PRINT Summer 1987


IN 1964, STILL YOUNG at age 32, the internationally acclaimed Canadian pianist Glenn Gould suddenly abandoned the performance of public concerts, preferring to communicate with audiences through recordings rather than in person. Gould felt that recording technology and the mass media offered unrealized possibilities for musicians and artists concerned with sound, and he devoted the rest of his life—he died in 1982—to exploring them. Many of his records, for example, are in fact montages rather than unbroken documents of his playing; experimenting with a procedure that is now standard recording-studio practice, he would edit fragments of a number of taped performances into a continuous piece of music.

Less widely known than Gould’s interpretations of the classical repertoire of the piano are a series of radio programs he made for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Radio was in fact a favorite medium of his; the CBC’s commissions gave him the opportunity to extend his sensitivity to the technology of communication. And he did so without suppressing his extraordinary musical intelligence, for the programs, blown-apart and reassembled versions of the documentary form, develop what Gould called “contrapuntal radio,” radio in which speech is arranged as an instrument in settings of an interplay and overall shape that recall the structure of music.

Gould believed that the listener capable of distinguishing among the tonalities within a string quartet could bring the same discrimination to orchestrations of the spoken voice. Taking a conventional documentary subject—Canada’s Northwest Territories, say—he would tape separate interviews with knowledgeable and opinionated men and women, then bring their words together into a kind of conversation in which personalities emerge and submerge, now loud, now soft, now absent, now asserting themselves over another speaker, now ruminating alone. Sections of three of these programs are reprinted here. Each an hour or so long, the tapes together form a trilogy, The Solitude Trilogy, and though they nowhere discuss his life directly, Gould saw them as in some sense an autobiographical statement. The transcriptions that follow may be inexact—the programs’ overlapping voices are sometimes deliberately indistinct. Even were they entirely accurate, as the verbal components of aural works of art they would only partially evoke the mood of the tapes. Yet they give, I hope, some sense of Gould’s poetics of telecommunications. Where one person’s speech dominates others’ in volume, it is printed in boldface.

In the first excerpt, from The Quiet in the Land, 1973, the sound of a church service, with hymn singing and organ playing, provides a kind of ostinato throughout, occasionally punctuated by such sounds as church bells, passing cars, a Janis Joplin song, and a J. S. Bach cello piece. This program is a portrait of an isolated religious settlement of generations’ standing, a Mennonite community in the area of the Red River Valley, Manitoba. The tape, recorded in stereo, includes the voices of the Reverend Aaron Toews, Professor Roy Vogt, Howard Dyck, the Reverend David Neufeld, Professor Clarence Hiebert, Peter Klassen, Helen Litz, Esther Horch, Wanda Toews, and members of the Mennonite Children’s Choir and of the Kitchener-Waterloo Mennonite Church congregation. The selection that follows is from the opening passages of the tape.

The Quiet in the Land

Harry Mannes: Good evening, I’m Harry Mannes and this is Ideas. Tonight, a special program on the Mennonites, prepared and written by Glenn Gould. This documentary ends Mr. Gould’s trilogy on people in isolation by looking at a religious group long separate from the mainstream of Canadian life and how they are coping with the increasing pressures and strains that the 20th century has placed on this community. Tonight’s program has five scenes or conversations linked together by a church service, giving different views on aspects of contemporary life and theology.

Male voice: Stand please.

First man: The Lord Jesus said, People persecuted me. They will persecute you because you are my disciples. Everybody who is a true disciple will have to suffer some persecution. We believe in the teaching of the Lord and in the teachings of the Apostles. And Paul said in his epistle to the Corinthians, You have to separate.

Second man: I think it still means something to them over there. Whereas over here it would be just impossible to do anything of the kind, you know. And how important that is would be very difficult to say, I guess. I never really felt the strong separation that people might think of when they think of Mennonites. In fact, I never really felt I was separate from the rest of society anyway.

Janis Joplin: I would like to do a song of great social and

Joplin: political import. It goes like this:

Second man: I find that the rhythm of my being seems to move in

Joplin: [tambourine]

Second man: rhythm with many things around me. I lie down on my floor in

Joplin: Oh Lord

Second man: the living room and listen to Janis Joplin. And I could listen to

Joplin: won’t ya buy me a Mer-ce-des

Second man: that thing three or four times in a row. And my children come in

Joplin: Benz My friends all

Second man: and they’re surprised to see their old man, you know, lying in the

Joplin: drive Porsches, I must

Second man: living room floor listening to Janis Joplin. And I’m trying to figure

Joplin: make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime

Second man: myself. I don’t know why it is.

Third man: Hmmm. . . . That’s a

Joplin: no help from my friends Oh lord

Third man: good question. It’s a pretty existential thing, you know. It changes.

Joplin: won’t you buy me a Mer-ce-des

Third man: I think what a Mennonite was able to do twenty-five years ago, you

Joplin: Benz Oh lord, won’t ya buy me

Third man: know, as contrasted to what he could do today,

Joplin: a color TV Dialing for

Third man: has really changed a lot. Certainly the isolationist idea, that is,

Joplin: Dollars is trying to find me I wait for

Third man: *“I. . . I lose myself in the group and I don’t get out there,” is a

Joplin: delivery each day until three

Third man: poor defense, and it’s breaking down at every hand in our time

Joplin: So oh lord, won’t ya buy me a color TV

Third man: anyway. I think we need to learn to go our own

Joplin: Oh Lord, won’t ya buy

Third man: way, but I think we need to learn, really, to get on in this world of

Joplin: a night on the town I’m counting

Third man: ours without becoming tainted by it. And that’s really what great art

Joplin: on you Lord, please don’t let me down Prove

Third man: is all about, isn’t it, I mean that’s what the fugue ultimately is all

Joplin: that you love me and buy me. . . [fade out]

Third man: about, using, if you will, the techniques the composer had at his disposal and making something of it that is really quite otherworldly.

Harry Mannes: The Quiet in the Land. A portrait of the Mennonites at Red River by Glenn Gould.

Fourth man: This in-the-world-and-not-of-the-world concept is a favorite of Mennonites historically. When I was in Switzerland, I found people driven up the mountains and defending why they were there historically—that they wanted to be in the world but not of it. Whereas the younger theologians were saying, but this is not what it means—that one, in fact, must be in the world geographically, and, being in the world, not sell out to the world in which one is.

Fifth man: Let us bow for prayer.

Fourth man: But I think there is a conflict on the idea of utopianism versus

Fifth man: Lord God,

Fourth man: scattering into the world, and there are many Mennonites who say that

Fifth man: the Holy Ghost in this excepted hour, as on the day of Pentecost descend

Fourth man: if you want to be Christian, it means that you wear this kind of dress,

Fifth man: in all thy power.We meet with one accord in our appointed

Fourth man: this kind of head covering, you wear a beard and whatever else is

Fifth man: place, and wait the promise of our Lord, the spirit of all grace.

Fourth man: entailed with their particular outward expression of this life-style,

Fifth man: Like mighty rushing wind upon the waves beneath, move with one

Fourth man: which symbolically indicates how they feel about the city. And yet

Fifth man: impulse every mind, one soul one feeling breathe. The young, the old

Fourth man: on the other hand there are those who preach about breaking up the

Fifth man: inspire with wisdom from above, and give us hearts and tongues of

Fourth man: ghettos, as some of them would refer to the smaller villages and the

Fifth man: fire to pray and praise and love. Spirit of life explore and chase

Fourth man: towns; saying that one should not pile salt, because salt was meant

Fifth man: our bloom away, with luster shining more and more, unto the perfect

Fourth man: to be dispersed.

Fifth man: day.

[Roar of passing car]

The Idea of North

The Idea of North, 1967, explores the effects of isolation on life in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Gould interviewed five people: R. A. J. Phillips, James Lotz, Marianne Schroeder, Frank Vallee, and W. V. Maclean. Here, it is the sound of a train moving across the landscape that provides the recurring motif, as though the speakers were all passengers on a journey north. The tape was recorded in mono; the section that follows may be thought of as its fuguelike prologue and the opening statement of its theme.

Marianne Schroeder: I was fascinated by the country as such. I flew north from Churchill to Coral Harbour and Southampton Island at the end of September. Snow had begun to fall and the country was freshly covered by it. Some of the lakes were frozen around the edges but towards the center of the lake you could still see the clear, clear water. In flying over this country you could look down and see various shades of green in the water and you could see the bottom of the lakes and it was the most fascinating experience. I remember I was up in the cockpit with the pilot and I was forever looking out left and right, and I could see ice floes over the Hudson’s Bay and I was always looking for a polar bear or some seals that I could spot. But unfortunately there were none. And as we flew along the east coast of Hudson’s Bay, this flat flat country frightened me,

Frank Vallee: I don’t go, let me say this, I don’t go

Schroeder: because it just seemed endless.

Vallee: for this Northmanship bit at all. Uh, I don’t, uh,

Schroeder: We seemed to be going into nowhere. And the further

Vallee: knock those people who do claim to

Schroeder: north we went the more monotonous. . .

Vallee: want to go farther and farther north and so on, but I see it as a kind

Schroeder: There was nothing but snow, and to our right,

Vallee: of game, this Northmanship bit. And if people’ld say well, you know,

Schroeder: water.

Vallee: “Were you ever up at the North Pole?” you know, and "Hell, I did a,

Schroeder: Now, this was a [indecipherable wwwwwwwwoooooorrrddddsss]

Vallee: a dogsled trip in 22 days,“ and the other fellow says ”Well, I did one in

Schroeder: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwwoooooooooooorrrrrrdddddssss]

Vallee: 30 days," now that’s pretty childish. Perhaps

R.A.J. Phillips: And then for another 11 years I served the North

Schroeder: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrddddddssss]

Vallee: they, they would see themselves as more skeptical,

Phillips: in various capacities. Sure the North has changed my life.

Schroeder: And [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwwoooooorrrrrddddddsssss]

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrrdddddddddddssss]

Phillips: I can’t conceive of anyone being in close touch with the North, whether

Schroeder: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrrrddddddsssss]

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrrrdddddddddd

Phillips: he lived there all the time or simply traveled it month after month,

Vallee: dssss] more skeptical about, uh, the, [indecipherable wwoorrds]

Phillips: year after. . . I can’t conceive of such a person being really untouched by

Vallee: the offerings of the mass media

Phillips: the North for the rest of his life. When I left in 1965, at least left the job

Vallee: And it’s not like there is some special merit, uh, some virtue

Phillips: there, it wasn’t because of being tired of the North, of more

Vallee: to being in the North, or some special virtue in having been with the

Phillips: interest, or anything of the sort. I was as keen as ever. Because I am a

Schroeder: It

Vallee: primitive people. You know, what special virtue is there in that? And, uh,

Phillips: public servant, I was asked to go on another job which related to fighting

Schroeder: is most difficult to describe. It was extreme isolation. And this is very

Vallee: so that I, I find that in a way I, I experienced it

Phillips: a war I find, I suppose, the main reason

Schroeder: true. And I knew very well that I could not go anywhere except for

Vallee: at Baker Lake.

Phillips: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrrrrddddddddddsss]

Schroeder: a mile or two walking. And I always think of the long summer days

Valle: If indeed it has ever changed me. The trouble is when

Phillips: [wwoorrdds] has ever experienced [indecipherable wwwwoooorrrddss]

Schroeder: when the snow had melted, the lakes were open and the geese and

Vallee: you go north, [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwooooooooooorrrrdddsss]

Phillips: [wwoords] day to day, as a onetime tourist

Schroeder: ducks had started to fly. During that time, the sun would set

Vallee: more important [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwoooooooorrrrrdddss]

Phillips: or even after you go often you start to, you

Schroeder: and when there was still the last shimmer in the sky I would walk out

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwww wwwoooooooooooorrrrrrrrrdddddddsss]

Phillips: start out thinking metal snatch of

Schroeder: to one of those lakes and watch those

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwooorrrrrdddsss] Still

Phillips: you’ve never seen the North till

Schroeder: ducks and geese just fly around peacefully or sitting on the water.

Vallee: You don’t [indecipherable wwwwooorrddss] In

Phillips: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrrrrdddddddddd

Schroeder: And I felt that I was almost part of that country,

Vallee: the way of technological [indecipherable wwwwwwwwoooorrrdddsss]

Phillips: dsssss] of thinking: Aha! here’s the North to be opened up, it opened up

Schroeder: part of that peaceful surrounding,

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwoooooorrrrrdddddsssss] that the world

Phillips: the day before yesterday

Schroeder: and I wished that it would never end.

Vallee: is too complex.

Phillips: [indecipherable wwwwooorrddss] are we right to open it up?

Schroeder: This was especially true

Vallee: the mass media, which, incidentally, [indecipherable wwooorrrdddss]

Phillips: but the real truth about the North

Schroeder: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwoooooooooorrrrrrrddddddsssssss]

Vallee: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwwooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrddddddsss]

Phillips: [indecipherable wwwwwwwwwoooooooooooorrrrrrrrddddddddssss]

Glenn Gould: This is Glenn Gould and this program is called The Idea of North.

I’ve long been intrigued by that incredible tapestry of tundra and taiga which constitutes the arctic and subarctic of our country. I have read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there. Yet like all but a very few Canadians I’ve had no real experience of the North. I’ve remained, of necessity, an outsider, and the North has remained for me a convenient place to dream about, spin tall tales about, and, in the end, avoid. This program, however, brings together some remarkable people who have had a direct confrontation with that northern third of Canada, who’ve lived and worked there and in whose lives the North has played a very vital role. There’s a geographer and anthropologist, Jim Lotz; a sociologist, Frank Vallee; a government official, Bob Phillips; and a nurse, Marianne Schroeder. And there’s also a fifth character and therein lies a story. Several years ago, I went north aboard a train known affectionately to Westerners as the Muskeg Express, Winnipeg to Port Churchill, 1,015 miles, two nights one day, four double bedrooms, eight sections, diner and coach. And, at breakfast, I struck up a conversation with one W. V. Maclean, or, as he was known along the line and at all the hamlet sidings where his bunk car would be parked, Wally. Wally Maclean is a surveyor, now retired, and within the first minutes of what proved to be a daylong conversation he endeavored to persuade me of the metaphorical significance of his profession. He parlayed surveying into a literary tool, even as Jorge Luis Borges manipulates mirrors and Franz Kafka badgers beetles. And as he did so I began to realize that his relation to a craft which has as its subject the land enabled him to read the signs of that land, to find the most minute measurement as suggestion of the infinite, to encompass the universal within the particular. And so when it came time to organize this program, and to correlate the disparate views of our four other guests, I invited Wally Maclean to be our narrator and to tell me how, in his view, one can best attain the idea of North.

Wally Maclean: Well the only way I see this happening is in an extended ride north. When I say that, I mean a long, terrible, trying trip. Perhaps to Churchill, by way of Thompson going and coming, past Ilford and Gillam, this long, almost trans-Siberian experience that we now face. And for those that face it perhaps for the first, or second, or third time there’s almost a traumatic experience. They feel awe: this is going to be impossible. It may not be now but it’s going to become. And yet they’re able to do little or nothing about it. What finally, you ask, is done about it? Well here’s, here’s my guess. What really happens is this: the train is about to leave The Pas, the specific point, and 510 miles away north and east is going to be Churchill a day later. And what does the person do on leaving The Pas. Do you know what happens? He sits there in the day coach. The newsie is just ahead of him and these people, the conductor and the brakeman and so forth who are accustomed to this, are sort of making nothing of it. He sits there wondering, oh, this is going to be forever. It’s already been a day, now it’s going to be another day and what about this one. Before long he’s going to have to perhaps say hello and, you know, pass the odd word to his fellow man. And indeed it isn’t long before—well we’ve heard what he has to say, why, for the first time, he’s going north. With what? Well with the army, with the navy, with the air force, with these initials that he always throws at you—DPW, what’s that? Oh, Department of Public Works. With DRNL, what’s that? What is it? Defense Research Northern Laboratories? What’s that? Well you’re studying the northern lights, then. Well, well, well. Now you can listen for awhile. Because what do any of us know about the northern lights?

Jim Lotz: Well, like I think quite a large number of people who end up in the North, I sort of got there by mistake, I strayed in there. I think my first attempt to go north was when, during a summer vacation when I was at university in England, I thought about going to Iceland. I don’t know why. And instead, because I’d made a mistake about the fare, I ended up in Morocco. I’m a geographer by training and I have this belief, you see, that geographers are people who have no sense of direction, just as sociologists are people who don’t like society and economists are people who can’t really manage their own money.

The Latecomers

The Latecomers, recorded in stereo in 1969, is set in Newfoundland, the geographically remote eastern island that, with Labrador on the mainland, was the last province to join the Canadian Confederation, in 1949. Gould discussed the nature of the place with Doctor Leslie Harris, the Reverend Lester Burry, Eugene Young, Harold Horwood, John Scott, Ted Russell, Mrs. William Rowe, Mrs. William Morry, Doctor Nathan Hurwitz, the Honorable John Lundrigan, William Patterson, Thomas O’Keefe, and Raymond Rich. Here the sound of the sea breaking on Newfoundland’s rocky shores serves as the basso continuo. Gould ends the piece with the same kind of counterpoint of voices that opens The Idea of North, but in the section excerpted here, which directly precedes that complex arrangement, individual speakers sustain their thoughts for more extended passages.

First man: Now and then, what happens? They go through the years and they go to the university. Now what have you got? We have a class of young men and young women coming out of university with a B.A. And you know what BA is? BA is the two first letters of the alphabet and they got ’em backwards.

Second man: The Newfoundlanders, I think, still belong to a generation which didn’t find the same necessity for this type of abstraction: it does not become absolutely essential. And they’re a sort of the lost generation for that reason, I think. So I would say this is a very real thing, this substructure of absolute reality that underlies the whole of our thinking, in our approaches and our thought.

Third man: First of all, your concentration on the land is in fact, of course, not really relevant to Newfoundland. Because the land was a place to enjoy yourself on, since the economy was on the sea. And this has rather, I think, important factors in the explanation of what’s happened to the economy over the last twenty years. The easiest way is perhaps to make a comparison with the Irish patriot Yeats’ way of describing Ireland as a beautiful maiden. The Irish patriot wants to beautify her, put trinkets on her, give her a dress, and so on. In Newfoundland, the Newfoundlander, generally, economically speaking, looks on Newfoundland as a whore, rape the wench, rape the land for all it’s worth. Rape it minerally, rape it in terms of timber. The land has not really been the source of emotion, the source of contact with reality, I’d say, that it generally is in more agrarian economies. I don’t think Newfoundlanders are inhibited in any way by contact with nature from abstract musings. It’s not so much the land that has inhibited the development of abstract processes of thought. It’s the fact that we haven’t had the time or the energy or the way of life to miss this sort of thinking. And also, abstract thought, I should imagine, develops as a response to its particular need. And these particular needs have not been present here in Newfoundland for a long time. They aren’t present here now.

Second man: Yes, Saint Joseph’s today is a dead community. It’s been abandoned. I think the last settlers or the last residents have moved out. There may be one or two families remaining. It’s a victim primarily of the recentralization program which the government has introduced over the past two years. It’s very hard for me to be dispassionate about this, and objective, because I’ve been involved, and at the same time I haven’t been involved because I made my decision to leave Saint Joseph’s twenty years ago. I suppose I see it through slightly rose-tinted glasses now. And I see it, in a sense, as a romantic sees it, a sentimentalist sees it. From the rational point of view I look at what the government has done and I see where they’ve had reasons from where they sit. They’re looking at practical things. People want sewage and water supply and electricity and good postal service and good schools and good hospitals and doctors and all the rest of it. And there is a method in what they do when they say that thirteen hundred communities must disappear, we must bring people together so that we can provide them with the services they deserve in the 20th century, and all this sort of thing. And all this, of course, is quite legitimate and unanswerable, but when it strikes one personally then it becomes a highly emotional thing, and a very difficult thing to see happen. I don’t want to strain a biological analogy, I know analogies are dangerous things in any case, but when something in which you are a part dies, then you die too. And to that extent I think half of me has died. And it’s very hard to bear, it’s incredibly difficult for older people to bear. My father’s generation found it much more difficult because they have no other life. I have another life which can absorb me completely and this is a substitute. But they have nothing except the memory and this is very hard on one.

First man: Well, that’s a very difficult question. I’ve seen places been vacated that, in my consideration, at least, it is a good thing they were vacated therefrom, but there are many other places where I feel it was a mistake to settle those people. Old oaks can’t live in flower pots. And whales can’t live like goldfish.

Second man: I said to my father the other day, not so very long ago, in any case, what did he think most about. And he said Well the thing that I feel most strongly about are the trees that I’m leaving, and these are trees that we planted many years ago which had grown around the place and which in some way, I suppose, symbolized for him, perhaps subconsciously, the roots that he himself had in this particular society, in this particular type of life. It’s a heartbreaking, heart-wrenching experience to see a culture, a home, and all the things that are associated with it just simply die or be extinguished, which is even worse. I don’t know, really, whether I’m being fair, because I impute motives, I think, and feelings and thoughts to the people who are being moved which they may not have themselves. Many of them may be delighted to be moving into a place where there is a bus service and central heating and where they have all the amenities of modern civilization. And the old life, to them, may be, in fact, completely passé, and something for the attic, for the junk heap. [Here, this excerpt omits three speeches present on the tape.]

First man: I don’t see any great change until my generation passes away and the younger ones will come up after me, get a new prospectus, a new idea, a new thought. They won’t feel that cutting wood is degradation. Now I’ll tell you, this new generation will find pleasure in doing all the things that the Newfoundlanders of my generation had to do to eke out an existence. And then, I believe, we’ll have a new spirit back in Newfoundland. But as I see it, change is forever. My generation has got to pass away. . . [fade out]

Second man: To grow old gracefully and to die a death of dignity is not a bad thing, not a hard thing to contemplate at all, but it is hard to contemplate the sudden wrench that means premature death or extinction. And it’s not only the dying as an individual dies but it’s the dying of a whole way of life, a whole mode of existence, almost a civilization in a sense. This is very difficult. I think we are coming to a time where we’re going to be all victims of technology to one degree or another, and sooner or later we’re going to have, I think whether we like to do it or not, to abandon the idea that everyone has to work. And I think that when that time comes and we have to pay people to be idle, which is what we’ll have to do, the idleness in itself is, I think, not a good thing, and some substitute will have to be found for work, and perhaps the sort of community that we’re now destroying in Newfoundland will be resurrected one of these days, not in the form that it existed but as places where people can live a more or less fulfilled life without having to punch a clock every morning and every evening.

France Morin is director of the 49th Parallel, the Center for Contemporary Canadian Art in New York. Earlier this year she curated an exhibition there. “The Idea of North,” using Gould’s title and dedicated to him. Through visual art, the show explored “the idea of north” as an abstract concept, and it examined, in Gould’s words, “that condition of solitude which is neither exclusive to the north, nor the prerogative of those who go north.” In 1988 at 49th Parallel Morin will curate a second show inspired by Gould, this one based on the The Quiet in the Land.

The author would like to thank Marc Meyer for his assistance in the preparation of the transcriptions. These excerpts appear courtesy of CBC Enterprises and the estate of Glenn Gould.