north shore – week three

Alright. Week three. Here we go.

I write to you from the Pic Island Overlook, which is about four and a half kilometres up from the Neys campground, somewhere on the Coldwell Peninsula. They say it’s one of the spots where Lawren Harris (among others) made sketches for his famous artwork of Pic Island. You know the one, right?

The view is stunning, and almost a little unsettling. It looks out over Pic Island, but there’s nothing behind it. Just open water. On your left, and on your right, occupying your entire field of view, it’s open water on three sides all the way to the horizon, which is panoramically stretched all around in front of you. The only object is the island. The painting, with the water surface curving downwards as though the island were perched on a large globe, seems hardly an exaggeration. It really is like looking at an ocean. I’ve always known this of course, but the view from here – borderless, infinite, more than any other I’ve had yet so far – really drives it in.

This lake is huge.

You take one look at the view and think, well, no wonder artists loved this spot.

I’d be lying if I said that the Pic Island painting and others like it weren’t a bit of inspiration for this project; the parallels with the Group of Seven’s work on the north shore more than occurred to me when I was planning the project. The north shore was inspiration to them, and it is to me as well, and I’m travelling this shoreline looking for material to work into my art, just as they did. I didn’t want to research exact painting locations too hard – this project isn’t about retracing anybody steps – but it’s really satisfying to think that this is in some way intersecting with the path of other artists before my time.

I finished a song this morning that I’m quite happy with. There was an emotion I wanted to capture, one that I was going to explain at length in my first draft for this post, but I’ve since scrapped the paragraph because no matter how I write it, it sounds silly and doesn’t get the idea across. And that’s okay, ‘cause if I could explain it in words, I guess I wouldn’t really need the song, now would I? It’s a melodically and rhythmically simple piece, with a pretty simple functional harmony. It’s characterized by sequences of suspensions and minor seconds in the bass, and neat chord shapes I’ve found this month through trial and error, many of which I’ve never encountered before – neither in my own work nor in anyone else’s. It sounds like something well within my personal style, but different from anything I’ve written before. That’s sort of the point here, no?

The other song I finished this week is inspired by a nightmare I once had while camping on the north shore. I was maybe, I don’t know, four years old? I was absolutely convinced I was going to die because the pattern on my cot looked like train tracks, and the train was going to run me over. If you’ve ever camped at Neys, you know the train at night is loud and sounds like it’s right on top of you when it comes around the cliff edge. There’s some weird acoustic phenomenon going on there that I don’t understand. I still remember the actual nightmare as vividly as if it were something that had happened to me today. It’s like that bit in Inception, except instead of Leo reciting some odd bit of poetry, it’s a kid in a tent who thinks the wall is a portal to a train-inhabited Narnia or whatever. Did I lose you there?

So anyway, I originally – for some reason – wanted to write a song that would be straight-up terrifying. Then I realized I didn’t know how to do that, and didn’t know whether I even really wanted to do that at all, so instead I settled on what I did write, which I ended up liking way more than the original plan. In my notebook I seem to have scribbled the phrase Siguiriya: Dyens’ Fuoco meets Gabriel’s Excellent Birds. If you can figure out what that means, it actually nails the angle I was going for.

And now for your “nothing to do with music” bit of the week: Books! I feel like these posts are about things I’m excited about doing on my weird project. Reading happens to be one of them.

I used to read a lot of books about my job (music business, music theory, engineering, acoustics, how to be a guitarist and not have your hands and spine crap out on you when you turn 40, you know, the good stuff) and completely fell out of the habit of reading for fun. But reading has become my default (read: only) activity this summer that isn’t directly related to the project. I read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series a couple years ago and absolutely loved it (it shot straight to the top of my “favourite things I’ve ever read” list) and so I brought a stack of Neil Gaiman novels with me on the trip. So far I’ve finished Neverwhere and Good Omens (yes, I know there’s a TV series imminent starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen and other such awesome people and yes, I am very excited about it) and am about halfway through American Gods (yes, I know there’s a TV series out, no, I have not watched it, no, I’m not reading it to feel superior to people who just watched the TV series but yes, I will probably feel that way anyway). Two of my friends have, separately, informed me that Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series should be next on my list. Like I said, no particular reason for me to tell you this, except that much like with music, I get a real kick out of telling people about arts and media I love in the hope they’ll pick up a copy and come to love it themselves.

So, that’s it for now. I have some other cool stuff I could talk about, but I think I’ll pace myself and save some for next week.


Below: 1. The rock at Prisoner’s Cove – the exact spot I sat when I recorded my Neys Day video two years ago, sparking the idea for this project. 2. Silver lining. 3. Rainy day, good for recording ambience. 4. Golden Hour at Prisoner’s Cove. 5. The Pic Island Overlook, where I wrote this entry.