Q&A with WNMF composer Eliot Britton

What do you do? 
Current activities: Composer / sound designer / prof. at the University of Toronto. I’m working on building a collaborative research lab, and expanding the capacity of the UofT’s Electronic Music Studios. I’m in the process of handing over the Cluster New Music + Integrated Arts festival to the brilliant and talented Ashley Au. These days it seems like I’m always trying to get robots to sound like humans and humans to sound like robots. I’m also working as composer in residence for Red Sky Performance.


As a native Winnipegger, what is the first thing you do when you come back to the city?
I live in Toronto’s core region, so the first thing I do is actively breathe and appreciate the clean Winnipeg air. After that it’s Pho. no.1 on Isabelle. Winnipeg has a fantastic Vietnamese food game. I found that place while working as a lifeguard on Manitoba Ave. Family and friends.


Tell us about Hyperscale Landscape, the work being performed on the opening night of WNMF 2022 with fellow Winnipegger Ben Reimer and WSO assistant conductor Naomi Woo on the piano.
Short version: The piece uses machine learning, to integrate and animate microscopic video and audio, pulling harmony from the hidden drama unfolding around us, beyond our scale of perception.
Hyperscale Landscape draws together and celebrates the patterns, connections and stories embedded in Alberta’s southern prairie. I pull together materials and manipulate them using machine learning processes mixed with pop inflected harmony and a flexible score. From the eerie forest within a tuft of sage grass to the wind-swept horizon capped with a shifting prairie sky. A melody embedded within a millisecond of cricket call mimics thunder rolling through the valley. Everything unfolds in its own time. This piece leverages micro and macro scales to tell the story of land unfolding beyond the fringes of human perception.
This work is the result of time spent with my friends Leroy Little Bear, Amethyst First Rider and Erin Thrall, who have taken the time to share their profound respect for and connection to their unique prairie grassland ecosystem.


How has the pandemic impacted you?   
The current version of Hyperscale Landscape is possible because covid forced orchestral musicians to upgrade their home recording setups. I spend my time figuring out how to create art and media unique to this moment in time.  I am fortunate to be able to produce work during lockdown. I’ve spent much of the last year helping migrate my colleagues and students into the virtual world. I never thought I’d see some of my colleagues using motion tracking cameras and lecturing with real time digital annotation. I look for opportunities to slow down and enjoy smaller things.


What are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing a ragtime / electroswing sound cue for UofT’s BMO Lab in Creative Research in the Arts, Performance, Emerging Technologies and AI. I’m doing music for their upcoming version of “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”. It is a fantastic team and I can’t wait to see what they do with my music.


Is there a particular place in Manitoba or Ontario that really inspires you as a composer?
There is a black train bridge in Headingley that crosses the Assiniboine river. It is both appealing, dynamic, silent, magnetic, and absolutely terrifying. I think about it often, looming over some of my most vivid childhood memories like beacon. My grandmother’s garden, and the bison at Riding Mountain are a close second. In Ontario? My students, and the peers that are toughing out the pandemic and making amazing art every day.