Earmark - Ian Cusson

August 10, 2017

As part of our ongoing Earmark series, we chat with new CMC Associate Composer Ian Cusson. Ian is a composer of art song, opera and orchestral work. I was delighted to get to know him a few years ago. His experience working with text was a fascinating part of our early conversations as he explores the intersection of Western and Indigenous cultures. Ian has been steadfast in confronting the personal and societal impacts of colonialism in Canada through his music well before settler artists and arts organizations rushed to react in this post truth and reconciliation era. That thoughtfulness extends to discussions of experimentation, and the challenge of defining one's voice when confronted by a dominant aesthetic trend. He shared other reflections on his musical interests.

Canadian Music Centre: What got you excited about music at a young age?

Ian Cusson: As a kid, I studied piano with a teacher who had an impressive vinyl collection and eclectic musical taste. He sent me home from lessons with strange and wonderful recordings and scores. Two of these marked turning points for me: Le Mystery des Voix Bulgares, an album of Bulgarian women’s choirs, with it’s chesty sounds and tight, dissonant harmonies, and La Testa d’Adrianne from the Patria cycle by fellow Canadian, R. Murray Schafer with its graphic score and wild use of extended vocal technique, sung not least, by a decapitated head sitting on a table. What was possible in music suddenly became seemingly limitless.

CMC: What was the most important music concert/event you attended?

IC: There are a few, but a recent one was Ana Sokolovic’s Dawn Always Begins in the Bones, an extended song-cycle for 4-singers. She is the most important living composer in Canada and I’d drop anything to hear a performance of her work.

CMC: What is on your playlist?

IC: It is ever-revolving and varied. Right now: L’histoire du soldat (I could listen to Stravinsky any day), Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (big orchestra but such spare and intimate writing), Pierrot Lunaire (a visionary work I continually come back to) and Nina Simone (incredible artist/activist…endlessly fascinating).

CMC: How do you define your musical/artistic community?

IC: My primary artistic community is performer-centric. I’ve always been drawn to interesting and special performers, in particular singers, for whom I have a deep affinity and respect. Part of what fascinates me is the emotional, physical and psychological realities of being one’s own instrument. It is a rare and mysterious thing to have the right combination of physiology, gifting, work-ethic and opportunity to make a go of singing and to do it well.

CMC: Tell me about a project/work of yours that you are particularly proud of.

IC: I have been working on a one-act French opera with librettist Michel Marc Bouchard based on his play L’histoire de l’oie. An aria from the opera, J’adore les orages (‘orages’ not ‘oranges’) was fun to write, orchestrate and record.