Advisory: As Halifax Water is currently undertaking work at the Fountain campus, we ask our community to not drink the water at the Fountain campus. We will update you as soon as the work has been completed.

NOW.HERE.THIS., the improvisational music film that remixes itself each time you stream it

Using randomized algorithms, this performance documentary by a NSCAD instructor showcases compositions from six local composers

Aerial shot of the WATERSIDE set, as part of NOW.HERE.THIS. documentary. (Credit: Ryan Gray)

An ambitious new music documentary by Christopher Spencer-Lowe, a part-time instructor in NSCAD University’s Film program, features six new compositions by Nova Scotian composers – but viewers can never watch the same film twice.

Using chance and randomizing algorithms to create a unique cinematic experience each time it streams, NOW.HERE.THIS. presents musical performance through an aleatoric (or semi-randomized) process. Spencer-Lowe says it is a celebration of improvisational form and its philosophy. 

“Cinema is literally built around the idea that you have an unchanging thing you can show at the end of all the work,” said Spencer-Lowe. “For NOW.HERE.THIS., I had to both imagine and plan for what image and sound could end up together, and yet surrender control over that to a greater degree than I was comfortable with. But that was the point of the whole idea: surrendering, listening, and approaching the work from an improvisational perspective.”

NOW.HERE.THIS. premiered at Halifax’s Open Waters Festival in January 2024, and was developed and funded primarily through the Digital Now initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts. The project also got additional funding from Arts Nova Scotia and The Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage.

NOW.HERE.THIS was created in collaboration with Upstream Music Association, a Halifax-based organization that produces new concerts, workshops, and symposia with local and international performers and ensembles. It was Upstream’s artistic director, Lukas Pearse, who suggested the initial idea to Spencer-Lowe and worked as the project’s producer.

A black and white photo of a man's head and shoulders.
Filmmaker and NSCAD instructor, Christopher Spencer-Lowe is the producer and creator of NOW.HERE.THIS. (Credit: Ulysse del Drago)
Christopher Spencer-Lowe and his crew in front of monitor for AN shoot. (Credit: Tanya Preyde)
A group of technicians watch a screen monitor during the filming of a musical concert. The room is dark while the musicians are spotlighted with instruments in hand,
Christopher Spencer-Lowe monitoring the ALAYA session with New Hermitage. (Credit: Tanya Preyde)

A year in the making, NOW.HERE.THIS. features contributions from a diverse selection of musicians. Including composer and Dalhousie University composition teacher Amy Brandon; award-winning cellist India Gailey (with New Hermitage); guitarist and educator Geordie Haley; musicologist and researcher Mohammed Sahraei; multi-media artist and storyteller Alan Syliboy (with the Thundermakers); and guitarist/improviser Samantha Wilson.

“I had been trying out randomizing techniques in my filmmaking process for quite a while,” said Spencer-Lowe, who is familiar with music’s long history of aleatoric practices and explored similar methods in his 2017 short film, Aleatoria.

John Cage, the American avant-garde composer, brought this process into the concert hall; while the English pop and ambient composer Brian Eno would literally draw from a deck of “Oblique Strategies” cards to determine the music’s direction. The short and often absurdist instructions, drawn at random, would force the creative process onto unexpected paths.

Spencer-Lowe wanted to bring these techniques into a cinematic context and created NOW.HERE.THIS., using multiple angles and cameras in varying states of movement or stasis. The recorded performance footage was further randomized through a streaming-based algorithm, with all of it combining to allow each new viewer to experience what appears to be a completely unique space. Haley’s Beams was the second and most ambitious of the six performances: three moving cameras, two static cameras, and an array of on-camera lighting tubes were used to achieve its effects.

Though the film has been submitted to a distributor, Spencer-Lowe acknowledges that the online-only nature of the project is uncharted territory for him.

“Normally, when I make a film, I’m at a screening and I get to see how it goes over, I get to talk to people afterward,” he said. “I’m still thinking about how to best deal with something that people will experience mostly in their home. I think we need to find ways to reiterate it — maybe do live stuff. Installations would work really well, depending on the venue.”

Despite the ephemeral nature of a web-based experience, it’s this same ephemerality that gives the project a feeling of community, as though the filmmakers, performers, and audience are in conversation.

“The thing about making work and doing it in a way that’s very community-oriented, from its conception through to its application and all the way through to its delivery, vis-à-vis having it up there for free, is that not only can people see it any time they want, but they can also see it in multiple different ways — which is the strength of the magic of the piece,” said Spencer-Lowe.

NOW.HERE.THIS. will be available to stream until January 2029.

Lukas Pearse (left) and Christopher Spencer-Lowe during the shoot for CARIBOU. (Credit: Gay Hauser)
Christopher Spencer-Lowe and Misha Horacek setting up a shot for ALEATORIA. (Credit: Yalitsa Riden)
A white man in a white shirt operating a camera on the waterfront
Christopher Spencer-Lowe operating the camera for his 2017 short film, ALEATORIA. (Credit: Rob Tough)