Raising the Next Generation

beat - new 1The famous quote “It takes a village to raise a child” speaks to the role of shared responsibility in nurturing the next generation. We can equally apply that same axiom to the task of creating opportunities for musical imaginations to flourish and evolve. Beyond the usual educational institutions that provide the initial stages of the fertile ground, different presenters of new concert music have been stepping up to the plate for years now to take on this responsibility. So dedicated are they, that this mandate has become one of their defining attributes. Such is the case with ECM+ (Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal), and the dedicated and passionate commitment of its director Véronique Lacroix.

The ensemble was founded in 1987 by Lacroix specifically to offer young composers a playing field in which to develop their musical imaginations. Her vision was to create the kind of environment composers need so they can pursue their musical research and exploration with live musicians. “Nothing can compare to live experimentation,” she said in our conversation. “It is the only way to actually test what the composers hear in their heads and adjust their final scores according to the results of this experimentation with the musicians.” Lacroix is passionate in her commitment to composers, who are always ahead of their time and often revolutionary, she says. “Observing the complex ways they integrate the global context into their scores is a constant source of inspiration.” Lacroix’s vision led to the development of the ensemble’s distinct and unique Génération program, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.

So what is so special about the Génération program that takes younger composers through a training process spanning an 18-month period of time? It begins every two years, with a rigorous selection process to choose four Canadian composers that meet artistic, demographic and gender criteria. I was impressed to see that one of these criteria was that one of the four composers was to be a woman. I had to wonder how many other presenting organizations of new music take a similar approach to their programming, given the numerous occasions we’ve all experienced where the program is all male?

Lacroix has “always been fascinated by the rich secrets of the scores I receive regularly and always wondered what is happening in a composer’s head. How can anyone imagine musical avenues as unexpected and complex as what they have written?” It is for this reason that the Génération experience began and offers so much more than a few rehearsals with the composer present. Rather, it’s an entire mentoring structure.

The composer begins their work by compiling a notebook of ideas and sketches that they bring to a series of four workshops with the ensemble. The workshops are open for anyone to attend and each audience member is given a copy of the composer’s notebook so they too can enter into a deeper engagement with the emerging creative process. At the beginning of each workshop, the audience experiences each composer giving a brief talk about their work, and a mini concert of works from each composer’s previous repertoire. Lacroix learns “as much from the composer experimentation as the composers learn from the musicians playing their score. After each workshop or Génération concert, many people tell me how instructive and even surprising the experience was for them.”

In the second year of the program, the composer and ensemble gather for a five-day residency at the Banff Centre where the pieces are rehearsed and given the final touches. The pieces are now ready for concert presentation – but not just in one location. An extended tour exposes these germinating ideas to a larger audience in a country-wide tour. This year, there will be concerts in nine Canadian cities, with the Ontario-based concerts happening in Toronto, London and Ottawa. The mentoring and audience-education activities don’t stop at the workshop stage either. At the concert, each of the composers is interviewed onstage about their piece, which is supported with musical examples from the new work. As well, in each of the tour cities, ECM+ offers reading sessions of composition student pieces, and since 2010, audiences have had a voice in selecting their favourite work through the Generation Audience Choice Award.

Throughout its 20-year history, the program has supported over 50 composers, providing many with the foundations for a successful and prize-winning career. This year’s composers include Marie-Pierre Brasset (Quebec), Alec Hall (Ontario/New York), Evelin Ramon (Cuba/ (Quebec), and Anthony Tan (Alberta/Berlin). To hear the results of these fortunate composers and their 18-month process, make sure you attend the Génération concert in Toronto on November 16 presented by New Music Concerts in their season opener. Not surprisingly, NMC, who also have a strong mandate to support Canadian composers, have been the Toronto host for every Génération tour since 2000. There is also a YouTube video that has been created which offers interviews and musical examples of each of this year’s participating composers. (Search Génération2014 on YouTube) 

beat - new 2Esprit Orchestra is another organization that nurtures the creative minds of composers. A great example of this is evident in their November 23 concert and the programming of a new commissioned work from Adam Scime. When I asked Adam how Esprit has supported him and his career, he emphasized “the importance of working within a collaborative environment with musicians who are not only exceptional in their general performance capability, but also experienced with contemporary idioms.” Thus, the composer “need not relinquish any virtuosic expressive impulses, and can create exactly what leaps from mind to page.” Esprit offers a young composer competition, and it was Scime winning this award a few years ago that led to the commissioned piece that will be performed in the upcoming November concert. This new piece is titled Rise and is inspired by how waves propagate across the ocean. Scime has split the orchestra into a stereophonic seating arrangement in order to facilitate his wave-like orchestration and colouristic effects. The other works on the program include pieces by Joji Yuasa (Japan), Douglas Schmidt (Canada) and Henri Dutilleux (France).

[Also on the topic of supporting developing work, Tapestry Opera is renowned as well for its mentoring of composers and librettists. More details of their upcoming series entitled “Booster Shots” can be read in Christopher Hoile’s column in this issue. Ed.].

Whirlwind tour: November is a busy month for new music listeners, so to begin the whirlwind tour of all that’s available, we hop over to the Kitchener-Waterloo area where the K-W Chamber Music Society is collaborating with NUMUS and the Perimeter Institute to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Their concert on November 28 titled “Igorhythms” features both the Penderecki and Lafayette string quartets along with the Perimeter Chamber Players performing works of captivating rhythms by Stravinsky, Canadian composer John Estacio and Waterloo’s master of groove Jascha Narveson. Earlier in the month on November 9, K-WCMS offers a concert of music by Canadian women composers including pieces by Alice Ho, Carol Weaver, and Larysa Kuzmenko. NUMUS is also presenting their Emerging Artist series on November 8 featuring composer/performer Nick Storring on electronics.

Thin Edge: Back in Toronto, The Thin Edge New Music Collective’s  program titled “Cuatro Esquinas” (Four Corners) combines compositions from both Argentina and Canada with guest Argentinian pianist Laura Ventemiglia and will be presented on November 6 at Gallery 345.

TCIF: On November 7, we have a co-production between the Music Gallery and the Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival in a large multi-media work pulled together by Burroughs scholar, composer and saxophonist Glen Hall entitled “Rub Out The Word: A William S. Burroughs Centennial Event.” The work combines an 11-piece orchestra, an actor, electroacoustic music and projected images along with special guests, the venerable CCMC improvising ensemble.

Four more: On November 14, Arraymusic will present several works by Irish composer Gerald Barry, including a new piece being premiered by Arraymusic pianist Stephen Clarke. Then on November 21, the fast-rising southwestern Ontario ensemble Reverb Brass presents their program of cutting-edge works entitled “Passages” at Gallery 345. On November 25 Soundstreams celebrates universal spirituality with two large choral works – both ancient and modern renditions of the traditional sunset prayer service Vespers – by Monteverdi and Canadian Gilles Tremblay. And on November 29, the Toy Piano Composers presents pieces by composers who responded to their 2014 call for works.

Individual composers often end up presenting their own works. November 18 you can hear the music of Odawa composer Barbara Croall, whose music combines influences from her indigenous heritage and her classically oriented training. “Bob@60” on November 23 celebrates over 40 years of contemporary music creation by Toronto-based composer and clarinetist Bob Stevenson. This concert will feature two ensembles which Stevenson has put together to perform some of his latest pieces, which combine his classical, improvisational and jazz influences. And finally, the Toronto premiere of composer-performer Tim Brady’s piece titled Journal: String Quartet No.2 will be presented as part of the Mooredale Concerts on November 2 featuring the New Orford String Quartet.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at sounddreaming@gmail.com.


Transculturalism: All Music is from Planet Earth

BBB-New`1As the writer of this column over the last year and a half, I’ve often brought to your attention how “music of the new” straddles all sorts of boundaries and traditional genres, moving beyond a Eurocentric concert music focus. The word “genreless” has popped up more than once. And now this month, the Music Gallery’s X Avant series is challenging us to consider the term “transculturalism” as a way to understand what’s happening with musicians from diverse backgrounds and influences who share a love and passion for playing on the edges of sound experimentation. In the previous story Andrew Timar explores how artistic director David Dacks defines transculturalism and how that sits within the evolution of the Music Gallery’s mandate. Here in this column, we’ll dig a little deeper into how this vision translates into the actual programming choices for this years’ X Avant festival, now in its ninth season.

X Avant IX:  The festival’s challenge to all of us as listeners and audience members is to look again at how and why we put music into various boxes – to question how we listen and make sense of the music before us. Beginning with the first concert on October 16, we are introduced to the music of zither and autoharp virtuoso Laraaji and his fusion of thenew age and world music categories. The description on the Music Gallery’s website for this concert speaks about the similarities between these two musical categories and also notes that new age music is on the rise while world music is on the decline. Two provocative statements, I thought. So what are the similarities between world and new age music? Laraaji’s music provides one perspective.

Laraaji first rose to international attention through his collaboration with Brian Eno, who released the strumming rhythms of Laraaji’s music on the 1980 album Day of Radiance, part three of Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient series. By introducing the sounds of hammered dulcimer and open-tuned zither we’re already moving into an acoustic soundworld distinct from the typical European concert experience and one often associated with folk or world music traditions. From this initial collaboration with Eno, Laraaji has gone on to become one of the major voices of the ambient/new age genre, but he’d rather use the term “architectonal music.” For him, it’s all about how music affects our consciousness, or the “architecture of the imagination” and how the power of sound and music acts as a “carrier wave of our intention.” These themes of a more spiritual focus are also present in the underpinnings of world music. (As for the decline of world music, I’ll get to that later.)

Laraaji will be performing solo and in collaboration with local musicians Brandon Valdivia and Colin Fisher (aka Not The Wind Not The Flag) and Scott Peterson. The entire evening, which also features Montreal kora player Diely Mori Tounkara, is co-produced with the Toronto-based Batuki Music Society, whose mandate is to promote African music and art and provide career assistance to local African-heritage artists.

BBB-New2The ambient/new age theme continues on October 17 with “Drums and Drones,” the name of a project between Brian Chase and Ursula Scherrer that was originally inspired by the light and sound installation Dream House created by minimalist icon La Monte Young and his colleague Marian Zazeela. Chase’s music explores the power of drones to affect and change brain wave states using the sound sources from drums and percussion and altering them through electronic processing and the use of the just intonation system. Scherrer’s images contribute to creating altered states of perception with abstract architectural forms created from light and shot footage. The drone state of mind is the ultimate goal of this union of sound and image. Also performing on the same evening will be Phrase Velocity, whose music combines tabla rhythms, synthesizers and pure waveforms.

It’s the events of October 18 that really bring home the theme of transculturism and the mixing up of musical styles. Beginning at 3pm, a roundtable discussion will address the question of how Canadian ethnocultural diversity affects contemporary musical composition. Then at 5pm, an interview with a key figure in the musical transculturism movement, DJ/Rupture, will uncover more about the global musical exchange between pop and classical music. These two dialogues will set the stage for the main evening concert event – the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, a 70-minute performance piece for two pianos, live electronics and voice focused on the music and life of Julius Eastman, a NYC-based gay African-American composer, pianist and vocalist.  Eastman’s minimalist-inspired music spanned the late 1960s into the 1980s and he was one of the first to integrate improvisation, classical quotations and pop music into his work. The performance is the brainchild of Jace Clayon (aka DJ/Rupture) who has taken on the telling of Eastman’s painful life story by reinvigorating two of Eastman’s largely forgotten compositions, and adding to the mix theatrical vignettes and material of his own. The evening concludes with a chance to dance out the cross-cultural vibrations with DJ Ushka at the Mojo Lounge.

BBB-New3Getting back to the assertion that world music is on the decline: it’s really more that the term itself is being rejected as culturally biased, highlighting as it does a distinction between the European tradition and the rest of the world. As Talking Heads founding member David Byrne argues in a New York Times article “I Hate World Music” back in 1999, all music is from planet Earth. This cause of distancing oneself from colonial notions of world music is one passionately embraced by Colombian-Canadian trickster and priestess Lido Pimienta, whose concert on October 19 will close out the X Avant festival. Pimienta promises to push the edges with her fiery orations on the issues of equality, gender roles, motherhood and cultural stereotypes: “Toronto is an international place, we are still segregated and not integrated. Patriarchy in Canada has it so we’re next to one another but not with one another,” she states. She will be joined by her musical- and visual-artist collaborators to create a hot-house evening of ritual-like performance art.


Sound and Image:
Many of the performances in the X Avant festival go beyond the blending of musical genres to also include projected images as an essential ingredient of the artistic message. Sometimes this way of working has a staggeringly long gestation period. Such is the case with Toronto experimental filmmaker Gary Popovich and his work Souvenir, which will be premiered on October 19 and 20 as the opener for Continuum Contemporary Music’s new season. Twenty years in the making, the film began with the commissioning of six Canadian composers to write music based on Gary’s ideas of the seasons of natural and human evolutionary history. Images were then selected, researched, shot, processed and finally edited all in response to a diligent and committed listening to the music by the filmmaker. This way of working with music is an acknowledgement of the power of sound when put alongside image – and a turning of the tables in the way films are usually created, with the music serving as accompaniment or support to the supremacy of the image.

Eager to hear more about this huge undertaking, I asked Popovich to walk me through the six seasons. Beginning with Winter to mark the coming into being of our universe, the film then takes the listener/viewer on a journey through the explosion of life in the Cambrian age (Spring) to the flourishing of agriculture and writing (Summer), the evolution of imperialism and conflict (Fall), a tribute to the cultural markers of the 20th century - both creative and destructive (Winter 2) – and concludes with allusions to present and future possibilities, including the birth of other universes (Spring 2). The music includes live performance by the Continuum ensemble, as well as electroacoustic composition. In all, the film is a souvenir of life on planet Earth, and what has been left behind.

NAISA: This month also welcomes the 13th annual SOUNDplay series produced by NAISA(New Adventures in Sound Art), a festival that highlights the interplay between sound, image and other new media artforms. On October 18, the theme of life cycles will be the focus of the night, offering video music screenings, interactive mobile performances and live electronic improvisation. On October 25, there will be a chance to experience how different artists respond visually to abstract sounds. Other events of the series occur on October 10 with special guest Dutch sound artist Jaap Blonk and on November 1 with a noise art performance by the live electronics duo Mugbait. On November 3, NAISA will participate in the New Music 101 series at the Toronto Reference Library, with a mobile performance walk exploring the acoustics of the library’s five-story open-concept design.

Additional Concerts and a Final Footnote:

For the early birds who see this on or before October 4, the following new music events will be part of Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche festivities: Canadian Music Centre– a showcase of artists who integrate global traditions with new music with Suba Sankaran, Parmela Attariwala, TorQ, Deb Sinha, Ernie Tollar. NAISA Space – Hive 2.0 – a sound sculpture by Hopkins Duffield.

Esprit Orchestra opens their new season withworks by composers Thomas Adès and Charles Ives with the performers positioned in different areas of Koerner Hall, alongside works by Canadians Paul Frehner and Chris Paul Harman. October 16.

Musideum concerts: experimental turntablism (Cheldon Paterson) on October 12; two improvisation events – October 16 (Two Ninety Two) and 21 (curated by James Bailey); works by Bill Gilliam November 6.

Toronto Masque Theatre presents Stravinsky’s classic work The Soldier’s Tale October 25 and 26.

TorQ Percussion Quartet celebrates their tenth anniversary with a concert featuring repertoire favourites on November 1.

Art of Time Ensemble includes music by George Crumb in their “The Poem/The Song” performances on November 7 and 8.

Final Footnote: As I complete the finishing touches to this column, it has just been announced that Tanya Tagaq has won the Polaris Music Prize. Transculturalism and sound experimentation is alive and raising mainstream eyebrows. So much more to say on this timely topic.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at sounddreaming@gmail.com.

 

Listening Spaces

 

bbb - new musicMusic is like a creature that needs certain conditions and ingredients in order to thrive. Two essential components to create a sustainable environment for musicmaking are a space for the sound to exist within and a community of receivers open to listening in that space.

In the summer issue, I spoke about the upcoming visit to Toronto of composer Pauline Oliveros and her longstanding practice of “Deep Listening.” Having recently witnessed her keynote address, performance and deep listening workshop at the various events organized by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in mid-August, I was struck by how much her work as a composer, both in the pioneering days of electronic music and in promoting an awareness and practice of listening, has had a wide impact on the musical community.

One event I was able to experience was an outdoor participatory performance of her piece Extreme Slow Walk, a piece I had experienced back in the late 1970s at the original Music Gallery space on St. Patrick Street. The piece requires an opening up of one’s awareness to the vibratory resonance of the earth, the electrical sensations in the body and the pull of the gravitational field – all while listening to the surrounding soundscape and slowly placing one foot in front of the other. Not only did each participant experience something personally meaningful but as Oliveros commented after we completed the walk, the whole environment was responding and sounding back in its own way because of our listening. This is an example of what she calls “quantum listening.”

Arraymusic: A few years back, Toronto’s Arraymusic produced a concert of some of Oliveros’ music. In a recent interview I had with Array’s artistic director and percussionist Rick Sacks, I asked what it had required of him as a performer to realize the intentions of one of Oliveros’ pieces. His answer (that it was a process of “revelation”) underscores the difference of perspective that deep listening is built upon. Revelation, he explained, was the experience of allowing things to unfold while playing, instead of relying on the traditional performance practice of having things under control (as much as one ever can). It was an opportunity for personal growth beyond ego by following an intuitive process. Oliveros’ entire aesthetic points towards a holistic approach to life, Sacks said: when sound is given a chance to live and breathe, it follows its own course and we are taken along for the ride. But it requires the professional musician to trust that all the learned musical impulses and skills will be there when called upon by the unfolding music.

As I mentioned above, though, music also needs a supportive and thriving environment within which to do its living and breathing. Since the 1970s, Arraymusic has been an important contributor to the creation and performance of new music in Toronto and the rest of the world. With its recent change of location, Array is now uniquely positioned to offer its new venue at 155 Walnut Street as one such living space. During my conversation with both Sacks and Array’s administrative director Sandra Bell, they talked about the vision that the new space has enabled. One of the major results of the re-visioning process has been an expansion of their participation with other organizations in a series of co-productions. As well, they are equipping their space as a DIY (do it yourself) studio environment, where community members can rent the space and record audio or video on their own without having to hire a technical assistant. This keeps the costs low and accessible, helping to support young and underemployed artists. And building on their current online YouTube channel, the space will be equipped with a high definition video system to offer live streaming of concerts and events to a worldwide audience as well as creating a musical archive.

This conveniently located and great-sounding space has also expanded to incorporate other arts organizations, including plans for a future rooftop deck. It’s becoming a hub that can foster a growing community, which will in turn generate artistic synergies that arise from a common meeting space.

Although Array has always been a grassroots community organization, that trend has now snowballed, and the space come alive, with many community events. These include regular improvisation jams with local and visiting guests, lectures and composer talks (Allison Cameron, October 18 and Tamara Bernstein, November 20), a collaboration with the Evergreen Club Gamelan that includes evenings for people to gather and play the EGC instruments now housed in the Array Space, co-presentations with other music organizations, free outreach community workshops and participation in the New Music 101 library series. On Toronto’s improvising scene, Array is teaming up with both Somewhere There (September 20) and Audio Pollination (September 9 and 13). The first of Array’s own improvisation jams happens on September 10. The days of September also offer two opportunities to participate in community events: September 21 launches the first Gamelan Meetup event and September 27 provides an opportunity for a free percussion workshop.

Array is of course more than a space, for at its roots, it is a performing ensemble. Now able to enjoy their own performing space, this season’s concert series includes works by Gerald Barry, Udo Kasemets, John Sherlock, Michael Oesterle and Linda Catlin Smith. Beyond the Walnut Street address, the Array ensemble will be performing a series of miniatures composed by Nic Gotham at the book launch of Martha Baillie’s novel The Search for Heinrich Schlögel on September 16 at the Gladstone. Gotham’s miniatures were originally written for an online installation of postcards written by Baillie and read by members of the literary community.

INTERsections: Earlier in the month, Array along with other new music ensembles will participate in Contact Contemporary Music’s annual new music event “INTERsection: Music From Every Direction” from September 5 to 7, which will include a day of free performances and interactive installations at Yonge-Dundas Square on September 6. Also included in INTERsection are concert performances at both the Tranzac Club (September 5) and the Music Gallery (September 7).

Other “intersections” also occurring in September feature two of the new music groups who are also participating in Contact’s weekend event. On September 28 the Thin Edge Music Collective performs at the Array Space with guest artist Nilan Perera, and the Toy Piano Composers present a night of “inventions, oddities and hidden treasures” on September 20 at the Music Gallery. In a bit of a space switch-up, the Music Gallery is presenting an event at the Array Space on September 5 curated by Tad Michalak as part of their Departures series featuring Battle Trance + King Weather + Not the Wind Not the Flag.

bbb - new music 2Canadian Music Centre: Alongside Array and the Music Gallery, Toronto is fortunate to have the Canadian Music Centre as a space that supports new musical sounds. September events include a concert of North American music for flute and piano on September 13; an evening of words and music (texts by Gwendolyn MacEwen and Linda Hogan) on September 27; and a special event for Culture Days entitled “Create Your Own Graphic Score” with junctQín keyboard collective on September 28. The CMC has also announced their Nuit Blanche event on October 4, which will showcase the integration of global traditions into Canadian new music.

Guelph Jazz Festival: Jumping over now to the annual Guelph Jazz festival that runs September 3 to 7, there are a few performances that will no doubt be strong draws for musical experimenters. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of pioneering jazz artist Sun Ra’s arrival on planet Earth, the Sun Ra Arkestra offers a free performance at 2pm on September 6, followed by an evening performance of “Hymn to the Universe” along with the Coleman Lemieux & Company dance ensemble. The Ugly Beauties, featuring Marilyn Lerner, Matt Brubeck and Nick Fraser perform on the same day at 4pm, followed by a show on September 7 at 10:30am by renowned composer and keyboard genius Lui Pui Ming performing with Korean composer and vocalist Don-Won Kim. See also Ken Waxman’s Something in the Air column on page 73 in this issue.

On a final note for this month, the good news is that the possibilities and opportunities for the nurturing and growth of new and experimental music through thriving musical spaces is well underway. Now it’s up to the listeners to go out and experience the feast.

Additional Concerts:

Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood: “The Muted Note.” Premieres of new music, dance and poetry based on P.K. Page poems. September 5 to 7 and 27. (See next page.)

Composer Barbara Croall performs original works for traditional First Nations flutes, piano and other instruments. September 12 at Musideum.

Soundstreams: Violinist Daniel Hope is the soloist in Max Richter’s reinvention of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, September 30. See this month’s Classical and Beyond column, beginning on page 20.

Groundswell Festival with Nightwood Theatre: workshop production of Obeah Opera by composer Nicole Brooks. September 10 to 14.  See GTA Listings for details.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com

 

Sound, Music and Nature's Song

1909 NewMusicAs we head into the summer season, spending time outside in the natural world is the one thing most of us eagerly look forward to after enduring the long winter months. And even though we are now witnessing the incredible enduring force of nature bursting with new growth all around us, we also know deep in our guts that life as we know it on the planet is in trouble. Already many places are experiencing the effects of climate change, super storms, rising sea levels, drought, and on and on. It has been argued by many that one of the reasons that we are in this situation is that collectively as an industrialized culture, we have lost our sense of deep respect for being in relationship and communion with nature. Our technological and unlimited growth ideologies have led to widespread misuse of the earth and its resources. So, one of the questions that I ask in response to these difficult issues is how can musical practice and sound itself cultivate a restored relationship and connection with the earth, with the land, with the natural world.

June: Since the early 1970s, Canadians have been pioneers in the field of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies, beginning with the groundbreaking work of composer R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues at the World Soundscape Project. So it is no surprise that Schafer is one of the keynote speakers in the upcoming “Sound in the Land – Music and the Environment” festival at the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel College. Running from June 5 to 8, the festival/conference is the brainchild of composer Carol Ann Weaver, who is part of the music faculty at Conrad Grebel.

During a conversation I had with Weaver about her vision and motivation for creating a series of Sound in the Land festivals (2004, 2009, 2014), she spoke passionately of her love for the stillness and beauty of the wilderness. From these experiences she has cultivated a creative practice focused on listening to the soundscapes of nature and composing music in response to what she hears. It is this quest to recreate the magical moments in nature that inspired her to pull together this uniquely focused multi-disciplinary event in order to delve more deeply into the relationship between music and the natural world. The festival will combine concerts, workshops, keynote speakers and academic paper presentations to create a cross-pollination of ideas, sounds and people and the music of many musical cultures so that the “bruised and broken planet can yet be sung back into new birth.” Appropriately, Schafer’s keynote address is titled “Hearing the Earth as Song.”

Although the conference occurs early in the month after many WholeNote readers may have received their summer issue, the festival provides an important context for these larger questions of how musical practice can participate in the restoration of the planet.

The festival concerts range from soundscape music to European-based chamber, orchestral and choral, alongside African-themed, Korean, Balinese, Argentinian and First Nations music. For early risers, there will be a dawn soundwalk on June 7 and on June 8, a dawn concert at Columbia Lake that will include some of Schafer’s music specifically written to interact with the natural environment. It will also include works by composers Emily Doolittle and Jennifer Butler, both of whom have been profoundly influenced by their longtime involvement in Schafer’s wilderness collaborations. These words by Schafer sum it up: “Sing to the lake, and the lake will sing back!”

The African Kalahari Desert is also featured prominently in the festival and is the focus of the main evening event on June 7, which combines African traditional songs, African-influenced composed music and the second keynote address, “Hearing Songs from the Earth – Kalahari Soundscapes and Visuals,” by Gus Mills. Mills has spent many years researching African large carnivores and will use recordings and visuals to demonstrate the interaction between the behaviour of these species within an acoustic ecological framework. Earlier in the day, the concerts include a series of compositions created from soundscape recordings as well as the Grebel Gamelan performing traditional music from Bali.

The “Sonic Convergences Concert”on June 6 will feature four orchestral pieces, each highlighting natural themes. Included is Weaver’s piece Kalahari Calls, influenced by her experiences in Africa.  The evening will conclude with Earth Songs by Korean artist Cecilia Kim, a five-part multimedia piece combining music theatre, visuals and Korean traditional music. Texts for two of the songs are from the poetry book Where Calling Birds Gather by Canadian poet John Weier.

One final observation I’d like to make about this festival is to draw attention to the Mennonite legacy of the host college Conrad Grebel and its commitment to promoting nonviolence and justice. It is Weaver’s vision to expand that perspective to include peace and balance for the earth that makes this festival such a landmark event.

Open Ears: It seems that Waterloo is the place to be this June with the return of the Open Ears festival. Now in its 16th year, it runs from June 5 to 15 offering ten days of performances, discussions and installations presented in a range of different venuesand programmed around the overall theme of “Open Stories.” This year, the festival will be running concurrently with an exhibition of contemporary visual art organized by the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA) which runs through to June 29. Some of the Open Ears highlights include Griffin Poetry prize-winner and sound-artist Christian Bök (June 7); a concert combining viola da gamba and the hurdy gurdy (June 9); the Penderecki String Quartet with music inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (June 10); the Nexus percussion ensemble appearing with Sepideh Raissadat, the first female vocalist to publicly perform in Iran after the 1979 revolution (June 13); a performance of Steve Reich’s epic work Drumming (June 14); and an opera marathon, featuring five new Canadian operas (June 15). There’s so much more in this festival; I urge you to check out the Open Ears website.

July: Moving into July and continuing with our theme of music in the environment, we arrive at Stratford Summer Music and onto Tom Percussion Island. From July 15 to July 20, the island will be filled with nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in. At various times during the week, members of the percussion quartet TorQ will be on the island to perform their own “pop-up concerts” or join with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.

The TorQ quartet is in residence this year at SSM; in addition to their presence on Percussion Island they will be offering three concerts as well as running their annual Percussion Seminar designed for university percussion students. Seminar participants will offer outdoor “BargeMusic” performances and will join TorQ and guest faculty member Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic on stage for the three concerts. Zivkovic, who now resides in Germany, is world-renowned as an expressive marimba and percussion artist and as a masterful composer. His works will be showcased on the July 25 concert, including his piece Tak-nara that features more than 75 instruments on stage. On July 20, TorQ will join with the Larkin Singers to perform works written for choir and percussion by Eric Whitacre, Riho Maimets and Colin Eatock. Their final concert on July 27 will include the Canadian premiere of the 99-percussionist version of environmental composer John Luther AdamsInuksuit.

Other new music events at Stratford Summer Music include a panel discussion on percussion music at the annualHarry Somers Forum and a return visit bythe Bicycle Opera Project, who will have pedalled from Waterloo after their performance in the Open Ears opera marathon earlier in June. The bicycle performers provide a car-free alternative to touring along with two collections of short operas and excerpts, including pieces recently talked about in this column: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime and Airline Icarus by Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky.

August: As mentioned earlier, the process of listening is of utmost importance in fostering this deeper relationship with nature. And one of most accomplished proponents of the importance of listening is American composer Pauline Oliveros, who has evolved a unique approach to not only music and performance, but also one that has influenced literature, art, meditation, technology and healing. She calls this process “Deep Listening,” and describes it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear, no matter what one is doing.” This requires a heightened consciousness of the world of sound and the sound of the world, encompassing the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams.

In one of my first personal encounters with her many years ago, she took a small group of us out into a forest to engage in this more expanded experience of listening. Not only did we listen to the soundscape, but she introduced a simple vocal composition (Sonic Meditations) during which we sang and intentionally directed our sounds to the trees around us. “They need to hear our sounds,” she said simply. This experience not only opened up a world of possibilities for my own work with sound, but this paradigm establishes a template for how we can communicate nonverbally with all living beings. It creates a model for a co-existent and reciprocal relationship, using sound and its vibrations as a vehicle for connection. In a recent correspondence I had with her, I asked specifically about her process of attunement with the environment. She stated that “the connection with all things happens through listening. When I perform it is my intent to listen inclusively to all that I can possibly hear. Inclusive listening seems to be magnetic. I have had many experiences with birds and insects gathering around me in outdoor concerts.”

Her work also challenges traditional artistic values by subtly moving the focus away from the artistic work as a separate entity and inviting each of us to open up how we are perceiving all layers of any given soundmaking or artistic experience. Her goal is to “balance out, and come to a different understanding of what can be done.” These ideas are central to cultivating our relationship with nature and expanding how we imagine sound as a significant ingredient of this connection.

In August, Toronto audiences will have an opportunity to experience her Deep Listening work. She will be delivering a keynote lecture at the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium on August 15 and will be giving a solo performance on August 16. She will also be doing an artist talk as part of the Sound Travels Intensive that begins on August 19. All these events are organized by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) and more details can be found on their website.

QUICK PICKS

Toronto Music Garden concerts: Kahnekaronnion (The Waters): Original songs by the Akwesasne Women Singers and compositions by Barbara Croall, July 3.

Bach to the Future: Cello music by Bach, Piatti, Britten, and the world premiere of a work by Michael Oesterle, August 28.

Soundscapades: An exploration of the diverse sounds, landscapes and people of the city of Toronto with TorQ Percussion, September 7.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com

21C – Beauty and Courage

1908-InWithTheNew-WeiweiLanSomething new is coming to town in May – a festival of music unlike any other. Aptly named 21C, this 21st century music festival produced by the Royal Conservatory spotlights new creation across the musical spectrum. The brainchild of Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at the RC, the festival offers eight concerts over five nights, with 20 premieres, and runs from May 21 to 25. I sat down with festival composer-consultant Brian Current to get a first-hand overview of what awaits the listener and why this festival is so unique. Put simply, he describes it as a festival of “beauty and courage.” The combination of concerts offers an opportunity for the people of Toronto to come and listen to who we are musically, and to hear our city proudly reflected back. It’s a celebration of what’s alive and vibrant in our collective lives at this time.

Many of the performers and composers involved in the festival are people whom Mehta has brought in to perform inside the acoustical wonders of Koerner Hall, which opened its doors in 2009. Mehta approached many of these artists to either write something new for the festival or to come as guest performers. His vision is to reach out to many different musical communities and in so doing, offer each audience the opportunity to hear something familiar and something unexpected. Thanks to its main benefactor, Michael Koerner, the festival is scheduled for a five-year run and over that time will be an extraordinary opportunity to build trust with the listeners of Toronto. The concerts will also be live-streamed online so it also offers an opportunity to generate an international audience.

Read more: 21C – Beauty and Courage

Back to top