Opera of the Unspoken: the creative process

Perhaps it is logical that after spending some time singing my dreams I find myself carried along by complex ancestral stories. And what is the next logical step when that happens? Over the past year I have been researching different ways to deal with this kind of magical material and how it has been an integral part of musical expression in both the East and the West for centuries.

I also delved into the study of experimental composing and how oracles have been used in making music and developing scores. These are the things that fascinate me. I know these ideas have been overlapping in my work since the beginning but the idea that I could balance them and create using these cornerstones as my foundation has been liberating.

And so I have composed a score entitled Opera of the Unspoken, as a means to use a series of time tested steps to free ancestral stories for musical expression and also to promote the healing of ancestral trauma. I brought my score to Reg’s studio in Toronto recently and we began recording various parts of the whole.

Heather, me, Maureen

And I invited two talented singers, Maureen Kennedy and Heather Morgan, to join us. They have been my great friends for ages. Maureen and I sang Cecil Taylor’s shamanic poetry with him in Banff back in the day, performed poetry together along Queen St. in the 1980s, and share a love of classic jazz vocal music. I have known Heather since our days together in alternative high school and have been waiting for a chance to sing with her ever since. Together the three of us explored the Celtic tradition of keening, vocal mourning music, something their own ancestors no doubt knew something about. We’ve all had our share of losses, particularly during the pandemic, so the depths of sorrow we dipped into were deep.

But while this is certainly sad music it is also rejuvenating. I developed a piece with Heather and Maureen using ancestral tarot, a creative process that proves rapid and insightful, and we performed it with Reg and Michel.

There is still much work to be done before I present the music here. I am working on new ways for me to layer songs using voice and digital tools. And the ancestral stories continue coming to light in new and unusual ways too, adding layers of nuance to already complicated stories of war and the chaos that ensues. I feel as though I am collaborating with energies on many levels at once.

Michel and Stravinsky keep an eye on me in Reg’s studio

And in the meantime there is work to be done on Michel’s exceptional project, Ars Transmutatoria, with recordings in Europe and with its beautiful handmade boxed set. And our talented sons are hard at work developing their own music label. Their first releases on their Friday Night Inn label are available at Bandcamp, Spotify and Apple Music and they have many more recordings coming soon.

JJ and Theo at FinnVox in Helsinki

Update: we’re back! What a whirlwind of creativity and inspiration that was! We have loads of exciting music from our recording sessions in Helsinki and Rome and I’m especially pleased that our sons, van garden and beamer!, aka JJ and Theo, were there to include their poetic contributions, shifting their focus from abstract hiphop to free jazz for a moment.

And now I am settling into post-production of all that music and the Opera sessions. It is remarkable how cinematic and meaningful the stories we pulled out of our ancestral tarot are. This iteration of the score is entitled Island of Unrest and I am mixing and mastering the recording over the next little while. It is out now and you can find out more here.

I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for the research and development of this project. #bringingtheartstolife