Jim Moginie and the Very Subversive Orchestra

Guitarist Jim Moginie with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, in the Club. Photo: Don Lee.

Jim Moginie has never been to Banff before. “We came over these Rocky Mountains many times,” he says, “but they never let us off the bus.” For 25 years, Moginie was lead guitarist and one of the principal songwriters in Midnight Oil. Their late-1980s single, “Beds Are Burning” sent them into the music industry stratosphere, playing arenas and stadiums around the world.  One of the most politically-outspoken groups on the planet, they disbanded when lead singer Peter Garrett became an Australian Labor Party MP.

Moginie was at The Banff Centre with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), part of a Music residency. The ACO played concerts all over Banff, from Cascade Shops to the Maclab Bistro, to a late night Club show that featured compositions by Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, which is where a rock and roll guitar player comes in.

“I was honoured to be asked (to join ACO). We are a very subversive little orchestra. Playing Kurt Cobain or Trent Reznor creates a certain disorientation, which leads to tension. And that’s where it gets interesting.  We work in a kind of magpie fashion, picking at different things,” says Moginie, and then with a laugh, “and it’s certainly improved my sight-reading.”

We finished our conversation talking about Midnight Oil’s part in the Clayoquot Sound protests (1993) which at the time was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. That summer Midnight Oil went into a Calgary studio with Daniel Lanois, Hothouse Flowers, and the Tragically Hip. Moginie remembers, “Dan [Lanois] gave me his guitar and amp, and when I set into my part [guitar solo] and I looked up at the booth I saw Dan with this absolutely huge smile on his face, and I thought yeah, that’s what a producer should do.”

All photos by Don Lee.

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Anna Maria Tremonti: “I get vertigo”

Popular CBC host Anna Maria Tremonti was here recently to host a talk with Jennifer Koshan and the YWCA of Banff on women’s and girl’s rights. While she was here, she answered our mountain-themed Banff questionnaire, talking about getting close to the edge, dreams of falling, and changing course to head back to radio.

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Ezra Pound vs. Baudelaire: Who wins?

University of Victoria grad Owain Nicholson is the most recent winner of the Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award, after placing second in the 2012 competition. I spoke to him about writers, writing, and whiskey.

Where are you from? Winnipeg. The great, open prairies. And I miss the winter.

How did you get started writing? I’ve always been surrounded by books and writing. My stepfather introduced me to poetry (Jabberwocky, amongst others) quite early but I didn’t really find poetry, and writing, until high school. I used to imagine stories when I was going to bed, probably as a way to fend off the darkness when I was little. And once I actually began to write I don’t think I’ve gone a day without writing.

Poet, and Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award winner Owain Nicholson.

Poet, and Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award winner Owain Nicholson.

What’s the relationship between your work as an archaeologist and your work as a writer? Archaeology informs writing a great deal, and my summer field seasons pay off my student loans. But archaeology is a field steeped in history, ancestry, nature, and people. The people most of us have never seen, don’t know about, and never will. It’s a privilege. But it’s also a huge source of inspiration and, particularly with poetry, a powerful and concrete place to leap into metaphor and imagery.

What fascinates you right now? People, always. Mostly our great adaptability and ingenuity fettered by our inhibitions and fears. I think I just don’t really understand people very well, so I’m always looking for something there and never sure what I’ve found.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had? I used to work for a friend on their property mostly moving stuff or chopping firewood. But in the late spring and early summer she’d give me a shovel and I’d literally dig up every thistle and prickly weed on the property.

What do you drink when you’re writing? Mostly coffee. I don’t usually work at home but when I find I must, I drink Talisker or Laphroaig or Lagavulin (when I can afford to buy a bottle of scotch, usually at Christmas).

Favourite book and author? Tough one. In Fantasy, the Malazan books. However, I really loved Into That Darkness by Steven Price and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In poetry right now I’m being blown away by Jorge Luis Borges and César Vallejo. Patrick Lane and Seamus Heaney are definitely mentors I keep turning back to.

If you could hang out with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Probably the first Anglo-Saxon poets, the old stories that I always return to.

If poetry and fiction got in a fight, which would win? I see this kind of fight as one between an older man and a younger ruffian. It may be better to structure it as a set of duels. Who wouldn’t want to see Ezra Pound take Baudelaire to the mat?

The Bliss Carman Poetry Award was established in 1956 by Edith and Lorne Pierce in memory of Edith’s father, Canadian poet William Bliss Carman. Originally given to recognize the best poem by a student at the Banff School of Fine Arts or at one of the University of Alberta Extension writing classes, the contest was discontinued in 1991. Canadian literary journal Prairie Fire revived the award in 1997, with the contest open to the public and The Banff Centre providing prize money and a jeweler-cast replica of Bliss Carman’s ring.

Read an excerpt of Owain Nicholson’s award-winning poem, “Hunter II” here. The full poem will be printed in Prairie Fire’s summer issue. 

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Remembering Neil Armstrong

The Banff Centre lost an old friend last week when Neil Armstrong, the former head of arts programs during the 1970’s and 1980’s, passed away in Canmore.

Neil Armstrong came to Banff in 1972, on the invitation of then-president David Leighton, from the University of Western Ontario where he had managed the School of Business Administration.  As head of arts programs, he oversaw the Centre’s transition from a summer school with part-time staff and a reputation as a ‘holiday arts camp’, to Canada’s outstanding professional school of the arts.

Neil recruited key arts faculty, artistic directors and management staff, and expanded arts programming into a dizzying array of new fields including chamber music, orchestra, jazz, music composition, audio recording, electronic media, music theatre, theatre design, professional dance, advanced writing, publishing, the playwrights colony, the inter-arts program and the Leighton Artist’s Colony. He and his wife Marjorie attended and hosted receptions for almost all the arts events on campus.  Neil also travelled as an ambassador for the Banff Centre, and established connections around the world to increase the number of international participants. He was founding director of the Canadian Association of Youth Orchestra’s and their festival, held annually at The Banff Centre.

Neil received the Order of Canada in 1989 for his contributions to education and the cultural development of the country. He retired from The Banff Centre in 1991 but continued to support the Centre by attending events and through the Marjorie and Neil Armstrong Endowment fund.

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Tyler Los-Jones: Distorting the view

When you think of Banff, you think of the picture-postcard mountains that surround it, the ubiquitous image used and reused to promote seasonal tourism. Inspired by the northwesterly vista of Cascade Mountain, Calgary-based artist Tyler Los-Jones’ current photographic exhibition cleverly reflects the mountains onto themselves.

Tyler Los-Jones explores the act of photo-taking. Photo: Meghan Krauss

Photographed from various sites throughout The Banff Centre campus, Los-Jones’ images distort the usual view of our surroundings. The images in his latest exhibition, We Saw the Reflected, Inverted Image of Our Own Age, have seen multiple stages of transition; flat photographs of mountain views have been reworked and manipulated by the artist, folded back onto themselves or reformed into corrugated, rippled surfaces, and finally, re-photographed as objects.

“To me these images are all awkward in a quiet sort of way, and that’s important” he says. “From a distance it just seems like one image but the closer you get and the longer you look at it, strange and awkward things start to emerge. It’s just like how we view nature.”

Los-Jones took all of the photos in the exhibition from the vantage point of The Banff Centre as a way for people viewing his work to connect and become more engaged with their traditional understanding of their surroundings. “These are the types of photos people in Banff are taking every day. We are all part of the performance.”

He says that his relationship with nature initially stemmed from his exposure to the promotional images he saw in National Geographic: tourist brochures and postcards of the Rocky Mountains. “It occurred to me that I should be focusing on how I first learnt about ecology, which was through photography, and to actually do that I felt like I just had to use the medium itself.”

Curator Peta Rake says the gesture of image-making from the perspective of Los-Jones’ practice complicates the universal act of taking a photograph. “These [photographs] are objects in a constant state of re-imaging and negotiation,” she says. “Existing somewhere between the studio and the digital, the physicality of the work is disrupted, which begs the question: where do these images exist in the world?”

Presented in collaboration with EXPOSURE, an annual celebration of Canadian and international photo-based work featuring exhibitions and educational events in Banff, Canmore and Calgary. This exhibition is open in the Eric Harvie Theatre West Lobby until June 2014.

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James Scoles: “Success was the only option”

James Scoles is a Winnipeg based author and creative writing professor. In 2013 he was awarded the CBC Poetry Prize for his poem, The Trailer. Scoles, who is currently working on a novel set in 19th century Ireland and a collection of short works based on his world travels, was here in January as part of a Literary Arts winter residency.

Quarter to six every morning. Quiet cut by the cool crunch of

footsteps in the forest. A journey traded for the very latest hour

Effort will push to sate the appetite of whatever the muse begs

for. Whatever the words and work will feast upon this day.

Winniped poet James Scoles was awarded the CBC Poetry Prize in 2013.

Winnipeg poet James Scoles was ‘relatively unpublished’ before winning the CBC Poetry Prize in 2013.

Being born in northern Manitoba gave me a comfort with the cold, and a slightly sparser horizon generally gives one more room for deep thought, so I was more perplexed by Banff’s grand scenery than distracted (plus, Manitobans are not only known, but grown for their focus). In fact, Winnipeg and Vernon, BC (my other base) share a lot in common with Banff: trees, snow, cold, and it certainly isn’t rare to find the odd creature emerging from its lair or in mid-migration (including Elk, Lion, Kinsmen, and even Shriners have been known to feed and water here).

Being a relatively unpublished poet didn’t exactly prepare me for winning the CBC Poetry Prize this past year, and the notice I’ve received is remarkable: a single person hasn’t recognized me in the streets. At The Banff Centre, and in the Leighton Artist Colony’s Davidson Studio in particular, the pressure I felt was responsibility to the craft, which for me includes: non-fiction (creative and literary, and even all-mostly-true); short, long, medium, wide-ranging and even home-based (all-mostly-untrue) fiction; and poetry (self-explained).

While writing and working, I did feel a huge responsibility and debt (and reverence) to those who came before me: the artists and composers, the creators, the muses, as well as the patrons and board of directors, the staff, and all those responsible for keeping the dreams clean and the coffee hot on the coldest of mornings. But I also felt an immense sense of pride and accomplishment: I’d been granted a sacred opportunity in a blessed place. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t drink. And that certainly helped with the pressure of everything else.

Along with finishing my first collection of poetry, my main focus was the final draft of my novel—Spit in the Ocean—an awkward love story of survival based on my family history (the awkward part, especially) and a game of cards, set in late-1830s Ireland (it’s all mostly true, and proves, once and for all, that leprechauns exist).

On the grand piano and across every desk were the artifacts devoted to feeding the work—books, journals, 1834 ordnance maps, plot-notes, photos, note-cards, discards, strays, starts and stops—and on my table were the still-wiggling tails of short stories, poems, and one scattered pile of strung-out non-fiction. Success was the only option, so I brought enough work (sincere apologies to the bell hop/artist who learned the sheer weight of my wheel-less ‘Franken-bag’) to almost fail.

Logistically, everything was brilliant: the resources were plentiful, the working space(s) perfect, the food, countless cups of coffee (don’t adjust your budget; it’s just me) and view from Vistas (not to mention my room, the studio, and from all other angles) were beyond delicious and stunning.

For the deepest serenity for creating in peace, all while the very air around me hummed with the true religion of nature: thank you, Leighton Artist’s Colony and The Banff Centre, for each and every moment of the experience; arguably the most inspired two weeks’ worth of writing in all my life.

Aside from my next two weeks in the Colony, that is. Cheers.

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