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An Italian villa, on a July night, will sample the ice of the NWT


A contemporary collaborative art project featuring the NWT’s ice is anticipated to premiere in Italy on a hot July day next summer.

Yellowknife composer Carmen Braden, already known for her work with ice, is at the project’s heart alongside NWT filmmakers Caroline Cox, Tiffany Ayalik, and Ben McGregor. They are joined by Manitoba pianist Megumi Masaki.

“This is a project involving live piano performance, visuals, projections, and sounds of ice,” Braden told Cabin Radio. “People talking about ice, stories about the freeze-up, how climate change is impacting ice, and how that can be brought to life through music.”

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The project is timely, launching in a year when Yellowknife’s freeze-up was unusually late.

The finished product will feature interviews about the ice and the North’s changing climate with Elders, a harvester, an ice scientist, young Yellowknife-based climate activists, a houseboater, and an ice road truck driver.

Masaki said she first felt a connection to Yellowknife when she met Andrea Bettger, a fiddler who lives in the city, a few years ago. Bettger, who lives on a houseboat, told Masaki about the stress of freeze-up and break-up and the impact on her ability to get home.

“That image for me was so startling,” said Masaki.

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“That uncertainty of knowing if and when the ice is going to freeze … and how that displaces your family, that resonated and it stuck in the back of my head.”

Masaki asked Braden and Cox to help tell the story through film and music.

It’s not the first time Braden has leaned on ice for musical inspiration – she once froze a piano in a lake – but she says this project is different because it’s the first time she has approached ice through a climate change lens to examine its impact on people’s lives.

Permafrost scientist Rosy Tutton, right. Photo: Carmen Braden
Recording the sounds of the ice. Photo: Carmen Braden

“I’ve appreciated it more for its beauty, its sonic potential, its voice by itself, and how it exists here in the sub-Arctic,” she said of past projects.

Braden will compose a 15-minute piece for the project, to be accompanied live by Masaki and a series of visuals for its debut in Europe.

Braden described the interviewees as people “whose lives are very deeply connected to ice or the environment.”

She said: “We’ve talked to Indigenous Elders who have stories from the past, we’ve talked to people who are actively out hunting on land. We’ve talked to a climate scientist who studies permafrost, which is very cool. We’ve talked to teenagers who are jumping into activism roles.”

Cox said visuals can tell powerful stories and, paired with live music next summer, will create an emotional connection for the audience that “could really inspire change on a personal level, maybe more so than reading figures and facts about the impacts of climate change.”

Braden expects the project to premiere at an Italian villa hosting a contemporary art music film festival next summer.

“It will be Megumi on a piano and these stories of Fred Sangris and an ice road trucker and climate change activists who go to Sir John,” she said, “and that will be happening in Italy, in July.

“But hopefully Megumi will come and perform it here in the next couple of years.”

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