Tona Ohama Composer Tower-Trees

How did the “Tower-Trees” project for the Calgary Tower carillon come about?

It’s all due to Michael Green at High Performance Rodeo…. I had done a similar ambient music installation at the Epcor Centre last year in the Plus-15 walkway and it ran for a year and the One Yellow Rabbit offices are right by that corridor. So every day I think Michael would hear what I was doing and that led him to think of me for this project.

Can you tell me about the carillon at the Calgary Tower? I don’t know what that is exactly.

Honestly I didn’t know either. I live downtown here in Calgary so I hear it all the time and I’m aware of the system but I didn’t know what was actually installed at the Calgary Tower. Carillon is a system of church bells — that’s basically what it is — and it has to be 23 bells or more. The Calgary Tower carillon is not real bells; it’s an electronic system.

What did it take to make your own music with it?

I had to go in and play it on an organ keyboard — it’s a two-register organ-style keyboard — so you play it on that and it’s called an encoder and that’s recorded onto this very ancient computer system. If you know anything about computers it’s recorded to a card that has 8K of memory — pretty tiny. So those notes are recorded on this card and then you have to physically take this card to the carillon to transfer the notes there where they’re programmed to play it at a certain time of day. The carillon itself if you see it — I was shocked when I saw it — it looks like a gigantic box with buttons on top to program when the pieces will play and it is old…. It is a one-of-a-kind system.

Your work for this is described as “interactive” and “multiambient.” Can you tell me more about that?

The carillon is going to play automatically at noon but the interactive portion is that I would like people who are interested to download the Trees tracks [inspired by “The Trees” installation on Stephen Avenue] put them on an iPod or whatever they use and listen to those tracks on their headphones at the same time. So it’s interactive in the sense that I don’t control which of the 10 Trees tracks they’re going to play or when they start playing it or how it’s going to mix with the Tower. The other interactive aspect is I want the sound of the trains and cars and everything to be part of it. So where you walk and what you hear is going to be partially up to you and it’s partially up to chance and it’s that overall mix that creates the piece…. I call it multiambient because in my pieces I always use multiple sources. They’re not synced together in time it can happen randomly.

How long will it play for? Is it just for the Rodeo?

Yes and what happens after that is up to the Calgary Tower. It should be playing until the end of the month. It’s supposed to play Monday to Friday.

I imagine this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

Yes. This has been awesome. Because I live here and I always hear the carillon I used to think “How would I get a piece of music on there? How does that happen?” And then this just dropped into my lap and suddenly I was there. The music that plays all the time? I wanted to hear something different than that and this was my chance to do that. What I’ve done it’s unlike any other piece that’s played on that carillon. The thing that makes it unique is that it’s very simple so you can hear the individual bells and you can actually hear all the notes….So this piece it’s very slow for the most part and the bells ring out and I really like it. It’s really beautiful. I’m very proud of it actually.

Download the Trees tracks at cdbaby.com/cd/ohama11 .