British Columbia

Crazy collaboration results in Juno for North Vancouver composer

North Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles won the 2017 Juno for Classical Composition for "Immersion", a work written for, and recorded in, a massive water tank.

Jordan Nobles made the most of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create music in a massive underground water tank

Musicians from Negative Zed recorded the Juno Award winning "Immersion" in the Metro Vancouver underground water tank days before it filled with water. (Jordan Nobles)

What does Metro Vancouver's water system and the Juno Awards have in common?

More than meets the eye it seems, especially after North Vancouver's Jordan Nobles won the 2017 Juno for Classical Composition for a work written for, and recorded in, a massive and empty underground water tank at the new Seymour Capilano filtration project. 

Water tunnels frame violinist Karen Gerbrecht and cellist Rebecca Wenham. (Jordan Nobles)

Fittingly, the composition is titled Immersion.  Music and massive infrastructure has never sounded so good.

"They called my name and I was stunned," said Nobles, describing the scene two weeks ago at the Juno Awards in Ottawa.

Sudden celebrity

"Usually when I win an award in my field I have to go and tell people I've won something. But everyone knows what a Juno is."

Composer Jordan Nobles says he's become a bit of a celebrity in his Deep Cove neighbourhood since winning the Juno. (jordannobles.com)

The Juno has brought a surprising level of celebrity to Nobles' life, especially at the Deep Cove coffee shop where he had composed in anonymity for years.

"I walked in at 6 a.m. on the Monday afterwards and people were like, 'Hey Jordan, congratulations!' People I don't even know were congratulating me."

 "It was awesome," he said. 

Sweet sounding tank

Metro Vancouver's Gordon Inglis, who coordinated the Immersion project, says it was a former co-worker who recognized the musical potential of the water tank years ago.

"Marianne Pengelly ... was in the Metro Vancouver choir and had the idea of taking the choir down. That didn't work out but the idea stuck in my head," said Inglis. 

Stairs leading down - way down - to the water tank where the recording took place. (Jordan Nobles)

Nobles' history of using unique acoustic environments in his compositions made him the perfect candidate for the project, although it wasn't until he was allowed to descend into the tank for the first time that he fully understood what he was getting into.

"Normally you hit a bass drum and get a boom sound. But down there you'd get the boom sound for 30 seconds. That's really fun," he said.

Musicians from the collective Negative Zed were recruited to perform Immersion, but because access to the tank was restricted, they had to rehearse in a classroom.

"I had to keep telling them it's not going to sound like this down there," said Nobles.  

Water hazard

The Immersions recording and video were both captured in a single day. Everyone involved in the production had to wear a special tracking device to ensure the water remained shut off while they were in the tank.

"It was a little scary," said Nobles. "You're in a room that you know is going to be filled with water. You just hope it's going to be filled after you leave."

Composer Jordan Nobles took this photo of the musicians before they descended below ground for the recording. (Jordan Nobles)

The tank is now flooded forever but Nobles says that doesn't mean the end of Immersion. In fact, a live performance of the Juno winner is in the works.

"I'm dreaming up a parkade concert right now," he said. "In fact, I've found the perfect parkade. I just haven't approached the owner yet." 

now