by BK Munn
A vinyl record by Seth? Has the cartoonist, known for his meditative, dream-like comics about loss, aging, and the long-vanished past, finally embraced his love of prog rock and formed a power trio with Chester Brown on drums and Fiona Smyth on lead guitar? Not exactly. It seems that way back in 2017, Seth did team up with musician and multi-instrumentalist Mark Haney for an adaptation of his graphic novel George Sprott in Richmond BC. For the performance of the operetta, Seth designed a number of sets replicating the tv studios that make up a large part of the life of the novel’s titular explorer and tv host, that were then filled with actors and musicians bringing to life Haney’s musical interpretation.
Now Drawn and Quarterly has announced a recording of the work for Fall 2020: “Seth’s acclaimed graphic novel George Sprott has now inspired a modern opera by the artistic director and musician Mark Haney. Captured on a classic vinyl record with a sumptuous, over-the-top design by Seth, Omnis Temporalis: A Visual Long-Playing Record is part chamber music, part song cycle, and part audio drama. Haney’s unique project builds on Seth’s original picture novella while standing alone as a musical triumph. Omnis Temporalis remixes elements of Seth’s George Sprott to bring the main character and several other residents of Dominion to life, telling a story of time, memory, loss, and the ties that bind. Featuring acclaimed TV and voice actor Richard Newman as George and soprano Dory Hayley as Daisy, the cast also includes many of Canada’s best-known stage and TV actors. The trio of alto flute, cello, and double bass create a musical palette on which the dialogue and songs float in an ethereal, atmospheric narrative that traces parts of George’s life as we accompany him through the last day of his life.”
Sequential recently caught up with Seth to get the lowdown on this upcoming release, scheduled to coincide with a new paperback edition of the George Sprott graphic novel.
How did the collaboration with Haney come about? Seth says, “Mark wrote me a letter many years ago and sent me a previous piece he’d done. Aim for the Roses. He wondered if I’d allow him to write a work based on George Sprott. He also sent along a classical piece he’d written titled, Kalo. This piece was especially beautiful. I thought the whole things sounded intriguing and I liked what I’d heard and so, impulsively, I simply said: “Go ahead.” After that I left him on his own to pursue it. When I’m working on my own work I like as little interference as possible and so when I let someone work with my characters I like to give them the same leeway. “
The recording is being released as physical media, a rare thing in this day and age, but fittingly for a work about an old-time media personality. Seth says there’s “no big reason” for the vinyl release: “Simply because both of us wished to have a beautiful object preserving the music and the performance. And, luckily, vinyl is somewhat popular at the moment and it seemed the thing to do. So, we did it. Any opportunity to make an unusual object, like a boxed record set, is a pure thrill for me.”
While not involved in any way in the recording or mastering of the material (“I know nothing about sound or recording. I barely know anything about music!”), Seth was intimately involved in the original stage production and performance of the musical: “I went out to Vancouver to see the performance. Incidentally, I designed and made the set (well, I had a lot of help) for the performance. A giant cardboard set much in the same style as my Cardboard Dominion buildings. It was surprisingly more moving than I expected while I watched it. I got very emotional. This is funny because I had heard the music and found it very beautiful…but I wasn’t weeping while listening to the tapes. But there, in the theatre, hearing the words I had written for George it took on a totally different quality. Much of George was based on my own father and somehow hearing people singing those words–they were transformed and I was really quite taken by it all. My eyes were definitely glistening at my points. Everything was quite heightened…a powerful experience for me. Mark’s music is very beautiful in this “Chamber-Novella”. I’m proud to be associated with it.”