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Arts and Culture

Mark Haney's Hidden Structures

The local composer writes an odd number about Terry Fox.

Shawn Conner 3 May

Shawn Conner lives and writes in Vancouver, and currently publishes and edits The Snipe.

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Mark Haney -- time for a marathon of getting your hair cut!

For Mark Haney, it's all about the numbers.

But don't let that scare the math-challenged out there. Knowledge of trigonometry, algebra or even the ability to calculate HST is not necessary to access the Vancouver musician's work.

A double-bass player who's played with the VSO as well as local indie-rock outfits like The Beige, Haney, in fact, makes it easy. His 2010 project Aim for the Roses had a quirky point-of-entry -- it told the story of Canadian daredevil Ken Carter. In Haney's upcoming project 3339, which he performs as part of the Redshift Music Society Concert at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre next Friday (May 11), his subject is Terry Fox.

"A lot of people assumed that Carter was my childhood hero, but he wasn't," says Haney, reached at home in Mount Pleasant. "So I asked myself, who was my childhood hero?"

After Luke Skywalker, that distinction goes to the one-legged runner. The title 3339 comes from the number of miles Fox clocked during his Marathon of Hope.

The approach is similar to Aim for the Roses. For 3339, Adrienne Wong (of Neworld Theatre) narrates, with visual projections behind her and the quartet of musicians, including Haney. "The stories are laid out through a recitation of facts more than anything," says Haney, who was five when Fox made his run.

3339 also aligns Fox's life with the stages of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or the hero's journey. It's part of the musician's attempt to focus on what Fox accomplished.

"The Terry Fox story is always told in a very specific way -- the emphasis is almost always on what he didn't do," says Haney. "One of the little stories people always talk about is: he dipped his leg in the Atlantic because he was going to dip it into the Pacific. I wanted to shift the focus away from that onto the facts and numbers of physically what he accomplished over those 143 days. Because it's staggering."

And that's where the numbers come in. Starting with 3339, the number of miles Fox ran, Haney works in a metric tonne of musical references to that figure.

"It's such a great number!" he says. "3339, the number, has been transformed into different musical theme structures in so many ways in this piece that I've lost track. Those numbers have been made into pitches, having a note, then a third above, a third above, then a ninth above. It's been made into chords, rhythms, bars. And the number of days he spent in each province is worked in there. All kinds of stuff like that. I went hog-wild with the numbers this time."

The Redshift concert also features the debut of the MARS Quartet, a group Haney has formed with long-time musician friends. They'll perform pieces specially written for them, including one by Haney and another by Benton Roark, who will also perform some of his own compositions at the Redshift show.

After touring with singer-songwriter Rodney DeCroo this summer, Haney's next project will be composing music based on a fictional town, Dominion, established in Canadian cartoonist Seth's graphic novel George Sprott. He's is already starting to think in terms of numbers for that assignment.

"One of the first decisions I made was that it should be on vinyl. So that means there's going to be a side one and side two, and that there are restrictions on the length. Which is great. My brain works better when there's a structure to work with."

As with 3339, the music will have what Haney calls "a hidden structure." Whether the listener is aware of the composer's machinations or not doesn't matter.

"It's really just there for me," Haney says of 3339's inner workings. "I love having intricate structures no one's ever going to notice."  [Tyee]

Read more: Music

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