Prose & Playlists

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Brendan MaGee takes journaling in new directions with his latest project, Revisitation.   

Matt Carter
Alaska. Photo by Brendan MaGee

Brendan MaGee’s love affair with audio is well documented. From his two year stint as writer and producer of the new music program Ferocious Coasts to his time spent interviewing bands as host and co-producer of the live in the studio series, CHSR Sessions, MaGee has been using the form to share his ideas and interests for some time.

His latest project, Revisitation, will debut this week on two campus/community stations, CHMA in Sackville, New Brunswick and CJLO in Montreal. Produced and recorded at CKDU Halifax, Revisitation is a four-part audio diary that pairs personal journal entries with a collage of sound that includes music relevant to each entry as well as original compositions from Cedric Noel and MaGee’s own band Brookside Mall.

As MaGee puts it, Revisitation explores the relationship between motion and self-discovery.  

In advance of the series debut, we spoke with MaGee to learn more about the project and what he learned from the experience.

This is an ambitious undertaking. Let’s start with the basic concept. With Revisitation, you’ve opened your journal and have invited us to be your audience as you go back over a year’s worth of entries. What was it about these entries that made you decide to use them as the structure for this podcast?

As the entries gathered, I couldn’t really make sense of where to publish them. After several stops and starts, I eventually decided that formatting the scripts for radio could add another dimension to the overall project. I’m also a fan of radio that challenges what’s conventional, and did my best to do that with Revisitation.

Was publishing this collection of writing always the intent and therefore the reason for writing them in the first place?

I’d always intended on sharing the writing in some form or another. Of course, the parameters of most such freelance work are usually agreed upon well in advance, and it doesn’t fit the mould of too many existing written publications, so I was really at a loss for what to do for months after that initial trip.

I often have several scattered notebooks with lists and meeting minutes, but nothing quite so fragrant as this writing. 

Was the idea of exploring the relationship between motion and self-discovery something that arose from the pages of your writing or was that the original idea? The chicken or the egg?

My only real goal was to document time away from home in a way that might be interesting to read, and not at all like a proper travel journal. Having left a really great job to wander around quite aimlessly, writing dutifully became a small way for me to validate being in the places I visited.

Your writing finds you in constant motion for the entire time frame of this four part series. You’re out West, you’re back in NB, and then you’re out again on tour or crisscrossing the province with work. For a while it felt like you were planning on staying in Fredericton but then we find you dreaming of your next adventure. As a writer and a musician (and for a while – an actor), how has all this movement informed your work? Am I correct in thinking you need motion to generate inspiration?

I’ve always had tremendous difficulty with sitting still, and have equally found that thoughts come easier on a nice brisk walk. In writing music, for instance, I’ll flail around my piano with the voice memo app open, and then listen and make notes as I walk to the grocery store. I’m only slightly too self aware to quote some Thoreau here, but there’s something to be said for getting more blood flowing to your brain as you endeavour to use it.

Can we get a little deeper into these elements – motion and self-discovery? Revisitation is your journey shared with the listener. Part travel diary – part therapy. What have you discovered through this process in terms of your own exploration of motion and self-discovery?

Working on the conclusion became quite difficult, because I’d never established any kind of thesis statement in preceding episodes. Instead, it landed on more of a Sopranos-style finale. My biggest take-away came from grappling with the notion that all of our lived experiences feel like a natural exhaust when you’re in motion. It’s of course a fragrant illusion, but standing still, they’re constellations that hang above us rather than behind.

Tell me about the music that is interlaced throughout. You share tracks that were written specifically for the project but also plenty of songs from other artists. How did you decide where to place them within the narrative? Where they noted in your journal or where you just working from memory? 

Given that Revisitation is presented with dated entries, it felt important to populate any dead air with music I’d actually been listening to at the time. Some songs were no-brainers, because they’d actually been central to what I was committing to paper, like Julie Doiron’s “Always Nice To Come Home”. Others were just very on the nose, or even loosely emblematic of different things I’d been writing about. To avoid a choppy feel, I worked earnestly at dovetailing the musical and spoken word elements. I’m also very grateful for the music created for the show by one of my best friends, Cedric Noel. Adding his instrumental songs into the mix gave me the confidence to finally send this project out.   

Will there be a season two of Revisitation?

A second season of the show will follow later this year, but I’m consciously reformatting it to focus on one particularly wild story, incorporating the perspectives of others through clips, interviews, etc. I really am happy with how this first edition turned out, but feel like a continuation of the existing format might be too self-indulgent. Plus, the story that season two is rooted in is both thematically relevant and thrillingly insane.

You can listen to all episodes of Revisitation, read along with MaGee’s journal and see photographs from his adventures by visiting revisitationpodcast.wordpress.com

 

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