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Transforming Nino Ricci’s ‘Sleep’ into new works for Torn from the Pages

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Torn From the Pages is the brainchild of musician and author Dave Bidini, combining the worlds of books and music, where writers, musicians, poets and others create new works based on the writing of one author. On Thursday, November 12, six artists (Nobu Adilman, Tony Dekker, Oh Susanna, Corin Raymond, Lucas Silveira and Michael Winter) will gather to unveil new pieces inspired by award-winning Nino Ricci’s latest novel, Sleep in the latest instalment of the ongoing Torn From the Pages series.

The book follows David Pace, a man who seems to have it all – a successful career as an almost-famous academic, a wife blessed with both beauty and brains, a young son and a lovely home. It is only when he comes down with a rare sleep disorder that the careful lies he has stitched together to form his perfect life begin to unravel.

We asked the participating artists to tell us a bit about being confronted with Sleep, and how they went about transforming Ricci’s book into a new work of their own.

A troubadour in the style of Johnny Cash who draws comparisons to John Prine.

“I’m someone who usually takes years to complete a song. I investigate its various possibilities, the different directions it might take. It takes time to find its centre. My process involves a lot of circling. So when I’m commissioned, in this case to write a song inspired by Nino Ricci’s Sleep, that whole investigative process gets sped up – and on top of that, a novel like Sleep leaves you with so many impressions, emotions, thoughts, and ideas – it’s my nightmare, basically. Too many doorways and not enough time. You feel a responsibility to be true to the particular vocabulary and tone of the book, and to honour the experience it gave you as a reader. So in my case, I panic, and I make a lot of notes. Panic, write, panic, write. You make panic your friend, and you read the book again. And then you finish the damn song.”

Best known for being the front-man of The Cliks, with whom he’s released four records, he’s also put out three solo records, and toured extensively alongside acts including Cyndi Lauper, The Cult, The New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, and Tegan and Sara.

“Sleep was a haunting book. It came at a time in my life where I felt many parallels between myself and the central character David and how his life was unfolding. I tend to write songs from a personal space so I put myself in his shoes and took a look at how deep his darkest moments may have felt and how they would have unfolded emotionally if he had been able to express them out loud. The song is called ‘For Another Hundred Years’ and for me is a representation of a human experience in the desperation of loss.”

Suzie Ungerleider’s music draws from the deep well of early 20th Century folk, country and blues, rooted in her finely-honed storytelling skills.

“When I was reading Sleep, I kept wondering about the little boy and what he was seeing and feeling. I decided to write the song in his voice or as I imagined his voice would be if he wasn’t so silenced.”

Nobu Adilman makes films, television shows, radio; co-founded Choir! Choir! Choir!; and programmes Festival Street at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“After reading the first 30 pages of Sleep, I quickly found myself stuck inside David Pace’s claustrophobic path to self-destruction. I imagined what I would do in his position, started to play piano, and tried to sing my way out.”

The singer-songwriter behind Great Lake Swimmers, blending acoustic instruments, rural soundscapes and wistful lyrics.

“I was struck by the pendulum between the surreal fog of a mind adrift and the precise trajectory of obsession meeting its target. The creative process can bring one to a place of dreamlike visions and unrealities, and that was my entry point; the spark that grew into a piece of music that in some ways harmonizes with the dark tones of the novel.”

Look back the May 2015 event, which gathered a diverse cast to celebrate the work of Miriam Toews, through our podcast and this short video: