Title: Dear Creator, help us return to the centre of our hearts
Year Completed: 2014
Duration: 27 mins
Instrumentation: String Quartet (amplified) and electronic soundscape
Credits: Commissioned for the Kronos Quartet
by: Carnegie Hall; the Canada Council for the Arts; Peggy Dorfman and the Ralph I. Dorfman Family Fund; and the David Harrington Research and Development Fund, with the support of individual Kickstarter backers. Recording expedition to the Oil Sands funded by Arts Nova Scotia.
Premiere: March 7, 2015 | 9 pm Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY: Kronos Quartet
Purchase/Rent: this work is exclusive to the Kronos Quartet until March 2018.
From June 12 to 23, 2013 I visited the Athabasca Oil Sands in northern Alberta. I toured the Suncor site and the Wapisiw reclamation area. I travelled on Highway 63, with its white pickup trucks and Diversified buses. I drove next to Syncrude, Athabasca and the other oil companies. I saw the extent of the tailings ponds and heard the bird canons. I took a private flight and witnessed the enormity of the mining operations from above. I visited reclamation sites including Crane Lake and Gateway Hill. I spent a morning at the Finning repair shop and at the Fort McMurray waste management facility where I recorded sounds of dump trucks and heavy machinery. I flew north to Fort Chipewyan and travelled by boat to a remote cabin where I spent an evening in the wilderness. I took in Treaty Days at Fort McKay. I went for walks in the parks of Fort McMurray, and I heard the birds in the morning. I stood on Franklin Avenue and watched as people from around the world strolled the streets. The oil sands (the tar sands, or the bitumen sands) are a polarizing topic. I was curious to experience it, to visit the mining operations and surrounding communities, and to speak with the people who live and work there.
Ultimately this work is about respecting the people whose lives revolve around the oil sands region. During my travels I searched for a way to respect this human element. The breakthrough came when I met Elsie Yanik, a Métis Elder originally from Fort Chipewyan. Elsie has lived through the developments of the last 94 years. The title of the work is dedicated to her.
Dear Creator is in seven movements, all attacca (without pause):
II. Peace and Love
III. Zone of Influence
IV. Upgrade to CO2
V. Chops (Cold Heavy Oil Production with Steam)
VI. Respect Mother Earth
VII. Bitumen Night Shift
This work would not have been possible without the support of numerous people. I especially wish to thank David Harrington
and the Kronos Quartet
; Carnegie Hall
, the Canada Council for the Arts
, and Arts Nova Scotia
for their generous funding; Dianne Farkouh
, Bryan Jackson
and Russell Thomas
who helped show me the real Fort McMurray; Robert Grandjambe
who took me to his cabin in Fort Chipewyan; and finally, Elsie Yanik
for telling me some of her remarkable stories.
Mural of Elsie Yanik by Russell Thomas
© Russell Thomas www.russellthomas.ca
Photo from the premiere. Photo Credit: Chris Lee