The River System

RiverSystemTeaserI’m in the midst of a year-long project to create 17, one minute-long video poems from poet Catherine Owen’s rich and elliptical work The River System for Vancouver Review Media. If Italo Calvino had been female, from the west coast of BC, a bass player in a doom metal band, and had been thinking of the Fraser River instead of Venice while writing Invisible Cities, it might provide some sense of where this project is going. Always and never about the actual place. Many of the imaginary channels are internal. Unseen. Perhaps unrecognized.

We are improvising this as time allows. We both have many streams of work occupying our days and affecting our schedules. The seasons change. The river changes … and we change as we go. A perfectly imperfect way to proceed.

This image was taken through the lens while filming Catherine afloat in the river. It is now the main still for use on social media for advertising the series. The poems will be released piece by piece at irregular intervals in the months ahead on the Vancouver Review Media site. It’s hard to categorize this image for the purpose of the blog but that’s true to the nature of the project.

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Imprints and Firmaments


This past June, Berlin-based pianist Julia Hülsmann brought her trio to Ironworks as part of the always-excellent Jazz Festival line up. She’s released several discs on the venerable Munich-based ECM label. Several of these recordings have recently become favourites of mine and sit well in the current purple patch the label is enjoying. Her 2011 Imprint CD was the first I’d come across. I was immediately struck by the cover’s similarity to an image of mine from the same year. While merely a coincidence, it did compel me to seek out a copy because up until that point I’d thought I’d had enough ECM piano trio recordings to last a lifetime!


ECM has been the home of most of my favourite piano trios: Stefano Bollani, Marylin Crispell, Marcin Wasilewski, Paul Bley, John Taylor, Bobo Stenson and on an on. It was a format I found I couldn’t get enough of seeing as it came to represent a kind of equivalent to the classical string quartet for me; the proving format for displaying the character and strength of a piece, where each voice is essential to the whole and very exposed. In a live setting, both configurations are very exciting when the music and performers both alight!

I like the more joyous and romantic players as well as those whose approach is more elliptical and darkly shaded. Julia Hülsmann falls somewhere in between. She’s as likely to suspend a melody and take a more lean and percussive approach as present exquisite covers of popular tunes by the likes of Seal and Feist. Two recent recordings add trumpet/flugelhorn player Tom Arthurs to the mix (In Full View) and the latest, A Clear Midnight, adds Theo Bleckmann to the new quartet to perform Kurt Weill’s songs of America.

At Ironworks she kept her set focused largely on the two trio recordings, Imprint and End of a Summer. With Robert Landfermann subbing for regular bassist/husband Marc Muellbauer (who remained back in Berlin on family duty), the spotlight fell primarily to Julia and percussionist Heinrich Köbberling for some wonderfully restrained soloing. I say percussionist rather than drummer because his touch with the (very spare) kit was frequently a deft, hands-on affair. Brilliant! The atmosphere was perfect overall and the audience connection was palpable. And while Europe may regularly see these players in larger halls, Ironworks continues to prove its mettle as a versatile and ideally intimate venue.

Additionally, she took time to tell the curious story of Jutta Hipp, a German jazz pianist who managed to escape the circumstances of a chaotic post-war existence to release several recordings on Blue Note in the 50s. She suddenly stopped performing at the height of her powers and finished her working life at a clothing manufacturing company. Her story is worth looking up and there are some academics and historians well on the case.

Hülsmann is a welcome addition to the ECM firmament and, for me, is going to be a perennial favourite in an already substantial and distinguished field.

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The Catalyst

HowardJangFinalsqTxtHere’s an easy one. Portrait. AQ Magazine’s final print edition. Subject: Howard Jang. Bright yellow ladder in the dance studio and a fortuitous collision of existing light and floor markings.

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DEADBEATPOSTERScott Monteith is a Canadian dub/techno producer who goes by the name of Deadbeat. I first came across his music some 10 years ago via a superb series of releases on the German scape label. Particularly notable was New World Observer from 2005. This was a steamy, sensuous, hard hitting and melodic blend of beats and twists I hadn’t expected from the genre. In fact, I’m still hard-pressed to assign his music to a genre. I’ve seen him live a few times and am always impressed with his way with a groove. Virtually everything he’s done since is worth checking out if you have any interest in hybrid dub/techno forms.

Scott’s now based in Berlin and while his visits home are few, I recently caught a listing for an April gig at the Fox. I looked through my files and found a shot I’d done at a gig that was staged in the parking lot of the late, lamented Waldorf Hotel a few years ago. I must say that the event was a bit of a shambles from the venue’s production side, but Scott ended up coming through with bells on and managed to pack the dance…um…area.

So with this April gig I thought I’d make up a poster using a shot from that parking lot gig and keeping it clean and simple…and readable. It will be circulated via social media but I used the standard 11 x 17 poster dimensions.

I’m glad the show will be indoors this time! And if you have the chance to see Scott live, take it!

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Full Circle: Marsen Jules at GRM

Many years ago, before becoming a photographer, I produced and shot videos and films for gallery exhibition and television. With the recent upheavals in technology and in the markets for both photographic and video work, I find myself happily coming full circle and able to once again explore the many facets of video production.

I am very fond of the music of German composer Marsen Jules and last year, in an exemplary “new economy” deal we agreed to swap some music licensing (his music forms the astonishing mood in my Crossing the River video for VR Media) for the creation of a new music video. The result is this 6 minute piece embedded above. It took awhile to find the right project but the Marsen Jules at GRM CD arrived last fall and I knew I had it. A set of images I’d been toying with for a couple of years would form the basis of this video which is essentially a many-layered slide dissolve.

As this project evolved I was exposed to many artists’ work which may or may not have influenced the process: photographer Jessica Eaton’s endlessly seductive constructions of colour, light and form, painter Rebecca Chaperon’s recent embrace of voids (as well as her recent colour palette), Doug Coupland’s geometric abstractions based on classic paintings by Canada’s “Group of Seven” and Emily Carr, artist Peter Combe’s incredible “paintings” made with commercial paint chip samples, Kandinsky’s synesthesia-concerned paintings (again with intersecting geometric forms) and Matisse’s late period cut outs/assemblages. I’m sure there are others. It all happily remains a blur.

The challenge for me was the inclusion of geometric forms and the shifts in colour palettes. I generally dislike simple geometric forms in art and I have only an intuitive grasp of colour theory. I also wanted there to be room for happy accidents and a quick, gestural approach in the editing process. This meant creating masks quickly and combining and shifting layers on my editing timeline without a formal structure in mind.

As always, I prefer music to guide my process.






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The Deep Time Project

DeepTimeProjectV2Sometimes a first meeting will drop a project right into your lap. So it was with meeting composer Jordan Nobles to discuss some possible video projects with his Redshift Music Society. At the legendary “Pro Shop” (aka JJ Bean Coffee on Commercial Drive) Jordan and I began a wide ranging, exploratory talk to see how we might work together in future. I’d done portraits, CD and poster design for Redshift label-mate Adrian Verdejo which eventually culminated in a 15 minute video for VR Media. I had no doubt we’d find something to work on together!

“I have a project coming up and I need a poster for The Roundhouse. Can you do it?” Well, yes. Still in the formative stage, he knew it would involve a lot of percussion and loads of harmonics. Other than that, it was pretty up in the air. Did I have any suitable imagery? Yes, always … though it may not be what you’d expect. In this case I used a combination of cross-processed images of oxidized nail head close-ups (used in another context/view for David Berezan’s 2008 CD “La Face Cachée”) and a heavily treated view of an old golden timepiece of some sort which I’d shot at the Vatican Museum in Rome in 2011. I prefer the evocative rather than the literal for these kind of projects. I’m trusting this fits the bill.

Here’s the cover of “La Face Cachée” featuring a distinctly different view of the nails.

David Berezan "La Face Cachée"

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Owner of an Open Heart



One winter night some years ago, I was driving home with friends after a performance of a Shostakovich string quartet at the Vancouver Playhouse. It was powerful and draining in the way live chamber music, at its best, can be. The ride home was quiet, save for The Signal (with Laurie Brown) on CBC turned low. We were driving west, along Hastings Street. Always with an ear out, I could hear faint strains of a harpsichord accompanied by a clear and vaguely mournful female voice. Absolutely captivating. I turned it up and drew attention to it. We listened for awhile. I recall saying something like: “What a fantastic piece of music … but what is with these ridiculous lyrics?” Normally, after being treated to some fiercely performed Shostakovich, anything remotely popular sounds pretty meek by comparison. But not this. It was elegant and powerful. And right out of left field.



That was my introduction to Susanna and the Magical Orchestra’s cover of AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (if you wanna Rock n’ Roll). It was one of the highlights of her 2006 album Melody Mountain on Norway’s Rune Grammofon label. I promptly went out and bought everything else she’d done. Susanna Wallumrød is a fine songwriter in her own right but her covers are especially notable for their range and ice clear conviction. A random example? Her version of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak:



When I saw a live, unvarnished video clip of Susanna and Will Oldham doing Without You (popularized in the 1970s by both Harry Nilsson and Heart) there was some detectable laughter from the audience at first. It seemed odd, as though the audience might initially have thought the song too maudlin. But again, it seems just right in their hands.



Many other cover choices she’s made (songs by Tom Petty, Abba etc.) seem incongruous at first. But after warming to, say, her version of Black Sabbath’s Changes I realized she had somehow elevated many songs (and artists) for me. Musical snobbery was common when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. You may have liked some cheesy rock/pop growing up but you never appreciated those songs on the same level as those by whatever “serious” songwriters or groups you appreciated that were accepted in critical circles. But growing up means being open to the hearts of others and challenging prejudices. Great songs are great songs regardless of genre. And of course, Susanna has done a fantastic version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene!

Born in 1979, Susanna has a positive and all-embracing view. “Maybe my age allows me to look at the history of popular music in a different way. I try to free myself from what the groups/bands and original versions of the songs represent, otherwise it would be hard to make a new version.”

One consistent element in both her original songs and her choice of covers is the feeling of impossible beauty and impossible loves that are fraught, subverted and menaced. But then, really, what great songs don’t involve those things? For example, her version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart stands next the the original on equal terms. And that is an achievement!

Susanna has also tackled several Leonard Cohen classics including the ubiquitous Hallelujah and, more recently, Who by Fire? As I learned in 1996 while working there, Leonard Cohen still enjoys a great deal of popularity in Norway so I was curious about some sympatico connection between our two nations besides a familiarity with winter cold. “I didn’t actually know that he is from Canada when I started listening to him, but it feels like there is some kind of kinship between the countries, yes. Sometimes I think it’s hard to pinpoint how much origin has to do with someone’s creativity – but you are certainly lucky to have Joni, Neil Young and Cohen. And Feist too, of the younger generation. And Arcade Fire. AND Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Many more I am sure.”

During her June, 2014 Jazz Festival set at the Iron Works here in Vancouver, she said Love Will Tear Us Apart and Who By Fire? are her two favourite songs. “They are not my only favourites. They are two of many. That said, these two are very special to me. The lyrics feel like they have existed forever. From the first time I heard the songs and read the lyrics, they made a huge impression on me. Like it’s supposed to be.”

On what draws her to a particular song to cover she is clear in the need for a kind of ownership. “Oh, that can be so many different things. But probably a wish or curiosity about if I can transform the song to be mine somehow. That can happen right away when I hear a song, or maybe many years later.”

Surely there must be an ideal or hoped-for collaborator? “I’m not sure who that is right now. It has a tendency to just happen. Will Oldham, Emmett Kelly, Jenny Hval, Stian Westerhus, John Paul Jones, Jessica Sligter and Ensemble neoN are some of the people I have worked with over the years. And as I have done nine out of ten of my albums and a lot of touring with (husband, renowned producer and occasional member of Supersilent) Helge Sten (aka Deathprod), I must like it! :-) I hope I will be able to continue making and playing my music. It feels like a very uncertain way of living sometimes, but it’s still the best thing I can do here on earth I think.”

And while we are still on earth, do explore Susanna’s work here:


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Modern Hearts

Modern Hearts

Coming soon on the Redshift label is a new release of music composed for electric guitar by one of Vancouver’s finest interpreters of contemporary guitar music. For me, the highlights of this new recording include Septet, by James Tenney, and Nebula by Jordan Nobles.

During an average year Adrian not only performs superlative versions of minimalist classics by the likes of Steve Reich et al, but he tackles more extreme…and more delicate pieces with equal flair. He plays some wicked flamenco as well! Keep an eye out for Adrian in an upcoming video production for Vancouver Review Media.

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Northern Light


Having cut my teeth in a market where the generalists are the survivors, I’ve enjoyed doing a wide variety of photographic work. Vancouver doesn’t forgive a high level of specialization when you’re a photographer. You’ve got to genuinely love a lot of different kinds of work, and be equally comfortable in every role. And besides, it suits my nature. So it was a treat to return to corporate editorial photography recently with a portrait of RBC Global Assets CEO John Montalbano for the Sauder alum magazine Viewpoints which, a long time ago, I worked on with Marian Bantjes. Now it’s in the very capable hands of Jennifer Wah and Brandon Brind. It’s great to continue the association.

The first is the image that ran. The second is an outtake from the session. Sometimes a pause in the proceedings yields a nice moody portrait. It was done during our recent fog spell where the light was brutally low. We were in a north-facing office tower near the convention centre which didn’t help. But John is a photographer as well and was patient, interested and open to the improvisation required when your time is whittled down to 10 shooting minutes and the light has gone.

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New Fall Sounds

Allusions Sonores

Allusions Sonores

New from Jean-François Denis’ Montreal-based empreintes DIGITALes label is this gem from UK-based, Alberta expat composer David Berezan. Allusions Sonores explores the soundworlds of Alberta’s Badlands, utilizes field recordings from Bali, and delves into audible life of Sea Buoys among other things. The cover image is from my series of “Petro Blossoms”, images of gasoline leaks on wet road surfaces.

Fourth Landscape

Fourth Landscape

And from Russ Summers’ Texas-based NuScope label is Fourth Landscape featuring Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser, pianist Benoît Delbecq and percussionist Gerry Hemmingway. The image is one of a series of wakes I have photographed from area bridges.

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