What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Gurpreet, last name is Chana, and I’m from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
And what are you working on here at SPACE?
A few things. Before I came, I was in the pre-production phase for an album I’m going to be recording with one of my projects called kLoX (www.kLoX.ca). It’s an electronic music project with myself on the digital tabla, an instrument that I’ve been working on for a number of years, and my partner in that project, Robert Mason. He’s a classically trained violinist, but he plays the electric violin and laptop. Both of us are processing our respective instruments through technology, specifically a software called Ableton Live, our laptops and doing a lot of interesting things on there which I won’t go into right now. Our machines are also talking with each other in the digital world. That’s how we’re processing our instruments, but even though he’s classically trained in Western music, and I’m Indian classically trained, the music that we’re exploring and sharing in this project is Electronic Dance Music. So it’s more geared towards clubs and festivals, to get people moving and dancing. I am continuing part of that pre-production phase here, just refining the sound, rehearsing, and working out some nuances and idea.
One of the key things I wanted to do while I was here is be informed by the space and see what comes up. It’s been nice, particularly in the parlor room, there’s that beautiful piano. And I’m not a piano player, but I grew up messing around with keys and the harmonium; it’s been really nice just to sit at that piano. To be honest, every time I’ve sat by it, a new composition or an idea has come through. The third thing is a bigger project idea I’ve been working on, I’m trying to think back, when did it first manifest...probably early 2015, 2014. There are some conversations that have happened, particularly in the last few months. I won’t get into what it is right now, but the ideas was shelved for a little while, and I’m revisiting it, looking at my notes from over a year ago and figuring out how to reinvigorate it moving forward. Outside of that, just kind of walking around, catching sunrises, taking in the natural vibe.
Can you talk about what spaces you’ve found yourself drawn to on the farm to work or just to explore?
The Coop for sure, it’s been great to have an opportunity to set up my studio there; to go and create or play or just do the things that the space inspires but also what my projects inspire. The way it’s shaped, the size is perfect; it’s designed like a little amphitheatre. Maggie was telling me earlier that last season, her, Allyson, and a couple of others got in there and cleared it out. It’s nice to actually hear those stories and what it means to them to see it being used in a totally different way; to see the joy that it brings as well, because it is being used; that it’s also inspiring creativity, it’s helping. That’s one thing that’s been really great about SPACE, the residency but also just the space, and the offering of it, like where we’re sitting right now, the gazebo, I’ve come here a few times to just be. But particularly the Coop, to know that a year ago that space wasn’t available, it took people’s vision, hard work and desire to create space, and now I get to spend some time in there to be me. It’s gonna be nice to see how it continues to grow and be an inspiring place for others.
I would say the dock where we were last night--that was the first time I was there at night, but it’s been part of my morning routine. Except today, cause last night was really crazy, and except yesterday, too, cause it was kind of overcast and raining so instead I came here. On the days where it’s been nice, it’s been my place to go see the sunrise, and naturally become a very near and dear spot for me on campus here.
Is that something that you do when you’re not at SPACE, see the sunrise?
Yeah, when I can. Being by water, and being in nature is really key to me. My studio back in Toronto is relatively close to Lake Ontario, forested areas and parks.
Can you talk about what that looks like for you when you’re working in studio, how you merge those two spaces?
That’s what I’m working on, it would be great to have a studio in a space like this, where you come out of the Coop, and you’re amongst beautiful nature and a stone’s throw away from water. In the physical sense, it would be nice to have a space that’s embedded in an area like that. For me how it comes together, how it merges is at the times when I’m composing or rehearsing, I’ll take my instruments down to the water. Even here in the mornings, I would take my hang down and practice there in the early mornings. The sounds that you hear, like the birds or other animals, or the water or even the cars going by; they all inform, consciously or subconsciously, what I’m playing. That then goes into compositions, and the compositions go back to the studio, and when I’m working on them further, that reference point is always there.
On that note, why I’m here, the way Jenny and I met, was working on a play last spring/summer in Toronto. She was directing, and The Why Not Theater production team brought me on to do the music for. The project was called Gimme Shelter, exploring how climate change is affecting migration patterns, what it’s doing to our environment. But in the essence it was about seeing the other in yourself and seeing yourself in the other. Based on the way the play was written and the subject matter, I was compelled to want to record and compose the music completely in nature. I’ve been reflecting on that while I’ve been here; that’s how Jenny and I connected, and she’s been the connector for me to be here at SPACE, and I get to, as an extension, continue that process of being in nature and creating music. It’s an ongoing narrative with Jenny and myself, to have this opportunity to be in nature, to see what comes out of it and where it can be applied.
Can you talk about what the process of composing for theater looks like for you?
There’s a few things that come to mind when you ask that. I’ve had the chance to do that a handful of times. One, the project and the subject matter has to be inspiring. If it’s not, you’ll probably force your way through it, but the results will show that. So subject matter is key, and then really just paying attention to it and letting that inform you in the decisions that you’re making for the composition phase.
The team that you’re working with. That’s also very key. Having an opportunity to work with a team that you respect, and that also respects you. It has to be a mutual give and take, that becomes important, because it’s fine when everything’s going well, but when you need to have challenging conversations, when you need to make challenging decisions, or if you want to do something one way and the director or writer wants to take it another way, or the production team wants to do something...if you can’t be honest with those conversations and can’t share your voice, and if you don’t have the patience to listen to other people’s voices, then it’s gonna hinder your process. You probably won’t even want to work on it, but when you are working on it, it’s gonna make it more challenging to make those decisions that you have to as a composer. When you are presenting ideas, you know that you might be attached to one or another but at the end of the day you’re serving a bigger purpose. If you go into those conversations knowing that you’re serving a bigger purpose, and then tied into that you’re also there to support the vision of the director, then as attached as you might be to something, you’ll also respect the process of letting that go if that’s not the way the decision makers or the rest of the team ultimately want to take the project.
The other thing I would say is, deadlines become really important. You want to respect deadlines, because when you’re composing for theater, it’s not just you. What you do allows other elements of the process to unfold. So if there’s a deadline, you make sure you meet those deadlines. Because as much as you want to respect your own process, you want to respect the process of other partners in the entire production. And that respect, respecting those deadlines, it manifests in other areas. That respect also comes back to you, and it directly or indirectly all affects the product and the work that you’re doing. You have to also respect your own process. If a deadline, if it’s not working for you, communicate that. Communicate your concerns, or your ideas. But it all really starts with physically having the right space, with the right people, to do that.
On the subject of collaboration, this week you worked with Alixa and Naima. Can you talk about what that was like?
That was a lot of fun. How it unfolded was, one of the days Alixa asked me if I would consider joining them on the tabla or the hang, and I was glad that she put that out there because I was really curious to learn more about them. We’d had small conversations, but I really didn’t know anything about them, like what they do, what their work is about, what they’re about. So when she put it out there, I was just super excited, cause for me getting to know people, especially when I get to do that through the process of music and collaborating, there’s nothing better than that for me. That’s what I do, that’s how I come to learn about people, that’s how I come to learn about places, and spaces, and the world and cultures on so many levels. And vice versa, it also gives me a chance to share part of who I am in a real authentic way. They came down to the Coop, and we just kind of hung out for the first day. We talked about who we are, what we do, we didn’t really get into what we were gonna do right away, we just got to know each other, it was very informal. And then just as naturally it flowed into,”...let’s just jam…”. So they did what they did, and talked about each other’s process, and what works, what doesn’t. In spoken word, there’s a melody there. Their voices have pitch and tone, a timbre, a cadence, and I wanted to understand, respect, and support that. Through the jam process we started finding the music and then it got to the point where we started sharing ideas very openly, this real giving and receiving of, “how about we try this, how about we do this?” or, “da da da...not that!” But it was a very open and free environment and discussion to be able to do that. They’re just beautiful souls, so that makes a big difference, you want to contribute, you don’t want to hold back, and last night was special. When you’re then going to be sharing that with an audience, the stronger your bond and trust is with each other, the the less you have to be concerned or thinking about that dynamic onstage. You just be, you know that you’re there with a team that’s going to support you. Last night felt wonderful, it felt so relaxing, it wasn’t stressful...we had a great audience too.
When you were playing for them, and when you play in an accompaniment setting, how planned out is it?
What we ended up planning out was, what instrument on what piece. We talked a little bit about the tempo, but we weren’t like, “this is going to be 110 bpm.” We talked about the kind of groove and vibe, and the framework within which we need to work in, so that we can be free. But even when we were jamming out in the Coop, and playing last night, I didn’t particularly play the same beats, but they had the same feel, the same vibe. So it was improvisational to a certain degree. One thing that we did also decide on was what note, and thankfully C worked really well. And then when we were playing last night it was more about feeling where they’re at, what the atmosphere was about, and trying to support that with the tabla, and support them in their voice. It’s key to know your role in the ensemble; listening helps immensely. Tabla being the instrument I started playing from such a young age helped that process, cause the tabla is normally and usually an accompanying instrument. And as an accompanist, your best tool is your ears. We talked about space in the physical sense, but even in the musical sense, if you’re not using your ears, you’re not gonna hear those spaces. And it’s those spaces that make the world of a difference. It’s what you do in those spaces, or better yet, what you don’t do in those spaces. Working with spoken word is interesting because spaces make a big difference in getting across what is being conveyed.
If you were reincarnated as a farm animal, which would you be and why?
I was gonna say horse, but, actually we were joking about this; it’s kind of torture with all the flies around to be a horse, because, how are you gonna scratch that itch? So, that’s a big concern, cause, you know how it is when you have a mosquito bite or something and you can’t itch it, that’s torture! You see like the tails wagging, they’re trying to kick it; I need to scratch my itch sometimes. So horse is up there, but it’s a challenging one. Socks seems to have it pretty good, a dog would be nice, maybe. Dogs will have somebody there to scratch their itch. Even the horses here I imagine get scratched. It’s a good question. Birds seem to have it pretty good, but they’re not technically a farm animal, are they.
I think farm animal is however you define it.
Yeah? If you’re an animal and you live on a farm, regardless of whether you do work on a farm. You know, I may go with bird then.
Any specific kind?
I don’t know what kind of bird it is, but I think it’s a hummingbird, and I see a lot of them on this farm, and I see them by the water in the mornings, so I’m going to say they’re hummingbirds, though they might not be. I think I would be the hummingbird, because they seem to be chilling by the water, and if I do come back as an animal on a farm, if I get a chance to chill by the water, I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy that. And they sing, so, it’s all there.