I am thrilled to be invited to co-curate the GAS Festival during this anniversary year. In particular I look forward to working with this edition’s themes of spaces and places, which should be highly resonant to any Canadian artist or arts administrator.
Canada, not unlike Sweden, is identified around the world as a land of wide-open spaces and unspoiled, majestic nature. This is a stereotype, of course, and the tension between nature in the Canadian imagination and what has been wrought upon it over the last few centuries has inspired powerful works of art.
Nature is a construct. What in Canada is often termed “wilderness” is a concept rejected by Indigenous peoples. For millennia, rivers, lakes portages and trails enabled vast trading networks throughout North America. This is no wilderness; it is home. In pre-European colonization times, “the bush” was much more heavily populated than now. Ownership of land and private property are Western concepts: what is more important to Indigenous peoples is stewardship of land, prescribing shared rights to hunt, fish and cultivate land with mutual responsibilities not to spoil these grounds. Toronto is bound by the “Dish with One Spoon” covenant between Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee nations, whose imagery vividly depicts shared accountabilities of all nations to take care of the lands around the Great Lakes.
Canadian art has valorized both the fetishization and subjugation of nature, from the Group of Seven’s proto-psychedelic tableaux of forests and ice, to Rush’s “Subdivisions” classic dissection of suburbia. This tension in how we represent natural spaces influences R. Murray Schafer’s ideas about acoustic ecology and soundscapes which became critical to the study of “New Music” in the 20th century. Hildegard Westerkamp furthered these ideas with soundwalks, in urban environments – a no less culturally rich terrain than forests and plains.
Urbanity defines Canada more than ever. Along with their inevitably destructive impact on the land, cities also bring people together. As a young country which some 50 years ago started to espouse multiculturalism to move beyond British-and-French-centric post-colonial identities, we have struggled and sometimes succeeded in finding new ways to relate to one another in our concrete jungles. A great deal of contemporary Canadian art questions how this all shakes out. What does social justice mean in cities and on the land? Can we move beyond traditional images of Canada in this 21st century? How can Indigenous people, teachings and art reclaim their rightful place as both the foundation and future of Canada? How do non-Indigenous people come to terms with this?
The artists coming to GAS represent a vivid cross-section of experimental music in Canada today in drawing on their perceptions of nature and urbanity. They make music in conventional and unconventional ways, both embracing and transforming tradition. They explore found objects, field recordings, electronics, site-specific strategies and most of all improvising. The pluralism that contemporary Canadian culture demands is reflected in how they make music – with deep listening and generous responsiveness – that underpins meaningful communication among people and with the natural world that sustains us.
David Dacks 2020
Since 2011, Dag is one of three the co-owners of Gothenburg based production company Producentbyrån. Producentbyrån is a team of producers and project managers working with various artists, companies, festivals, conferences and projects in performing arts, both in Sweden and internationally. Dag has a background as a sound technician and also works as a composer and musician for separate works, film and performing arts productions. Dag works with the GAS-Festival’s communication and graphic design.