Northern Sparks

Innovation, Technology Policy, and the Arts in Canada from Expo 67 to the Internet Age

By Michael Century

Announcing the publication by The MIT Press of Northern Sparks: Innovation, Technology Policy, and the Arts in Canada from Expo 67 to the Internet Age by Michael Century

Summary: An “episode of light” in Canada sparked by Expo 67 when new art forms, innovative technologies, and novel institutional and policy frameworks emerged together.

Understanding how experimental art catalyzes technological innovation is often prized yet typically reduced to the magic formula of “creativity.” In Northern Sparks, Michael Century emphasizes the role of policy and institutions by showing how novel art forms and media technologies in Canada emerged during a period of political and social reinvention, starting in the 1960s with the energies unleashed by Expo 67. Debunking conventional wisdom, Century reclaims innovation from both its present-day devotees and detractors by revealing how experimental artists critically challenge as well as discover and extend the capacities of new technologies.

Century offers a series of detailed cross-media case studies that illustrate the cross-fertilization of art, technology, and policy. These cases span animation, music, sound art and acoustic ecology, cybernetic cinema, interactive installation art, virtual reality, telecommunications art, software applications, and the emergent metadiscipline of human-computer interaction. They include Norman McLaren’s “proto-computational” film animations; projects in which the computer itself became an agent, as in computer-aided musical composition and choreography; an ill-fated government foray into interactive networking, the videotext system Telidon; and the beginnings of virtual reality at the Banff Centre. Century shows how Canadian artists approached new media technologies as malleable creative materials, while Canada undertook a political reinvention alongside its centennial celebrations. Northern Sparks offers a uniquely nuanced account of innovation in art and technology illuminated by critical policy analysis.


“At a time when technological solutionism (Silicon Valley style) and collapse seem to offer the only remaining narratives after postmodernism, Michael Century’s extremely well researched book on the origins and becoming of a (truly Canadian) ‘alternative technological ethos’ is both timely and necessary. Northern Sparks is a must-read for those who wonder how artists can still participate in such a contested space.”—Thierry Bardini, Professor, Université de Montréal

“Michael Century delivers a virtuoso orchestration that blends and personifies a polyphony of artistic and technical expressions, site-specific experiments, and institutional rhythms in a compelling history of Canada’s impressive three decades in the crucible of culture and technology.”—Sara Diamond, President Emerita, Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD University)

About the author

Michael Century, a Canadian musician and cultural theorist, is Professor of New Media and Music in the Arts Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Century has worked as an academic, new media researcher, inter-arts producer, and arts and technology policy advisor (Banff Centre for the Arts (1979-93), McGill University (1998-2002), Government of Canada (1993-98)).

Facebook: @michael.century.5