sinus, Candas Jane Dorsey.
Lots to tell since my last post — all of it good news for INSIGHT TREKS.
A generous Writers Grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts was instrumental in the creation of a ‘first draft’ (completed the first week of August); I also tested several ideas on how to present the materiel — demonstrations of key features of INSIGHT TREKS as ‘locative media’ (for instance, immersive 3D soundscapes derived from ‘special places’ — more on that in a moment).
Some of that content was presented as Sound Never Ages, a TEDx talk I gave to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,500 people at the Jubillee Auditorium in Calgary. When you watch the short twelve minute video, you’ll see some of the locations that will be in the final INSIGHT TREKS presentation.
Reviewers in the Edmonton Journal and Metro newspapers were quite keen on the free app for mobile phones and tablets.
Since my last posting, I’ve given several talks at conferences about INSIGHT TREKS; I spoke about ‘special places’ as medicine; as a potent mnemonic device to transmit cultural memory over time; and that these extraordinary spots have personalities, as unique as you and me. At Toward A Science of Consciousness, a conference hosted by the University of Arizona at Tucson, I was interviewed for a new film featuring the ‘rock stars’ of consciousness research; among the notables you’ll see in this trailer are John Searle, Daniel Dennett, Deepak Chopra, Stuart Hameroff, Susan Blackmore — and me.
When should you expect to hear and see INSIGHT TREKS? Mid-November at the earliest (and well before the holiday season kicks into high gear).
Meantime: if you’re near the University of Calgary, consider joining me for this opening at the Kasian Gallery (in the Faculty of Enviromental Design). Please come and say hello!
THE GOPHERS are busy and that most certainly means spring has taken root (although snow still whispers in the forecast).
You can also hear the tell-tale sound of songbirds on the prairie filling up a big blue sky with the promise of summer…
Here’s more incidental music for the INSIGHT TREKS soundtrack.
The first tune (released last month) enjoyed some airplay on the CKUA Radio Network, and Mid-Morning Mojo. Popular host Baba Singh (a very nice man!) kindly wrote: “I will open tomorrow morning’s show with this gem.” The newest releaseLate Snow once again features Paul Dunn accompanying me on guitar, and bassist Tom Linklater — The Dead String Band.
I’ve got three more soundtrack mixes to come over the next short while; the music is different from the 3D audio soundscapes; they’re bed-tracks for ‘voiceover’ script — instrumentals evocative of impressions on the way to ‘special places’.
A blush of spring has melted snow in these parts, but it’s a temporary truce with winter; the forecast calls for one more dance before closing time. And I’m okay with that — the colder weather might bring out the aurora borealis (which hid behind clouds, last month — sigh).
With PLAN B in play, I’ve repurposed INSIGHT TREKS, finessing the materiel on hand and whatnot; I’m now leaning toward making an app for wireless devices such as your mobile phone and digital tablets; it will be immediately useful ‘in the field’ triggered by GPS, for example, illuminating ‘songs in the land’ at a given location (the content — 3D sound, text, short films — will also be available in ‘armchair’ mode).
Here’s a ‘frame grab’ from one of the short films Misshepezhieu (a ‘rock art’ site on Lake Superior); the work in progress will be animated by Jack Bride, a fellow artist and kindred spirit.
Misshepezhieu was a major influence on the art of Norval Morrisseau (more on him in a moment). The painter visited the numinous spot, which, for well over a century had only been rumoured to exist.
In 1958, Selwyn Dewdney first came upon Misshepezhieu, following years of searching for the site; it was a tough slog by canoe — miles of coastline with few settlements to speak of let alone humans to consult — his only guide was the historical accounts of Henry Schoolcraft.
Agawa Bay, as it’s called along the TransCanada Highway, inspires awe and a sense of being outside the constraints of present time. No wonder artists love it.
“My paintings are icons,” Morrisseau said, echoeing the intent of ochre pictographs that mark the upward thrusts of granite on Lake Superior. “They are images which help focus on spiritual powers, generated by traditional belief and wisdom.”
In February, I recorded with Paul Dunn and Tom Linklater, a suite of five instrumental tracks to accompany voiceover & bridges to the 3D soundscapes; here’s a pre-release of one of the tunes (mixed for regular speakers): Tie Creek (a ragged lament).
Here’s what inspired the instrumental: Tie Creek sits snug along the border between Manitoba and Ontario, and is well hidden from campers who enjoy Whiteshell Provincial Park.
For ten years, I had been attempting to visit the effigy stones in the back country that’s off-limits for the casual tourist (if you’re lucky enough to find it on your own). Park interpreter Ron Bell (to the right in the picture above) was good enough to take me into the bush, and tell of his fascination with a particularly numinous spot, he says, that’s “lonely for human company.” It’s true. The instrumental track is what I felt there…
One other thing: as one of my supporters, if you haven’t received your special postcard (fronted with the Old, Big medicine wheel) by traditional mail, please ping me!