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Behind the Scenes with Carmen Braden

  • Carmen Braden MMus'15 and Osmond Chiu BMus'16, BComm'16
    Carmen Braden MMus'15 and Osmond Chiu BMus'16, BComm'16
  • Producer Mark Adams BMus'96
    Producer Mark Adams BMus'96
  • The group in Yellowknife recording at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre's stage
    The group in Yellowknife recording at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre's stage
  • Producer Mark Adams BMus'96
    Producer Mark Adams BMus'96
  • Local musicians joined the group for the recording session
    Local musicians joined the group for the recording session
  • Recording Artist Carmen Braden MMus'15 and Producer Mark Adams BMus'96
    Recording Artist Carmen Braden MMus'15 and Producer Mark Adams BMus'96

Photos courtesy of Bill Braden billbradenphoto.com 

Behind the Scenes with UCalgary grad and recording artist Carmen Braden

Carmen Braden graduated with a Masters of Music from the School of Creative and Performing Arts in 2015. Based in Yellowknife, Braden is a composer, singer and performer who is excited to be launching her debut studio album Ravens. We talked with Braden to hear more about the creative process and the UCalgary connections in her work.

Q – Tell us about the process of creating your debut studio album?

This project began shortly after I completed my Masters of Music in composition at UCalgary. Having written music for almost 15 years I wanted to make this album both a creative reflection of myself as an artist and a complete artistic work in its own form. I began to plan and fundraise, applying for grants (not always successful) and searching for community-sourced support. I also began to gather the people who would become instrumental to making the album happen. It takes a lot!

My producer and I worked closely to select which of my pieces to include on the album. The pieces you`ll hear vary from being written less than a year ago, some are over 10 years old and others pieces were created fresh during the recording process! 

Pre-production

I worked with producer Mark Adam, BMus`96, in his studio called ‘The Woods’ near where I did my undergrad degree at Acadia University. The pre-production work involved creating arrangements, bed tracks, as well as recording scratch vocals and a good deal of the accompaniment such as drums, synths and keyboards. One track on the album called North, Love was created during an improvisation session that was, for me, one of the most powerful moments of the whole process. 

Yellowknife Session

It was important for me to include other performers on the album as I love to play music with people. I’ve learned the value of having other brains and hearts involved in my art. My fellow musicians on the album are from across Canada, with many harkening from Yellowknife. I brought Mark and my recording engineer Denis Martin to Yellowknife, along with violist Osmond Chiu, BMus`16, BComm`16. For a week we transformed the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre’s stage into our recording studio and recorded the instrumental chamber pieces. For this session we also brought in local players to do sessions for parts, like laying down the bass tracks.

Post Production

Mixing, mastering, and graphics for the album was another collaborative part of the album. This involved much discussion and many drafts, sometimes with results that were distinctly different from the originals. Preparing for the launch also involved getting my head around marketing, video work, merchandise and what would happen after the album is released.

Q – What was the hardest part about creating your debut studio album?

Letting go. I remember learning to really ‘let go’ of things while at the University of Calgary during my composition lessons - and it was hard to do then, and still remains hard!

As an example, one of the hardest parts was choosing the material to include or how to include it. There were some ideas or pieces that I initially felt would be the right choice because I thought they were technically interesting or compositionally compelling. When the album became much more ‘under-the-skin’ or ‘close to the heart’, I had to learn to let go of ideas and move forward with the process. I had to allow it to change and allow it to change me. I would like to personally thank Mark Adam and Allan Bell for helping me to do this, over different times and different places. 

Q – What is your inspiration for your work?

For many years I have looked to my sonic environment for inspiration, and the sub-Arctic soundscape in particular. For example, the string quartet movement on the album Waltz of Wing and Claw evokes ravens playing in the drafts around the high rise buildings in Yellowknife. 

My songs reflect my own presence and life within my own environment. For example, Follow builds rich layers and takes the listener on a long journey. The song is about building relationships over long distances - almost unavoidable in a country the size of Canada. 

Q – How does your experience at the University of Calgary influence your work?

While at the School of Creative and Performing Arts I learned to focus deeply. Completing the thesis for my masters was a challenge, and I grew as a composer during my time at UCalgary. The things I learned from my teachers and fellow students are too many to list. They of course include musical skills but go beyond that into lessons about life, friendship and love. 

I can think of three major lessons I carried into my album.

  1. Look for as many ways as possible to solve a creative problem.
  2. Be open to new ideas and be willing to let your own ideas go.
  3. When people you trust challenge or question you, trust that they might lead you to places you never dreamed. 

Q – What is it like working with so many colleagues from the University of Calgary?

My time at my music schools, both the University of Calgary and Acadia University, gave me an expanded network of colleagues and friends. I was excited to work on my album with so many people who I know from both the schools that I studied music at - Acadia for my undergrad, and U of C for my masters. It was a grounding feeling to know we had similar experiences and it was refreshing to be working together as colleagues.

The album brought together people who had previously been each other’s teacher or each other’s student. For example, Mark Adam, a UCalgary grad, was my musicianship teacher at Acadia, and I was the TA for Osmond Chiu’s musicianship class at the UCalgary. It felt like a beautiful encounter and a shifting and growing of relationships. 

Braden’s debut studio album Ravens will be released on January 20th, 2017 with an official launch concert on January 24th at Studio Bell. To learn more about her music visit www.blackicesound.com