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Little musical mysteries
Pianist plays with magical realism

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 20, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - "Not all who wander are lost," wrote author J.R.R. Tolkien.

NNSL photo/graphic

Singer/songwriter and pianist Natasha Duchene of Yellowknife. Duchene, 26, is assembling her first full-length album this year. - Daron Letts/NNSL photo

Singer-songwriter Natasha Duchene, 26, is perfecting the art of transience as she assembles her first full-length album this year.

The artist moved to Yellowknife from Toronto in March. Before that she lived off the grid in a squatters camp three hours east of San Diego, California, near the Mexican border. Before that she lived in Montreal. She also journeyed to England recently.

Along the way she recorded portions of the album with musicians she met on her path. Many of her songs tell of her travels and the experiences and observations she has collected along the way.

"It's really a wandering record," she said. "I haven't stayed in one place for very long in the last couple of years."

Duchene decided to take up residence in a houseboat on Yellowknife Bay after falling in love with our town three years ago while visiting her brother, former resident Andre Duchene. Back then Duchene was studying music composition at the University of Montreal.

"Once I found myself in a place where I could pick up and go I did," she said. "I think that Yellowknife will be my base for a long time."

Duchene has not been hard to find since moving North. Last month she shared the stage with other local vocalists at Folk on the Rocks as part of YK Transfer and she was featured at Yellowknife Glass Recyclers Co-op during Old Town Ramble and Ride. She has played on stage with Vincent Guathier's De Visha jazz ensemble and alongside musicians Tina Roy and Rick Poltaruk, as well. Earlier this week she entertained diners at Fuego on her Yamaha P-90 digital piano.

Duchene's strong, gentle voice and rich, meandering piano scores evoke the innovative songwriting style of American pianist and singer Tori Amos.

Inspired by nature and social relationships, Duchene writes songs about the intersection of dreams with the human condition. Her musical imagination is also motivated by folk tales and magic.

One of her songs plays with the Celtic myth of Wil-o-the-Wisp, a flickering apparition that appears at night to lure travellers off the beaten path where they become lost in the darkness.

"It's a fun story to work with," Duchene said.

In addition to traditional lyrical narratives, Duchene composes abstract musical stories through musique concrete, an experimental musical genre that blends non-traditional instrumentation with sounds from nature, such as trickling water, rushing wind, crackling fire and human breath.

"The idea is to create an atmosphere using sound," she said. "It lends itself to mystery. It's not the kind of music that people seek out to listen to while they're doing dishes."

Examples of her explorations of the art include Svha, an intense soundscape based on the magical realism of Canadian fantasy novelist Charles de Lint, and Antarctica, a relaxing acoustic contemplation of a vast sea of barren ice.

Without words, Duchene uses sound to draw listeners into an exciting new world of emotion and feeling in which it is easy to become pleasantly lost for a few minutes.

Music fans can find Duchene on stage this weekend at the Folk on the Rocks site during the Endless Summer Sundays concert series. Duchene will be joined on the program by Fort Simpson songwriter Randy Sibbeston and local bands The Beat Officers, Flaherty’s Wake, and Los Flacos Locos. Doors open from noon to 7 p.m. It is a licensed event for ages 19 and up.

To learn more about Duchene's upcoming album, visit her website at natashaduchene.com.

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