Carmen Braden is Western Canada’s Composer of the Year

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November 7, 2019
(Cover photo by Hannah Eden)

Carmen Braden trudges onto Yellowknife’s Back Bay pulling a sled laden with her shovel, ice auger and a piece of muskox fur picked up at a local garage sale.

The temperature has plummeted, but a cold day works best for recording. When she nears Mosher Island she augers a hole, but rather than a fishing line, she lowers her microphone down the icy column. Then, she sits cross-legged on her small square of fur, a warm buffer between her and the ice, and gets comfortable.

“When you’re recording on ice you have to be extremely still. Any sound that happens on the surface is amplified in the water; even shifting your weight on the snow makes sounds. I wanted to capture the ice making its own sound,” Carmen explains.

Carmen listens intently through her headphones as her microphone begins to pick up a cacophony of cracking.

(Photo by Hannah Eden)

“My spot is near enough to the Dettah ice road that the weight of the cars crossing makes the ice crack. In my imagination those cracks bounce around on all the rocks and the underwater lakescape – if that’s a word. It feels like the lake is talking.”

This is one of the first steps in Carmen’s lengthy and unique creative process.  It’s these countless hours spent perfecting the nuances of northern sound that help to create her end product. 

Carmen’s talents and end products are increasingly being recognized on the national level. Her composition Blood Echo was performed onstage by 70+ musicians in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

In early October, while attending the Breakout West conference in Whitehorse, she was nominated for two Western Canadian Music Awards, and took home the Classical Composer of the Year award, which she was nominated for alongside four other composers including two of her former university professors.

(Photo courtesy of Carmen Braden)

 “I definitely thought one of my professors would take it, so it was a nice surprise. It feels good to be bringing that kind of recognition to the north where we haven’t had a lot of national acknowledgement in some of these categories.”

Carmen credits the support of her Northwest Territories’ community for helping her get to where she is today.

“It took a number of years to view what I do as a business and the support that I’ve gotten through ITI and various grants have helped me develop a stable career.  ITI’s SEED funding has helped me travel, create a brand for myself, my website, logos, business cards and some of the infrastructure I need to make my art.”

Carmen continues to be captivated and inspired by the environment around her and has no plans of slowing down any time soon. In fact, there remain some elusive sounds she hopes to capture.

“The sound of the aurora is one sound I still want to capture; and the burping burbot. Apparently they have an air bladder that makes a burping sound when they travel up and down water columns… that’s my holy grail.”

To read more about Carmen’s work, visit her NWT Arts profile.