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In the 1960s Gould began to take a strong and active interest in radio and TV documentaries, nearly all for the CBC. He was the deviser, compiler, interviewer, writer, narrator and even producer of many of these programs, which ranged in subject matter from contemporary music to Newfoundland, from Stokowski to the Mennonites. He approached the technique of the documentary as a composer might approach the fugue or sonata movement form, or even an opera. Weaving together spoken voices and background sounds in counterpoint to each other, Gould achieved highly inventive and original effects.
In Gould's youth, "going north" had meant a trip to the family cottage on the shore of Lake Simcoe, a mere 150 kilometres from Toronto. As an adult he would venture further north to Algoma and beyond. During the 1960s he took a train to Churchill, Manitoba, recording many of the sounds he heard during the journey for a radio documentary.
The North was, for Gould, a moral concept as well as an excursion to frozen wastelands. It meant an exploration of the unknown, a quest for serenity and peace. The Idea of North was the first in a trilogy of documentaries dealing with people outside the mainstream, people for whom apartness and solitude are sources of spiritual strength. The Idea of North held a particular appeal for Gould with its implications of solitude, winter darkness and cold weather, all of which he associated with purity.
Glenn Gould in a CBC studio, directing a documentary, 196?
The Idea of North. Rough script for radio documentary, draft 1, annotated typescript, 1967
CBC poster for the program The Idea of North, broadcast on Ideas, CBC-FM, December 28, 1967
Promotional artwork from the CBC television version of The Idea of North. Produced by Judith Pearlman and broadcast August 5, 1970
Glenn Gould, wearing a cap, overcoat and galoshes and sitting in the doorway of a caboose for a CBC publicity shot for The Idea of North, n.d.
CBC poster for The Art of Glenn Gould radio series, 1969
Diagram of music excerpts for contrapuntal radio project, manuscript, ca 1970
Promotional artwork for the CBC-TV broadcast The Well-Tempered Listener, 1970. Photographic print
CBC promotional copy for broadcast of Casals: A Portrait for Radio, 1974