Tuesday 15 November 2016


take this kiss upon the brow
and in parting from you now
thus much let me avow …
you are not wrong who deem
that my days have been a dream

n o c t u r n e

yet if hope has flown away
in a night or in a day
in a vision or in none
is it therefore the less gone?

all that we see or seem
is but a dream within a dream

i stand amid the roar
of a surf-tormented shore
and I hold within my hand
grains of the golden sand …
how few! yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep
while I weep … while I weep
oh God! can I not save
one from the pitiless wave?

is all that we see or seem
but a dream within a dream

edgar allan poe

and so it began


spearmint lake

it's what I saw - when I looked up and out, and for once in my life, it felt like I was in the loop.

In May 1991, I received an Ontario Arts Council grant to fly into a remote lake in northern Ontario to record an ambient album.  

Spearmint Lake is about 60km northeast of Chapleau Ontario, high up on a ridge surrounded by towering cliffs of centuries old limestone and an open sky - no roads to this place and no one around.  I rented a generator and a van - some gear and packed up my studio - some synths, my Apple Macintosh “MacPlus” computer/Performer MIDI sequencer, some expensive microphones and headed north that August having absolutely no idea what I was doing.  The $9000, I received from the grant allowed me a short window to go up there for 7 days to explore the possibilities that summer.  My brother David and I had visited the lake the previous August fishing (monster pike) - we were totally alone in a humble tent camp with a 14 foot aluminum boat and a 10hp motor - it was amazing/breathtaking!  Spooky, especially after dark.  A quiet fire crackling on the only tiny sand beach near the tent - looking up into that sky - beyond words.  We had front row seats to the universe, knowing I had to return.  I wondered how amazing it would be, to have a recording studio up here - on the water!   Right - one of my many musical fantasies at the time.

When we landed on the calm lake (about 2km across) in our beaver aircraft a year later, our familiar camp had been torn up by a bear and I was a tad freaked out, spending the first day repairing the tent and setting up.  The idea was to build a raft that could hold my gear - powered by the generator which was buried back in the woods and a super long (heavy duty) power cable on styrofoam floatations so I could set up my synths and send drones out in the lake (to record the amazing circular echoes coming back) with PA speakers and 1000 watt amps, and capturing it all with an ambisonic mic (surround) into a portable DAT recorder (drifting 100 meters away on a canoe), so I could bring it all back to Toronto and properly mix it in a real recording studio.

I remember the first time there, standing in the boat and loudly projecting a long musical note and listening to the echos going around the lake both directions for about 30-40 seconds.  It sent shivers up our spines - so quiet, so dark - so haunting - almost unreal.  Ok, Spearmint Lake (the album) was ambitious,  I'll give it that but it didn’t quite work as expected.  The lake-drone stuff was useless BUT WOW - what happened in that tent over the time I was there?  Incredible and unforgettable.  Candles burning at 2am - always an ear out for what might be a returning bear that could tear through that tent like a hot knife through butter.  Best part - going back to the generator at 4am (alone) to put gas in the it with a flashlight - creepy/riveting!  I didn’t sleep the whole time I was there - didn’t need to.  I had been fortunate in taking in the Brian Eno/Daniel Lanois ambient masterpiece “Apollo” a few short years earlier, recorded at Grant Avenue Studio, Hamilton, having actually been at the studio producing a pop album for the Halifax band Screaming Trees and got to be around the making of Apollo in it’s later (mix) stages and it inspired me only I wanted mine to be different - a project that took a few years to realize and was a real stretch.  I wasn’t sure exactly … only knowing it had to be outdoors - same mood, different smell. Accessing the dream-state with the intent of documenting it aurally/visually.  

The lake had a sound all it's own.  A single family of loons on the lake and their calls were really out of this world ... chilling.  Being there even just with microphones/recorders was a real treat.  Problem was - the weather was disagreeable, raining most of the time so I didn’t get to do the lake stuff.  I did get set up twice out on the lake but it was overwhelming technically - didn't foresee that.    I set up the main studio in the tent (my contingency plan), hoping the bear wouldn’t return; (right - wishful thinking - yes it did on day 5 and I stayed out on the raft overnight from then on).  No sleep (ok little).  First 4 days were the best.

On the first night I was there after a long day of set-up - I sat on the lakes edge as the sun went down and got to see the most spectacular light-show I’d ever seen as it got darker - up in the sky.  Later that evening very late, I stepped inside my tent and started recording synth drones in the temporary tent studio I had set up and mixing in the SFX I’d captured earlier in the day in samples loaded into my Roland S550 sampler.  I recorded Aurora Borealis in about an hour.  That’s what I did the whole time I was there essentially - recording nature out in the woods - getting wet but worth it, then making music in the tent studio.  Magic.  All very crude but it worked.  Over the following week, I was all inspired by this amazing place.  Two years later, I finished Spearmint Lake in my home studio on Westminster Ave, Parkdale Toronto and remastered it in 2013.  These two tracks are the opening pieces on the album.

Some of these pictures in the clip were taken by me and others gathered from the internet just recently - August 2015 (23 years later).  It takes me back to a time when I was on top of my game.  Shaking/shivering out in the middle of nowhere and shaking at what was totally unknown - ok not knowing if this project would ever become a reality (or if I’d be around to tell this story). 

So yeah, the whole idea is to listen to the clip whilst reading.

It was a fascinating time of my life.  I was 36 years old and I felt like a kid - a child - in love with life doing what I loved doing.  Sleeping for days after getting back - mixing for months/years afterwards. 

Bringing this back - brings ME back.  The universe is sending me a message and I'm passing it along.  Tripping the light ...

This is a snapshot of a place where no-one lives - anymore

click to enlarge maps


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