Canadian harpist and composer Elisa Thorn is thinking outside the box when it comes to sharing her work during the pandemic. Her latest project, The Years in Between, is a digital residency presented in collaboration with Vancouver New Music. It is a 26-minute sound installation meant to be listened to in one continuous sitting. Rather than releasing it on streaming platforms, Thorn is presenting daily online screenings beginning March 5, 2021. It will be released on cassette through Toronto label Dark Matter. We caught up with Thorn to learn more about her project and the inspiration behind it.
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Last March, I was booked for a solo performance at the Women From Space festival in Toronto. At that time, I didn’t have any original solo music, so I had to write something for it. The piece was inspired by the idea that we can explore different versions of ourselves. The Toronto festival performance was my last concert before the pandemic, so I never got to perform it again! Since the piece was specifically designed for live performance, it took me a long time to decide how it would make sense to present it as a recording. I decided not to release it like a conventional album because it feels like a hard time to get through to an audience when there is such an over-saturation of digital content these days. It took a lot of thinking to come up with this idea, but I’m excited to experiment with this different mode of presentation!
Tell us about the idea that this should be listened to in one sitting.
As I mentioned, I originally wrote and designed the piece for live performance. The piece is a collage of different material that continuously develops, transforms, and shifts, so it didn’t make sense for me to break it into shorter tracks. It is intended to be meditative and it is my intention to invite people to unplug, put down their screens, and engage in deep listening.
How can people hear your project?
There will be daily online screenings beginning March 5, the anniversary of my last live performance. Screenings continue through March 11, which marks the anniversary of the shutdowns due to the pandemic. Each day I’ll be there to introduce the piece, offer suggestions for listening, and give a discussion afterwards.
When will the piece be released on cassette?
Later this spring it will be released on cassette by Toronto label Dark Matter, and it will be available on their Bandcamp page at that time. Aside from that, I’m planning to keep it off streaming platforms as I don’t think they support the mode of continuous listening that I hope for with this project. I thought for a long time about making some kind of visual accompaniment for this piece, but I actually like the idea of it being a chance for people to put their screens away and look inward.
This project marks the anniversary of your last live performance and the anniversary of the pandemic. That must be a very powerful experience for you. How does it feel to be doing this project at such a trying time?
It’s definitely been a tough year with ups and downs, especially with how I have related to my career or music in general. I feel happy about the meditative experience this project offers. The current state of things makes me believe there is space to experiment with different modes of presentation that I don’t think I would have explored if it weren’t for the circumstances. I feel very grateful for that!
Are there any other new projects on the horizon for you?
As much as I feel like I’ve been twiddling my thumbs aimlessly this year, I have a bunch of projects baking in the oven right now. I’m looking forward to several releases with different projects in the next year. My avant-pop group Gentle Party will be releasing our sophomore album, my duo The Giving Shapes is working on a new project in collaboration with an amazing shadow puppetry duo Mind of a Snail, and I’ll be releasing an EP that I recorded remotely with some friends. I have a new chamber music project in the works which uses the poetry of my great aunt Anne Szumigalski with mentorship from one of my heros, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. Lots of new music on the horizon! Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, FACTOR and Creative BC have provided enormous support for these projects.