2 years ago

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020

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  • Ensemble
  • Classical
  • Concerts
  • Singers
  • Choral
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • September
  • Choir
Choral Scene: Uncharted territory: three choirs finding paths forward; Music Theatre: Loose Tea on the boil with Alaina Viau’s Dead Reckoning; In with the New: what happens to soundart when climate change meets COVID-19; Call to action: diversity, accountability, and reform in post-secondary jazz studies; 9th Annual TIFF Tips: a filmfest like no other; Remembering: Leon Fleisher; DISCoveries: a NY state of mind; 25th anniversary stroll-through; and more. Online in flip through here, and on stands commencing Tues SEP 1.


DAVID SUTHERLAND VIKTOR RICHARDSSON CEE in the Media Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. Left to right: John Kameel Farah, David Jaeger, Jim Montgomery, Rose Bolton, Paul Stillwell. David Sutherland is missing - he took the photo! performances with exhilarating dynamics that swept between quiet fields of spatialized chirps and squeaks to tremendous waves of drone and thrilling thunderous noise. A few days later, when the students walked onstage with CEE and Pauline, they did so with confidence and eager excitement. That concert was one of the finest performances in which Exploded Ensemble had ever participated.” At that final concert, the two ensembles played together, and the CEE performed two of its own works, including a homage to Larry Lake, in which the CEE improvised variations on a signature Lake gesture. Lake’s Psalm for solo oboe and electronic tracks was performed by oboist Hanna Senft, a gifted graduate student. And the impressive undergraduate violist Sara Frankel delivered a brilliant performance of my Sarabande for viola and live electronics. We departed Pittsburgh on February 28 feeling gratified that we had left a positive impression with the students and buoyed with the connection our music had made. Paul Stillwell said, “The success of our recent trip to Carnegie Mellon University shows that we are relevant to both longtime fans of electronic music and younger students of the craft.” Just a few days after our return to Toronto, we learned that the CEE was the last foreign group to be allowed to visit the CMU campus, as international borders began to harden, and then to close. But the feeling of such a fabulous visit lingered with us, and with it, a sort of creative momentum. Jim Montgomery wrote in his blog on the CEE website, “As the reality of social isolation and physical distancing set in, we decided to try doing some music while maintaining our isolation. The result: the Pass the Track (PtT) project.” Building on the buzz – “Pass the Track John Kameel Farah, who has had a thriving international solo career, describes what happened: “I felt unable to make solo music because of the stress and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, which left me feeling very little creative inspiration. I thought maybe the answer would be instead to be creative in a collaboration, so I asked Paul Stillwell to send me some electronic sounds to work with. He sent me a beautiful synth drone and I added piano over it. Then we passed it to other members of the CEE and each added another layer. After that was done, we had enjoyed it so much that we thought to do more tracks, but with each starting with a different person, each adding in a different sequence. Each got the chance to be first, last and in the middle. The biggest challenge, if you were a ‘starter’ was to try to leave enough musical space so that three or four musicians could make a meaningful contribution without feeling the space had already been taken up, or without the whole thing Rose Bolton becoming an overflowing cacophony.” Rose Bolton further pointed out that, in the collaborative method we used, “The process of layering on tracks revealed that the person who puts down the first track in the piece, often sets the tone, shape and sound of each movement. So how each movement sounds, is greatly affected by the musical sensibility and choices that the first person has done.” As accustomed as the CEE members were to collective composition, this was a fresh approach to collaboration, born out of the COVID lockdown, and the results were highly satisfying. It seemed that those few days on the CMU campus, steeped in intensive interaction with both students and faculty, had energized the CEE and had the members constantly engaged in demonstrating, analyzing and explaining how their music works. And it had helped to refresh the CEE’s own processes with a clarity among the members of the group, enabling us to immediately jump into the creative opportunity that the pandemic presented. No click tracks were needed as the PtT pieces came together – just the free flow of layer after layer of freshly minted electronic music that blended smoothly and naturally. David Sutherland wrote, “When the CEE was founded, electronic music was pretty much confined to electronic music studios in universities. In 1978 Brian Eno released Music for Airports and called the music ambient. Today there are thousands of people around the world who make ambient electronic music and they have no connection to universities. This expansion of interest in electronic music has both created a much larger audience than existed in the 1970s and in some ways made our music less exceptional. “What surprises and delights me is how well the recordings of the past stand up in today’s music, and how well we can still play together. In some of the later tracks, there is some really outstanding playing that would stand on its own compared to much of the music produced today. Then you have everyone else adding to the whole and, where I thought there wasn’t any more room, someone has found just the right thing. I find that quite remarkable and inspiring.” There are now six episodes of PtT, pieces that range widely in terms of style, temperament and duration. Two of the pieces are accompanied with digital animation, the skillful work of Paul Stillwell, who also did the audio mixing. The full set of six pieces is due for fall release on the CEE’s Bandcamp page: thecee. People can have a preview right now, however, on YouTube at (PtT 1) and (PtT 5). John Kameel Farah David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto. MARC DEGUERRE 28 | September 2020

In With the New Creative (E)mergings in these days of isolation WENDALYN BARTLEY In these days of limited performances, for this month’s column I decided to take up a suggestion made by my ever-inventive editor at The WholeNote, and write a story related to some aspect of my own creative work during this time. On New Year’s Day of 2020, I had awoken with the inspiration to start a video-audio blog, something that is very new for me. Titled Earth Soundings, my original vision was that for each blog entry I would select a particular natural environment in which to take photos and videos, andf then create the soundtrack in response to the images and my experiences in each specific environment. My overall intention in creating these short nature-based videos was to invite people to take a brief pause in their day to remember and attune to their connection with the Earth, the elements and all beings. A short time of reflection or meditation. At the heart of the project: my desire to contribute in one way toward the restoration of our relationship with nature, for I believe that one of the root causes behind our climate crisis is due to our cultural disconnect from nature. The guideline I set for myself for these blog posts was to take the photo and video footage on specific days of celebration, connected to either cultural holidays or days on the Earth calendar related to the passing of seasons or phases of the moon. For the music I would select various members of the wider community to collaborate with me. Initially, I released these videos on my Facebook page Earth Soundings (, again on days significant in the calendar. The videos are also available on my website Enter COVID-19 A key point to the story I’m telling here is to reflect a micro-view of what has happened in the larger story of the creative performing arts since isolation, lockdown and distancing have become a fact of life. How do we adapt when we don’t have the same freedom of movement and when live collaborations are not as easy as before? For the first two videos, I proceeded as envisioned, but by the time I was ready to create the next two, COVID-19 had arrived. I was now going to have to find a different approach to creating the soundtracks. I had begun taking footage for my first video right away on January 1, often considered a turning-point day in people’s lives, with resolutions for change and new behaviour. I chose Grenadier Pond in High Park at sunset as my location and began work creating a sequence with the videos and photos, returning a few days later for some extra shots I wanted to include. Shortly after completing a draft sequence, I visited writer and singer Michelle Tocher who was eager to do some vocal improvisations with me using her new shruti box. We had such a great time together that I was inspired at that moment to invite her to collaborate with me for the soundtrack. The sounds we had made together ideally captured the feeling of the images. We planned a recording session together and recorded one of her original songs along with some free improvisations, which I edited to the image sequence. I posted the video on February 4 to celebrate the season of Imbolc, the cross-quarter day in the Celtic calendar to mark the The writer, sounding to a tree on the Toronto Island midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Inspired by my experience with Michelle, I invited another friend with whom I’ve collaborated vocally for many years, Deborah Brodey, to be my collaborating partner for the second video. I returned to High Park to take the footage on the day of the full moon known as the Snow Moon, February 8, and this time headed to one of the forest areas where I focused on trees and fallen logs in the snow – their shapes and shadows in the bright sunlight, as well as some close-ups of tree bark. For the recording session with Deborah, I created five different drones that we improvised to, while watching some of the raw video footage. I then edited these vocal improvisations to create a musical sequence to which I edited the images. It was posted on March 8 to celebrate International Women’s Day. A few days later on March 11, COVID-19 was declared a world pandemic, and everything changed. By that time I’d got to Woodstock! On that day, I happened to be in Woodstock, Ontario, the town I grew up in, living part-time in my family home. I decided to stay put rather than return to the city. When it came to the Earth Soundings blog, my major question was how to approach the soundtrack. Collaborating as I had been doing was no longer possible, especially since singing with others was portrayed as one of the riskier activities. I turned instead, to resources I had on hand: the old out-oftune piano in my family home, the same piano I learned on as a child and teenager. I improvised a series of chords on this new partner, rekindling a connection with my younger self. I then processed those recordings through a drone-making tool in my computer, disguising to some MARGARET IRVING September 2020 | 29

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