In The Wake of Progress July 14, 2021

Q+A with Legendary Producer Bob Ezrin

The public world premiere of renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress takes over the immense digital screens surrounding Yonge-Dundas Square June 11-12, in a fully choreographed blend of photographs and film, with a staggering musical score. Against the backdrop of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress challenges us to have an important conversation about our legacy and the future implications of sustainable life on Earth.

This new 22-minute piece, co-produced by Canadian music legend Bob Ezrin, presents the powerful imagery of global landscapes devastated by human activity at a moment when the health of our planet is an urgent international priority.

In the Wake of Progress Trailer

Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress co-producer Bob Ezrin has produced timeless music, iconic live events, documentary films, TV and interactive entertainment. Read on to learn about his work with Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Spielberg, and Jay-Z, and how he’s brought his experience to Edward Burtynsky’s In the Wake of Progress.

You’ve worked with a number of well-known musicians and bands including Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and Thirty Seconds to Mars as a producer. You’ve also been involved in several films such as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, A.I. by Spielberg, and you produced Fade to Black, the Jay-Z documentary.  How has working on this project with a photographer like Edward Burtynsky differed from your previous projects? Did this project call for different approaches or techniques?

What we are creating here is an immersive experience that is built on Ed’s amazing work — including stills and video on and across multiple massive screens as well as an enveloping score that creates a surrounding sea of visuals and sound. To do this, we employed many classic techniques in image and audio capture: great cameras, studio recording, etc.

But we have deployed all the classically captured components in a uniquely modern way using the entire exhibition environment as part of the presentation.  It’s very McLuhanesque, really. The platform, in a sense the medium, becomes the message here.

Ed has created a world that tells the tale simply by revealing itself. And the music that supports it provides that extra emotional connection with the audience that brings them into that world and guides their experience of it. Fancy words, I know. But we’re hoping that there’s nothing fancy about the effect of it on the audience. We hope that some of them are moved enough by the whole experience to want to try to save the world.

You’re also one of the pioneers of interactive and immersive entertainment having co-founded 7th Level Inc., the first interactive entertainment software company. How has interactive entertainment evolved since you first began working in that industry?

The entire world of technology is now built on a 2-way relationship with users and audiences. There’s no such thing as a passive user, viewer or listener anymore.

Our most common technology is not just radio or broadcast or cable TV where you get what you get without any control other than changing the station. Now there is a choice and an action involved in every exchange between us and the technology we employ. When I began in interactive entertainment, it was revolutionary even to have an animation on a desktop and positively alchemic to be able to manipulate its behaviour with a keystroke or mouse click. It was unheard of to have a character on a computer screen that reacted in apparent real time to input from the viewer.

The world of entertainment was once built exclusively on one-way delivery systems. Now all the delivery systems offer the audience at least the illusion of choice and control. Now the wonder is in seeing people sit or stand still to experience something over which they have no control, but which is designed to push and pull them emotionally and intellectually. It has to be so powerful, so “large”, so emotionally enveloping that it deserves their surrender to it and the gift of their undivided attention.

And I believe that’s what we’ve built here. This experience of surrounding sight and sound is designed to deserve the audience’s attention. It is some of the best of Ed’s work underscored with a powerful aural soundscape all presented in a uniquely enveloping format. It’s radical in its one-way-ness because it creates an entire world around the audience and yet it never says a word.

How did you first connect with Edward Burtynsky?

Ed and I were introduced by Gordon Eberts. We were both close friends of Gordon’s, but hadn’t actually met until Gordon started pitching a grand notion to us both.

The concept was for Ed to create an art piece and me to create an aural environment to live inside and around it. It was an audacious idea and I love audacious – so I was in.

Ed and I discussed it several times, but there were hold-ups and issues with permissions and funding of the project plus other work etc., that got in our way and then our dear friend Gordon died and the project was abandoned. Who knows? It might become a part of something larger that we do together following this installation.

I always thought it would have been a powerful experience for those who visited it.

In the Wake of Progress presents the audience with a sense of urgency, but also hope. How did you approach capturing these feelings when working on this project?

I have to say that, to me, these feelings are the spirit of all of Ed’s work. Even in the bleakest of landscapes, he finds a humanity and beauty.

In a way, I think we all have to be careful not to dramatize the reality of our situation so much that it becomes entertainment. We don’t want that. We do want people to squirm a bit and to stop and consider their own place in all this.

And mostly we want to move them to thought and hopefully action by using the medium to demonstrate the enormity of the issues.  That’s why this had to be really big. The issues are as big as our world. The solutions require the entire universe of our imaginations and will.  

Get an inside look at In the Wake of Progress

Learn More About Bob Ezrin

In a legendary career as a music and entertainment producer, writer, personality and entrepreneur that spans nearly 50 years, Toronto-born Bob Ezrin has worked with a wide variety of artists including Pink Floyd, Monty Python, Deep Purple, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Alice Cooper, K’nann, Andrea Bocelli, U2, Howie Mandel, Lou Reed, KISS, Peter Gabriel and many others.   

Bob Ezrin has produced timeless music, iconic live events, documentary films, TV and interactive entertainment and was a pioneer in digital media and technology. He remains one of the most sought-after producers in the world today.  He is also a serial activist with an emphasis on the Environment, a Free and Responsible Press, Mental Health and Music and Arts Education.