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Introducing Melody McKiver: Q&A with Artengine’s Critical Resident Blogger

By Diane Bond on May 28, 2013



Melody McKiver is a (self-described) Anishinaabe musician, writer and interdisciplinary media artist. Trained as a classical violinist, she performs improvisational work on the viola and laptop (she’s also a percussionist and singer). More recently, she has been experimenting in composition, digital video, photography and online curation. A recent recipient of SAW Video’s Aboriginal Voices grant, she has also been selected as the Artengine Critical Resident Blogger for 2013.

Over the course of the residency, Artengine and Apartment613 will be cross-posting Melody’s writing in the hopes of encouraging discussion and fostering new perspectives on the media arts landscape. Recently, Melody and I met to talk about the residency, her artistic practice and what she’s got planned over the coming year.

Apt613: What drew you to applying for the Artengine Critical Blogging Residency?

MM: I’m a big fan of the work that Artengine does and I follow their updates – it sounded perfect. It provides the intersection between the two worlds I’ve been living in over the past couple of years – trying to work as an artist but also as an academic. I’m really drawn to the blogging writing format because it allows you to take a more informal tone that what the ‘academy’ might allow at times – to draw on a lot of critical ideas and also be able to link to other things directly. [For example using] YouTube or Sound Cloud to directly embed different ideas and reference other projects and have it be more of a multi-media format.

Apt613: What are you hoping to achieve during the residency over the next year? Are there certain projects, ideas or topics you want to bring to Artengine?

MM: From my own perspective, a lot of my writing and performance practice deals heavily with Indigenous issues. There’s a really vibrant Indigenous performing and media arts community happening in Canada (and worldwide) right now.

A big event coming up this summer is the Sakahàn exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada – I’ll actually be performing as a part of that in July. They’re doing a music in the galleries series and I have a solo set, It’s one of the biggest shows I’ve ever done. I’m really excited about that – doing a lot of preparation to get myself to the level I think that Sakahàn deserves.

Apt613: How would you describe your work?

MM: I’m an Anishinaabe musician, writer and media artist. My writing covers (broadly) Indigenous issues, but also arts. I love writing about music and the intersection of the two. Some of my writing – that was also linked to on Artengine – is more explicitly political, coming out of Idle No More, decolonization, Indigenous resurgence – big, overarching themes that I’m trying to engage with. I often try to make it really personal, to demonstrate how these concepts really play out through lived experience.

I currently hold one of the Aboriginal Voices grants from SAW Video, so I’m looking to incorporate more DJing and video art into my music practice in the future. I’ve dabbled with it a bit, done some short experimental works. I produced a video documentary last summer about A Tribe Called Red and I used that as a part of my masters research. Documentary filmmaking, coming back to Ottawa and gaining access to all of the SAW resources has been amazing – it’s something that I’m excited in pursuing.

Apt613: What kind of performer are you?

MM: I perform solo with viola and laptop. I’m a natural introvert and horrendous with stage banter, and I will be staring at my laptop for five minutes until I explain, “Oh sorry – there’s a problem. Almost got it!” My music is instrumental. I do sing elsewhere – at times – in Native women’s drum circles, but I wouldn’t put that on my performers’ cv.

Apt613: As a performer, how important is it for you to make those distinctions?

MM: I think they all feed one another – I wouldn’t segregate Native drumming. It’s more that I don’t describe myself as a vocalist. Singing in a group and leading songs helps me to build that confidence I need to go onstage elsewhere, to talk to people and not be afraid. Likewise, playing drums allows for a sense of timing and rhythm that carries over into everything else I do. Playing strings lends itself to phrasing, sensitivity and musicality that some percussionists have a lot of trouble developing. I can’t imagine separating these different parts of my musical practice because they all inform each other.

Apt613: Can you describe what your performances “look” or sound like? What motivates your work?

MM: To be honest, I’ve been getting more gigs performing solo – just Melody McKiver, viola and laptop. It’s a learning process. Drawing back to Artengine, they do so much pushing electronic media forward and providing resources for people to learn. The laptop is a new instrument for me – there are so many amazing electronic musicians that are doing things that I can barely comprehend. This is a learning experience.

I’m really diving hard into the laptop as an instrument, how it can augment my performances. My work is really improvisational. I’ve been working on my composition as well, talking with some filmmakers about doing some scoring. But live, I’m often improvising. What I love about it is letting the laptop do its own thing – if I set it up like this, what’s going to happen? Being able to grab that and run with it, and see where it takes me.

Written for Chief Theresa Spence.

In anticipation of Melody’s first post, check out her piece, How Do You Say Idle No More in Anishinaabemowin, initially posted last February with the open-access journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Additionally, she will be performing TONIGHT at Gallery 101 (301 Bank Street) with Cris Derksen, Kristi Lane Sinclair and Laura Ortman. Doors open at 7pm, tickets are $10.