The Moth Project: a multimedia show that combines music, family history and moth tradition

The project began when Peter Kiesewalter began to see the similarities between moths and independent musicians: adaptive, elective, drawn to the flame

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The Moth Project
8 p.m. December 3, Great Canadian Theater Company, 1233 Wellington St. W.

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Peter Kiesewalter, an Ottawa musician who has lived in New York for 25 years, returns this week with The Moth Project, a new multimedia show inspired by the plethora of moths at the family cottage in Eastern Ontario.

Like many of the best ideas, it was sparked while sitting by a campfire with his brother, Tobi, an interpretive naturalist who enjoys photographing and identifying moth species. One summer, 300 different species were caught, and Kiesewalter was amazed at the range of colors and textures of the winged insects.

« One night around the campfire, there were a few moths around and I was like, ‘Okay, these things are nocturnal and incredibly adaptive,’ Kiesewalter says of when he started seeing the similarities between an independent musician and a moth. « Then it really hit me when the pandemic hit and all my work was cancelled. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty adaptive and drawn to flame.’ So it started there, I immediately felt that connection with them.

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Back in town, Kiesewalter researched the moth lore, fleshed out the idea, and applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, framing the project as a different way of interpreting nature. He got the grant.

« Tobi and I found a lot of similarities between interpreting a piece of music and interpreting your ecosystem, » Kiesewalter said. “As a musician, I perform all the time – I play music by classical composers or covers of artists I love – and he’s been talking for years about how performance needs to evolve and change. We thought that might be where the artists could step in to help get the message across.

In creating the show, Kiesewalter knew he wanted to keep it small, musically diverse, and visually stimulating. He was influenced by the theatrical work of artists like Robert Lepage and Laurie Anderson, particularly one-man performances that incorporate family history or serve as a form of personal memory.

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Ottawa-born musician Peter Kiesewalter and violinist Whitney La Grange find parallels between Kiesewalter's family history and the mysterious world of moths in a new multimedia show called The Moth Project.
Ottawa-born musician Peter Kiesewalter and violinist Whitney La Grange find parallels between Kiesewalter’s family history and the mysterious world of moths in a new multimedia show called The Moth Project. Photo by Photo: Marvin Zana/ The Moth Project

First performed last summer at Maberly Community Hall, not far from the Kiesewalter family cabin, The Moth Project features two performers – Kiesewalter on keyboards and his partner, Whitney LaGrange, on fiddle – playing a variety of music alongside some truly stunning images of moths. , including large-scale works by Jim Des Rivieres, Ottawa’s late ‘Moth Man’, and high-definition slow-motion video of moths in flight filmed by American scientist Adrian Smith.

Some of the songs illustrate an aspect of the Kiesewalter family history, such as their emigration from Germany to Canada, and find a parallel in the behavior of moths.

“I’m not a biologist, so I wasn’t going to get up and do a PowerPoint on life cycle and larvae. My interpretation had to be different,” Kieswalter said. “So I was trying to weave a personal story with some of the themes that kept coming up as I researched moths. The big ones, of course, are found throughout the animal kingdom – migration, life and death, destiny – and it felt natural to explore how that connects to my experience.

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The show’s core message is rooted in the importance of diversity, whether cultural or biological, drawing inspiration from the work of Indigenous writer and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of one of Kiesewalter, Braiding Sweetgrass.

« I can’t talk about the show without saying how much wisdom is in the show, » he said. “One point she makes is to get to know the names of your neighbors. This can be literal and it’s polite human nature, but it can also be getting to know your ecosystem and just being aware of where you are in your environment. Once you understand this, it’s a very powerful concept that helps foster understanding and appreciation for the natural world.

Meanwhile, the show’s variety of music emphasizes the theme of diversity and reflects Kiesewalter’s experience. « Music is all over the map and it was very deliberate to make it as broad as possible, » he said, noting Bach’s move to Joni Mitchell from ambient electronics to original songs.

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“It’s not just a reflection of my life as a musician, which Ottawa has a lot to do with because it’s a small market and I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to play a lot of different things with a lot of people. different artists, but I also wanted the show to be as diverse and eclectic as the moth species themselves.

Kiesewalter has been invited to present The Moth Project at two conferences, including this week’s Naturalist Gathering in Cleveland, Ohio, and an upcoming showcase for music presenters in New York. He also plans to record the songs and hopes to take the show to non-traditional venues, such as natural history museums, in addition to concert halls.

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