“Switchemups”, in Exit Points #36 (March 31, 2023) L-R: Adrian Russouw, Rudy Ray, Owen Kurtz, Nilan Perera, %%30%30, Xina Gilani, Victor O, Michael Palumbo. Photo by Own Kurrtz.It was participating in the Toronto Improvisor’s Orchestra that offered a lifeline for electroacoustic music improviser, teacher, researcher and producer Michael Palumbo. During 2019, Palumbo was experiencing multiple crises in his life which eventually led him into performing improvised music on his modular synthesizer. “It was a form of music making where empathy is very important,” he told me during our phone interview. “I could go and play my heart out. It saved my life that year.”

A short time later, Palumbo was walking past the Hirut Cafe and Restaurant (an Ethiopian eatery on Danforth Avenue), and saw the legendary jazz saxophonist Kirk MacDonald through the window. He couldn’t resist entering and discovered some of the city’s jazz greats playing together in various combinations to packed audiences. He was determined to start up something similar for free improv musicians. Eventually, a monthly series of improvisation concerts he called Exit Points was born – held on the last Friday of every month at Array Music, 155 Walnut Avenue (in the Adelaide/Strachan area).

Each evening follows a similar format. Nine guests plus Palumbo are put together into two quintets, each performing a set. Often the performers don’t know each other beforehand and are either invited by Palumbo or request to be included. The upcoming concert on September 29 is a good example of the eclectic mix of musicians brought together. People from new music, ambient and jazz backgrounds, a TTC busking musician, a performer who has never played with electronics before, and an inventor/music technologist.

Michael Palumbo. Photo by Kieran Maraj.

Switchemups: One unique feature of the evening is the third set called Switchemups. This consists of four five-minute improv pieces where audience members can sign up to sit in with performers from the main show. This helps build community and encourages people to experiment with improvisation. It is one of the reasons why the series has been so successful.

Just as Palumbo himself felt cared for by members of the Toronto Improvisor’s Orchestra, he makes it a priority to care for his audiences, so education is integral to the evening. He gives listening strategies to help those who may feel lost amidst what might sound like chaos, or for those who may feel they don’t belong at such an event. One of his goals with this series is to be thoughtful about how free improvised music is presented, which means being respectful and responsible to both the audience and the musicians to create a healthy and supportive environment.

He has also brought onboard an excellent sound engineer to record the concerts onto multiple tracks which are later mixed down into a spatialized format and released on the Exit Points recording label available on Bandcamp. The series is quickly generating interest and enthusiasm from a broad spectrum of musicians and audiences from diverse backgrounds, with the lineups already booked until the spring of 2024. For the latest news, check out @michaelpalumbo_ on Instagram or visit linktr.ee/exitpoints.

Jimmy López Bellido. Photo by Ashkan.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

The phenomenon known as synesthesia is the focus for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concerts second concert of the new season, running from September 28 to 30. Peruvian composer Jimmy López Bellido’s 2012 composition titled Synesthésie will receive its North American premiere alongside Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy. Scriabin is known for his synaesthetic perception, the ability to see colours when listening to music.

The ideas for Bellido’s composition can be traced to the original commission requirements set by Radio France. The ten-minute composition was to be written in five two-minute movements, each one to be aired on the radio daily throughout one week. The following Monday, the entire piece was played. To meet the strict requirements, Bellido chose to have each movement express one of the five human senses. He writes that the overall work invites the listener to enter the world of interconnectedness, something that those who experience synesthesia do daily.

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

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