In the Refuge of a Cave is a musical work written for musicians, designed to help them tackle the immense challenges their art form has faced in the era of COVID-19.

Nicholas Denton Protsack interviewed by with Kythe Heller.
I am here with Nicholas Denton, Protzack. A few weeks ago you gave a really wonderful talk about your work on In the refuge of a cave to vision lab 

And I wanted to follow up on that and ask you a bit more about context and your background. So could you start by telling us about your background as a musician and, how you think about composition and how you developed this particular composition?

Sure. So, um, my background as a musician, Um, began when I was quite young, I started piano lessons at age five and cello lessons at age seven. And, um, I grew up in the Okanogan Valley and, um, in order to study cello, the, the teacher that I worked with lived about an hour away and I would, I would go there every week for lessons.

Um, I would say I was about. About 15 or so when I decided I wanted to do music professionally, um, for a kind of career, um, it just sort of seemed like a natural progression to me. But, uh, the point at which I decided to become a composer, actually, it was quite late. I was in the middle of my undergrad at the San Francisco conservatory of music.

Um, when I kind of reached a point where I realized that just playing cello, um, It didn't quite satisfied me creatively. I had to feel like I was creating something from scratch, not just interpreting someone else's music, which is often what you do when you're a classical musician. Of course you you're, you're more of an interpreter rather than not an interpreter and a creator.

I mean, of course there are exceptions to this, but that's the sort of general thing when you're constantly there's. So I sort of realized that, um, Kind of had like a, just a moment of realization eventually about halfway through my undergrad, that tongue composition had to be something that I did along with cello.

Um, I couldn't, I couldn't believe the kind of creative side, that creative side of me out of the equation. Um, and one thing I actually didn't mention was that composition was always something that I did as a, as a hobby on the side. But I found myself thinking about it and, and, you know, thought experimenting and actively doing it to a point where it actually rivaled my cello playing, which was supposed to be my kind of predominant major.

So with the way that I think about composing, um, and just my kind of musical, my kind of the way that I'm used to CLI cognate, I, I. I think of cello as being like my voice. And then I think of composition as being like my thoughts and in essence, so to me, composing music, um, it means to me kind of like, I would say first and foremost, it's a form of personal expression.

But I also see it as a kind of form of personal exploration, because oftentimes what happens when you create a work of music, you,

you basically make something that takes on a life of its own. And I think that's like, I think that's true of any sort of, uh, creative thing writing, um, or painting the thing that you make as you put more of your thoughts into it. Tends to kind of have like a, be like a living, breathing organism. And the more that you put into it, the actual kind of less control and in a way you have over it, the more, um, the more autonomous it becomes, I find it in a way.

And I would say that I'm composing in that way as kind of like a feedback loop with this, with this, uh, Like between yourself and this kind of self that lives outside of you, these creations are each of these kind of like, um, uh, I'm looking for the words to describe it, that they're kind of like, um, an extension of a self, a self that lives outside of you.

So, uh, I would say that this ties into another major theme in my work and that's that I'm very interested in. The natural world and the ways in which it relates to music, because I see my pieces of music as being like these living, breathing creatures, or even sometimes like a, like a world in of themselves that has an ecosystem of sorts.

So sometimes I try to, to make that kind of, um, comparison, very literal and write music about nature and about place and about. Phenomenons that occur in nature and things like that. This is so interesting because I've, you know, I've hiked and stuff in the Okanogan Valley and in the, um, Olympic national park area.

And that whole area of the world is ridiculously lush. You know, I'm here in Philadelphia and it's the middle of the winter. Everything is bare and stark, you know, but I just remember. Being shocked when I was hiking in that area where you live at how many colors of green there were, you know, there are, and just the sense of time and luxuriant shapes and sounds.

And there's a sense there, which is different than I think I've experienced anywhere else, except possibly what you wear. You know, the world is like really right there, enveloping you like with layers and inches of Moss and many kind of curving tree branches and a kind of complexity in the ecosystem.

And it's so interesting to think about how that kind of natural growth and proliferation and luxuriousness has infected. A kind of sense of music, because I know that you've also been interested in different modernist techniques, like 12 tone music and kind of different structural forms. So I guess, I don't know.

I mean, I guess I, it almost makes me start to think about thought experiments, like, wow, you know, What kind of REO would be like, uh, a piece of Moss start to start to seeing, or, you know, like what about this kind of like Honduras pine? Like what does it have to say? You know, do you ever think like that where you are almost intending to kind of be the, uh, translator of these different types of life forms musically?

Or, or do you think about it in a different way or like, and what is the role of that formal. Attribute that you, that you're working with in complex with. Yeah. Well, I'm really glad you brought that up actually, because, um, that plays a very large part in my kind of creative process. Um, uh, for starters regarding formal systems and music, there are many ways that one can, can do that.

And I do incorporate formal systems in my music because I feel that they, they are kind of like a catalyst for making that sort of. Sense that a piece of music is turning into an organism because already you have a set of rules that kind of must be followed like a kind of syntactical sort of law for the way that you make music.

And then when, once you generate material, you it's sort of transcends your own intellect in a sense, you, you have, you have a couple, you know, maybe not rules, but principles that you jot down. And then you, you throw a little bit of material into the, into the black box, so to speak, and then it spits up something that you couldn't possibly predict.

So I, I love that kind of idea of, of unpredictability, the idea of experimenting with things, um, and to kind of move forward and talk more specifically now about how one depicts nature in music. Um, I would think, I think this idea of experimenting and sort of like seeing the kind of rules and, um, and principles by which things, um, in nature, uh, seem to kind of like, uh, govern themselves by, um, I, I, a lot, like I spent a lot of time as a kid, basically, um, like.

In the woods, kind of just like looking at, uh, living things, bugs animals, plants kind of like, um, observing them, interacting with them, seeing the ways in which they behaved. Um, and I spent so much time doing this as a kid that I kind of developed an intuitive way of, of sort of, um, an intuitive way of sort of, um,

It's very hard. I have like cognitive things. So like it's kind of similar to almost a form of synesthesia and it actually might be a form of synesthesia, but when it comes to musical gesture and the way that, um, that objects sound to me, there's actually a very literal, um, equivalency that occurs in my mind.

So like for instance, you gave the idea of, um, What would the, uh, how would one depict upon to Rossa, supine and music? Um, and for me, it's, um, it's not so much a process as it is a, um, uh, just an intuitive thing that kind of pops into my mind. Like a Ponderosa pine in my mind has a very specific sound and a, um, And are a bunch of rocks or, or a mountain would have a very specific sound in my mind and it's almost involuntary.

So like when I hear sounds, I kind of see shapes and textures. I don't so much see colors that some people do, but, but, uh, when. When I hear sounds, I, I, I see these shapes and when I see shapes like mountains and trees and things like that, I hear sounds, and there's an equivalency between the two and I incorporate those into my music.

And sometimes it can lead to results that surprise me because they combine in such ways that I sort of sort of can't predict or control, and it just sort of pops into my head. And that's sort of, that's one of the several processes I use in creating my music. That's so fascinating. You know, this many people have talked about the relationship between math and music and kind of the complexity of different systemic ways of thinking.

But I don't know if I've ever really heard of anyone talk about kind of like biological thinking as a kind of musical thinking, but it really is. And I wonder if. You know, it does seem like there are all these interesting ways of thinking about the overlaps. And you're reminding me of this amazing course when I lived in Portland, Oregon, that I took in the old growth forest with this guy.

And it was like an immersion weekend, um, biology course about the ecosystems of the trees and. He would take us on these long walks and get us lost in the woods in, at this really incredible site called Opal Creek. And, um, you know, one of the last remaining, real old growth forests there. And. He knew so much.

I mean, he would have a stop in the woods every few feet and he would talk about the kind of systemic relationships and complexities that were happening underneath the soil or in the relationships between the different plants. And I just, you know, I love thinking about that as a kind of music and as like the way that a kid would sort of make sense of being in this really.

Completely gorgeous, like stimulating environment, um, and growing up there and like translating everything in sound it's so it's such a gorgeous way to think. I'm wondering, um, how you connect this relationship with sound and composition and the natural world around you in the Oakenoggen value to some of the ecological stresses and climate crisis that we're undergoing.

Do you see a role for music in, um, possibly new or visionary ways of thinking about how to approach climate or how to teach people? You know, or I don't know, like what, what effect does music have or if it does at all, have some sort of effect on this ecological thinking. I, I think that, um, and I'm not, I definitely have not, would not be the first person to do it.

This was quite a few musicians that have been doing this now, but, uh, I think there is something quite visceral about the way that, um, music can take processes that are unfolding, that would be shown to us as a bunch of numbers. And we would go, Oh, wow, that looks pretty bad. You know, like this population is decreasing by X amount, over X amount or over Y amount of time.

And, and, um, And we would go, Oh, that sounds really bad, but the amazing thing with music and the way that it can interact with, uh, these sorts of, um, these sorts of devastating processes that are occurring in nature right now due to global warming, is that you can help someone to Intuit these kinds of, um, occurrences that are happening.

So for instance, um, there have been several pieces of music where. One would, uh, do a process called sonification where they would take these data streams from these various studies. And they would basically map them into musical terms. So what that could perhaps mean as, um, uh, an ecologist could gather data about the specific types of bird calls that are being heard.

In an area and then map that kind of data over time to show how maybe a bird population was decreasing or, or, or the activity in a certain forest ecosystem was decreasing. Then a composer could basically take that data and assign kind of Sonic values to each of the different, um, aspects of the data.

And then that would give you a very, um, literal representation. Of the ways that these populations are decreasing. And I have found them in such pieces of music that it's very, very powerful statement. That is something that someone can Intuit right away, because you begin to see the ways in which these populations, uh, decrease and, and, and pieces of music such as this.

And, um, uh, there also have been other works of music where composers have taken field recordings of areas. Um, and then basically. Taking them at different times to show how the activity sonically is decreasing in a certain area. So basically what I'm trying to say is I've done. I think that a composer's role in this type of thing, it provides an Avenue for a listener to not kind of like, rather than sort of just understand the ways in which the, the globe is changing.

They can really feel it viscerally. And I think that leads to a person kind of being more mindful. Of these processes and, and it could potentially lead to people changing the way in which they think about these, um, things that are occurring in nature that are devastating and frankly dangerous right now.

That's so great. That's such an important way of, um, way of putting it and quite eloquent. Um, I'm wondering, um, there's sort of like a whole side of vision lab. That's. Coming out of the fact that we're based at the divinity school at Harvard and a lot of people are sort of oriented spiritually in the arts.

And I was just wondering, um, what your relationship is to that, or do you, how do you think of yourself as having a spiritual practice or not? Or is there some angle on a way that you think about spirituality for your own life?

For me, that's a really complicated question. Um, I would say ultimately that, uh, you, no matter what you believe you can't, uh, I find that I can't divorce myself from the kind of essence of the spirituality that mystical  of art. Um, and, uh, I think in my sort of. Way of thinking quasi agnostic, way of thinking.

I, I keep coming back to the fact that music makes me feel like I'm part of some bigger purpose, some bigger idea. And I not sure what that idea is or what that purpose is, or, or even weather purposes is the right word, but it, it art music and the way it connects us to the world around us, I feel. It, it makes me kind of spiritually feel like part of a bigger whole, and I don't know that I can entirely explain it, except that I know that it transcends any kind of quantifiable or, or, um, or, uh, even, um, identifiable human kind of, um, uh, Way of, uh, of, of, of, um, I'm trying to look up the word, you know what I mean?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of kind of like understanding yourself in the world,

transcends any kind of like human existential quantifier, but like there's something there's something much it's, it's, it's beyond human is what I feel. Um, the artistic kind of. World and what it means to create music. And, um, I can't say that I can explain it much better than that. Yeah, no, that's great.

Um, maybe we can just get into some of the details, like how did you find out about vision lab and get involved with your project? Um, and like, how did that kind of fitting together happen? Like the, in the refuge of a cave, I guess, you know, I know that you have other materials that you've given us for the webpage on sort of the origins of, in the refuge of the cave, but we can certainly like touch on that, um, in the interview.

Sure. Yeah. Well, um, it was funny because, um, the timing with everything was quite, um, They just, it just seemed to run parallel serendipity. Yeah. Um, that's exactly the right word. Uh, so I, I began work on in the refuge of a cave after I had several conversations with a very good friend of mine. Cameron Crossman.

W, um, Cameron is a cellist, uh, a very important and big up and coming cellist in Montreal. And he and I, um, I have the pleasure of being friends with them since I was relatively young, about 18. And, um, basically he and I were talking about at the very beginning of this whole COVID pandemic. Um, what does this mean for the arts?

Specifically, what does this mean for the future of classical musicians who relies so heavily on having to play with one another in, in groups in real time? Um, what does it mean when all of a sudden you can't play chamber music or orchestral music, and you have to basically find a way to create music completely on your own isolating and in your home.

And, um, It was around that time that I was having these discussions with Cameron that, um, Andrew and I were beginning to become Andrew Stauffer. I should say he and I were beginning to be, um, to become good friends and collaborate. How did you guys meet? Did you meet like when he moved to BC or what? Yeah, yeah.

That's exactly how we met. It was, again, it was just like, um, a, a, a wonderful coincidence. Um, or, or I shouldn't say coincidence, just sort of chance meeting, um, Basically, it was my intention to us to live in Colona only for about a year. Um, I was between degrees. So I moved back to, to the Okanogan Valley.

Um, after I completed my master's degree at the San Francisco conservatory. And, uh, I came back and basically September of 2019, and then, um, Andrew moved to the Okanagan Valley, really just. Only, I think a couple of months before that. And then, um, because, uh, his now wife, um, uh, was doing a PhD at UBCO and basically he and I met through, um, Neil catcher and the living things festival and the Oakenoggen, it's an international arts and kind of theater, multimedia festival.

And, uh, he and I were going to collaborate on a project and then basically us collaborating on that project, so that, and Neil introduced to the two of us to one another. Um, he, we just sort of hit it off from there. And, um, it was after hitting it off and working together and doing several projects together that, uh, he eventually introduced me to a vision lab and he said, basically, Hey, I think this group would interest you for sure.

Um, And, uh, I think they would be interested in your work and, um, I attended a few meetings. Um, and, and I kind of learned about, uh, your wife of course. Um, because, uh, you initially asked Andrew to work on the, the album, um, uh, you know, the, the, the project with you. And, um, basically it was just a gradual process.

And as we got closer, he's kind of told me more about his work. I told him more about my work and, um, And all of this was running parallel with, um, with Michael kind of work on it, the refuge of a cave. And then basically what happened from there to kind of make a long story short was that, uh, My project ended up fitting in perfectly with the ideas.


Yeah. I think it's, you know, there is some, I think to be said for when the kind of idea is just in the air, in the creative era. And I think that a lot of the themes that all of us keep coming back to in the era of COVID as artists, is that they all have a common thread between them because we're all thrust into.

Even though all of our situations are unique. We're all thrust into a common kind of, um, for lack of a better word plight in this, in this whole sort of, um, this whole sort of situation. Um, so basically, yeah, all this can be boiled down to is just a wonderful series of coincidence. And, uh, I think that in the refuge of a cave, it just, it became a thing.

And then it just so happened that as it was becoming a thing. I got introduced to vision lab and the project fit in perfectly with this whole conference of the birds. And I decided to basically incorporate it and then take part through the project. I think some of the ideas that you're working with compositionally in, in the refuge of the cave, and then the other piece that you introduced to me, two of yours that we were thinking might also be a part of it, but it seems like in the refuge of the cave fit even better.

I've just been interested in that process where there's this kind of real interest in creating alive space of collaboration with a single solo instrumentalist, as they are kind of interpreting your music, that, that becomes a kind of collaborative piece. Um, you know, which was part of the intention that you were working with compositionally.

But it makes me, it makes me think about kind of collaboration as a model. And that certainly looks something that we've been thinking about in vision lab is how, you know, how can an art collective work over this time? Or what are the possibilities for an art collective, especially when things are, you know, over this past year, particularly they've become.

So difficult for many people, like certainly musicians as you've been talking about and other artists, but we've seen so much political corruption. We've seen a lot of, um, uprisings around racial violence and social issues. Um, and so I think there's been this instinct, which yeah, I think you're right.

Like it's really in the air to kind of band together. Like if you find a group of people that you kind of like are in synchronicity with in some way, Um, maybe more so than any other time in my life so far, like it seemed like, you know, when I was in my twenties, for example, like, it seems like, you know, there was a much more of an emphasis on sort of singular artists.

Like you have to kind of cut your path in the world. And now I just feel like over the past couple of years, there's really been so much emphasis on. Um, intimacy and creative partnership and collaboration in a lot of different ways. And I just wonder, you know, I guess a couple of things, like in a microcosmic way, does your model of composition play with some of these ideas of possibilities of collectivity or collaboration and then, or how does that happen?

And then in a larger sense, like what do you think. Is possible in terms of, um, like a larger sense of an art collective or of some sort of group that could maybe creatively, um, collaborate and create different spaces of transformation or thinking in the world? Well, certainly, so for, to start off, I think I'll be kind of specific in talking about in the refuge of a cave directly.

Um, and. In the refuge of a cave kind of starts with the paradox. So what I talked about before, but this whole idea of a piece of music as you create it, it begins to take on a mind of its own. And in a way you feel like you're interacting with something, um, more so than you're creating something. Um, and within the records of a cave, I, um, I decided to take that idea to the next level, to the extreme.

To a point where the whole idea is that it is a collaborative project with yourself. So when I create a work of music, oftentimes I will start off with a kind of set of themes that I know I want to tap into in this work of music. And it sort of appears in front of you as, as a morphous blob. And the more I think about these themes, the more I will kind of think about potential connections.

That these themes could have to one another and also exterior connections. And then oftentimes what will happen is a puzzle pieces will fall into place. And then all of a sudden click everything is like, Oh, this is exactly what the piece is going to be about. So in the case of, in the refuge of a cave, I was thinking about this idea of when a musician can't collaborate, like when they can't collaborate in the sense that they are used to w um, When they can't in real time play with another musician, what, what can they do basically to get that fulfillment as an artist of, of feeling that you are playing and interacting with someone in real time and.

I had this image in my mind that musician being literally isolated in a space and I thought, well, what kind of a place could you be isolated and where you also feel that you could find a way to tap into this sensation of collaboration. And then all of a sudden it was one of those aha moments where I thought a cave, you know, the idea of the cave.

You go into a cave to seek refuge. To, to basically, you know, in the history of humanity, of going into the cave to, to avoid natural disasters, to stay away from the elements, to protect yourself from predators, it's a very visceral theme, but then at the same time, the cave is a place that is foreboding and, and, um, potentially Harbor is dangerous of its own inside of it.

Uh, there's something eerie about it. And it, I thought it was a great analogy for the situation that we're placed in where we are isolating in our own homes to kind of, um, to seek refuge. But at the same time, being in this safe protection leads us to a whole set of our own challenges and difficulties that we must face.

So basically to kind of move along here, I thought about this idea of the musician collaborating with themselves. In a very literal way where I imagine the musician being in this cave and hearing echoes as they, as they played their instrument and then realizing that they could play with those echoes as a collaborator.

And in a sense, they are then collaborating across time with a past version of themselves. Thank you. Thank you. And well, anyway, I mean, It's basically a form of medical elaboration kind of in that way. And that, um, you're, you're essentially collaborating with someone, but you're not collaborating with someone or I should say it's a paradoxical form of collaboration, not a metaphor.

Um, but then to take this idea kind of further to touch upon the actual question that you've, but you've asked me about, um, collaboration in these times. Um, this is what I wanted to, uh, specifically refer to as meta collaboration. And basically that is that, um, correct operation. Isn't so much. I feel in these times, the question of, it's not a question of collaborating directly with one another.

It's a question of finding ways to sort of. Find a way to collaborate in new ways. So in a, in a way our efforts to collaborate are in a sense, finding new ways to collaborate. I maybe I'm maybe I'm not articulating this problem properly. Kind of like brainstorming aspect. There's some parts. Yeah, exactly.

There's an art. There's a collaborative art coming out of the necessities of find new ways to find collaborative art. Yeah. So, so in that way, it's kind of medical aberration. And then another form medic collaboration that I thought about as well, is that this idea of in the refuge of a cave is that while everyone is collaborating with themselves and that's the only person that can collaborate with the real time as they are in their own cave, it is something that everyone has in common.

And in a sense, everyone is forced to isolate in a way. So in a sense, although we are all alone, we are also altogether. Because we are all placed in the same sort of situation so that the collaboration occurs in the way that we all tap into this standard discourse and the different ways that we do it.

And then we can compare the ways that we, that we interact with ourselves. And yeah, you know, there was something so beautiful too. Um, I realized that, you know, the musician is playing with earlier versions of themselves in the echoes. But there's something so beautiful about your actual score too, and the way that it leaves so much collaborative space for whoever performs it, you know, so it felt when I was listening to the two different examples that you played for us, um, during the vision lab performance, um, it, there was such an intimate dance happening with each of these two different, like, completely different incarnations of the score.

And, um, I love this idea of, of creating a kind of flexible score where you can imagine many different instantiations of it, you know? So there's another kind of like collaboration that's in a way projected into the future because who knows what person or what instrument might end up playing this piece in the future.

So you're also collaborating with future, you know, future. Versions of yourself or of someone else you don't know. And then you're kind of like leaving space for infinite recombinant, Tori collaboration. Well, exactly. And I think you've, um, you've illustrated or you've, um, I really liked the way that you articulated that.

I completely agree. And that was part of my goal in it that I wanted to make the score. I wanted to make this score extremely open-ended. In fact it's so open-ended that there are. Infinite, literally billions of ways that you can play this piece because there are different combinations through which you can kind of travel through it.

And I thought of that idea as both a sort of, of a way of like, um, creating it analogy for the cave as, as in like the piece of music itself looks like a system of tunnels in a cave that you could travel through in many different ways. And there are many different ways to kind of navigate your way through it.

Um, But then yes. In addition to that, I thought the idea of, I thought about the idea of, again, this medic collaboration, where my collaborating with the performer is actually the way that they interpret my open-ended notation. So in a sense, we are collaborating and creating something original every single time the piece gets reinterpreted.

So there's that sense of collaboration. Yeah. It's amazing. Um, so. Another thing I wanted to ask you about, um, one of the ways in which I was thinking about vision lab, when it was first started was I wanted to reclaim this term visionary because it seems like in popular, in popular culture, it's usually used to designate some kind of, um, Super tech, no, um, capitalistic genius, like Elon Musk, for example.

And so it's sort of been taken in a sense by the sort of Silicon Valley model of, um, engine nuity, you know, and coming out of the div school and studying mysticism, you know, obviously the term visionary has a lot of resonance, um, From different traditions in the past. And they're often wisdom, traditions and traditions that are associated with actual visionary experience that leads to the evolution of possibility for human beings.

So I was really interested in kind of reclaiming that and doing something interesting with this term visionary, and then also inviting people into this collective. From all over the map, you know, definitely artists in different forms of the arts, but also people who are like really radical or creative thinkers in whatever field they're in, but don't fit into their boxes, you know, that are somehow like pushing against the box or like not able to exist comfortably in it, or have some like crazy talent that isn't at all a part of what their day job is, you know?

So, um, so anyway, like, and we've, and I just had the idea of like, okay, what happens if you just like, shake all these people up and rattle them together? What kind of new ideas or new approaches to human consciousness or visionary models of experience? Could we come up with particularly maybe to solve or to look at some of the problems that we're facing in contemporary?

You know, in the contemporary world, like certainly in Canada and the us, and really everywhere, like problems of climate that you're speaking to also problems of racism and social justice, ecological issues, politics, but also a kind of spiritual malice, I think. And so I wonder, I guess my question basically boils down to, um, What kind of visionary ideas do you have or how do you think about the visionary or that's?

Yeah, that's a great question too. Um, uh, and I'm glad you brought that up as well. Um, because I, I agree with what you're saying. I think the word visionary rate it's, it's funny because it's such a kind of. It's almost a cliche, right? Cliche. Yes. And I also think that there's a kind of weird, almost inconsistent, um, sort of association of possession, um, associated with it.

And what by that, what I basically mean is when you think of someone that's visionary, it's like they possess this ability to kind of like see this grand vision of what, of what something should be it's as if it all comes from their own. Their own minds. They're kind of like, they've figured it all out for themselves.

And they've created this new world. Yeah. It kind of falls onto into that idea of the Maginness, you know, which is so, yeah. Yes. I think it's extremely inaccurate because, um, the idea of a vision is that it's, you know, in it, in essence would be original meaning of the term in my understanding it's. A kind of dream or perhaps a waking dream that you have in which something, or someone communicates an idea to you that that is greater than you.

And you end up becoming the mouthpiece for this greater idea than you, this, this, this larger thing that is communicating this idea to you, whether it's a deity or, or a spirit or, or whatever. And I. I think that, um, my sort of appreciation of the word is largely related to that definition. So I'm actually glad that's why I'm glad we've talked about it because I, um, I think sometimes, but I don't, I don't like to call myself a visionary.

Like, uh, I know it also sounds a little bit self, like too self promotional or something. Yeah, exactly. But I, I do like to think of what I talked about written before in this interview, when you create these things in VR, like you create these works of art that take on these lives of their own, and they seem to be something that transcends your own.

Cognition and intellect. I like to think of them as, as a, almost like a form of a vision, like a thing that all of a sudden pops out of your mind, like where did that come from? How did I create that? I feel like part of me made it, but it's not entirely me. There's something else there. And that's actually what, what, um, what prompted me to write my work, um, for our orchestra, um, vision of a flax in the seat.

Like the word vision is directly used in it. And that I want it to pay simply create a musical equivalent of these dreams. I would have sometimes have these rolling, uh, golden landscapes that seemed to go on forever, have these, um, like straw or dry grass. When I wanted to kind of like, um, create a musical equivalent of, of like, uh, Of this.

And I could talk a little bit more about the work and the more details about, about how that particular one was created, but it's not really necessarily the point is, is that I, I like the word vision in the more traditional sense, because I love the idea of something you having this connection with a greater thing.

And you kind of like letting, uh, this greater thing flow through your mind and onto it. Oh into a work of art and to something that you create. Um, and in that sense, then music and art becomes, Oh, sorry, am on my back. I don't know why, but all of a sudden, I can't hear your voice. Can you hear me now? Yeah.

Okay, good, good. Um, so basically, um, what I was saying was basically. Once you think about music and art in that way, as, as you kind of being a mouthpiece for these ideas that are greater and bigger than you, then it almost becomes music becomes more of a discovery than a creation in a sense, I think. And that's how I like to think about it.

So, yes. Um, visionary in the more traditional meaning of the word is something that I. I find myself very attached to the idea of, and, and very, um, something that I would like to seek out more in my work, but I, that I, that I love to interact with. So, yeah. So I'm glad you brought that up. Um, I think, I think that's basically what I wanted to ask you.

Um, is there anything you want to else that feels important to add to that?

No, not really. I can't think of anything else. I think we've been, we covered it all really well, actually. Yeah. It's so interesting to hear more about all of this work, you know? Yeah. Thank you so much. Yeah. And it's, um, it's been great to learn more about, um, vision lab and to see just how, um, uh, how closely associated.

So a lot of the themes of my work. Have ended up coincidentally being to the kind of, um, mission behind vision lab too. And I feel like, I feel like, of course I'm not going to be the only one. I feel like probably there was many other people who had similar experiences and I think it's okay. Yeah. And I think, I mean, I think there's still a lot of work to do in terms of.

Gathering people together. I mean, and people starting to trust each other on deeper levels and like actually working and doing things as a collective. I think there's a lot of possibility there. And I think, you know, just practically, certainly like it's a good space to, to have as a platform for everybody's individual work, but, and to, you know, to apply for grants or whatever, but then in a larger sense, I think.

I think there can be, you know, genuine friendships that develop and like really amazing works of art that can be made because someone else might have skills that you don't have. And I mean, even like this collaboration we're doing with, with the book of poems Firebird, you know, absolutely like I, I could not even have imagined how beautiful this thing is that we're creating.

Like, certainly I don't have. The musical skills myself to make something like this, or even to envision it. So there's such a, I mean, there's something beautiful that feels, you know, like even a new form of human is being created kind of, because it's sort of like we have, like somehow this thing that used to be about my personal experience has become something much larger and much more meaningful in different ways to different people, you know?

Yeah, I, I think it's very true that way. And, um, I also think that, um, the collaboration in a way, I keep coming back to the idea that the music that we're making is not, is not necessarily a response to the text, but rather it's a, a world that the text can live inside of. Yeah. Like, you know, it could be the environment that all of these occurrences happened.

And if that makes sense, like, you know, what's really strange. Nicholas is like talking about the Pacific Northwest. I mean, I think I told you in Andrew, like I lived there when I was a really little kid, like I was, huh? Yeah, right. One and two and three, and some of my first memories are there. So it's almost in a weird way.

It must feel like, like your music kind of is that space of early man. Huh? That's super interesting. Like, yeah. Cause the sounds, I mean, they're their own world, but in a way, like the kind of density and precision and luxuriousness of the, of the, you know, the ecosystem there. Like, that's sort of the feeling like that dream feeling around the Firebird book, you know?

Well, I think that's a, it's a really interesting thing because I feel like, at least for me, the music that I make is always a product of the geographical location that I'm happened to be in. Um, and sometimes I will make pieces of music that are about a completely different place than I had been to before.

And I just happen to be making it in another place, but yeah. The kind of default is for me to make music that feels like the place that I'm in. It's just a very natural thing for me, it's kind of hard for me to not do in fact. Um, and although I spent seven years in San Francisco and the kind of areas around there, I've been back here now for well over a year.

Um, and I'm going to, going to continue to be here for as long as it will be until I can go to New Zealand for my PhD. And, um, Hmm. I just think it's very interesting because all of a sudden the music that I'm making geographically really reminds me of what it feels like to be here. Isn't it. It's really interesting.

Yeah. That's really interesting. Yep. But I think it's extra interesting because I don't only make kind of sounds that remind me of that. The place here. I've made many other than kind of like landscapes and places that my music, it's just funny how it happens to coincide with this place now. They're definitely dreamscapes.

Yes. So thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure talking with you and I will, um, I have this, uh, de script program, which can basically like turn the conversation into a transcript and then I'll clean it up and I'll share it with you to make sure that it's okay. And, um, I'm just about ready to give all the materials to the website designer so that you can put them up.

So it should be, I did put my recording up on the SoundCloud. I only put one of them up. And the reason why I did that was because, um, Like, I'm trying to promote the album right now. And if I have the album in several different places at the same time, um, I was just worried. It doesn't quite make sense.

Yeah. I think one piece is fine if that's, I mean, whatever feels comfortable to you, but it would definitely be great to have like an actual piece that people can listen to you. Yeah. Well, the thing is, is that, um, for the actual website, I could send you the band camp link to be embedded into, um, Like my actual thing to be embedded into there.

But if you guys wanted to use the, um, or yeah, I mean, he asked me to like, yeah, he asked me to put all of those sound things on SoundCloud, all of the video things on video. So I, I ended up just buying pro accounts because there are a lot of different pieces of media to upload. Yeah. Yes, of course. So, yeah.

I mean, absolutely. If you want to use that, that'd be great. But, uh, I did, even, even in my track that I've loaded, I put a link back to the, back to the full album because, um, yeah, there shouldn't be, I mean, I think that's great. If you have links to send people to other work of yours, like we definitely want to, you know, use the page also to promote your work.

Oh, actually, speaking of that, there's one thing I would like to be in the interview. Um, and that's that, uh, I just released a new rendition of the work actually. I'm going to be releasing it today. Funny enough. The timing just happened to coincide with that. So tell, so just describe what it is that that is.

Oh, so that a new rendition of in the refuge of a cave, uh, this particular rendition is going to be by the cellist Helen newbie. Um, she is a, uh, San Francisco slash New York. Based jealous. I think she's co she's residing in San Francisco right now during COVID, but she works in both centers. Um, I have known her, uh, several years.

Um, she was doing her master's degree at the San Francisco conservatory at the time I was doing my bachelor's degree and, um, she's become quite a reputable, um, uh, cellist in the kind of field of new music. Um, she's worked with many influential people and groups. And, um, yeah, I'm really excited to have her on board for the project.

And, uh, I just thought I would use the article as an opportunity to say that she's the latest person to release an interpretation of the work. Um, in total, there are six interpretations now. And how can we find these interpretations? Like. Should we go to your website? Yeah, it's on my website. Uh, there's a, there's a tab that you can click directly to get to the end, the refugees of a cave page, but then also you could go to the band camp, um, album itself and all of the different renditions of that work are there.

Um, and by the time the project is done, I expect to have probably around 15 or maybe even 20, um, renditions of the work. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Good luck with that. Thank you. Okay, Nicholas, um, it's been a super pleasure and I'm gonna. Let you go and I'll go take the Curry off the stove and get ready for, um, visual level.

Awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. That's true right away. Okay. So I will leave it to it. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful. Yeah. Thanks so much. I'm so glad you could. Um, you could be okay. Oh, actually one thing I will mention, um, Andrew and I, unfortunately, aren't going to be there, um, at two because we have, um, we have to, we do a bunch of, yeah.

We have a rehearsal on figuring, based on the conversation yesterday at school. Okay. Take care. Yep.

Nicholas Denton Protsack is a composer and concert cellist, originally from Kelowna, British Columbia. Nicholas’ creative works often explore connections between music and the natural world, with recent examples including the landscape-inspired Vision of a Flaxen Sea (2019) for symphony orchestra, which was the recipient of the 2019 James Highsmith Award. Nicholas is currently undertaking a PhD in music at the Victoria University of Wellington, studying with composer Michael Norris, and he recently completed a master’s degree in both composition and cello at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music—where he studied under David Garner (composition), Jean-Michel Fonteneau (cello), and Jennifer Culp (cello).