Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Creative Classroom

I was very privileged to work with a class at Laura Secord Elementary. The teacher and the students wowed me with their creative spirit and eagerness to engage with the world around them.

And whenever you meet wonderful and interesting people you learn new things. I was very intrigued by this system of using body signs with vowels.

Here is a poster illustrating the different ways that French and English speakers phonetically mimic the sounds of animals and birds. Les hiboux huhulent!

 Le vocabulaire!

This poster is so sweet. I think it should be a banner in the House of Commons! Order in the House! Whole Body Listening! WBL!

 Here's a fantastic craft project for The Year of the Snake.

As I was doing my research I found that Canadian poet Paul Dutton has done a sound poem called Murmur. So I commissioned the students to create their own homage to Monsieur Dutton and they came up with some great stuff. I see you can even download the Murmur poem for your ring tone on you cell phone. That is hilarious! I am looking forward to further adventures with this creative group.

 As I was walking around the neighbordhood I noticed a house that had beehives insulated and well protected from any vermin that might try to access the hives in the winter.

The garage had a bat box as well.  This is what a green city looks like!

On Pink Shirt Day, as we celebrate human difference and diversity it's also wonderful to celebrate biodiversity as well. Vive le difference!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Robin Ripley: Book Bytes

I am very excited about the talented Ms. Ripley's show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre!

Florescence (Detail) by Robin Ripley

Reflections on the book
February 19 – March 16 2013

(Vancouver East Cultural Centre)

1895 Venables Street
Monday – Friday 12 - 6 Saturday 12 - 4 (ring doorbell for gallery access)

OPENING Wed. February 20 6 - 8 pm

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Rain Gatherers

 Here's the information on the Second Site show that includes my project the Starling Cloud Choir. I feel so excited to be working among these talented artists. As I write this the rain is pouring down in sheets and so I must remind you our events will happen RAIN or SHINE and will be MORE interesting in the rain. So get some good rain gear sorted and take solace in the fact that their is a lovely heated room at the garden where you can warm up with hot tea.

 "The Rain Gatherers" - In March and April of 2013, Second Site will
work with rain collecting, "rain power" and rain sensors at the Dr.
Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Join us for Workshops + Lab
Sessions (March 9, 10, 12, 13, 14), an Exhibition opening and birdsong
performance (March 16), and a Tour + Artist Talk + Ideas Session
(March 23).

The show will feature work by Diana Burgoyne, Don Chow, Peter
Courtemanche, Robin Ripley, Matt Smith, and Lori Weidenhammer.

Second Site collective is a group of artists (mostly from Vancouver,
Canada) who create and present electronic art (sound, kinetics,
robotics, primal circuitry, sculpture) in public spaces. The
collective is particularly interested in green spaces - parks,
gardens, areas of urban agriculture, beaches, and "urban wilderness".
The art created by Second Site causes the audience to do a "double
take", transforming a familiar space into a "meta-site". A meta-site
is a place where art has created a heightened sensory experience. It
causes a sense of curiosity and enchantment in the viewer. A meta-site
is a place where one hears a set of sounds behind the expected sounds,
where familiar sites are remapped and re-inscribed with artistic

Rain Lab - March 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 (10:30 am to noon + 1 pm to 3:30 pm)
Exhibition Opening - March 16 (at 2 pm, performance at 3 pm)
Tour + Artist Talk + Ideas Session - March 23 (at 1:30 pm) Hosted by
"Group of X"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Crow Hour Score

Be sure to check out the photos of the Twilight Crow Bike Ride organized by The Still Moon Arts Society. I am looking forward to creating an imaginary Crow Hour at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden with this simple score:

Crow Hour

Even the skateboarders stop one by one,
forming a silent audience.
It's crow hour;
the mauve clouds of dusk dispense
an accumulation of birds
we call a murder.

 Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw!

When I point to you, make the sound of a crow.
Start soft, build to loud, then fade to soft as if you are journeying across the sky.


The Great Backyard Bird Count: BC Results

I am very excited about the results of the Great Backyard Bird Count held world wide from Feb 15-18. The BC results give us a snapshot of the birds out and about in our province at this time of the year.

For example:

Red-winged blackbirds: 174
Song sparrow: 86
Trumpeter swans: 570!
California Quail: 70
Pacific Loon: 600
Red-Tailed Hawk: 8
Mourning Dove:30
Barred Owl: 4
Anna's Hummingbird: 30
Pileated woodpecker: 40
American Crow: 80
Black-capped Chickadee: 90
European Starlings: 340

Here's my challenge to you: let's learn to identify all the birds on the BC list and participate in next year's count. In fact, you can count all year if you are keen. Just follow the links. This is an exciting example of how technology is benefiting citizen science.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Starling Cloud Choir: Loons Yodel

This is a draft of how the piece will end. I was inspired by my friend Anakana Schofield's blog post on Jim O' Rourke's composition for the Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra to add the instructions to the choir. How will I present the instructions I wonder? Any suggestions out there? The funny thing is, when I listen to the two compositions on the Beeb they sound like starlings to me!

The Finale: Loons Yodel

[start with whisper rain sounds, soft and gentle under Lori's song]

splish splish
poc, poc

The mist settles in the cedars,

Water drip drops from the tip tops
of branches,

splish splish
pockle pockle

Mice whisper in the grass,

pocka pocka pocka pocka pockapock pocka

The earth contracts
and the moon pulls at the dreams tangled in your hair.

pockity pockity pockit pockity

The fog horn grieves.

Lori sings the fog horn solo: Ahh OOOooooo Gah

Ahhh OOOOOOooooogah

[background sounds drips drops]

pickity pockety pockety
tikita tockita tikita tockita tikita tokita
pocka pocka pock apocka

Loons yodel:
Lori's loon solo: Qui Appelle? Qui Appelle?
coo coo (soft and slow) Koo Koo Ullie Koo Koo Ullie (Koo Koo Oo LEE)

[Rain sounds slow and we enter the songs of the frogs and the green heron.]
plipplip plip

Plip plop,
tic toc,
drip, drop,
oon ka lunk [choir makes green heron sounds]

Harmonics slide down to gunk [choir makes frog sounds]

[Segue way into sinister evening--spooky rain sounds inspired by Agatha Christie's Poirot]

spish! Spish!
mortimer. . . mortimer. . .
plickety plockety plockety
trippa troppa trippa troppa
oo ooo oo oooo

Knock knock knock Knock knock [knock on chest]

Who're You? Who who who are you?

[choir improvises screeches of night creatures]

Instruction: (use our body or what ever you have in your pockets as a percussion instrument--find your own rhythm and improvise!)

Night Scene

Who Cooks for you? [We ask each other]

Mamamamammama mamma mia!

Who cooks for you?

Papapapapapa pappageno!

Who cooks for you?

Ma big big big babba!

Lori's Comedic Turn-No really, who does cook for you--your motha? Poisonally I prefer a raw diet: etc.

Knock knock who's there?
It's me woody.
Woody who
Woody you like to go out wit me? Nnanananananana!

[Lori leads a woody woodypecker call and response]

Instruction: The choir take turns doing their own knock knock jokes.

Knock knock
Who's there?
Who's there?
[orange... etc.]

Nocturnal Who? Nocturnal Knocker Knocking

[End with this:]

oooo oo? ooo ooo


You awake? Me tooooo. [very yawny]
You asleep?
Mee toooo.

Me toooooooooo.

Me tooo

Tea Party Score

 I'm having great fun creating this score. Here's how the tea party is looking so far. I've put the bird connected to the mnemonic phrases in square brackets. I'm looking forward to adding some visual elements to the score.

Part 3: The Tea Party

The builder sits
on the edge of a cinder block fence
tea drops into a thermos
full of sweet, hot chai

hummingbirds kvetch
at the witchhazel bush
sweet box blossoms make me swoon
it's time to drink sweet tea with you

Phoebe, come to tea! [black capped chickadee] Come on you all, come to tea!

Polly put the kettle on, the kettle on the kettle on
Polly put the kettle on, we'll all have tea [first half time, then speed up later]

Won't you be the sugar in ma tea?--A- B flat

[scat and improvisational section everyone else is the rhythm section using these bird songs]

tweedle dum, tweedle dee tweedle dum tweedle dee deeee [American Robin]

Sweet sweet sweet, I'm so sweet! [yellow warbler]
Sweet sweet sweet, you're so sweet!
sweet sweet sweet, sweeter than sweet!

Conkaree--drink your tea conka ree ya! [red-winged black bird] Drink your tea Pheobe, Phoebe. . . Drink your tea Phoebe!

Show us how you drink your tea! [An invitation to others to sing solos on how they like their tea. Give them encouragement!]

C'mon ladies!

Boys boys, how do you like your tea?

Cheeriup, cheerily, [American robin] ladies, ladies, drink your tea.

Pure sweet canaDA canaDA CanadDA [White throated sparrow] how do you like your tea?

Me--I like sweet Canadian tea with maple syrup! No milk no for me--straight up yesiree.

Madge, how do you like your tea?

Madge madge, pick beetles off, the water's hot hot hot! [song sparrow]

No no that's not how I like my tea! I don't WANT beetles in my tea--I'm a fruitarian.

Suki take it off again, Suki take it off again, Suki take it off again,
we'll all go away.

we'll all go away
we'll all go away
we'll all go away

[decresc. to a whisper]

[followed by Crow Hour]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bird Song Review

 Here's a review of the bird songs I am currently studying as source material for the Starling Cloud Choir. I'm in love with the call of the loon right now. Have a listen on these links on the wonderful online Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

*Rufous Hummingbird: calls zeeeee-chuppity-chuppity chup (then the wings go zzzzzzz)
bzeet, bzeet bzeet chup chup, bzeet chuppity chuppity chup
zeet zeet chook chook chook, chookity chookity chook

*Black-capped Chickadee: call: chik-a-dee-dee-dee
song: feee bee-bee or feee beeyee, P. Diddy
fee bee, come to me

*White-Throated Sparrow: "poor Sam Pea'body, Pea'body, Pea'body"
"Pure sweet Canada Canada Canada"
whistle: (slow, sustained)Oh sweet old (triplets) CanaDA CanaDA CanaDA (first two notes are higher)

Song Sparrow
Note: song depends on your region and there are many forms and subspecies of song sparrows
Hip; hip; hip hurrah boys; spring is here!
Madge; Madge; Madge pick beetles off; the water's hot
sweet sweet sweet n'zreee sugarrrr it it it
sweet sweet sweet as MEEEEE put some sugar on it

*Bewick's Wren
like Song Sparrow; but thinner; more rapid
BEWR often sings "1-2-3 drink your tea-ea-ea" or "jzzzeeet drink your tea-ea-ea".
calls: plink, plink, skerrr

*Olive-sided Flycatcher: Quick, THREE beers, quick quick quick, quick quick
call: pip

*Yellow Warbler:"sweet sweet sweet, I'm so sweet"
Highly variable song. Often three part, "sweet sweet little more sweet" or “sweet sweet I’m so very sweet”
Has an urgent, quick quality. Also, "sweet, sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet!”.

*Red-winged Blackbird
chortle-deeeeee (hp and drawn-out last syllable)
coy-la-reeee, tseer tseer, over heeere, cappucheeeno

*Spotted Towhee: drink your teeee!; wack! wack!  

*American Robin: cheerup, cheerily, cheerily
cheer-up; cheer-a-lee; cheer-ee-o
tweedledum tweedledee, tweedledum, tweedle dee dee
cheery cheerio cheerup
allarm call: yeep yeep chuck chuck chuck chuk yeep yeep eep!
whinny: quick-wik wikwikwikwik or hee he he he he (decending)

*Northern Flicker: Wicka, wicka, wicka
Northern Flicker (courting): squeechu-squeechu-squeechu

*European Starling: wolf-whistle (breathy), rattles, whirrs Whistle. Pop. Whirrrr. Zzzt.
kizzik--like a washboard
rack rack rack zeep!
Weee errr (rising, then falling)
they also imitate red-tailed hawks, killdeer, cowbirds, jays, etc.

 *Mourning Dove: hooo-ah hoo-hoo-hoo; chirry-chirry-chirry-choreeo
song or perch-coo: oh WOOO-oo-oo-oo
male also does a nest call:  oooo-woooo-ah (from low to high to low and owl-like)
hooLa hoop hoop hoop

*American Crow: caw-caw-caw-caw-koodle-yah; koodle-yah (trilly voice)

Mallard: quack quack quack

*Red-tailed Hawk: Keeeeeer

*Pacific Loon: coo coo (soft and slow) Koo Koo Ullie Koo Koo Ullie (Koo Koo Oo LEE) kwa-wee! Haw, kloo-eee!
yoodle oodle ooo
awww awwww, coocoolooLEE coocoolooLEE,
(described as a yodel)

*Raven: cruk (harsh, raspy); tawk (metallic) quark quark quark

*Barred Owl: Who cooks for you, who cooks for you'all

*Great Horned Owl: Are you awake? me too; scree, scree

*Trumpeter Swan: sound of wings-swish; truggle, truggle

Canada Goose: honk; honk; honk 

California quail (CAQU)
 "Chi - ca - go!"

American Bittern: Oonk-a-lunk
oong ka choonk


Bird Song: Identification Made Easy by Ernie Jardine

The Unabashed Guide to Selected Oregon and Washington Bird Songs and Calls
(References to “eastside” and “westside” refer to east and west of the Cascade crest)
Compiled by Kelly A. Bettinger with input from many fellow birders 
This is a work in progress, please contact me with any additions or suggestions!! 
e-mail:, May 2004 version

The Music of Wild Birdsong  F Schuyler Mathews

Monday, February 18, 2013

Starlings and the Shakespeare Connection

European starlings were introduced to North America in New York. The American Acclimatization Society(!?) decided all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare should live here. After 125 birds were introduced in 1890-91, they became what is now an invasive or borderline invasive species. A relative of the starling, the Crested Myna was brought to Vancouver by early Chinese migrant workers. At one time, people worried they would grow to troublesome numbers, but apparently the starlings took advantage of the skittish parenting skills of the mynahs and had the habit of taking over their nests.
I have just finished the book (The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik) that inspired the movie The Big Year, and the author describes the main character huddling under an underpass in Vancouver looking for the Crested Myna. Sure enough, there's still at least a couple around! Or there was. According to the Birding in British Columbia website "The last two Crested Mynas in Vancouver, BC are thought to have died mid February 2003 marking the end of an era."
And now back to Shakespeare--Here's a paragraph from an article in Scientific American by Steve Mirsky about the Shakespeare's reference to starlings:

The other starting point lies much deeper in the mists of time. In the late 1590s Shakespeare noted the mimicking ability of the starling while writing Henry IV, Part 1. Hotspur is contemplating driving King Henry nuts by having a starling repeat the name of Hotspur’s brother-in-law Mortimer, whom Henry refuses to ransom out of prisoner status. “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ ” Hotspur whines. (In theater and life, in-laws can often be counted on for dramatic conflict.) Whirrrr.

So if you hear the name "Mortimer"  repeated incessantly throughout my Starling Cloud Choir musical score--now you know why!

The Starling Cloud Choir

 The Starling Cloud Choir Project is less than one month away.  Please save the dates! If you can't come to all the workshops, you can drop in to at least one and then join in the performance. 
If you are new to my blog, then WELCOME! Make yourself at home, sit awhile and check out the eclectic posts, OR search the ones connected to the The Starling Cloud Choir which charts the creation process. Here's the factual info on the project:
 The Starling Cloud Choir with Lori Weidenhammer is a family-friendly workshop series and performance where you will use your voice to sing and make sound poetry in a piece inspired by rain and birdsong. Bring your family and friends! No experience necessary. (Presented as part of The Rain Gatherers site-specific art installation by Second Site:

@The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall Street
Workshop 1: Saturday March 9, 2 to 3:30 pm
Workshop 2: Sunday March 10, 2 to 3:30 pm

Drop in RAIN Lab: Tues March 12, 1:30 to 3 pm
Record your bird and rain sounds with
DJ Don Chow:

Performance: Saturday March 16 at 3 pm (performers please arrive at 2:30 pm to warm up)

Cost to participate: *FREE IF YOU REGISTER by sending Lori an e-mail at beespeaker(at)gmail(dot)com or sign in at the door.

For more information, follow along the creative process on Lori Weidenhammer's blog: Lori Weidenhammer is a performance-based artist who likes to collaborate with birds, bees, and humans.

If you can't join us for the workshops, please come to the opening and check out
The Rain Gatherers art installations by Second Site artists
Robin Ripley, Peter Courtemanche, Diana Burgoyne and Matt Smith.

The choir will be performing at 3 pm and the audience will be invited to participate!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Conducting the Starling Cloud Choir

 A friend has recently given me some yoga nidra recordings which are great for relaxation. As part of the yoga nidra you are asked to think of an intention and plant the seed of it in your conscious and subconscious mind. My intention at this moment in my life is to "let create energy flow through my life." I want to be in a creative zone, to efficiently use all the energy I have in a given day to be as creative as I can. That's not much to ask is it? Ha!

When you study breathing as a singer, you learn to let the energy of your breath support the sound. You work at trying not to let your body get in the way of allowing the natural breath support to carry the voice. You simply become a resonating conduit for sound.

When someone asked if I was conducting the Starling Cloud Choir, I blanched. I mean I don't think of myself as a conductor. I think of myself more as a facilitator in this case--also traffic director, catalyst, and a moderator. Then I thought about the connotations of the word "conductor".

Here's what Collins dictionary says about the word "conductor":

1. an official on a bus who collects fares, checks tickets, etc.
2. (Music / Classical Music) Also called (esp US) director a person who conducts an orchestra, choir, etc.
3. (Transport / Railways) US and Canadian a railway official in charge of a train
4. (Physics / General Physics) a substance, body, or system that conducts electricity, heat, etc.
5. (Engineering) see lightning conductor

So yes, there is an element of being in charge of a moving vehicle in traffic, the traditional musical definition, but let's look more closely at the scientific definition from the American Heritage Science Dictionary.

A material or an object that conducts heat, electricity, light, or sound. Electrical conductors contain electric charges (usually electrons) that are relatively free to move through the material; a voltage applied across the conductor therefore creates an electric current. Insulators (electrical nonconductors) contain no charges that move when subject to a voltage.

Et voila! The scientific definition of a conductor suits my purpose in a metaphorical way. I will act as a conduit for the creative energy of the choir. That fits! Speaking of energy, the birds are starting to ramp up their mating calls for spring. Have you heard them? We heard a chickadee today that sounded like he'd been taking steroids!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Owl Head for Singers

Okay, so the project I'm working on is called the Starling Cloud Choir, but the bird that really started it all was a Barred Owl at UBC Farm. A birder picked out the subtle call of a Barred Owl and described the song with the mnemonic phrase "Who cooks for you?" Suddenly I could hear it too! This was my first exposure to birding by ear.

 My mom is a good birder. When I phone her she always tells me about the weather in Saskatchewan, the crops (in season), and the birds that have visited the feeders she puts out for them. I am very lucky to have grown up in a flyway and witnessed thousands of geese, sandhill cranes, ducks and swans land in fields nearby as they followed their migration path. I grew up in a hunting/conservation culture, but that's a subject for another time. We also lived by an abandoned farmhouse where a Great Horned Owl often sat in the paneless window, like a grand familiar. I've been lucky to see my share of snowy owls too.

I was fascinated to read Bird Chick's posts on judging a contest for the WORST bird photo. Sometimes bad photos make really good stories! I love the comment made by the woman who couldn't trash the blurry grainy photo of the snowy owl. It's hard to throw out a photo of such an awesome bird. So next thing you know, I'm walking down the street, two blocks from my house and what do I see? A frickin' owl on a roof. I'm thinking "Is that one of those plastic owls they use to scare pigeons?" And then it turned its head. OMG. It was a Barred Owl and it was being dive bombed by turns from a murder of crows in a nearby tree. The crows could not ruffle the feathers of this owl, even if sometimes it literally had to duck to avoid them. Every once in a while it would roll it's head up and around and
hiss.  Did I have my camera with me? NO. Blast it!

It is this easy rolling of the neck that made me think--wouldn't it be nice to have such freedom and mobility in that part of the body. It's important to let go of neck tension when you are singing. You should be using just enough energy to keep your head from falling over. So think "owl neck" and just give yourself the gentle command to let go of any extra tension before you sing.

BTW, I tried my barred owl imitation on the bird and he had absolutely no response!

Reflections on Singing: The Soft Palate

As I watched some seagulls glide in circles in an air current today, I took a moment to stop and look up and take a deep breath. As I felt my soft palate rise and my breath go deep, I thought "Hey, this is good for singing!" Singing is all about biofeedback--learning to open up the body, and create a state of relaxed alertness--fight or flight, but in a good way. And when your voice floats and spins easily on your breath, it is a lot like flying and you, my friend, are the pilot. So take a moment, look up in the sky, take a deep breath through your nose and feel that soft palate prepare for take off! Think of the words "awe" and "awesome"--nice big fat vowels to play with and get ready to fly.

Have a Peaceful Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day! I would like to highlight a project which I think is fantastic, created by an artist named Federico Hewson called The Valentine's Day Peace Project. I think he is subverting this consumer-based tradition in a really satisfying way. He is works with children to create community valentines and he is also working with growers to develop a tulip breed called Valentine Peace.

Inspiring excerpts from the Valentine's Day Peace Project website:

We plan to design and develop new breeds – including a Valentine Peace tulip – wrapped in personal poetry; build and promote community peace poetry gardens; construct bulb funding tools for international peace organisations; and assist emerging Fairtrade including conflict and post-conflict flowers and horticulture.  

"The purpose of activism and art is to make a world in which people are producers of meaning, not just consumers." Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark - The Untold History of People Power

VPP flowers and bulbs will help growers and spread peace on three levels - inner, community and global – creating poetry and art; education and awareness; transformative trade and new symbolism for global community and identity.

"Freedom's flowers are blooming." (US journalist on the Arab Spring)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


And so to continue along the Maccha trail. . . 

We headed to a beautiful little spot called Nourish at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific.

The food is beautiful and tasty and I love their philosophy. From the Nourish website:

Nutritional ingredients increase Physical Performance.
A holistic diet facilitates Emotional Empowerment.
Conscious eating promotes Environmental Respect.
Nourish Yourself From The Inside Out.

To Help People Eat Healthier
Guiding Principles
Create connections through food.
Eat with people you love.
Be Considerate.
Take time to do things well.
Questions yourself every day.
Embrace simple pleasures.
Accept Change.

I had this lovely benny with lots o' delicious kale. And yes, they serve Maccha!

This place is really going to rock in the summer because there's a patio and this is your view:

There's a tiny wonderful gift shop selling these awesome bird feeders made by a staff person at the garden.

There are also locally made skin creams made with natural ingredients.

So you can see that I just want to move in and live in this garden! I see that as of Feb 15, Nourish will be open for dinner. Awesome!

My friend loved her breakfast sausages so much we headed to the red Barn Market to buy some.

We Interrupt Our Programming Schedule for a Hammer Time Out

We performance artists are very dependent on archivists and writers to document the detritus of our work. This month I am very privileged to be able to hand some of that detritus over to a curator that I have great respect and regard for. He's going to write about my work for a book about performance artists in Canada. I thought I'd take the opportunity to post some of the documentation and my reflections here on the blog. I'll call these musings my Hammer Time Outs.

There are photos of my performance pieces scattered all over our home and on my computer. I am terrible at keeping track of the evidence that remains of my past work. I like to make work and then move on. One of the good things about blogging is that it has helped me to create a record of my process, and it is that process that remains most important to me, but I still do like to have some photographs, video, and text of the fixed points along the way.

When I look back at all those photos, I see them as mapping out a journey in the exploration of a female and feminist identity. I started making art in the hot days of identity politics and have continued to explore the nature of identity itself. When I was a teenager, I had a real identity crisis. I became overwhelmed at the choices I had ahead of me and the powerlessness to direct my own destiny. Much of my young performing identity was wrapped up in my life as a singer. Singing came naturally to me and I loved to perform. I have performed as a singer since I was seven years old. What was frustrating about the practice of singing was that it occurred in a very conventional, controlled environment. People told me how and what to sing. Furthermore, I was actually more of a visual person and my interest in the finer points of musical theory waned at a certain point. As a singer, I felt like someone else's puppet singing someone else's song. God, I HATE being told what to do that way! I wanted agency and I wanted to find my own voice, so I studied visual art and theater and I became a feminist performance artist.

I have used my vocal training as a singer and as a physical theater performer in my work all along, however it is more recently that I have a hankering to come back to a more thorough exploration of my singing voice. Now that I have over twenty years of creating performance under my belt, I feel I can come back to singing as a person with her own voice. And with the help of technology which can make sound more visual, I feel I can really get into it! Furthermore, I love to sing and use my voice. I miss singing intensely every day as I did from the ages of 7 to 20.

And so, as I come back to studying voice, I find my voice has changed and aged. I have some new notes at the bottom of my range and I've lost a few at the top, but it's nice to have some deeper, darker notes in the palette. I'm melancholy that my voice has changed and I can no longer memorize songs as easily as I used to. My brain has aged too, not to mention my eyes. (Time for reading glasses, ughh.) This weekend I took a workshop on yodeling and harmonic singing with Christian Zehnder and I discovered a whole new way of connecting to the voice and a new vocal palette. This was a very profound experience for me and suddenly I feel connected to my identity as a singer again.

Zehnder described the conventions of voice: you are either soprano, alto, tenor, bass; women sing above middle C, men sing below it. Then he said that that was confining the voice and he demonstrated his incredible range. Voice is more fluid than many people realize. It's the same with identity and gender. All my career, I've fought against the idea that a woman should be this or should be that. In a song I wrote for Reply Whore, my latest piece, I say "Gender is dynamic/so bend it bend it bend it." It's the same for identity. Identity flows, flowers, oozes out of us. It's natural to challenge the borders of your own identity while trying to contain and define it to remain sane! Women are not born, but performed. Thank you Simone de Beauvoir.

I look forward to exploring the voice (as I age) to see what possibilities for performance remain, and so my work in the Starling Cloud Choir is my way of sharing this experience with other people in a fun way. Singing and performing are natural expressions of the human spirit. Performing womanhood is exhilarating, frightening, challenging, infuriating... and I love it!

So these concrete pieces of evidence of the personas I have created and performed are points on a map in my exploration of identity. They are creations which say "This is what I am, but this is also what I am not." More on that later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Passion for Plumage: A History of Feathers in Fashion

 Last week I attended a fabulous fashion show at the Beatty Museum of Biodiversity featuring clothing from the collections of Ivan Sayers and Claus Janke. I always enjoy Mr. Sayers' fashion shows and lectures and I loved every minute of this one. I was in a poor seat to take photos, but I captured the spirit of a few pieces.

 Sayers is doing a lecture titled Fauna in Fashion: The Exploitation of Animals for Beauty on April 13. It is worth going to hear the talk and see the fabulous photography exhibit by Catherine Stewart along with cabinets displaying examples of the use of feathers in fashion.

 I am inviting people who perform on March 16th in the Starling Cloud Choir to dig into their closets and bring out something eccentric and bird-related to wear. If you want to dress like a starling, think black irridescent with  tan or golden highlights.

 I loved this outfit the best because of the color relationships and the fabulous silhouette. The model really suited the outfit.

 Sadly, many baby birds died for this fabulous coat.

 More great color!

This model is wearing a  bird of paradise hat.

 Hooray for hues of pink flamingo! (But they're really farmed ostrich feathers.)

This hat was difficult to photograph on a dark background. Made of sheared rooster feathers, it really had a fabulous motion when she walked. I'm certainly inspired. Are you? For mo' better photos, check out the museum's flicker page.

Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony

This is a fantastic video clip showing composer Olivier Messiaen explaining how birdsong inspired his Turangalila Symphony with Yvonne Loriod playing the piano. I only wish the clip was longer!

Here's another clip on vimeo.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

We are Many and We Murmur Like Starlings

As part of the structure of The Starling Cloud Choir Piece, I have begun writing some text that has been translated into French by Hélène Roy.

Here is the refrain:

we are many, and we murmur like starlings

nous sommes plusieurs, et nous babillons commes des étourneaux

we are a cloud not yet formed

nous sommes un nuage pas encore formé

we are rain not yet fallen

nous sommes la pluie pas encore tombée

we are the memory of rain

nous sommes la memoire de la pluie

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why Birds Vocalize

When you're training as an actor, you analyze the script and chart what motivates your character to say and do the things they do. "What's my motivation?" is the actor's cliché. The process always irked me because I think sometimes humans move in mysterious ways and we don't always know why we do things, no matter how much we analyze our motives. I liked to work with my actor's intuition rather than try to justify everything with the left side of the brain.

Why do birds sing? Well, most of it's about lurve and protecting and defining the home front. Male birds use their voices to tell mates they are lively and healthy and worthy suitors. They announce their presence to other males to keep them at a distance, defining territory with sound maps.

Bird calls are simpler vocalizations with many functions that ornithologists are still studying. One of the motivations behind calls is to keep in contact with mates, families, and flocks. Barry Kent MacKay in his book Bird Sounds: How and Why Birds Call, Chatter, and Screech, says that contact calls can help birds keep together in dark or foggy weather, keep the chicks close, or confuse predators. I am moved by his comment on contact calls: "Possibly for some species, it is a means of reassuring themselves that they are together and well, within a hostile world."

When you see a flock of birds, try to imagine what their calls are saying to each other. Why not observe humans and try to analyze our own contact calls. Perhaps twitter and texting are the new media for human contact calls. We enjoy the pleasure of checking in with one another, making sure we are nearby, safe, and not alone. It's the vocal version of comfort food. Humans crave contact on a continuum that depends on what kind of person you are (introvert/extrovert), what time of day it is (morning person?), and many other factors. We crave eye contact, physical contact, and vocal contact. One's psyche and spirit thrive on managing these kinds of interactions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Christian Marclay: The Clock

A friend recently went to New York to see the 24 hour video installation by Christian Marclay. It sounds absolutely fascinating. For a good read about the piece, check out this article in the New Yorker by Daniel Zalewski.

For a clip of the piece, you may watch it here, but in respect to the artist you are asked to view it at 0.04 pm local time.

La Paruline Jaune

There are some conventional words we use to imitate the sound of rain and running water: pitter-patter, dribble, trickle, drip, drop, burble, and so on. As I was waking up this morning, listening to the sound of the rain I thought about combining some of those words to create new words for rain: drickle, burkle, trip, trop, spurkle, etc. I wonder how a Spanish-speaking person listening to the rain in Spain would mimic the sounds of the dripping water.

As I study birdsong, I'm intrigued with the phonetics and onomatopoeic words we use to transcribe and vocalize birdsong. It is often different in different languages. For example, in English roosters say "cockle doodle doo!" and in French they say "cocorico!" This arbitrary quality used to vex me as a child because I liked language to be precise. I wanted to know if a word was correct or incorrect. In this case, there is room for interpretation.

In French, the yellow warbler is "la paruline jaune." In English, it says "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweeeet!", or something along those lines. In French, it says "Soui-soui-soui-soui!" Some birds are called by their onomatopoeic tags, like Chickadee, or Whip-poor-will. Imagine if all birds were called by names that mimicked their call. A duck would be a Quack and and goose would be a Honk. In English, we use the word "hummingbird", using a word that imitates the sound of the tiny bird's wings. In Spanish, the bird is called "beija-flor", which means "flower kisser". How appropriate!

I would love to find the words in languages other than English that are used to describe and name birds and birdsong. Please put them in the comments below if you find them. I would also love you to create your own short bird song sound poem to share with us at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Garden. You could write in in linear form, or in a cloud or "Wordle" format, or even in the form of a bird. Now how about doing the same thing with the words you make up to describe the sound of the rain in Vancouver. If you bring your poems to the workshops and performances we can use them as part of the score. Yahoo!--(as they say where I come from).

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Maccha Trail

This weekend I had a lovely respite in Victoria B.C.. While the cyclists were geared up and following the Galloping Goose Trail, my friends and I followed the Maccha Trail, which inevitably started at the Jagasilk tearoom, where they are all about the maccha. (Actually, we found the Galloping Goose Trail and the Maccha Trail intersected at various points.)

Teas are expertly and lovingly prepared and served in gorgeous handmade ceramics.

 The Jagasilk tea room has recently expanded so that there is now seating available upstairs as well as on the main level. The space is very calm and meditative, which is perfect for getting all gunned up on maccha madness!

There are also treats available, baked at Fol Epi.

 Here are some of the places I passed by on the Maccha Trail.

Dude, where's my maccha?

There's mo' maccha at Silk Road, but I bought Tanzanian Gold for my beau and some "mermaid oil" pour moi-même. I think the lavender and petit grain in the mermaid oil is really good medicine for lifting one's spirits at this time of the year. They also have mermaid bath salts which are DIVINE. Peter really likes that Tanzanian Gold tea, a full-bodied black tea which "brightens the mind."

 I had a lovely time shopping at the Victoria Winter Farmer's Market. I bought some local fleur de sel for Peter from the Vancouver Island Salt Company.

 I stayed in a whimsical retreat with a beautiful eucalyptus tree in the back yard and a noisy little hummingbird.

 I also made friends with the resident cat, Eddie.

 Unfortunately Fry's was closed on Sunday, but we headed to the baking district and visited Lone Tree Bakery and Fol Epi.

Our final maccha was at the funky Spiral cafe, which we decided lacked the potency of other maccha drinks on our trail.

To be continued . . . .