Like the land, our drums are alive; whispering secrets, telling stories, stretching, contracting, resonating songs in rhythmic beats from our cores... For Indigenous peoples, all things are alive. Nothing dies. All things are in a continuous process of transformation.
— Mi'kmaq artist Teresa Marshall

For five years now I have been investigating traditional drums and drumming through mentorship, cultural exchange, self-driven research and practice. Incited by a desire to explore the spiritual dimensions of drumming as well as engage in a cultural practice that facilitates a deep connection to my Aboriginal ancestry, my research has been concerned with how the drum reflects the environment it comes from and how drumming can facilitate connection to place.

In the Spring of 2013, I built a traditional deer-hide frame drum with Mi'kmaq Elder Carla Silver on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. After stretching the hide over the cedar hoop, the completed drum needed to settle for three days before it could be played. Initially, I couldn't wait to play the drum, curious about how it sounded. But half-way into day one, I realized that the first hit of the drum was a point of no return — as soon as my mallet struck the deer hide, my imprint would be received and I would know the drum's sound. So I settled into the days of silence with the drum. In this sacred space, I had the realization that the drum wasn't just in the world to make a sound through receiving my gesture; I sensed that it was here to tell its own story — the story of its materials – deer-hide and cedar – and the life of the animal and tree prior to becoming a drum. I also sensed that the drum was always listening and responding to the environment, even when it wasn't being played. In this way, I saw it as a witness and living archive, continually in a process of transformation. 

As the days progressed, I found myself more deeply inhabiting a state of stillness that was filled with potentiality and power, mirroring the drum. And, out of our mutual silence, I finally hit the drum with such presence and receptivity, that I felt my gesture deeply received. The sound I heard wasn't just a sound, but a grounded marker of the moment. A moment that felt like a rite of passage. Since, my drum and I have created a lot together. 

My mentor told me that every so often, traditional drums need to rest, and that I will know when the time has come for my drum to be silent for awhile. I feel that time is now. The last two years have been a big out-breath of artistic production, and it's now time to take a big in-breath. 

As I return to the silent, receptive space with the drum, my mirror, I re-consider the drum as a witness, resonant body, recorder. I consider how the drum is me, and the landscape, and all that is tangible — and I consider the ability of physical phenomena to be vessels of/for spiritual phenomena. I consider how the drum is not only a kind of microphone, amplifying gesture, but also an ear, listening and responding to the environment. 

Composer Pauline Oliveros describes the difference between hearing and listening, saying hearing is a physiological process, whereas listening is hearing with awareness, thoughtful attention. In this way, listening is a creative act. One that I wish to cultivate, deepen, broaden.

I think of this listening place as a kind of dreamtime; a necessary creative space of origins necessary to inhabit. Here I will be getting to know silence and patience. I will be listening to engage. Embracing what is present. Responsive action. Following mysterious calls. And cultivating the mostly invisible art of receiving.

I will be sharing the journey here, beginning with my listening experiences during the Le Chant des pistes / Songlines Residency on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. 

For the duration of  Songlines, I will be witnessing the environment, allowing listening to inform my path. As I make my way, my body and drum will be receptive to the unseen and invisible voices of the landscape — creating multiple resonance points through the archipelago. I will share some of my discoveries and interactions here. 

To find out more about Songlines, please click here. Thank you to curator Caroline Loncol Daigneault, Laurène Janowsky and Alphiya Joncas at AdMare centre d’artistes en art actuel des Îles-de-la-Madeleine and all the supporters.