Wind Stories at the Nocturne festival

On the evening of Saturday, October 13th in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the annual arts festival Nocturne will take place, and this snippet of music is my own contribution to it.

The theme of this year’s Nocturne is Nomadic Reciprocity, which among other things asked artists to “reflect on their connection to the political environment of Canada and the Indigenous land we occupy, including the social conditions and each person’s lived experiences as Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people” (More about the festival theme here).

To that end, I’m collaborating with storytellers from Eskasoni First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community in eastern Nova Scotia, on Wind Stories. During Nocturne, they will tell Mi’kmaq legends about the wind. My contribution to Wind Stories is a 6-channel sound installation in which weather data about the current winds will be turned into music like that in the extract above.

During the late winter just passed, I spent a lot of time outside listening to the winds, which are rarely silent near the sea around Halifax at that time of year. After listening closely to the character of the wind – how gusts sweep through nearby trees, how the wind causes things to tap, creak and bang as they are blown – I started to make electronic music that reflected what I’ve learned from the wind.

I wrote software which uses Environment Canada weather data, specifically the current wind direction and wind speed (including how gusty it is), and turns this data into music. When the winds are low, then the music is gentle, and when the winds are stormy, then the music is harsh and dissonant.

A listener can hear what direction the wind is coming from through the harmonies that are created. Each of the four cardinal directions was given its own harmonic palette, and the directions in between are mixtures of these harmonies. The sound of a north west wind is a mixture of the harmonies of north and west, for example. In the extract I posted above, the winds are light to moderate from the south-west.

The installation and storytelling will take place in a large room at the Immigration Museum in Pier 21. Rather than have the music read weather data, I’ve decided to have the software run through each of the wind directions slowly while changing the wind speed manually. If the installation was part of an exhibition over a couple of weeks, for instance, having the software run ‘live’ would work effectively, people could visit from time to time to hear what the current wind conditions sound like according to the software. Because Nocturne is only one evening, I’d like people to be able to hear the music at its most calm and its most fierce.

I’m very excited to be working with Sandra MacDonald, Audrey Johnson, Faye Sylliboy, Glynis Sylliboy and Natasha Hearney from Eskasoni Cultural Journeys at Nocturne!

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