- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
Recent world events, and particularly what’s happening to our southern neighbours in the US, have had a great impact on most of us. I’ve been reflecting on the question that always seems to resurface throughout the ages during times of chaos and disturbance: how can music (and other creative arts) affect and support social change, transformation and even revolution? I agree with the notion that pursuing the creative act itself is one form of resistance. Yet I wonder what these times are asking of us regarding the creative process itself.
On November 23, I attended the Rainbow Nation concert presented by Soundstreams. It was a tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela and included a beautiful array of artistic styles and performers from South Africa, Canada and the US. During one of the short theatre skits that functioned as interludes between musical numbers, a conversation between a father and daughter brought home a profound truth. The father was distraught that his daughter was involved in student protests, particularly since his generation had struggled so much for the right to education. Her ringing reply was “Just listen.” The importance of listening is a message I’ve seen written over and over again in the numerous articles that have flooded my social media pages since the US election.
In my September column, I wrote about New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA)’s programming of three sound installations as part of the in/future Festival at Ontario Place, noting how the practice of creating site-responsive works requires attention to the multi-layered elements of any given environment.
A few weeks ago, I travelled to a place called Warbler’s Roost to participate in a listening and soundscape weekend. A small group of sound artists gathered at this artist retreat and performance space, located about one hour north of Huntsville, to engage in the process of listening, recording and creating. Organized by the Toronto Soundhackers Meetup group in tandem with Darren Copeland, artistic director of NAISA, we began early on Saturday morning with a soundwalk – a collective act of walking in silence and listening to the environment. We then spent time both individually and in small groups making recordings of both the soundscape and of our sonic interactions with the environment. Back in the Warbler’s Roost studio, we listened to the recordings and then, again collectively, created a short composition from them that was performed later that evening as part of a NAISA concert. Within one day, we went from the simple act of being present with the sounds around us to a form of witnessing through recording and interacting to the act of creation and sharing. In a sense, this is the heartbeat that drives the musical creative act: cultivating presence and witnessing through creativity. These simple actions point to a way forward in generating listening behaviours that can inform and model how to live in a complex and diverse world.
I often find myself writing in this column about the culture and practice of listening. For example, in the October column, I spoke about the listening legacies of both R. Murray Schafer and Pauline Oliveros, along with the next-generation approach of Oliveros’ collaborator Doug Van Nort.
Dealing with these larger questions of social impact is an ongoing process of paying attention to what is emerging from the grist of what is being offered by those committed practitioners involved in the day to day music-making world. So with these thoughts as a background, let’s turn now to what is happening locally in the upcoming months of December and January.
Early in the new year, at Gallery 345 on January 8, Arraymusic Ensemble member Stephen Clarke will present a concert of solo piano works by four composers, each of whom has a very distinctive voice: Giacinto Scelsi (Italy) Udo Kasemets (Canada), Horatiu Rădulescu (Romania/France) and Gerald Barry (Ireland). I talked with Clarke about the repertoire and his interest in the music of these composers, two of whom he has had personal friendships with.
It is the more mystical approach that both Schelsi and Rădulescu share that intrigues Clarke, as both these composers incorporate different influences from Eastern philosophies and religions. In fact it was Rădulescu’s interest in Hindu and Byzantine music and the way it works with natural resonances that sent him in the direction of pursuing what is known as spectral composition, a style that focuses on working with the overtone or harmonic series. Clarke will be performing Rădulescu’s 1968 piano sonata, Cradle to Abysses, a tightly structured atonal work with a mystical atmosphere, which was written just before the composer made his shift to spectral-based music. It is often thought that spectral composition began in the mid 1970s with French composers such as Grisey and Murail. However, Rădulescu’s forays into working with overtones, which can take one into a deeper relationship with the natural acoustic world, predate the French school.
To highlight the contrast between spectral and non-spectral approaches, Clarke chose to include Udo Kasemets’ Feigenbaum Cascades (1995) in the program. Hence the title of the concert: “Cascades and Abysses.” The Kasemets piece, a spectral work written originally for Clarke, works with the harmonic series in a “beautifully pure mathematical way that speaks for itself.” In sharp contrast to this simplicity, Clarke will perform two works by Gerald Barry, a composer known for his more hyperactive and ironic approach as demonstrated in his ability to use banal material and infuse it with a highly charged energy. In Humiliated and Insulted, Barry’s piece written for Clarke in 2013, the audience will hear a work that sounds like a congregation singing a hymn, yet something has gone terribly wrong. Everyone is singing together, but not from the same spot in the score and, to make it more pronounced, no one even seems to notice.
Other opportunities to hear Clarke perform include a concert in early March where he will present a complete program of Rădulescu’s music on the Bosendorfer piano at St. Andrew’s Church. This piano comes equipped with extended lower notes, which are called for by the composer in these works. This concert will give fans of spectral composition ample opportunity to hear Rădulescu’s masterful approach. Clarke will also be performing on February 5 in a concert of works by Italy’s Salvatore Sciarrino, this year’s visiting composer at the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival. This final concert of the festival is a collaboration with New Music Concerts during which four of Sciarrino’s works spanning 1981 to 2015 will be heard.
U of T New Music Festival
Sciarrino, one of Europe’s leading composers, writes music that seeks to portray the fragility of life, often creating pieces that are on the edge of audibility and pushing the instruments to their extreme limits. In his biography, he describes his style as “leading to a different way of listening, a global emotional realization, of reality as well as of one’s self.” Sciarrino’s music can also be heard during the festival at a concert featuring music for piano on January 30, which will also include works by Nono, Fedele and Berio.
The festival highlight will be the performance on February 1 of Sciarrino’s opera The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici) produced by Wallace Halladay and Toronto New Music Projects. The libretto is based upon the play Il tradimento per l’onore, which was first performed in Rome in 1664. A story of intrigue, love, betrayal and murder, the opera has become Sciarrino’s most often performed work out of his 14 music-theatre pieces composed to date. He recognizes the influence cinema plays in the creation of works for the stage and approaches his own creative process with this in mind. He openly declares that what he really wants through his composing is “to change the world.” Additional festival events include the performance of the Karen Kieser Prize-winning work by Sophie Dupuis, Perceptions de La Fontaine, a noontime lecture by Sciarrino on February 2, and a concert of music by contemporary Italian composers on February 4.
Turning now to innovative performers using electroacoustic technologies, two women making waves in this field will be visiting Toronto over the next two months. First, American composer and sound artist Andrea Parkins, along with her ensemble, will be performing at the Music Gallery on December 20, using interactive electronics to create relationships and contrasts between the real and the ephemeral. She will collaborate in this performance with local artists Lina Allemano, Germaine Liu and Jason Doell. On January 7, theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck from Germany will perform the world premiere of her latest composition as part of a New Music Concerts program. She will also be in town to celebrate the release of hew new CD, Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet. Other composers whose works will be presented at the NMC event include Canadians D. Andrew Stewart and Omar Daniel, Bohuslav Martinů from Czechoslovakia and Maurice Ravel.
Two events that Soundstreams will be offering will be the return of the popular “Electric Messiah,” December 5 to 7, featuring wild and wacky renditions of Handel’s classic with singers Christine Duncan, Carla Huhtanen, Gabriel Dharmoo and Jeremy Dutcher, with electronic backup from Cheldon “Slowpitch” Paterson on turntables, Jeff McLeod on organ and John Gzowski on guitar. Moving ahead to February, Soundstreams is celebrating 100 years of Estonia’s independence by bringing the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir to town on February 2, performing world premieres by Canadian composers Omar Daniel and Toronto-born Riho Esko Maimets (who is of Estonian heritage), along with compositions by Arvo Pärt.
Dec 12: Centrediscs CD Launch: Canadian Flute Masterpieces.
Dec 15: “Class Axe” – a concert of new works for classical guitar by M. Côté, J. Denenberg, M. Horrigan, A. Jang, T. Kardonne and S. Marwood.
Canadian Opera Company
Jan 5: “Vocal Series” – First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman presents a concert on the theme of reconciliation, featuring works by Canadian composers.
Feb 1: “Dance Series” – Peggy Baker Dance Projects; music by Debashis Sinha.
Dec 12: Toronto Masque Theatre – No Tongue Will Tally by Harry Somers and Claude Bissell.
Jan 10: Music Toronto – Sean Chen plays two works by Ligeti, as well as his own piano transcriptions.
Jan 21: Music Gallery – “The New Flesh.”
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
It should come as no surprise, since we are well into the current concert season, that the month of November is overflowing with a wide-ranging assortment of new music activity. My focus for this month is to give the reader an overview of all that is on tap for those curious about the latest sounds emerging from live and practising composers and performers of new music. I’ll begin this overview with two of the newer presenters on the scene: Spectrum Music and the Thin Edge New Music Collective.
Spectrum Music’s concerts are distinctive in the way in which they incorporate fascinating and unusual research and scholarship encompassing a wild variety of topics. Often they include panel discussions featuring noted scholars and authors related to the topic at hand. Their November 12 concert, Tales from the Deep Blue, will focus on research that has been undertaken to better understand better the mysteries of the ocean. Apparently, scientists have finer maps of Mars than of the ocean that covers 70 percent of this planet. The music that has been created by the Spectrum composers and performed by the eclectic Shaw Street Collective encompasses such topics as some of the ocean’s most extraordinary species, unusual geographic features and lost historical artifacts. The concert will also feature a new work by koto-playing indie singer-songwriter Jessica Stuart.
Thin Edge New Music Collective’s concert Balancing on the Edge is an out-of-the-box adventure pairing new music with leading edge circus performers. This daring combination is a metaphor for the ways in which globally we are perched on the edge of survival and evolution. Musically, the program will feature compositions by Cage, Xenakis, David Lang, Nicole Lizée and world premieres by Scott Rubin and Nick Storring. The event will feature special guest DJ P-Love and ten circus performers, with three opportunities to see and hear the spectacle on November 18 and 19. Added to the mix will be lightning design, live projections and video.
Firsts of the season:
Nicole Lizée’s music receives another performance this month as part of Continuum Music’s first concert of the season on November 13. RavAGE, is a celebration of music by composers who drive current technology to the edge, often resorting to inventing new software or hardware to assist them in their creative expression. Lizée’s piece, Colliding Galaxies: Colour and Tones, will be remounted from Continuum’s 2015 Collide project as part of this concert. Other works include a piece by composer Pierre Jodlowksi and artist Pascal Baltazar of France who combine video and instrumental music while Poland’s Jagoda Szmytka creates a retro-futuristic video game interface in performance with the Continuum ensemble. Other works by Christopher Mayo and James O’Callaghan fill out the program.
Arraymusic’s concert on December 3 marks the first Array Ensemble concert curated by new artistic director, Martin Arnold, and brings together the music of various composers that Arraymusic will be collaborating with over the next few years. And yes, once again, Lizée’s name appears on the program, which also includes solo, duet and ensemble works by Canadian composers Cassandra Miller, André Cormier and John Abram, along with UK composers Joanna Baillie and Laurence Crane.
The first Emergents concert of the season at the Music Gallery, will happen on November 17. Curator Chelsea Shanoff has paired Wapiti, a Montreal-based piano and violin duo, with the trio Völur. Wapiti will perform works by Bolivian, Argentinian, American and German composers, including a work by Morton Feldman, and a world premiere by German composer Nicolaus Huber written specifically for them. Völur combines the sounds of bass, voice, violin and drums to create hypnotic tapestries of melodies, noise and silence. It promises to be an otherworldly evening of song, sound and chant.
And, finally among these “firsts,” the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will perform their first concert of the season on December 3 and their first concert ever at the Aga Khan Museum. On the program are three works composed by contemporary Indonesian composers – Nano Suratno, Burhan Sukarma, and Ade Suparman as well as Ibu Trish by Lou Harrison and Rainforest by Canadian composer Paul Intson. Several of the works are arrangements by members of the Evergreen Club for the unique instrumentation of their gamelan.
New Music Concerts is bringing in the wind quintet Slowind from Slovenia for their concert on December 2. This ensemble was established 22 years ago and has become the most active new music ensemble in Slovenia. They are adamant performers of contemporary music, encouraging a younger generation of Slovenian composers through commissioning and performance. In their NMC program, they will performs works by composers from Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Japan and Folia, a work by Toronto’s own Robert Aitken, written in 1981. The concert will also include NMC’s annual tribute to Elliott Carter.
Rarely heard: Two different events featuring outstanding vocal performers offer an opportunity to experience new music that is rarely heard. Music Toronto’s concert on December 1 will feature acclaimed Acadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc in an evening of music focused on the poetry of Pultizer Prize winner Elizabeth Bishop, who lived from 1911 to 1979. Many of the pieces on the program also appear on the CD I Am in Need of Music released in 2013, and includes compositions by Canadians Alasdair MacLean, John Plant and Emily Doolittle. World premieres by British composer Ivan Moody and Canadian Peter Togni will round out the program.
And the free noon-hour Canadian Opera Company’s Vocal Series will present the composition Ayre, a song cycle by the Argentinean-born composer Osvaldo Golijov and performed by Miriam Khalil on November 10. This music promises to mesmerize, as the composer has woven together influences from Arabic, Hebrew, Sardinian, and Sephardic traditions.
Esprit: The Esprit Orchestra concert on November 20 has a curious title – “m’M.” This is also the title of the composition by Philippe Leroux (Canada/France) that will be performed in the program. It’s a concerto grosso, with the “m” representing the little orchestra and “M” the big orchestra. Canadian Zosha Di Castri’s piece Alba conjures the atmosphere of a winter dawn on the Prairies in northern Alberta. This sense of the mysteries of nature is also what we will hear in George Crumb’s work A Haunted Landscape, written in 1984. The featured performer of the evening, cellist Joseph Johnson will also take on the French composer Marc-André Dalbavie’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Another opportunity to hear the music of Philippe Leroux will be at the COC’s Chamber Music Series free noon-hour program on November 22 featuring the McGill University’s Contemporary Music Ensemble. Leroux’s work Extended Apocalypsis will be heard along with two other pieces – Division by Franck Bedrossian, who studied with Leroux at IRCAM and Project miroirs by Sean Ferguson, dean of McGill’s Schulich School of Music. Leroux currently teaches composition at McGill.
Micro-Ritmia: On November 20, the Music Gallery presents the Mexican composer Ernesto Martinez and his group Micro-Ritmia at the Tranzac Club. Martinez's music is a blend of various influences, including the player-piano works of Conlon Nancarrow, whom he met in his younger years, Balinese Gamelan techniques and Mexican folk traditions. The ensemble performs on piano, marimba and altered guitars using complex hocketing techniques in this, their Canadian debut. Also on the program is Taktus, a Toronto-based group who reenvision minimalist and electroacoustic music for the marimba.
WU: If you are longing for a musical experience of sustained quiet and slow-moving gestures, then listening to the hour-long work WU by Victoria-based composer Rudolf Komorous is the perfect answer. Performed by the virtuosic pianist Eve Egoyan in the intimate setting of her own studio, this masterwork promises the type of experience one could have while waiting for a cherry tree blossom to fall…or not. The concept of Wu is from the Zen Buddhist tradition and means the “not expected.” Even though the piece has a meditative quality, it has an intensity to it that keeps the ear focused and attentive to each slight change. The performances will take place on November 6, 13, 20 and 27 and audience members are requested to book their seat via email due to limited seating.
Improv: And finally, on the improvisation scene, three events stand out: the 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival from November 2 to 5 at the Tranzac Club featuring numerous outstanding improvising musicians from the 416 area and beyond, including a performance by the Kyle Brenders Big Band on November 5. Spontaneous Group Composition will be happening at the Array Space on November 23 featuring Jonathan Adjemian, Nick Buligan, Karen Ng and Martin Arnold. And on December 2 at Gallery 345, don’t miss the sonic adventures of the Queen Mab Trio – Lori Freedman, Marilyn Lerner and Ig Henneman, who blend various influences including jazz, musique actuelle, rock, and 20th-century classical music.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
Back in the mid 1960s, two composers in their mid-30s took part in a summer workshop being offered by the University of Toronto. The course was in electronic music and at the time, the studio at U of T was one of the leading centres in the field. Those two composers were Pauline Oliveros and R. Murray Schafer. During Oliveros’ most recent trip to Toronto in the summer of 2014, she noted that fact during a talk she gave at TIES – the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium. At the time when I heard her tell us this anecdote, I couldn’t help be struck by the fact that these two people sharing the same creative environment in the bowels of an electronic studio in Toronto would go on to radically alter the way we understand the process of listening.
One can only wonder what aspects of that workshop influenced their ideas around perception of sound and listening. For me personally, I know that spending endless hours in a studio has made all the difference in my own listening behaviours and approach to composing. And now, during the month of October, separate events are taking place in the city which highlight the work and legacy of these two musical pioneers. Oliveros is one of the featured artists in the Music Gallery’s X Avant XI Festival running from October 13 to October 16, and Schafer will be honoured at Esprit Orchestra’s concert on October 23.
This theme for this year’s X Avant Festival is reverberation – including both how the use of reverb in sound marks distinctive styles, and how specific ideas move through the world and leave their legacy. One of the distinct elements of Oliveros’ legacy is what she calls Deep Listening. During the same talk she gave in 2014 at TIES, she also told the story of how that term came to be. Curiously, it started off as a pun. In 1988, Oliveros and her ensemble made a recording in a deep cistern well in Washington State that has a reverb time of 45 seconds. After the recording, she made a joke to her colleagues about the experience as one of “deep listening.” Up to this point in her career, she had been developing a practice she called Sonic Meditations, a way of approaching composing and performing through listening, focused awareness and attention. After the cistern experience, the term Deep Listening was coined; she currently defines it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” This encompasses exploring “the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature – exclusive and inclusive – of listening.” That the term arose in part out of an experience of reverberation is an interesting connection to the X Avant theme.
Oliveros will be returning to Toronto to perform at the X Avant Festival on October 14. To get an idea of how her Deep Listening legacy has reverberated out to a younger generation of musicians, I spoke with one of the other performers in her concert, Doug Van Nort. Van Nort first encountered Oliveros’ work when he began his MFA studies in electronic arts in 2001 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where she was teaching. During his second year, despite his main focus on learning music programming and thinking about electronic compositions, he was invited to become a teaching assistant for her Deep Listening course, and within no time found himself facilitating some of the DL exercises and receiving feedback from Pauline on how he was doing. This experience was to have a profound impact on his future career.
During his PhD studies at McGill University, Van Nort continued to have a connection with Oliveros and the rich worldwide community of deep listeners, eventually returning to RPI to engage in research around questions of telematic performance, systems thinking and composing for electronic spaces. Essentially, telematic performance involves performing with others who are in different locations while the idea of creating telepresence raises the question of whether we actually feel we are sharing the same space or not. During this research phase, he performed weekly over a five-year period with Oliveros and colleague Jonas Braasch.
Since an intersection between deep listening and technology is a signature aspect of Oliveros’ work, I asked Van Nort about how the relationship between these two elements expressed itself in his own work. His response was curious: “My first pass is always to say I’m not interested in technology, even though I have a degree in music technology.” He explained that this is his way of distancing himself from a fetishization of technology in order to bring attention and focus back to what is unique about technological mediation in performance. It comes down to the idea of creating systems for musical performance that has kept him close to Oliveros as both his mentor and collaborator all these years. How can sonic events, gestures and sounds spread and circulate within an integrated network or web and still be perceived as a musical performance with instrumental-like qualities? He mentioned that this approach was present even in Oliveros’ early works such as I of IV which was created in the U of T studio in 1966.
The outcome of Van Nort’s research and performance collaboration with Oliveros has been the creation of GREIS (pronounced “grace”) – the Granular-Feedback Expanded Instrument System, which even in its title is a nod to Oliveros’ own Expanded Instrument System (EIS) which she has developed over many years. During the X Avant XI Festival concert on October 14, Van Nort will be performing with GREIS in interaction with Oliveros on her digital accordian, Anne Bourne on cello, and Ione with spoken word. GREIS is a system that fundamentally puts things in motion and requires the performers to react to it. In the ensemble context, everyone is both generating their own gestures as well as reacting with what is coming back from GREIS – which can happen at any point in time. “What results is the creation of a tight organism that has to respond together and move in a given direction. It doesn’t work without Deep Listening.”
Van Nort’s input into the system will be sourced from his large library of field recordings that he will stretch and filter. A second layer will be his capturing and reshaping of the sounds coming from Bourne’s cello and Oliveros’ digital accordian and then fitting these gestures back into the musical flow at some point. In addition, there will be a spatialization component that GREIS will contribute by generating various types of movements over eight speakers – a wide and fast motion for example, or a tight and slow motion. And finally, Ione’s spoken words will sit on top of this entire sonic field in their pure acoustic form. Van Nort sums up the full experience with these words: “The core intent is to create something that is a breathing living organism that has to have at its essence an organic motion to it regardless of whether there is digital technology inserted in the path or not.” For the listener, it will be an enveloping and immersive improvisational environment within which one is invited to be mindful of both global and focal attention – taking in both the entirety of the sound field while also following the individual lines as much as possible. Alternating between both fields is a fundamental aspect of the Deep Listening experience. Toronto is fortunate to now have Van Nort as a professor of digital performance at York University where he runs the DisPerSion Lab and the Electro-acoustic Orchestra.
The music of R. Murray Schafer will be the focus of Esprit Orchestra’s concert on October 23, “Power On.” This tribute to Schafer will include three works spanning 1976 to 1990 and feature performers Robert Aitken, Ryan Scott and Krisztina Szabó. Schafer’s music compositions include an extensive repertoire of works for the concert hall, his 12-part cycle of musical/theatrical works he calls Patria, and a series of pieces composed for performance in outdoor environments. As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Schafer has also had an enormous influence on how we listen. Early in his career, he became aware of the increasing amount of noise in our everyday environment, leading him to undertake research into this growing phenomenon that no one was paying attention to. This research led him to coin the term “soundscape” along with other terms to describe the ecology of the acoustic environment. Much of this research ended up in the recordings and booklet of The World Soundscape Project and his extensive book, The Tuning of the World, published in 1977. Part of Schafer’s legacy is bringing awareness to how we listen to the sounds of the environment and their impact on us both individually and collectively. This approach to listening has influenced his approach to composition, as well as the development of both educational resources and community-based experiences to bring awareness of the world of sound around us.
Soundstreams and New Music Concerts. The legend of the flute will be the focus of Soundstreams’ season opener events. Density 2036, a project begun by virtuoso flutist Claire Chase to create a new body of works for solo flute, will be on display October 4 in one of Soundstreams’ “Ear Candy” events. On October 12, their concert “Magic Flutes” will feature Chase along with four other virtuoso flute players performing a repertoire of works in a surround-sound environment, including a world premiere from Canada’s Anna Höstman.
The New Music Concerts event on October 30 will feature the return of the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal and the latest edition of Generation 2016, their biennial project designed to mentor, rehearse and tour works by four young Canadian composers. This year’s roster includes Taylor Brook (Alberta), Symon Henry (Quebec), Sabrina Schroeder (BC) and Adam Scime (Ontario).
Oct 15: Toronto Messiaen Ensemble performing George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, among other works.
Oct 19: Xin Wang of TO.U Collective performs Berio’s Sequenza III along with works by Webern, Georges Aperghis and others.
Oct 25 and 26: Talisker Players perform Schafer’s Beauty and the Beast, Morlock’s …et je danse and Louie’s Songs of Enchantment.
Oct 30: Toronto Chamber Choir premieres David Barber’s Remember Not.
Nov 6: The Royal Conservatory presents percussionist Steven Schick in works by Lei Liang, Mark Applebaum, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis. Free tickets available October 6.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
Something unique and original is happening this September in the world of music and art – the in/future Festival at Ontario Place running from September 15 to 25. The festival is the vision of Art Spin, a project founded in 2009 to create experiences in alternative venues that create a dialogue between the Toronto art community and the public. With in/future, they are transforming one of the most beloved places in Ontario into a series of site-specific projects by visual, sound and media artists, as well as programming several world music concerts and film/video screenings.
Ontario Place opened in 1971 fuelled by optimistic and utopian notions of the future strongly reflected in the design of the buildings as well as in the content of the exhibits. In the words of the original Ontario Place theme song, it was a “once-in-a-lifetime, never-before place.” One thing that is sure to occur for many during the festival is the triggering of memories of what the future once looked like. And that is the point really. The art installations will offer opportunities to look back at a particularly 1970s vision of things. In the words of New Adventures in Sound Art’s artistic director Darren Copeland, “We who are now in that future are looking at the past’s view of us.” Copeland was approached by Rui Pimenta, one of Art Spin’s directors, to curate sound installations in one of the old exhibit silos. There are close to ten of these structures, that once housed exhibits on the natural elements, that will be turned into performance and installation sites for the festival.
Central to NAISA’s aesthetic vision is the spatialization of sound, so the opportunity to put sound into a round, acoustically reverberant space was a perfect match. During our interview, Copeland stressed the importance of describing the works that NAISA is curating for their installation as “site-responsive” rather than “site-specific.” For the NAISA installation (running from September 19-25), Copeland provided a production framework with his spatialization software and eight-speaker setup for three composer/performers (Anne Bourne, Lisa Conway and myself) to create pieces that are personal responses to not only the acoustics of the silo, but the entire entity and vision of what Ontario Place was.
When I asked Copeland to describe the process for him as curator and producer, he stated that “each piece had different ways of using the space, with different configurations and processes, none of which I knew before we started recording in the silo.” And although the composers could bring materials with them for the recording, it was “a process of discovery for them as well, once present in the environment. A combination of the artist’s ideas, the ideas I brought, and the architecture of the space conspired in the moment to provide the direction and substance of what was made. That wouldn’t have happened if we had been in a neutral space – the third ingredient would be missing. It would have been a planned project that happens in spite of the location,” he said.
Anne Bourne chose to record and layer multiple tracks of cello and voice improvisations in the silo space. During the process though, a curious thing happened – memories of her experiences performing on the circular revolving stage at Ontario Place’s popular Forum venue surfaced. As Bourne described it to me, the significance of the round stage meant that everyone had an equal and inclusive experience of connection with the performers, and every voice was equidistant from the centre. This is in contrast to the more hierarchical nature of the proscenium stage. It was being in the round architecture of the silo that triggered her performance memories and led her into taking on the role of transmitter of those inclusive values while improvising. It’s not hard to see here the connection between the architecture and the futuristic visions of the early 1970s.
Lisa Conway was also influenced by the structure of the silos, but took her piece in a very different direction. She chose to work with recordings of the materials generally associated with silos – sand, grain and salt sounds – and played with the concept of these sound textures within large resonant spaces as the focus for her piece. For my own work, I created a prerecorded electroacoustic soundtrack made up of Ontario Place soundscapes, a variety of pre-composed vocal drones, and processed excerpts from the original Ontario Place theme song. In the silo, I improvised a vocal track while listening to the prerecorded track, playing with the words of the theme song and the acoustics of the silo. The final format for the entire installation will present all three pieces mixed and spatialized amongst the eight-speaker array and played sequentially in the reverberant silo environment.
I also spoke to two other artists working with sound in their installations for in/future.
Simone Jones, a multidisciplinary artist who works with film, video and electronics, is working on two pieces for the festival. The first is collaboration with visual artist Laura Millard that will be installed in the former Ice Silo and is a dialogue between sound and lightbox images. The images are created from aerial drone shots of circular and intersecting snowmobile patterns on a frozen lake, and the two artists have chosen to keep the original icebergs from the silo exhibit as part of their installation to emphasize the wintery environment. For the sound, Jones improvised on Philip Glass’ Etude No.1 and edited her piano recordings to highlight the repetitive pattern. The soundfiles will also be treated spatially with panning movements between two stereo speakers.
Jones’ second work will be located at the observation decks at the southwest tip of Ontario Place. Video footage of a body in water, as well as images of water itself will be projected onto a large scrim placed between the two decks and high enough that it will appear to float. The soundscape will include recordings of water as well as an introduction created and performed by 14-year old cellist Will Smyth. For Jones, what is exciting about this project is the opportunity to create work with a deliberate connection to place. “I like to be nostalgic about Ontario Place and the idea of recapturing some of that optimism that was so evident in the visual motif of the silos and the dome of the Cinesphere. The creation of public space is one of the most important things that we can do as a society.”
The theme of urban space also surfaced during my conversation with sound artist and producer Michael Trommer. Trommer’s piece will be located just to the east of the observation deck along a stretch of beach, also facing the open water. Using field recordings made during the night at various lakes up north and at Georgian Bay, Trommer’s intention is to transpose a very different time and place onto an urban beach through his amplified soundscape. This will create an ambiguous environment in which people will be hearing sounds that belong and yet don’t quite belong. Ideally, the ambiguity will be further emphasized by hiding the speakers from view and also using a subwoofer speaker to accentuate the low frequencies. Because the recordings were made at night when sound can travel far more easily, he ended up capturing soundscapes that were five to ten kilometres away: loon calls, Wasaga Beach clubs, and people speaking at a cottage for example. Trommer is drawn to liminal locations such as waterfronts that transition from urban to natural and where you have a shift in materials, going from dense concrete to open space. Having grown up in Montreal, and in close proximity to La Ronde, the site of Expo 67 (a similarly utopian vision), “there is something that resonates for me about these places which are replicating natural shapes like the dome rather than the rectangular and stacked slab-like shapes of our urban environment.”
Personally, the opportunities to return to Ontario Place this summer, as well as speaking to the other artists I’ve written about for this column, have reaffirmed for me the importance of creating pieces in response to place. Connecting with memories and revisiting a space that holds collective values worth reconsidering makes the in/future project a crucial event for all to experience. It will no doubt generate an ongoing conversation about this iconic urban oasis. Ontario Place is scheduled to reopen in 2017 with a new mandate.
The Opening Concert Season. Although most of our new music presenters wait until October to get their seasons rolling, there are some events coming up in September that are important to look at. In keeping with the theme of sound in resonant environments, the Music Gallery will present a concert on September 17 of three artists united by their fascination with drones and reverberant spaces. Bassist and composer Ricardo Dias Gomes will perform his intimate yet aggressive drones, surrounded by a visual design of his own making. Montreal saxophonist Ida Toninato’s performance will feature her love of big sounds in big spaces, while emerging multidisciplinary artist Kat Estacio will play with notions of nostalgia and decolonization in her performance.
On September 30, New Music Concerts presents “Beijing Memories,” a concert of highlights from their China tour. This past July, eight musicians from NMC were invited to be the ensemble-in-residence at the Beijing International Composition Workshop. The evening will feature highlights from the three concerts performed as part of that residency in Beijing, with compositions by Brian Current, Omar Daniel, Wen Deqing, Lei Liang and competition winner Zhao Yi from China.
The Thin Edge New Music Collective is busy this month with three different events. First, on September 2, they will be performing in Contact Contemporary Music’s annual INTERsection event on Labour Day weekend at the Music Gallery along with guest guitarist Elliott Sharp. INTERsection continues on September 3 all day at Yonge-Dundas Square with an impressive lineup of performers. Then on September 15 and 16, Thin Edge is hosting the Feldman Festival at Array Space, performing works by composers Morton Feldman, Linda Catlin Smith and Barbara Monk Feldman. And finally on September 29, their fundraising event will present works by Nick Storring, Scott Rubin, Xenakis, Cage and others.
Sept 2: National Ballet of Canada/Art Gallery of Ontario present “The Dreamers Ever Leave You,” with live music composed by Lubomyr Melnyk.
Sept 18: Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s concert premieres Toward Light, a new commissioned work by Canadian composer Roydon Tse.
Sept 21: University of Waterloo Department of Music presents Earth Piece by Canadian composer Carol Weaver.
- Written by Wendalyn Bartley
- Category: New Music
As I sit to write this column, I’m still feeling the after-effects of the May 25 concert with the Kronos Quartet and guest performer Tanya Tagaq at the Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival – an event that was featured in last month’s WholeNote. It was a truly sublime moment in time, making it difficult to find words that encapsulate the experience of being transported into a kaleidoscope of global musical styles and then beyond into uncharted territory – and all within the scope of the two violins, viola and cello, plus voice. The anticipated commission from Tagaq for the quartet was, as first violinist David Harrington said during his introduction, “unlike anything you’ve ever heard for the string quartet.” With a string quartet score created from transcriptions of recorded improvised vocalizations made by Tagaq in a studio a few months ago, and Tagaq adding a live vocal layer, it was as if the earth itself was opening up to reveal new layers and aspects of what’s possible. It began with creaking string tones and subterranean vocal tones which started out so low in range that I couldn’t help be reminded of another vocal pioneer, Roy Hart, whose principle of the eight-octave voice was at the heart of his company’s research throughout the 1960s and 70s. It was this push into stretching vocal boundaries that opened up possibilities for composers to write for the extended voice. The performance of Nunuvut, the second work performed by Tagaq and the quartetin the concert, was more improvisational in nature, with a series of intense, intimate and sensual duets that Tagaq engaged in with each individual performer before turning to the capacity audience to deliver a sonic portrait of our collective presence. It was a spectacular beginning to the upcoming summer season.
Launching into the summer season usually means it’s festival time, which often translates into opportunities to experience music that pushes at the far outer edges. Certainly with the Luminato Festival this year, this will be the case, and not just with its music programming since this year’s primary venue, the Hearn Generating Station, will be making its own artistic statement. Situated on the waterfront, it’s the site of a de-commissioned power station that will be turned into a temporary cultural venue for the next ten years of Luminato. With a series of interlocking areas designed for performances and exhibitions, along with restaurant and club spaces, the building will take on the air of an architectural installation. Another in-house feature of this environment will be a state-of-the-art surround sound system and projection space with multiple screens. Which, as it turns out, is the perfect venue for the fully immersive music and visual concert piece created by composer Rose Bolton and filmmaker Marc de Guerre being performed on June 22.
The piece, Song of Extinction, is just as its title suggests – a work that raises the critical issue of species extinction through the combination of melody, word and image. And although songform is at the heart of Bolton’s compositional language for this piece, the musical scale of the project is extensive, combining youth and adult choirs, an instrumental chamber ensemble, percussion, two keyboard players, and electronics. The work was originally initiated by Music in the Barns under the direction of Carol Gimbel whose specialty is in creating multimedia and site-specific installation concerts.
Despite the focus on the difficult and critical theme of what is happening to the mass disappearance of species on our planet, the work is not activist in nature. As de Guerre explained in a recent conversation both he and Bolton had with me about the piece, “I believe in the power and beauty of images. In the same way that music gets under your skin and moves you, and you don’t really know why or what it means or what it’s doing to you, the images are functioning in very much the same way.” He continued to reflect on this topic by saying “I find it odd given what’s happening on the planet that there hasn’t been a body of work with this theme from a more art perspective rather than it just being about political activism.”
And that’s why using song is so important for both of these creators. They think of the piece as “a heartbreak song in the same way that songs are about heartbreak. This is about our heartbreak because of what we do to the earth, to the planet.” Their ultimate priority is to make a work that is emotionally powerful, to lead people into an experience of “feeling what we are doing to the earth.” In fact, de Guerre says, “If I don’t feel anything when I experience a work of art, then I don’t consider it to be successful.” Thus the nature of the piece is a poetic, impressionistic and non-literal approach to the theme, with the film images conceived around the music.
Bolton’s approach to song was to create melodies that people would love to sing and love to hear – melodies that would “stick in people’s heads after the performance.” For inspiration, she first turned to the songs of Robert Burns and his way of writing that asks universal questions. The next step was to ask the Order of Canada-appointed poet Don McKay to become involved. She asked him if he could write in a similar way, creating texts that addressed her questions related to the theme of extinction. The Newfoundland-based McKay is a poet whose strong personal connection to the land infuses his work, creating poetry that both Bolton and de Guerre described as “grounding.” His way of using precise language to create images that are sweeping and allegorical in nature was a perfect fit, and with these texts, Bolton was able to take their essence and turn them into lyrics for the songs. The texts will also be published as a book of poems that will be available at the concert.
The songs will be performed by both the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, with the adults representing the current generation and the children the generation of the future. Both choirs will be engaged in conversations between the present and the future. The keyboard players will also perform on the harpsichord as well as electronic keyboards, with the composer performing the electronics on her laptop as well as triggering the spatial movement of the sound amongst the multiple speaker sound system. The electronics are more ambient in nature, like a wash, and will include live processing of the instrumental sounds with simple delay effects. The overall arc of the piece begins with an air of innocence in the first half, with almost a feeling of reverence towards nature and nonhuman species. Then at a pivotal point, things take a turn for a more solemn and desperate view towards our world and the reality of extinction. Song of Extinction promises to be a powerful and evocative meditation on those realities that are often difficult to cope with. No doubt however, we as audience members respond, we will be left with more stirring questions than solid answers.
One of the other boundary-pushing musical events of Luminato is the return of Unsound Toronto, a two-night sonic playground on June 10 and 11 combining ambient, drone, noise and other forms of experimental soundmaking. As well, a giant listening party is being planned on June 16 for all those who want to experience the recording of last year’s Apocalypsis performance composed by R. Murray Schafer and performed by a cast of 1000 or more.
Parallel to these events at the festival is the concert celebrating 40 years at the Music Gallery on June 11. Combining new music, video, performance and site-specific installation works, the evening promises to be a sonic portrayal of past, present and future. Starting the evening off will be a performative walking tour of St. George the Martyr’s courtyard highlighting oral histories, followed by performances with Mridangam master drummer Trichy Sankaran, Tenderness (aka Chrissy Reichert) alongside dancer Allison Peacock, and turntable artist SlowPitchSound (Cheldon Paterson) who will mine the Gallery’s sound archives to create new visions out of past performances. And while on the topic of summertime wild and untamed sound events, I must mention the Electric Eclectics festival that takes place from July 29 to 31 in the countryside near Meaford. Directed by Gordon Monahan and Chris Worden, the festival combines experimental music, sound art, DJ artists and sound installations in a relaxed camping environment. Check out their website for the extensive lineup, which includes two noteworthy duos: Not the Wind, Not the Flag, and the duo of Jennifer Castle and Mary Margaret O’Hara.
One highlight early in the month is Spectrum Music’s Tower of Babel concert on June 4 with new compositions evoking various interpretations of this iconic story which appears in Christian, Islamic and Jewish religious texts. The pieces will explore the question of whether this ancient story can shed any light on contemporary divisons amongst nations and religious groups. Globally acclaimed oud player, Amos Hoffman, will be one of the performers. For improvised music lovers, there is DroneDoctor, a drone music meditation concert on June 5; the CCMC performing at Gallery 345 on June 11; and Audio Pollination on June 25.
Sounds of the Next Generation (SONG) will be performing Spirit Garden: Spring Planting by R. Murray Schafer, an outdoor music drama, running June 11 and 12 on a farm in Cold Springs, near Cobourg. The piece involves planting a garden, and will be followed up by a harvesting concert on September 25. On June 25 the Canadian Music Centre presents new works by Chris Paul Harman including his Five Japanese Children’s Songs and the world premiere of his Five Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. Other new and traditional works inspired by Japan will also be included.
On July 17, Soundstreams Salon presents the premiere of Emilie Lebel’s collaboration with Jumblies Theatre and community participants. Over at the Stratford Summer Music Festival, TorQ Percussion will perform Strange and Sacred Noise by John Luther Adams, on July 26. The work is a visual and aural exploration of the sonic geography of Alaska, answering the composers question “What would it sound like if the wilderness could sing, and I could hear it singing?”
One of the largest summer festivals to include an extensive amount of new concert music is the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. I’ve compiled a summarized overview, but I also recommend checking the listings for more details. On July 22, there is a concert of seven Canadian works for oboe and piano. Two events for new music lovers take place on July 26: a performance of Reciprocity, a multidisciplinary work by UK composer Patrick Cohen is followed later in the evening by a series of boundary-crossing works performed by Jesse Stewart, David Mott and Ernst Reijseger. On July 29 the Cecilia String Quartet performs works by four Canadian women composers, while on July 31 Morton Feldman’s masterwork, Clarinet and String Quartet, will be played by James Campbell and the Quatuor Bozzini.
Continuing with the Ottawa Chamberfest, their special New Music Miniseries comprised of three concerts spread throughout the day on August 1. The first includes works by Canadians Palmer, Di Castri and Murphy, followed by a second concert of seven works by Canadian composers for violin and piano. The miniseries ends up with a more international concert, with two works by Pierre Boulez among others. The final new music work of the festival is a performance of Christos Hatzis’ landmark multidisciplinary spectacle, Constantinople, on August 2.
Mr. Shi and His Lover, a contemporary Chinese language music theatre work composed by Torontonian Njo Kong Kie will be presented as part of this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival, running from August 5 to 8 and 11 to 13. The Classical Unbound Festival which occurs in Prince Edward County has a Living Canadian Composer Stream of concerts, with pieces by Morlock Buczynski and Mozetich spread throughout their concerts on August 19, 24 and 26. And finally, Summer Music in the Garden’s September 1 concert will feature works by Ann Southam.
Have an enjoyable and relaxing music-filled summer and keep your eyes posted for details of Contact Contemporary Music’s annual extravaganza on Labour Day weekend at Dundas Square.