Ambient music man bridges East and West

Studying at Toronto’s York University in the 1970s, Michael Brook kept it quiet that he could play guitar, wrote the Vancouver Courier Jan. 26. He performed in rock bands after hours but his fellow students and faculty in the cutting-edge Music Department considered the instrument, and rock ‘n’ roll in general, uncool and not worth pursuing. It smelled too much of Western culture. "There was a pretty strong new music thrust at York," he recalls over the phone from Los Angeles.

Brook, who would later go on to invent the "Infinite Guitar" (heard on records by U2, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno as well as his own), kept his dirty little secret under wraps while attending classes. He had always been interested in music and electronics and at one point even considered a career as a sound engineer. Fascinated with the interface between form and content, he went to York to learn more about his interests.

His teachers at York included experimental music pioneers such as David Rosenboom, [the late] James Tenney and Bob Witmer, who were just beginning to expand the parameters of musical language and open up Western ears to other cultures. York was a hotbed of new ideas with a staff more than willing to point their students in radical new directions. York is where Brook put together much of the conceptual framework he uses in his music and it’s also where he got the opportunity to work on his first record.

Female profs face gender gap: Study

More than 40 years after the largest hiring wave at Canada’s universities, men still significantly outnumber women in the academic teaching ranks across the country, according to a new study co-written by a York professor of sociology, wrote The Windsor Star Jan. 26. In 2003-2004, women made up 58 per cent of full-time undergraduate students and 48.7 per cent of full-time graduate students. But they represented only 31.7 per cent of full-time faculty and 18 per cent of full professors, says the report by Penni Stewart, a professor of sociology at York University and the University of Waterloo’s Janice Drakich. In a ranking of 16 Ontario schools, York University had the highest proportion of women at 41.9 per cent, while the University of Waterloo had the lowest at 22.68 per cent.

Robots to help the autistic and the elderly

An innovative Canadian research network is developing intelligent technology for improving the lives of seniors and the disabled, wrote The Record (Sherbrooke) Jan. 26. The nationwide development network is dubbed Intelligent Computational Assistive Science and Technology (ICAST). It was launched in December by York University and Ottawa-based Precarn Incorporated, a not-for-proft that supports new, commercially-viable technologies. It’s intended to ensure better alignment of university research with the needs of business – and it will help develop Canada’s medical devices industry.

York computer science & engineering Professor John Tsotsos and Professor Alex Mihailidis of the University of Toronto are discussing how to combine their approaches to using technology to detect when a person has fallen. Within a year there might exist an automatic fall detection system in special-care homes for the elderly.

Feds to give payday lenders more freedom to operate

The federal government maintains Bill C-26 will make things better for borrowers by protecting “consumers from the unscrupulous practices of unregulated payday lenders,” says Conservative MP Blaine Calkins of Wetaskiwin, Alta. But not everyone shares that optimism, said the mid-January edition of Investment Executive, a newspaper for financial advisors. Chris Robinson, a finance professor and coordinator of wealth-management programs in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, contends Bill C-26 will leave borrowers in the lurch. “The government has simply abdicated the field,” says Robinson. “Payday lenders are making excessive profits already, and they will continue to make more. They need to be regulated. That will force them to be efficient and not destroy people who can’t afford it.”

An educated man

I commend all those readers who wrote letters criticizing Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor’s statement (“‘Retribution’ doesn’t justify war,” Jan. 23), wrote Anders Roald Anderson, in his letter to The Edmonton Journal Jan. 26. It is said that one need not have any education to become a politician. O’Connor, who has a Bachelor of Sciences in mathematics and physics from Concordia and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from York University [1982], should know better than to make the statement he did, wrote Anderson. Before being elected to Parliament, O’Connor had several careers in the private and public sectors. He was a military officer for more than 30 years and retired with the rank of brigadier-general. One of his last tasks included responsibility for planning the future structure of the Canadian Forces. Neither education, nor experience appears to have made him more intelligent.

Film grad’s script Sundances into filmfest

How She Move, a Toronto entry at the Sundance Film Festival about step-dancing that was recently purchased by Paramount Pictures, was written by York film graduate Annmarie Morais (BFA ‘95), noted the National Post, Jan. 26.

Schulich alumna heads Toronto Board of Trade

Carol Wilding (BBA ‘83), well known in the non-profit sector, has been named the Toronto Board of Trade’s new president and CEO, reported Canadian Press Jan. 25. She will take up the post Feb. 19, replacing Glen Grunwald, the board of trade said. Wilding previously served as president of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, president and CEO of Foster Parents Plan Canada, and worked at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Her work with Foster Parents Plan earned her several awards, including the Outstanding Public Contribution Alumni Award from York’s Schulich School of Business, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal and the Public Sector Excellence Award for technology.

These shoes were made for performing

Jeff Churchill (BFA ‘05), owner of Jitterbug Boy Original Footwear in Toronto’s Bloor West Village, designs shoes for Las Vegas magicians Siegfreid and Roy, wrote the Bloor West Villager Jan. 25. Churchill and his staff of five also created shoes for the cast of Cirque du Soleil and the stage production of Lord of the Rings.

"They [Seigfried and Roy] were looking for someone to make their shoes and called the head of wardrobe at Cirque du Soleil," said Churchill of how his working relationship with the Vegas showmen started. Churchill was bitten by the theatre bug thanks to his older brother. Thinking it was "really cool," he worked as a lighting and sound technician in secondary school and went on to study set and costume design in York’s Department of Theatre in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Budding North York filmmaker dreams of Hollywood win

As a young boy, filmmaker Ryan Knight yearned for the companionship of a puppy, wrote the North York Mirror Jan. 25. So it was only natural that the York film student chose to write and direct a semi-autobiographical short movie about a youngster wishing for a pet. The five-minute film, All About Oscar, tells the tale of an eight-year-old boy who asks his parents if he can have a dog. After his parents tell the youngster he must prove he’s responsible, the boy begins to treat a stuffed toy dog as the real thing, setting out food and water, taking it for walks and even cleaning up after the dog goes to the bathroom – substituting Hershey’s Kisses for canine waste.

After placing the stuffed dog on his wagon so he can deliver newspapers, Oscar falls off, unbeknownst to the little boy. A frantic search ensues, but Knight isn’t giving away the ending. Knight is now in the editing process before submitting it to [an online competition for] the new reality television series “On The Lot”, which was created and produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett.

Grad opens family law practice in Wasaga Beach

With 10 years in the business, Wasaga Beach lawyer and York alumna Rose Pellar (LLB ’95, BAS ‘83) is no stranger to litigation and frequently represents individuals in court for contentious family law matters, wrote the Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin Jan. 24. It was through her own personal experience that she decided to go into family law in the first place.  She achieved her bachelor of administrative studies degree from York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and worked in various office administration, real estate and security positions. Through a frustrating divorce experience, she noticed a need in the legal system and found her true calling in life. Pellar entered York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1993 and, after working to support herself, was called to the bar in 1997. She worked at law firms in Barrie and Unionville, before remarrying in 2006 and moving to Wasaga Beach.

On air

  • Daniel Cohn, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Public Policy & Administration, commented on new funding for health care in BC, on Vancouver’s CKNW radio Jan. 25.
  • David McNab, professor of indigenous studies in York’s Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, spoke about Native reaction to new US passport laws which conflict with historic treaty rights to unrestricted border crossings, on CBC Radio’s “The Current”, Jan. 25.