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DISTANT TRANSMISSION: Story and Sound from the North

Ricardo Coelho de Souza performing David Ikard’s <em>Água Eletrônica </em>(2013)

Banks of the Mackenzie River [Click image to enlarge]

“We are all Northerners, sharing a million acres of wildness in the imagination. This is our only uncounterfeit resource, and we should seek to draw directly from it.”
- R Murray Schafer

Ricardo Coelho de Souza performing David Ikard’s <em>Água Eletrônica </em>(2013)

Building of Deh Cho bridge over the Mackenzie River [Click image to enlarge]

Ricardo Coelho de Souza performing David Ikard’s <em>Água Eletrônica </em>(2013)

Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories [Click image to enlarge]

From Edmonton, there’s one road that leads north. A 1500 kilometre stretch of highway leads to Yellowknife. On the way, hours of jackpine, bison, and nothing. No signage advertising rest stops. No rest stops. No Tim Horton’s. Few gas stations. A beautiful, empty lack of anything other than a worn chipseal road stretching out flat for what feels like an eternity.

In more ways than one, Yellowknife is an end-of-the-road town. No one ends up here by chance. And if they do, they don’t stay long. Maybe a year or two to earn a quick buck and then they’re gone. For those rooted here by birth or otherwise, there is an inescapable calling to listen and respond to the land, the wild, and the space that’s created through the oscillation of extreme climate. From the catharsis of midnight sun to the solipsistic nine-month deep freeze, the north requires a certain level of mental fortitude, or coping skills, at least.

These survival techniques are the stories we tell each other, the greetings we send over the radio, and the call and response of being on land.

Here, radio pulses. Like beacons, call-in shows are telegrams across the distance. Yellowknife might be the hub, but many of NWT’s 33 communities have their own radio station. Perhaps the most well known is CBMQ (AKA ‘Come Back Quick Mom’) in Fort McPherson, thanks to Inuvialuit filmmaker NFB Dennis Allen’s documentary about the station. (https://www.nfb.ca/film/cbqm)

It is difficult to speak about the north without falling into cliché. And for those newcomers, like myself, it’s best to let the sound do the talking. The microphone and recorder have gifted me with some incredible opportunities to listen, record, and collaborate in the north.

While, perhaps, we are not producing as much “sound art” as other parts of the country, I think northern artists and radio producers will continue to push the boundaries of sound in studios and cabins throughout the territories.