Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mirador Project Merges Music and Art

Originally published on Couch Assassin

Alexis Normand is a singer-songwriter from Saskatoon. She produces and composes a mix of jazz and folk music. Some have previously described her style as Norah Jones meets Joni Mitchell, with a splash of Stevie Wonder. "Mirador" is Normand's first LP and its national album release party is January 15. The album features ten new jazz-folk tracks, nine of which are in French, one in English. It was recorded in the heat of the student protests last spring in Montréal with producer Benoit Morier (who worked with artists like Chic Gamine, Theresa Sokyrka, and Geneviève Toupin).

"Mirador" is a dream come true for Normand, who spent many years studying and playing music. When she was young, Normand was enrolled in a music-for-tots class and her father worked as a DJ. Later on, she played around with the piano then she was enrolled in piano lessons. When Normand was in high school, she taught herself how to play the guitar using one of her father's old books of Beatles songs. "The first song I learnt was ‘Yellow Submarine’," said Normand. "After learning all the other songs in the book, I started writing my own. I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t play music."

After studying music and education at the University of Ottawa, Normand headed to Granby (Québec) to attend l’École nationale de la chanson in 2007 where she participated in an intensive 10-month crash course on the singer-songwriting career. The training included composition, lyric writing, studio work, history of francophone music, staging/interpretation, career management and various master classes, seminars and meetings with industry professionals and established artists and musicians. "My time in Granby helped me clearly understand just how badly I wanted to give song-writing a go as a career," explained Normand. "I had the time to nurture and fuel my ‘musical fire’ inside – a passion that drove me back to Saskatoon to begin this journey."

Back in 2008, while living in Saskatoon, Normand had a stroke of genius. "I thought to myself: 'Wouldn’t it be cool, when I have an album, to have a painting associated to each song?'” This idea stemmed from one of Normand's favourite classes at the University of Ottawa, which explored the similarities between different art forms.

In 2009, Normand approached Zoé Fortier, a Fransaskois visual artist, and shared her idea. Instead of commissioning Zoé to react to all her songs with a painting, both Normand and Fortier thought it would be more interesting to share the creative process. Together, Normand and Fortier explored physical and abstract locations inspired by the prairies to understand how these places may have shaped their identity. "One day, Zoé and I decided to spend an evening at the Lucky Horse Show Bingo," said Normand. "We took down notes and ideas, shared them and found a common idea, which became the starting point for the creative process."

In other instances, the creative process was fueled by shared experiences. Both Normand and Fortier's lives were affected by Alzheimer’s disease. "Zoé and I were both affected in our own way by the void or absence that is felt when a person forgets who they are, seeing as both our grandmothers were affected by Alzheimer’s. I speak of this in my song Grand-mère and Zoé in a series of small paintings entitled Alzheimer. "

The result of Normand and Fortier's collaboration is threefold: it includes an album, a series of paintings and a multidisciplinary concert. After the album was recorded, Normand started thinking of touring and promoting the album. Seeing as "Mirador" was an artistic collaboration, Normand could not imagine performing a live show without having Fortier involved. Normand explained that Zoé is included on stage during the show, just like any other musician, except that she manipulates video projections. "Zoé created images and animation to accompany the music in order to enhance the experience and allow the spectator to perceive the spaces described in the songs in a variety of ways," added Normand. "She manipulates these abstract flowing projections in real time with a tactile approach that includes traditional methods of animation, such as Chinese shadows, cut outs and various filters." In addition, a few of Fortier's prints will also be displayed in the room during the show.

Although most of her songs are in French, Normand makes an effort to speak English between songs in order to make the show bilingual, especially when the crowd is mostly bilingual/Anglophone. Booklets with the lyrics translated in English are available at shows so that people can follow along during the show or read through them before or after the show.

2012 was a big year for Normand. She traveled all across Canada to perform and even had the opportunity to perform in Whitehorse, Yukon. In addition, the Saskatchewan provincial government declared 2012 as the year of the Fransaskois, the first time any provincial government recognizes a minority-language community within the province. As a result, Radio-Canada teamed up with the Assemblée Communautaire Fransaskoise to hold a contest to find the theme song for the year's celebrations. Normand applied with a song she co-wrote with Shawn Jobin, a young, up and coming fransaskois hip hop artist - and the song was selected. "The song speaks of the close relationship that a person has to the landscape, horizon and land in Saskatchewan," explained Normand. "It is a spirit that lives on the prairies and finds its way into the souls of the people who inhabit them."

After all her hard work, it seems like the stars are aligning for Normand. You can check out her live show at the national release of "Mirador", taking place on January 15th at Club SAW (67 Nicholas Street), 5:30-7:30pm.

Reserve your spot by contacting as space is limited.

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