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Volume 17 Issue 9 - June 2012

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“Beat by Beat | In

“Beat by Beat | In With the NewBut Is It Music?DAVID PERLMANDarrenCopeland,2012Freedmanawardwinner.Sound art” is a performance genre, I think it’s safe to say, thatwill not ring bells, tuned or otherwise, for the majority of readersof The WholeNote. “We are, as a culture, obsessed with thenew,” says blogger John Terauds in a recent entertaining post at,“but it takes only the shallowest scratch on the surfaceto discover that what we all seek is comfort and continuity — flowers,sunsets, barbequed ribs, cheesecake and a bit of Mozart.”Most of us, maybe, but all? Two mid-career contemporarycomposers in our midst, bothbeing honoured with significantawards this month,Darren Copeland andBrian Current, woulddoubtless disagree.Composer Copeland isprobably best known inthe new music communityas the inspiration forNew Adventures In SoundArt (NAISA). NAISA, as theirwebsite explains, is a nonprofitorganization, based atToronto’s Wychwood Barns,that “produces performancesand installations spanning theentire spectrum of electroacousticand experimental sound art … tofoster awareness and understanding… in the cultural vitality of experimental sound art in its myriadforms of expression … through the exploration of new sound technologiesin conjunction with the creation of cultural events and artifacts.”Mind you, Copeland would probably not object to being told thatwhat he does “isn’t music.” In fact you’ll search long and hard for theM-word on NAISA’s own website (among such other terms as noiseart performance, soundscape composition, multi-channel spatializationand layered listening excursion). Copeland is nevertheless anassociate composer with the Canadian Music Centre, and just thismonth was selected to receive the Harry Freedman Recording Awardby a national jury. Named for a pioneering Canadian composer, theaward contributes towards the creative costs associated with makingan audio recording of Canadian composers’ music, and is administeredby the Canadian Music Centre. In Copeland’s case the awardgoes toward the recording of his piece called Bats and Elephantswhich will be published by empreintes DIGITALes. The award will bepresented at a performance of the piece, at Gallery 345 on June 23.The work has an interesting premise: humans can’t hear the fullrange of sounds uttered by bats or elephants unless these sounds aretransposed within the range of human hearing (at which point theystart to take on the identity of other animal species, such as birds).Copeland and his guest Hector Centeno play with this concept, usingecho-location, the way bats do, to bounce sounds, from two hyperdirectionalspeakers, off the Gallery’s walls. It’s a neat variation onthe philosophical question posed at the outset of the column: whendoes a squeak become a song? Or a bellow turn into a bassline? Ornoise into music? I suspect that the answer has as much to do withthe tuning of the ears of the listener as the tuning of the frequenciesfrom the source. It should make for a fascinating event.(A brief digression before moving on to talk about our otheraward winner, Brian Current: it is entirely unsurprising to methat the Copeland concert is taking place at Gallery 345 —the “littlegallery that could” just keeps chugging away with one playfullyprovocative event after another: “Composers Play” (including theRob waymen18 June 1 – July 7, 2012

aforementioned Brian Current) Friday June 1; “40 years of Foley” onSunday June 3; “Art of the Piano” with R. Andrew Lee on June 4; theArchitek Percussion Quartet on June 6; astonishing violinist ConradChow in his debut CD release concert, June 28; …the list goes on.)Now, to Current. Just today (May 29) the Canada Council for theArts announced that seven “mid-career arts innovators” were beinghonoured with Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Awards. The prizecarries a ,000 cash award so it’s “not nuthin,” as these things go.“Sculptor Valérie Blass; contemporary dancer Nova Bhattacharya;interdisciplinary artist Manon De Pauw; playwright, actor and directorDenis Lavalou; composer and conductor Brian Current; poet SylviaLegris; and filmmaker and multimedia artist Graeme Patterson arethis year’s winners” the announcement goes. “These seven artists arepushing the envelope in their respective disciplines and are definitelyseven to watch” said Canada Council director and CEO Robert Sirman.Given our focus, Current is the one of the seven we’ve been watchingthis year, both as a composer and as the conductor of the RoyalConservatory’s New Music Ensemble. His composing and conductingseem to feed off each other. Given the economics of concert music,few contemporary composers get to write for large ensembles; fewerstill get the opportunity to explore, using other composers’ works,the creative energy that a composer can alternately harness andunleash in a large ensemble. Some of you may have caught parts ofhis 2009, 12-hour, 200-person installation-performance of JamesTenney’s In a Large Open Space, at the opening of the Conservatory’snew Koerner Hall, or taken in his students’ performance, in the dark,of G.F. Haas’s In Vain last December.It was while doing some research on Current in the context ofthis award that I stumbled across the comment from Terauds’ blogwith which I started this column. (The blog in question was aboutCurrent’s and Anton Piatigorsky’s recently completed chamberopera Airline Icarus).“It’s no surprise that today’s composers feel …compelled towardsthe new, the unexplored, the unusual,” Terauds went on to say. “Inhis recently published memoir, Unheard Of, Toronto composer JohnBeckwith mentions at least a half-dozen times how he tried to notrepeat himself in a new work. It’s a mantra for most contemporarycomposers. It’s also something I’ve heard many times from themusicians devoted to commissioning and performing new music.But there are two prices to pay for this fetish for the new, I think:Superficiality on the part of the composer, and alienation on the partof a potential audience. …So what does a composer do? Either give inand write film scores, or concert pieces at which serious critics willturn up their noses, or bravely go where their instincts and sense ofadventure lead them. It’s a crazy tightrope that, most days, is actuallyquite thrilling to walk.”Every living composer must discover his or her own balancing act,on this tightrope between superficiality and alienation. Arguably noone has done a better job of it than Philip Glass, whose Einstein onthe Beach is undoubtedly one of the musical talking points of thisyear’s Luminato. One has only to think of the final aria in his lifeof-Ghandiopera Satyagraha where the same eight-note phrase isrepeated, but where you’d be hard pressed to persuade a mesmerizedaudience that all they had listened to was mi fa so la ti do re mi (inthe scale of C, no less), 30 times in a row.One of the truly festive things Luminato does, by the way, is tosurround a work of art with opportunities to immerse in the contextin which the work arose. Check out our ETCetera listings, on page44, for example, for some of the screenings and colloquia that willsurround the opera itself. And, perhaps best of all, the final momentin the festival will be an outdoor performance by the TorontoSymphony Orchestra, in David Pecaut Square, featuring a performanceof Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, paired with the premiere of anew work by Glass, titled The 2012 Overture.There’s a shiny intelligence in the idea of it, one has to say. How newthe adventure in sound art turns out to be, time will surely tell.David Perlman has been, for this past season, thepatroller of The WholeNote’s new music beat. He canbe contacted at publisher@thewholenote.comSeason Finale!David ArcusEnsemble+ Bernicefeaturing Skybeach, an installationby Jeff Garcia/Mango PeelerPart of the New World SeriesJune 15 | 8pm | / (members) adv Soundscapes/Rotate This/Ticketweb.caListen to and watchRadio Music Galleryon Studiofeed.comSt George the Martyr Church • 197 John St. • Toronto416-204-1080 • www.musicgallery.orgVISIT THE EXPANDED & REVITALIZED“WEST WING” OF STEVE’S - OUR NEW2200 SQ. 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