Let’s Pondercast

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Shivering Songs 2018 will feature a live recording of Pondercast, the new audio project from music journalist Laurie Brown and musician Joshua Van Tassel. 

Matt Carter
Pondercast host Laurie Brown. Photo by Brain Knapp. lauriebrown.ca

Last summer, after 10 years behind the mic as host of CBC Radio 2’s The Signal, Laurie Brown announced the show would be ending. To celebrate a decade spent sharing the music she loves with listeners across the country and around the world, Brown took her show on the road.  The Signal Live Tour included three live shows, performed for audiences in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. All three of these “victory lap” performances were recorded before sold out crowds who came to experience one last listen to Brown’s calming narrative, accompanied by projections and sound design by Signal producer Andy Shepard. And just like that, it was over.  

At some point during the final episodes of The Signal, Brown told listeners she was working on a new podcast. Inspired in part by late night music listening and our collective need to find moments of relaxation in our daily lives, Pondercast was born.

“There’s a case to be made that we humans are distracting ourselves to death.” – Laurie Brown

Through this new venture – a deeper exploration of sound and musings – Brown has created one of the most relaxing listening experiences you can find. Pondercast is both soundtrack and mediation. It’s a means of shutting off while at the same time, becoming more aware.

“There’s a case to be made that we humans are distracting ourselves to death,” said Brown. “That precious amount of time you have when you’re able to get rid of distractions and just listen to your own voice in your own head, I think it’s incredibly important. And it can also be terrifying for people to actually listen to the shit that their brain is telling them.  I would like to think that maybe with my voice there it can help people have something to connect to so they don’t start opening doors and going into the wrong rooms at night. I want to help you slow down but also stay in the real world.”

Web/graphic designer Ty Johnston and composer/sound designer Joshua Van Tassel join Brown on this new adventure. Johnston is based in Newfoundland and handles all things web and merch (coming soon) related.  While nearly 2000km away, Van Tassel helps select music and contributes original compositions to each episode.

Based in Toronto, Van Tassel has been a career musician since The Signal first went on the air. Over the past decade he has been involved in a staggering number of recording projects, some as a musician and others as a producer, a mixer and an engineer. When he heard Brown was planning to start a podcast he reached out to express his interest in collaborating.

“It incorporates literally every skill I have and makes me use them all.” – Joshua Van Tassel

“I actually sent Laurie an email saying ‘please get in touch. I’m a really big fan and I believe in you and your thing and I want to be part of it’,” said Van Tassel. “I didn’t hear from her until a few weeks later when she contacted me. She somehow missed the email I had sent but was asking if I’d be interested in working together. It’s funny how that worked out.

“This is a super-inspiring thing for me to do. It incorporates literally every skill I have and makes me use them all,” he said. “It’s really rewarding.”

“I thought about Josh as being someone who I’d love to work with on the podcast,” said Brown. “We’ve been having a lot of fun. The whole atmosphere he creates while I’m yacking away is immense.”

Both Brown and Van Tassel will visit Fredericton in January as guests of Shivering Songs, delivering the first Pondercast live taping and performance. 

Joshua Van Tassel. Photo By Valerie Gore.

“The biggest thing that I use as a guiding light for Pondercast is to trust my instincts and go with the flow,” said Brown. “So, the flow for Shivering Songs is based on the fact that we’re going to be performing in a library.

“We built Pondercast in a way that it can actually be about anything. And thankfully the audience has been pretty cool so far in that they seem comfortable to just follow whatever direction I’m going. So that’s what we’re going to do at Shivering Songs. We thought, a library. OK. We are going to make music with books,” she said.

During the 2017 festival, the Fredericton Public Library hosted the event, This Is Your Brain On Music. Part performance – part lecture, the event paired Dr. Wendy Stewart (an accordion playing neurologist) with two contrasting musical acts – singer/songwriter Jim Bryson and the electro-synth duo, JOYFULTALK – resulting in an engaging discussion and demonstration of how we as audiences process sound.

With Pondercast now announced as one of 2018’s festival events, Shivering Songs continues its apparent goal to explore broader engaging programming without alienating audiences. If anything, by programming events like This Is Your Brain On Music and Pondercast, the festival is offering new ways for the community to engage with music on a broader level by moving beyond the established relationship of audience and performer.

“No books will be harmed in the recording of this Pondercast but it’s going to be a little bit of an experiment.”

“Where it’s a library setting, a lot of what people are going to hear will be book and sound related,” said Van Tassel. “I don’t want to give too much away but I can tell you I’m going to be using a lot of books to create music with contact mics and pedals. It’ll be interesting. When I arrive, I’m going to spend a little bit of time going through the library and arming myself with my book instruments.

“Part of what we want to do with live events is to make it a bit of an experience that’s unique and incorporates the environment we’re in,” he said. “We’re not planning a highly scripted show. Laurie is doing a lot of research into Fredericton and the library system in general, and we’ve been talking a lot about what it means to write about sound and to talk about sound. She’s going to do it in the way that only she can.  Me trying to explain it sounds so broad and crazy but she could sum it up in three sentences. It’s really unbelievable.”

“No books will be harmed in the recording of this Pondercast but it’s going to be a little bit of an experiment,” said Brown. “I’m thinking about how we listen to music and how we read books, and why we listen to music and why we read books. And are there similarities between those two things? What do they have in common and what’s different about those two experiences? And what do we get from both of those experiences that is different?”

Brown imagines Pondercast’s Shivering Songs performance to feel “like getting locked in a museum overnight” and hopes that together with the audience and her collaborators in the room, the entire experience will carry everyone deep into an exploration of “the intuitive magic of reading”.

“If you’ve ever had that experience where the book you pick up and read – whether it was because of the cover or it was a recommendation – you realize it was exactly the thing you needed to read in that moment,” she said. “I’m going to explore that a little bit and try to figure out what that’s about. I’ve already had one of those experiences while thinking about what to do at Shivering Songs so I’m going to bring that book along.

“I’m really excited. I don’t think the live Pondercasts will end up being as chill as the ones I record on my own,” she said.  “This is a live performance and it will be a lot more spontaneous.”

And the spontaneity will continue on after the show is over. Following the performance, Brown plans to invite the audience to join her on a short exploratory walk through the city’s downtown.

“We’re going to walk out into the cold, dark night of Fredericton in the winter,” she said. “I’m going to explore your city in a way that you probably wouldn’t because you live there. It will be a short walk, probably 20 minutes, and we’ll probably end up at another gig that’s happening. It’s going to be fun and strange there will be incredible photo opportunities. That’s the only thing I can tell you about it.

“I’m also hoping that even if you don’t join us for Pondercast, that you’ll meet us outside the library for the walk.”

Laurie Brown’s Pondercast with guests Joshua Van Tassel and Sandro Perri | January 19 | Fredericton Public Library | 7 p.m. | Buy Tickets 

All remaining Shivering Songs passes and select tickets are on sale now at www.shiveringsongs.com

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