Water circulates as the planet’s lifeblood, sustaining life everywhere, ecologically, rivers act as arterial expressions of hydrology where ceaseless transformation and mutability––from mist and condensation, to dewdrops, rain, ice, snowmelt and runoff, waterflow and oceanic wave––are the norm. River sounds carry the melodies of time and space, biotic flux, interconnection and interdependence, local and cosmic meanings.
Human breath and plant leaves transpire vapour that connects atmosphere to aquifer, marsh to glacier, plant to human. With all that water offers, shaping countless landscapes, nourishing myriad lifeforms, it is unimaginable that oceans, rivers, lakes, and other waterways remain under serious and increasing threat, globally.
RiverChants was conceived to deepen our understanding of the plight of water as well as to celebrate the sinuous waterways that surround and shape the city of Guelph.
Envisioned as a convergence of interactive community events stretching over two months in Spring 2020, the project brought together artists, activists, ecologists, poets, musicians, instrument makers, videographers, youth groups––and more. An ambitious collaboration of diverse voicings, the intent was to engage the wider community in creatively re-imagining the Grand River watershed, the largest inland river system in Southern Ontario.
The Grand River watershed is home to the Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest First Nations reserve in Canada and a place where, in 2018, under 10% of its population had access to safe, potable water.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, everything from a cross-town, river-to-river parade to educational outreach programs and performances in multiple venues dried up. RiverChants collaborators were left wondering how to flow forward.
Slowly, in consultation with the Canada Council for the Arts, the original idea was reshaped. Rivulets of the project conjured greater confluences.
Words, sounds, images, and new musical instruments came together, like isolated streams yearning to merge. Through remote technologies and with a graphic score as a guide to improvised soundings, the musicians, poets, inventors/instrument makers, and filmmaker began to behave like a watershed––finding fluid ways around obstacles in order to flow.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances arising from the pandemic, RiverChants embodies what poet Karen Houle articulates in The Grand River Watershed: A Folk Ecology as “Ephemeral streams expand[ing] and contract[ing] with variation …”
Our hope is that the expansive soundscapes and imaginary waterscapes of RiverChants transport you both upstream and downstream––and that you experience the deep reservoir of stories, memories, and sonances of the Speed, Eramosa, and Grand Rivers.
Gary Diggins & Daniel Fischlin, Artistic Directors, RiverChants
RiverChants is dedicated to the memory of Ron Gaskin (April 16, 1949-August 18, 2020). Rebel promoter, sonic instigator, deeply knowledgeable radio announcer, fosterer of improbable musical relationships, indefatigable curator of unexpected flows–Ron was a key devisor of the flourishing improvised music scene in Canada.
All proceeds from sales support the continued survival of Silence, the independent, DIY music venue located in Guelph, Ontario.
released April 22, 2021
Madhur Anand, Spoken Word/Poet
Jeff Bird, Graphic Score Composer, Filmmaker
Matt Brubeck, Cello
Gary Diggins, Cornet, Waterfall Kalimba**
Christine Duncan, Voice
Daniel Fischlin, Guitars, Monotronics, Water ImaginÆrium*
Karen Houle, Spoken Word/Poet
Kathryn Ladano, Bass Clarinet
Lewis Melville, Electric Banjo, BetaBlock
Joe Sorbara, Percussion, Klepsydra**
*Tony Duggan-Smith, Mark Kett
Music produced and mixed by Jeff Bird •Mastered by Bova Lab Studio • Graphics and Design: Nick Craine Illustration• Photography by Jeremy Shute • Website Design: Northern Village • Additional audio recording: Lewis Melville. Artistic Directors: Gary Diggins and Daniel Fischlin
Profound thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for the Concept to Realization Grant that made this project possible.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for permission to use excerpts from This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart by Madhur Anand. And a bow of appreciation to Gaspereau Press for permission to use excerpts from The Grand River Watershed: A Folk Ecology by Karen Houle.
The Executive Director of Silence, Scarlett Raczycki, and the administrative team, including Bob Harris and Odesia Howlett, coordinated a flood of details and adjustments. So much gratitude to you all.
Thank you, too, to Sheila Matson CPA/CA, for her generous help with financial planning and reporting.
Silence -- an intimate, independent music venue, art gallery, and incubator located in downtown Guelph––is dedicated to presenting sounds and musical practices that are diverse, challenging, and accessible.
Silence advocates for the arts as critical to producing, enhancing, and sustaining personal and community wellbeing.
A sincere acknowledgement, also, to the Wellington Water Watchers for their partnership with Silence, and for including a portion of this project in the 2Rivers Festival (2021).
Thanks, too, to Jeremy Shute, a Guelph-based mapmaker/cartographer, photographer, and musician. Exploring the backcountry by canoe, Jeremy stumbled upon the unique rock formation that is the centrepiece of the album design, polished by the waves of Georgian Bay. With a camera tripod duct-taped to the top of a sailing mast, Jeremy was able to capture these aerial images using a time-lapse trigger.
Much gratitude to Dave Larson at Precision Record Pressing for his support through the production of both the CD and Vinyl artifacts that came out of this project.