Seneca News

Seneca remix premières at Nuit Blanche
Precipice: Seneca's Ultimate Remix investigates how far artists and designers can push the boundary in multiple media and art forms when responding to a piece of original musical composition: 1. Photograph by Yann Gracia. 2. Precipice poster by Arthur Lucena Alves de Sousa. 3. Photograph by Yann Gracia. 4. Painting by Soo Lee. 5. Virtual reality by Professor Christopher Lewis. 6. Illustration by Hank Liu.

Sept. 17, 2018

Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.

Just ask Mark Jones, the brains behind Precipice: Seneca’s Ultimate Remix, a project that started as a curiosity a little over a year ago. Now, it’s one of the most tangible cross-disciplinary showcases in Seneca’s history, premiering at Nuit Blanche Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Over coffee with a film composer recently, Jones, Chair, School of Creative Arts & Animation (SCAA), wondered out loud: What would happen if a film composer wrote the music before the film was made?

Erica Procunier, the said film composer, jumped at the idea. She had just collaborated with the Seneca Summer Animation Institute on DAM! The Story of Kit the Beaver and was, she said, “very used to having a visual perimeter to work with — synchronized timing and rigid restrictions.”

In contrast, the commission from Jones — a four-minute original musical composition — offered endless possibilities. “It’s almost daunting,” Procunier said.

The composition, titled Precipice, was recorded at Seneca with the help of the Moscow Bow Tie Orchestra, a 20-piece orchestra that recorded the string section remotely from Russia. The music then served as the starting point for more than 60 SCAA students and faculty that went on to produce 28 new works across a spectrum of disciplines — photography, painting, sculpture, projection mapping, animation, music remixes, live performance, virtual reality and documentary film.

“It was an experiment and I had no expectations,” Jones said. “It’s nerve-racking and I’ve been holding my breath a bit.”

During an art therapy workshop that kicked off the project, participants were asked to listen to the music with their eyes closed, part of the active imagination technique. They were then asked to draw patterns, shapes and colours that delved into their initial ideas.

“There were a lot of feelings, shapes and colours,” said Christina Masci, who graduated from the Illustration program in the spring. “It reminded me of a cavern. There’s a tinge of sadness but then it became a clarity, a revelation.”

Without being told much about the composition, Masci, a computer programmer-turned illustrator, said she was inspired by the music to paint.

Christina Masci, Illustration grad
Christina Masci, Illustration grad, painted three works for the Precipice remix project.

“We had a lot of freedom of expression,” she said. “We could basically do anything we wanted and I liked that. I thought, ‘I’m going to paint.’”

Bruna Rico, who has since graduated from the Photography program, said even though she didn’t know the music was titled Precipice, she had pictured someone jumping off a cliff.

“I saw a woman lost in the woods and running against time,” said the chemist-turned photographer.

For Professor Neil Affleck, who has animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, Procunier’s composition conjured up images of the northern lights.

“It’s a very evocative piece of music that has a lot of potential for drama,” Affleck said.

Bruna Rico, Photography grad
Bruna Rico, Photography grad, photographed three photos of a woman lost in the woods after listening to Precipice.

After consulting with First Peoples@Seneca, Affleck teamed up with Indigenous storytellers Ben Kicknosway and Morgan Kagesheongai, both Illustration students at Seneca, to create an animated film titled Wawatay.

With a crew of four animators from the Summer Institute, Wawatay, an Oji-Cree word that translates as “northern lights”, tells the story of the northern lights through Anishinaabe symbolism as designed and hand-drawn by Kicknosway in Woodlands style, a distinct style of native art.

“The Woodlands style has not been interpreted through animation before and I want to make sure it’s a beautiful representation of the Anishinaabe culture,” Kicknosway said. “It’s about the relationship between the past and the present of Indigenous people. The Anishinaabe culture never died and I don’t see it dying at all.”

Encouraged by the works he saw, Jones hired Tara Dorey as a part-time curator to design a multi-room exhibition. Precipice: Seneca’s Ultimate Remix was born.

“The music was so strong, it offered a lot of potential visual energy,” Jones said. “It has been incredibly satisfying.”

While Procunier didn’t disclose the story behind Precipice — about artificial intelligence and how the world is on the precipice of an explosion of technology — she found it interesting that most of the works produced for the project captured the dualism she tried to convey in her music: darkness and lightness, organic and artificial sounds, past and future.

Professor Neil Affleck and Animation student Ryan Lai
Professor Neil Affleck (left) and Animation student Ryan Lai check out artwork created by Indigenous storyteller Ben Kicknosway (right) for Wawatay.

“There’s a distinct moment in the middle of the composition where everything changes. I call it the moment of enlightenment,” she said. “It’s open to interpretation but I can see the dualism in the artworks, the contrast in the opening and the ending. It’s translated and that makes me so happy. They might not have known the subject, but they knew the story.”

A sampling of the virtual reality experience created by Professor Christopher Lewis and students Michael Cuffe and Vinicius Philot.