Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Volcanology and Turntables: Catching up with a.rawlings

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Volcanology and Turntables: Catching up with a.rawlings

In this interview, I catch up with a.rawlings and discuss her fascinating range of interests. Her debut book Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists was included in a previous posting as a poetry book of note, regardless of its debut status.

As you'll see, rawlings is unique in her broad range of interests and expertise in the areas of sound, voice, and ecology.

I've included some links here to follow rawlings. She refers to two images in the interview, both of which are attached.



JL: Thanks for doing this interview, Angela.

I know that you've been quite busy since the release of Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists, which was almost five years ago by my count. Can you bring us up to speed on what you've been working on over that time?

a.raw: So much speed. Too much speed.

Major relationship ended. Long stint of Saturn in Virgo. Deepening love for dearhearts, deerhearts, refurinn, særefurinn, weather, and náttúra.

Finished five-year position with The Mercury Press. Arts education work with LTTA, TDSB, TPL, OAC AiE, WiER, TNSOW. Worked for Stop14. Board member for bluemouth inc. and hum dansoundart. Member of Element Choir. Contact improv enthusiast.

Received Chalmers Arts Fellowship.

Home alternates between Kensington Market, Sylvan Valley, Ghentian gardens, view of Faxaflói og Esjan.

Manuscripts in development: Environment Canada (aka EFHILMNORSTUVWY), Ljóðapoems, Snail in the Form of Cochlea, Vessel, Rule of Three.

Collaborative interdisciplinary projects: The Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies (with Ciara Adams and Richard Windeyer), Órói (with Maja Jantar), Drift (with Julie Lassonde and Nilan Perera), Berserker (with Philip Vormwald), Voyage (with Francois Luong).

Performances in Vancouver, Prince George, Edmonton, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto, St. Catharines, Guelph, Kingston, Montreal, Philadelphia, New York City, Reykjavík, Ghent, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brisbane....

Exhibitions in Brussels, Ghent, Vancouver, St. Catharines.

Studied voice with Fides Krucker, movement with Susanna Hood and Sarah Janssens, turntable with Martin Tetréault, alternative conduction techniques, and Icelandic!

Researching improvisation, collaboration, body, volcanology, Icelandic, malacology, divinatory reading practices, sibyls, Tarot.

JL: Wow, that's a lot on the go. Congratulations on the fellowship, among other things.

a.raw: Thanks! It changed everything.

JL: I'm wondering if you could chart for us a little bit the development of your interest in a multi- or inter-disciplinary approach to your artistic practice. I know everyone interprets this question differently, but I guess I'm curious about what genre you started in, if that could even be said, and how your interest in the cross-disciplinary approach developed.


There are three categories or interior geographies that I currently visit/inhabit: sound, text, movement. These particular categories stretch to childhood obsessions for me. My primary language I learned as a youngster was English; my secondary language was dance (specifically ballet prescribed to treat an in-toe gait, tap, and jazz). As a youngster, my parents' sensitivity to early-body “dysfunction” (I was diagnosed 80% deaf and with the aforementioned in-toe gait) taught me an heightened appreciation of body-oriented activities that were dance and music-based. Raised in an arts-supportive environment, I gravitated towards activities that continued to challenge my body. As a high-school student, I was deeply committed to extracurricular activities that combined sound, text and movement (theatre, choir, cheerleading). It was my intention to major in theatre with a focus on directing as an undergrad student, though that shifted when I fell in love with my first-year electives of creative writing (a course taught by Chris Dewdney and Bruce Powe) and dance (where I was first exposed to modern techniques and contact improv). I went on to major in creative writing, with a minor in fine arts cultural studies and nearly enough credits for a second minor in theatre.

JL: It seems that it's unfolded also in a geographic sense. I had to look up some of those place names you mentioned as "home." That's Canada, Belgium, and Iceland. Well, I'm jealous.

a.raw: Yes ja já! I'm still overwhelmed and in awe. Such an intense challenge and gift to spend time in these places. Such love.

JL: So, I guess I'm wondering about the time that's elapsed since WSfL debuted and how you discovered your interest in turntables, volcanos, singing, iceland, and tarot cards (among other things).

a.raw: I grew up in a family that encouraged loud singing on long car rides. (This has proven embarrassing more than once in my adult years, bless them.) The last decade, I've continued that loud habit but I've also become quite interested in the boundaries between speech, non-semantic sounding, and singing. I'm intrigued by what sounds are possible to make with the human body, and particularly cultural attitudes towards acceptable sounds as categorized by gender.

When I finished WSfL, I felt as though I needed to dedicate serious research to my long infatuation with sound and voice. I turned to acoustic ecology, audio recording, vocal improvisation, and the improvised music scene in Toronto. Somewhere

There became a home away from home, and I also frequently performed with Christine Duncan's Element Choir.

My interest in turntables came about when I was invited to participate in a private multidisciplinary workshop at Somewhere There (four participants with different backgrounds but dedication to crossing boundaries). Around this time, I also acquired a theremin so I could experiment with the first non-touch electric instrument. In 2009 and 2010, I worked with the Logos Foundation's robotic orchestra in Ghent, using motion-detection sensors (Godfried-Willem Raes' invisible instruments) to trigger a structured improvisation performed by the robotic instruments that I paired with voice.

Iceland has been present probably since I was eight. I had this game I'd play with the atlas where I'd look at the maps and try to write down all of the countries. Budding toponymist! Iceland always stood out for me, and as I grew older I would notice when mention of or reference to Iceland came up. It gripped imagination -- an island in the north Altantic ripe with geothermal activity and a vibrant music scene. My volcanic interests came also through this thread, and intensified the last few years as I've been able to travel in Iceland, learn a little about geothermal and hydrothermal activity, witness geyser activity, hike Snæfellsjökull, view Eyjafjallajökull's ash plume the first day it erupted, and soak in hot springs in lava fields.

JL: Do you see your work (WSfL for example, but perhaps also current projects you're working on) as bringing one genre into another, one tradition to bear on another, or do you, as Lisa Robertson said (I think it's her 12 or 20 interview on rob mclennan's blog) not experience boundaries between genres (I think she used the word "disciplines"--slightly different, but along the same lines).

a.raw: Boundaries between disciplines exist insofar as they're imposed on a work, but the work grows hopefully unfettered by classification at the outset. Categorization occurs in hindsight, or in reflection, or in the midst of doing. Oh, aha! Ahh, yes!

JL: In the video I included on my openblog post for WSfL you introduce the book and say that you're bringing two seemingly disparate fields of study (lepidoptery and dream studies) together to let them breed something new. Could you say a little more about that? Is that pairing of disparate fields a key aspect of your artistic practice?

a.raw: Yes, WSfL was the spawn of two seemingly incompatible bedfellows, a "pataphysical textperiment” to breed disparate subjects.

JL: Is that pairing of disparate fields a key aspect of your artistic practice?

a.raw: Only when absolutely necessary.

JL: Do you see all of your interests congealing in a larger project or do they remain autonomous?

a.raw: Yes.

By "yes," I affirm both notions. And I'll now answer this sideways, as it's absolutely necessary to do so.

Consider with WSfL -- each page, each recto-verso spread, every section, and the book as a whole can all function as distinct poems. My hope was to create a book so that if a reader flipped to a page randomly, that page would read as its own linguistic ecosystem, functional within the page's frame. Or that a two-page spread would function as the entire poem, housed within the larger frame. Or that an entire section could read as one longer poem. Or that the book itself, if read chronologically, could function as a book-length long poem. So the page is potentially autonomous (or solo), but the book is, too. In this way, I see all of my interests coalescing to make a life's work, always, but also feeding more discrete or shorter forms. Each project will dialogue with the others somehow, but also retain its independence.

To answer your question diagonally, the interests I've listed could be grouped in this manner:

JL: When you complete a new project do you feel like you're bringing to bear all of these interests or are they more like discrete areas in a larger geography?

a.raw: Yes.

By "yes," I affirm yesness.

JL: I know you've done a wide variety of editing and contributing/translating for various anthologies. Are you also working on a follow-up book of poetry to WSFL? Or, would you say that there's a follow-up project to the book, or a series of projects connected to the book?

a.raw: ENVIRONMENT CANADA (aka EFHILMNORSTUVWY) is a book I began writing in January 2007. Both WSfL and ENVIRONMENT CANADA are part of a trilogy in a series called HUMAN VISITS NATURE. I definitely consider these two books as sibling texts, and I am cognizant of this while writing ENVIRONMENT CANADA. I don't yet know the third book, but it will come eventually. ENVIRONMENT CANADA is a little over half-way completed, and I have also begun working on performance strategies for it with Maja Jantar. This is different from WSfL, where the performance approaches came after the book was fully realized. It is possible to watch most of our EC performance work-in-progress online, as we recently appeared at the NORTH OF INVENTION Canadian Poetry Festival at Kelly Writers' House in Philadelphia. The first video on this page shows both our Tarot collaboration as well as the ENVIRONMENT CANADA performance.

There is also currently one follow-up project related to WSfL -- THE CENTRE FOR SLEEP AND DREAM STUDIES. In collaboration with bluemouth inc.'s artistic directors Ciara Adams and Richard Windeyer, we're creating a durational, immersive performance that includes a live-mixed soundscape for partygoers as well as a one-on-one somniloquixotic patient interview. We recently set up THE CENTRE for Buddies in Bad Times' Rhubarb Theatre Festival here in Toronto, and offered an interview where we discuss the project's genesis and our interdisciplinary collaboration process. My response to the latter could relate to your question on distinguishing boundaries between disciplines:

As Richard says, "this kind of work [interdisciplinary work] is a discipline." All mixes inside this body, this geography, this home to spill out in so many shapes and shades of weather.

JL: Wow, all of this sounds amazing.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Angela.

a.raw: Ekkert mál fyrir Jón Pal!!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Jeff Latosik

Jeff Latosik’s first book, Tiny, Frantic, Stronger (Insomniac Press), was published in Spring 2010.

Go to Jeff Latosik’s Author Page