Grad student’s medium conveys McLuhan’s message

Jordan Mandel understands the irony.

The University of Western Ontario master’s student has married an original digital music score with the words of Marshall McLuhan to create a beautifully layered four-track EP. It’s not a stretch to imagine the late Canadian media theorist – famous for his “the medium is the message” message – would approve.

“It seems appropriate,” Mandel laughs.

Mandel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from York University, came to music late, picking up the guitar for the first time in Grade 12. No matter, he would, amazingly, go on to minor in music at York. “I picked it up quickly,” he says.

Following graduation, he would take time off to tour as a musician with his band, On a Rope, an acoustic jam band. That grind would eventually wear, however, and Mandel would join the Popular Music and Culture program at the Don Wright Faculty of Music. He is now in his second year.

It was a class project, a simple digital recording exercise, that gave birth to the album.

A trip to Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida as a boy, and a McLuhan exhibit inside that futuristic centre, stuck with him. Add to that the fact his father took a communications class with a McLuhan at the University of Toronto, and it’s no wonder Mandel plucked McLuhan off the bookshelf for inspiration as the project dawned.

Finishing the first track, the only requirement of the project, he touched base with CBC Radio. He pitched his lone track to NightStream as the first single from a forthcoming EP. They loved the track, and asked for the full EP to be sent along.

Of course, there was no EP. Not yet.

“That’s what I wanted to have happen,” Mandel says. “I wanted to have some outside pressure to keep me going.”

He finished one more track for another assignment, then two others to fill out the EP.

Released this summer, the four-track album, Forward Through the Rearview Mirror, is billed as the first talk-rock release featuring samples of McLuhan speeches. The tracks are an inventive soundscape of electronica combined with remixed spoken word. They are remarkably entertaining, if not exactly catchy, tunes.

McLuhan would have been proud.

“This is one of those projects, I feel, that couldn’t have happened a few years ago. It’s able to reach people who are interested in McLuhan, and that’s a very select group. But it’s not a small group either. So I think that interest helps fuel it,” he says. “I think people are really excited. They hear that voice, they recognize it.

“I think there is some kind of Canadian thing there.”

With the EP complete, Mandel looks to expand it into a full-length album, aiming for a Spring 2012 release. His program offers a creative track to complete his degree, and this finished product (under the guidance of professor Jay Hodgson) will serve as the end.

“It won’t leave you with a hook in your head,” Mandel says. “But you might end up with an idea afterward. And that’s kind of cool. It’s sort of like an idea chorus.”


Listen up: Download the album, Forward Through the Rearview Mirror, at Jordan Mandel’s website.