Nicole Lizée Undisrupted: A Guide to The Orchestra

Is “undisrupted” a word?

We have disturbed and undisturbed, disputable and indisputable.

As far as I can tell the best way to understand undisrupted is in its use as the title of a series on CBC Gem:
“In this ground-breaking video series, Canadian visionaries Measha Brueggergosman, Shawnee Kish, Nicole Lizée, and Ana Sokoloviċ share their stories using the NAC Orchestra as their megaphone.

It seems that the title is a big hint. Four creators were turned loose, their work free of disruption.

Ergo “Undisrupted”.

I’ve just watched Nicole Lizée’s episode, described this way on the CBC website.

“Composer and film-maker Nicole Lizée wrote the music, screenplay and directed her episode, which features NAC Orchestra in a magic realist documentary.”

I was afraid of what an Erin O’Toole victory might have meant for the CBC. He spoke of defunding, right? So I’ve been breathing sighs of relief since September 20th.

Lizée’s documentary reminds me of the CBC we used to know in the days of Glenn Gould, when the CBC was willing to be a forum for experiment and exploration of the medium.

GG and NL both presuppose a certain level of intelligence that reminds me of the good old days. “A Guide to the Orchestra” is the title we keep seeing in the film, on scores, on books, even though this little film isn’t in any sense a guide to the orchestra in the usual sense of a composition such as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten.

The fact I’m reminded of Wes Anderson (who used Britten’s Guide in his Moonrise Kingdom, one of my favorite films) is a good sign.

Lizée’s guide is several orders of wackiness beyond Britten.

Yes we do see a milk container with a picture of a missing person on its side, namely The Copyist. I must mention that, as a dinosaur who has written most of his scores manually on staff paper, this image is simultaneously poignant and hysterically funny, and yes I suppose I’m laughing at myself at a moment like this.

No the face on the carton doesn’t resemble me, at least not very much.

I refuse to be a reviewer who thinks it’s their job to tell you the whole story of the film, to spill all the good jokes and leave you with no reason to watch. So I won’t do that, although gulp, I’m going to show you one small sequence of the film, as captured on my laptop. And then I’ll unpack this both in terms of what I see Lizée doing in this film and relative to what we’ve seen her do elsewhere.

A box of orchestration? And there’s a picture of a missing person on that milk carton
Inside the box of Orchestration? sensuous vivid colours. Yummmm
Tasty orchestration
But what’s bursting out of that..that….that tasty chunk of orchestration???
MISSING: answers to “Copyist” last seen wearing black turtleneck and carrying portable ant farm

There are at least two things going on with the film in the half minute encompassed by these pictures. (yes there’s a great deal going on. It’s half an hour, and every minute makes you think and might also make you laugh. If Measha, Ana and Shawnee can come anywhere close to what Nicole did in this little film? The series is a success.)

Lizée picks up something she’s already shown us in her exploration of Karaoke that was seen in Toronto in early 2020, a collaboration with the Australian Art Orchestra. We may be accustomed to thinking of musical scores as a two-dimensional system of representing sounds on the page. Indeed, the parallel to this in art is best captured by Maurice Denis, who famously said

Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a female nude or some sort of anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors.

We might call Denis the opposite extreme from Lizée, who is something of a transcendentalist in wanting us to believe that the music on the page is not just flat on the page, but even in some sense alive.

Okay, yes she’s working on this project with a layer of irony. We keep seeing signs of ants in this film, who are bursting out of the most unexpected places. They’ve got tunnels underneath the National Arts Centre stage – I wonder if Hamilton Southam would be amused at the idea—and in other places. You see the dry oblique reference to an ant farm in that missing copyist picture.

Although the milk does spill when it’s consumed, the humour is as dry as one of Glenn Gould’s intercultural references.

I’m inadequate to the task in positing “mockumentary” as the genre for this film. We’re not really in the realm of This is Spinal Tap or Best in Show. This is profoundly wacky. I mean it might be profound but it’s wacky all the same.

Lizée’s musical contribution to the film is in some respects incidental, excuse the pun. Her score underlies everything, a most self-effacing creation in that respect.

So, first let me recommend Lizée’s piece.

And now I must check out the other three (from Measha Brueggergosman, Ana Sokolovic,Shawnee Kish).

In passing let me direct you to the CBC’s own essay that gives you the overview of the series. The headline of the page gives you a good idea:
Four curators were given an orchestra, a film crew, and huge creative freedom. This is what happened.

Here’s a link to the UNDISRUPTED page, where you can find all four of the creations.

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1 Response to Nicole Lizée Undisrupted: A Guide to The Orchestra

  1. Pingback: Alexander Shelley is coming to town | barczablog

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