What’s Old Is New At Studio Bell: National Music Centre staff share what there is to offer for artists

Monday 15th, August 2016 / 17:22
By B. Simm


Adam Fox, Director of Programs

BeatRoute: Director of Programs. That’s a big umbrella. What falls directly below that?

Adam Fox: At the NMC it refers to any experiences the public or audiences will have with us. Exhibitions is one pillar, education is another, programs for artists, which we file under incubation, and then live music performances.

BR: The incubation programs for artist development; that has an interesting ring to it. Could you elaborate a bit on what is involved?

AF: We’re offering two streams of artist programs in the inaugural season at Studio Bell. One is the creative self-directed residency. The criteria is chiefly about artistic merit, but it’s also about how the results from the residency will benefit audiences at Studio Bell and elsewhere. It also involved use of the collections and workflows. We have this collections and it’s important that they’re put use. But even if the artist isn’t that interested in using the collections available, what is important to what they are pitching that is unique? In other words, why are you doing this here? If you can record elsewhere and get the same results, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We want to bring something really special to the public in Calgary, to the community, and for tourists as well.

BR: What would be an example of that?

AF: Sure, here’s a simple example. Let’s say there’s two artists from different regions in the country. They want the opportunity to collaborate, do some songwriting, they may not even record and just put on a performance. Together they produce something they share with an audience. That’s cool. That’s something can provide here. That’s why we like to leave it a little bit open and vague. I don’t know, you tell us, what opportunities do you see here?

BR: So, could I propose I want to record on one of Studio Bell’s legendary, magical consoles and I’d get in?

AF: It’s not that we won’t consider that, but we want to know how are you going to benefit from this as an artist? What will this opportunity will help you with your career? And how will benefit audiences, and help our mandate of connecting people with music? Every application has broader opportunities and we look for those and we consider them.

BR: The application itself. Once an artist and their proposal is accepted, is that documented and the public aware of what these residencies are and who’s doing them?

AF: Every single one. We have a bunch of conditions for an artist to come in. One is we need to document every single one, and we look for a testimonial from the folks that are doing stuff so we can help and spread the love as to what we’re doing here and why it’s a special opportunity.

Jesse Moffatt, Director of Collections

BeatRoute: Director of Collections. I have a pretty good idea what that might entail at Studio Bell, but can you outline your role briefly?

Jesse Moffatt: Not to be confused with someone who works in the finance department, I’m involved with everything that deals with the artifacts and the artifact care. We’re really the arm that supports the entire organization, but primarily programming and the exhibitions. We really believe that our collections should be accessible, and our philosophy that these collections and their music history can be continued and we do that through what we call the “living collections.”

BR: Can you expand on what you mean by the living collection?

JM: We have about 700 musical instruments in our care, and about half of those are used in the living collection. They are to be used as a source for inspiration for the next great creation.

BR: Is the other half called the dead collection?

JM: No, no. We strive to have this balance. Think of a traditional institution that’s a collecting institution. They exist to collect, and in our case it’s Canada’s musical heritage. But they do it behind glass and it’s not as accessible as we believe a musical collection should be. I wouldn’t call them dead, I would say they are static.

BR: Some of the collections are quite rare: the TONTO synthesizer for instance. The first of its kind that has quite an interesting history. I understand its owner and inventor didn’t want it preserved in a museum or mothballed in some basement to let it die.

JM: Yes, TONTO’s inventor, Malcolm Cecil; that was his life-long project. And he wanted it to go to a place that it could be used, but it could be maintained.

BR: But when it’s up and running, I can’t imagine you’ll let anyone experiment with it?

JM: Well, first of all it’s not the most intuitive instrument to operate. But that’s what our team does; we’re there to help where needed. Our predecessor organization, CANTOS, we often gave guide interpretive tours, which provided an additional element so visitors could really hear the sounds of the instruments. In 2017 we will bring that back.

BR: I was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and took in this massive exhibition with all this Grateful Dead gear and paraphernalia. I’m not a Deadhead, but it was quite impressive. Do you have plans for that sort of thing?

JM: We have a 3,000 square-foot temporary or special exhibition space on the fifth floor that we can bring in travelling exhibitions that will appeal to a certain audience. Perhaps we’ll bring in three or four of Neil Peart’s drum kits and have an interpretive session. July 1 was day one, we’re just getting started and pretty excited about what the future has to offer.

Jason Tawkin, Collections Assistant

BeatRoute: The Rolling Stones’ Mobile Unit is a mammoth truck that contains all the studio gear necessary to make records at remote locations. It’s now housed inside Studio Bell next to the King Eddy in a room sealed up so that the vehicle is there on a permanent vacation. That the Stones’ truck is now embodied into the building but is fully functional (except for its wheels running), aptly represents Studio Bell’s mission to preserve yet utilize allowing us to tap directly into its rich history.

Jason Tawkin: Right. It’s about respecting the heritage and lineage of the instruments, but it’s not about putting the instruments on a pedestal. It’s about respecting the past and seeing where it comes from and moving forward into the future. All these tools shouldn’t be thrown in the dumpster, they should be appreciated for what they are, and the amazing music they make. There’s going to be a demand for exploring the potential of these instruments. And that’s the gap we want to fill. What we want to do is to designate these instruments as part of the fabric of Canadian culture and Canadian music. But also to use them to make new things and experiment, so there’s new possibilities and they have a new lease on life.

BeatRoute Magazine August 2016 Alberta print edition cover. Cover photo: Jodi Brak

BeatRoute Magazine August 2016 Alberta print edition cover.
Cover photo: Jodi Brak

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