Nuit Blanche Enchanted Labyrinth

the next day

As we set up in the rain, in between the puddles, September 21st came to be known by our team of rubber-clad collaborators as  “Pluie Blanche”. The forecast was for rain and rain it did. It is a worrisome affair to invest time and effort in an outdoor event and then to go ahead on a rainy evening to create a huge labyrinth and set out a considerable stack of electronics all the while wondering if anyone would come out.

We had been done in last year by the weather and cancelled our 2012 Nuit Blanche project and resolved to figure out how to create a labyrinth event with surround sound in the rain. It’s interesting to observe how the mind works. Desperation, they say is the mother of invention and that was the experience we had while figuring out how to make a weather proof a candlelight labyrinth.
My local garden centre sells farm supplies and one of the products they carry is chicken grit, a fine white granite gravel. I used it to create the lines of the labyrinth. I found myself creating a huge geometric drawing. As I got comfortable with my new tools I started to play with the elements that I had brought. Who knew that making a gigantic drawing in the rain could be so much fun? The clock was running and the musicians arrived to start their set up. We all beavered away at our tasks with almost no consultation. We had made a plan and each person seemed to know the role they were to play. It is fabulous when things work out as planned or even better.
The first visitor arrived sometime after 7:00 pm and asked if she could walk the labyrinth. I suggested I go first with the candles that would light up the centre. It was the eve of the equinox and I had planned to use a gorgeous orange potted  chrysanthemum my mother had given me for the centre. I wanted something alive and growing for the centre and the mum came to represent the sun. Radiating out from the potted plant I drew three foot long lines, 12 in all, reminiscent of the months of the year. On my last journey to the centre of the labyrinth I gently turned the ends of the lines in a sunward direction. That felt complete at last as the rain continued to fall.
Central star
Bruce Nicol, the creator of the sound setting, was struck by a Joni Mitchell song and it became the organizing theme for his composition. Bruce created a surround soundscape with three distinct physical regions on the perimeter of the labyrinth. As you traveled the path of the labyrinth you would come into the range of a set of speakers and then walked though the sound. In this way the sound came and went in waves, subtle yet discernible.  Antonia Pigot provided a harmonic vocal line or perhaps it was a series of circles or spiral on top and interwoven with  Bruce’s soundscape. I was most impressed by Antonia’s ability to find and create a melodic stream that floated on top of what Bruce had created. This was truly improvisation in the moment.
Offering the labyrinth in a public setting attracts the full gambit of responses. Some people come for a romp in the park as a few children and youth did. Several couples walked and chatted in a social kind of way, perhaps discussing and deciphering the sonic cues. Others walked with great intent remembering lost family members or other deep traumas. It all takes place in deep privacy, yet in the middle of a city park….and for the most part wordlessly. It is an honour as well as a learning opportunity to create and hold the space for the full gamut of human possibility.
Gratitude to Bruce Nicol and Antonia Pigot for being such willing explores and creators, collaborating to enhance the labyrinth experience. Many thanks go to the good folks at the City of Ottawa who helped facilitate our evening in the park. Thanks to all those who contributed to help make the event possible. Thanks also to Tim Stewart, Alex Nicol, Ross Davison, Nick Cochrane, Mathew Larkin and the men’s Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa, The Barnfest Singers,  Maeve Weddle and her Women’s Choir, Dan and Danny Sharp and last but not least Joni Mitchell for inspiration.
rain with umbrella
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