slippages, an interdisciplinary exercise in seeing sound

October 16, 2018

The world premiere of slippages took place at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday, October 5, 2018. To view the performance, please visit this link.

Seeing sound has been on Deborah Carruthers’ mind for years. Now her research is materializing in slippages, an interdisciplinary performance about glaciers and climate change that was originally envisioned during her time as the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. 

The performance is a collaboration with current Wall Scholar and Orchestra Director Jonathan Girard, who will conduct the UBC Symphony Orchestra in its interpretation of Carruthers’ graphic score slippages

“It is written in the language of glaciers, informed by their physics, chemistry, ecologies and philosophy,” explained Carruthers.

During the event, the UBC Symphony Orchestra will improvise a 10-minute performance accompanied and informed by Carruthers’ visuals – 27 paintings on handmade paper. 

“With a glacier, the present is on the surface. You are working from the present to the past. Each layer, each sheet of my score is a layer of history,” added Carruthers.

Graphic scores are not commonly included in regular Symphony Orchestra programs, nor are the works of non-musician visual artists. 

“Deborah’s gorgeous score presents a thrilling challenge. How do we, as musicians, interpret visual art?” explained Girard.

“We want the music to speak to the cool beauty of the work, but also the ideas behind it: of flux, of change, of loss. Just as the natural world has a life of its own, a kind of agency apart from human influence, we want the music, through improvisation, to have a life of its own that goes above and beyond the performers.” 

The opportunity to work with Carruthers arose from a Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies workshop that Girard attended. 

“This work will be used to bridge disciplines and introduce both the musicians and a public audience to the potential of visually and aurally integrated works of art,” Carruthers said.


The performance of slippages will include the crumpling and dropping of the pages that make up the score as it is performed – both for the sonic properties and to evoke solastalgia (the distress experienced when the environment changes, but you are unable to leave). 

The event will include a brief introductory talk in advance of the performance, in which both the creation of graphic scores and the practice of structured improvisation will be briefly explained. 

“Audiences can expect something totally unique, as a project like this is a first,” Girard said.

The evening’s program, which also includes works by Mahler and Taiwanese composer Tsang-Houei Hsu, will also be live-streamed in HD 360 and made available for later viewing online. Viewing parties are being planned in a number of cities across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Top image: slippages , Page 1 (Detail)
Center images : slippages, Pages 2 – 3
Photos : John William

The world premiere of slippages took place at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m.  To view the performance, please visit this link.