That’s a wrap, folks!

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And the last gong of Improv Night means that’s a wrap on Sound Symposium for another year. Thank you to all of you who had a part in making Sound Symposium XVIII an amazing, inspiring time. Thank you to the musicians, the installation artists, our unsurpassed and unbelievably efficient and knowledgeable technical crew and production manager, the sound specialists, and recordists, the Harbour Symphony director and Harbour Symphony Crew, our photographer, videographer, designer, writers, merchandise coordinator, box office manager, our loyal and generous billeters, the people who put up posters, and the many volunteers who sold merchandise, brought coffee, took people to and from the airport, and those who supplied a venue for free! It takes this incredible community to make each Sound Symposium happen.

Thank you, thank you!

Concert: Rufus Cappadocia// D.F. Cook Hall MUN School of Music

Concert: Sound Symposium, July 15, 2016

By Kent Smith

7-soundsymposium2016-44421-lowresCellist Rufus Cappadocia’s performance at Sound Symposium was a collection of intertwining oral and musical stories of origins, journeys, and transformations that created an overall sense of human (and non-human) interconnectedness. The origin of one note or melodic phrase on Rufus’ five string cello may go through various journeys and transformations, whether it be through his playing techniques, such as bowing, plucking, “slapping/popping” or through his wah-pedal and bass amp, that ends up infusing various culturally specific musical ideas from many geographical spaces and time periods. This performance style recognizes and negotiates the spaces and intersections between story and music, which reveals a fluidity that prompts the listener to consider ideas of sameness while acknowledging and respecting difference.

The inner space of the D.F. Cook Hall was filled with a melodic blend of various kinds of music from Rufus’ repertoire: Gregorian Chants, modal styles from the Middle East, Funk, Salsa, Blues, and “intergalactic.” Rufus remarked that they are all like people or entities that are inside of him and transform into a personified form to him as he plays them. This blending of “kinds” of music/people reminds me of a literary analysis technique I borrow from Srinivas Aravamudan, in which I consider what kind of story/music this is, and the kind(s) of interpretations that promote the emergence of other questions about kin, kindred, and kindness. Rufus traces and maps these lineages through his playing and the oral stories he offers between songs as he evokes the migration of many of these musical practices and how we carry them as they live in us, and grow, and evolve. But as the audience is taken on a journey inward, the music repositions us and decenters the human hierarchy as he discusses and promotes human and non-human relationships through the piece “Prayer” (dedicated to recent activism against the practice of fracking for oil that endangers watersheds), and takes us far outside of ourselves and our Earth-centered models of thinking in a piece he refers to as intergalactic.

As I complete writing this blog and my reflections on Rufus’ performance from 36,000 feet in the air, somewhere between St. John’s and Guelph, I must say that this sense of kinds, kin, kindred, and kindness has travelled with me back to my origins. For me, Rufus’ performance reflected the entire Sound Symposium’s promotion of interconnectedness, support, community, co-creation, and collaboration, as well as my personal experience as an audience member/ student over these past two weeks. If you have not attended this biennial event, or seen/heard Rufus Cappadocia’s music, I highly suggest that you do.

 

Anthropologies Imaginaires: Gabriel Dharmoo/ LSPU Hall

Concert :  Sound Symposium XVIII, July 14, 2016 Anthropologies Imaginaires: Gabriel Dharmoo/ LSPU Hall

By Mitra Jahandideh

Only one year after it was awarded the best International Production at the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, I had the chance to watch the fabulous performance of Gabriel Dharmoo, Anthropologies Imaginaires at the 18th biennial Sound Symposium. It is an avant-garde solo vocal and theatrical performance that interacts with a video mockumentary. The performance represents the virtuosity of just one live performer, Gabriel Dharmoo, the composer, actor, and director.

Once the performance starts, a light directs the audience’s attention to the left side of the stage where Dharmoo stands whisper/singing a melody. The melody goes up, down and circulates in perfect harmony with his body movements. In my view, it is exactly the best kind of body and voice dialogue!

After the first Dharmoo’s solo part, the screen introduces to the audience five experts who talk about various ways of singing among eleven invented “populations” from across the world. Throughout the piece Dharmoo uses astonishingly odd body movements, gestures, and vocal techniques to perform the process of sound making by each of the eleven represented populations. Watching eleven outstanding musical pieces that are based on different traditions of making sound was really delightful for everyone. It was entirely obvious that the audience was enjoying it as they started laughing and singing with each other, and also in some points they were completely silent! As the piece progresses, the five experts comment on each of the eleven populations, using increasingly disturbing, essentialist comments about these so-called primitive populations.  By the end of the piece we have learned not to trust these voices, but rather to revel in the playfulness and virtuosity of the diverse voices presented by Dharmoo.

In fact, Dharmoo is showing us how the process of sound making is formed and evaluated from a simple tone to a polyphonic texture. In his fictional “anthropology” people use different ways to create sounds; for example, by mouth, fingers in the mouth, tapping on the body, or through outside elements like water. Some populations sing and make sounds based on one tone while others gradually learn to sing based on a series of tones. One population has a tendency to conduct large choirs through a trance technique (the audience became the choir for this section!)

The most delightful part of Gabriel’s performance for me was when the “nomadic population” discovered water and water became an extension of the human voice. Gabriel shows it so masterfully with a water bowl on the stage. He submerges his face in it and starts to produce lots of aquatic sounds by singing and beatboxing to show the happiness of these people when they celebrate finding water.

As an Asian audience member, it was really charming for me that just a few minutes into the piece I found the roots and spirit of Indian music at the heart of Gabriel’s melodies; of course, it refers back to his family background. Gabriel’s father was born in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean where there is a high percentage of people with Indian ancestry and he also researched Carnatic music with four renowned masters in Chennai (India) in 2008 and 2011.  Gabriel’s bio notes that “he’s always been interested in India” and “the process of sharing with musicians from other countries is part of his art”.

St. John’s Vocal Explorations Choir – improvisations led by Christine Duncan and Chris Tonelli

Concert: Sound Symposium XVIII, St. John’s Vocal Explorations Choir –  improvisations led by Christine Duncan and Chris Tonelli

By Paula Weber

SoundSymposium-2016-3315-ChristineDuncanI chose to write a review of this concert because I have a bachelor of music from the University of Regina with a voice major. However, I did not realize that I would be participating in this set for the very same reason.  I attended the Sound Symposium as a graduate student in a course at Memorial University’s School of Music. I just could not stay away from these fabulous musicians once the Sound Symposium began. I first saw Chris Tonelli at the sound colloquium, where he presented his work with his St. John’s Vocal Explorations choir (Vocal X for short). I was immediately intrigued. I have recently entered the voice exploration world; after my strictly classical bachelor degree I started exploring new vocal sounds and even did my first public performance using extended vocal technique in April. However I had no idea there were entire choirs dedicated to the practice! I was introduced to Christine Duncan at the first concert at The Ship on Friday July 8th, which featured both Tonelli and Duncan. I was awestruck by their exciting sound production.

The next day, Saturday July 9th there was a sound walk designed to introduce sound installations to the audience. The artists behind each sound installation were present to speak about their work. Little did I know that this sound walk would be my first performance at Sound Symposium. Once the tour reached St. Michael’s Print shop and Eastern Edge Gallery there were no longer fixed lines between audience and performance. During our visit to Visions of Sound, Jude Weirmeir’s intermedia exhibit, Tonelli called me up to do a duet with Duncan performing Weirmeir’s piece Questionnaire, a fantastic piece in his exhibit. I must say I stuttered a few times with the verbal score, however the experience was exhilarating. The Vocal X choir then demonstrated the same piece at their Thursday night concert featuring Weirmeir’s preposterous kit of verbal prompts – absurd questions and equally absurd answers.

There were four improvisations in Vocal X’s Thursday night set. The first was an improvisation lead by Duncan, who instructed the choir to begin making ‘water sounds’  during Tonelli’s introduction of the set. As soon as he realized we became his impromptu back up singers he handed the stage over to Duncan (she used a technique called “conduction comprised of hand signals to relay different types of instructions to the choir). The improvisation included grunts, a consonant major chord, as a returning theme, and some solos from choir members. I cannot fully retell the beautiful variety of human voices present throughout the set. After this piece, Weirmeir’s kit was used. I was in the group located in the center of the stage. We were given flipbooks and told to use the shape shown by them to influence our sounds. There were two groups on either side using round bits of paper that could be spun using elastics bands and they were instructed to use the spinning shapes as direction along with prompts given by both Tonelli and Duncan. There was also a group of singers situated in the balcony. I understand the audience did not get to read the instructional signs shown to the choir by Tonelli and Duncan; they were statements such as, spin in a circle, hum the highest possible pitch, sing an ‘ee’ vowel on middle C (or what you guess is middle C) etc. Tonelli clearly demonstrated one sign, when he actually dropped his pants (thankfully not his boxers) during the concert. Yes, the sign said ‘drop your pants’.

The last two pieces consisted of a free improvisation conducted by Tonelli followed by a double choir extravaganza conducted by both Tonelli and Duncan. There were several guest members of the choir that night, including one of my fellow graduate student colleagues who performed one of the most haunting and beautiful vocal solos I have ever heard. If you have never made the journey from audience member to performer, I encourage you to visit the next edition of this wonderfully inclusive festival in 2018. The Sound Symposium is truly a place for YOUR voice.

Concert: Mary Jane Lamond, Laurel Macdonald & Philip Strong // LSPU Hall

Concert: Sound Symposium XVIII, July 13, 2016

By Jing Xia

5-soundsymposium2016-89740-lowresI knew, from the very beginning, from the first syllable resonating in the air, from the first image coming into view, that I fell in love with it.

I have watched many voice performances, I buy music videos often and I am quite familiar with digital audio. However, I thought I knew nothing about these four things when I sat in the audience that night: voice, video, electronics, and imagery. Mary Jane Lamond, Laurel Macdonald (voice) as well as Philip Strong (sound mixing) converge them in such a beautiful way, and I can’t find a suitable word to describe how beautiful it was.

Lamond and Macdonald reimagined and reset some traditional Canadian folk songs collected by Helen Creighton. By using electronic sounds and effects, they made songs rich, continuous and intuitive. There were three elements to the performance: the video with electronic sound and the voice with live recording and looping. Lamond’s and Macdonald’s voices were realistic sounds in that room and I could feel it through the vibrating air, parting lips, and even the emotional eyes. The electronic sound track and the video were like something beyond the real. Rigid video often influences the way audiences think, especially during a feeling process of musical performance – in this case the video images gave me a way of exploring and enjoying the music.

Ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino says that there is a liminal flow experience of listening, in which the subjectivities of audience members are suspended. My thoughts suspended when I listened to those voices. The most impressive thing was a catchy song that is still hovering in my mind: When I wake in the morning, I go to my window. I take a look at the place that I know… There were some colorful images: fruits, kaleidoscope, and a petticoat. I thought about my hometown, then my parents, then my childhood. I eyes teared up and I was totally moved. I felt myself in a liminal word and I watched everything from a high position. I enjoyed everything in that world and forgot where I was.

What was the rest of the audience doing when I went into my special world? The gentleman who sat beside me kept closing his eyes after the end of  performances. I stared at him for a while: What was he doing? Did he go into another imaginary world? Dylan Robinson uses the words “feeling reconciliation” to describe the process of resonance between the music and the audience. Brian Massumi notes that “(there is an) invisible glue that holds the world together”. When I sat in the hall, I noticed a contradiction. On the one hand, there were various aspects existing differently in the space and time: singer, sound designer, lighting controller, camera holder, technicians, audience, projector, screen and speakers etc. Each of us has a role and each of our thoughts are distinct throughout the performance. These different aspects complicate space and time. On the other hand, all theses aspects coexist in the limited space and specific time. They share the same sound and space, and spend the same time flow. There were also some junctions crossing the lines of human thoughts. Everything blended with the music and the music dominated the process.

This concert made me think of a beautiful paragraph and I really want to share it with you:

The musical work, which is a myth coded in sounds instead of words, offers an interpretive grid, a matrix of relationships which filters and organizes lived experience, acts as a substitute for it, and provides the comforting illusion that contradictions can be overcome and difficulties resolved.

—Claude Lévi-Strauss, “Structuralism and Myth”

 

Transported to many worlds: The CCRMA GRAIL with Fernando Lopez-Lezcano (live electronics), Chris Chafe (celletto), and John Granzow (3D printers)

Concert: Sound Symposium XVIII: July 12, 2016

By Sara Pun

4-soundsymposium2016-3748-lowresWhere do I begin? I was immediately intrigued by the thought of listening to a performance that incorporated 3D printers, live electronics, and a celletto?! Little did I know about the enormous creative power these artists – Chris Chafe, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano and John Granzow – embodied. They were able to transport the audience from the concert hall to another universe. 3, 2, 1… blast off!

Aliens? Fuzzy furbies?  “Hidden Values” (first movement): electroacoustic composition by Natasha Barret with sound diffusion by Fernando Lopez-Lezcano

We were first introduced to a world of droplets with a complete surround sound effect. The electronic sounds grew faster and slower, louder and quieter, all manipulated with high pitched voices racing in and out of the different speakers on stage as well as in the back of the hall. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined a cartoon like furby (you know, the big glassy eyed, fuzzy thing for kids) bouncing up and down, playful, mysterious, and taunting. The sound furbies multiplied in number and then completely overtook the musical space. They were everywhere, darting in the darkness and into the shadows. Then, the sound furbies disappeared as fast as they came, their vigour and zest morphed into blackness, once again. Where did they go? I was at the edge of my seat, itching for more.

The music machine – John Granzow’s music for 3D Printers

Off we went to another galaxy, where humans play 3D printers with violin bows to make music. Come again? Yes, you heard me right. I watched, mesmerized with John and Fernando creating their art and manipulating the sounds. This time the visual artistry of moving between the machine parts was just as important as the sounds and music itself. John was playing the machine as if it were a cello or violin, exploring its every crevice and expressing its every nuance. Structurally, the music followed a typical classical practice of the first theme on one instrument and the second theme on the other. The first 3D printer continued to buzz in its idiosyncratic voice while John played the second machine as a countermelody. There was also a moment of silence from John, as his part ended and the two machines took over. It was a beautiful performance of human and machine, together and apart, negotiating and waiting. This strange friendship was realized when John took the reed made by the 3D printer and played it on his makeshift instrument. At that moment, they became one.

Introducing the celletto – David Chafe and Fernando Lopez-Lezcano

On this planet, a cello does not exist, but a celletto does. A man appears in jeans and a loose-fitting shirt. He sits down with purpose and intensity. The audience hushes. He prepares his hand position for his first note. With bated breath, his bow makes contact with the strings as he slowly brings his arm across the body of the cello. But the body of the cello is absent. In fact, the celletto is a skeleton of a cello, with the bare essentials of string and a central body made of maple wood. His gorgeous sounds are amplified electronically and intermingle with the live electronic sounds being generated in the moment. These new sounds tickle the ears, sprout the imagination, and tug at the heart strings in astonishing depth. The classical lover in me rediscovers the passion of the cello in an alien context… and I like it.

Overall, the concert was a smashing success of the new and the weird being played and expressed in multiple ways. I was impressed at the technology behind the music paired with the virtuosic artistry of these fine performers. These three exemplify how the human is the ultimate creator and anything can be his or her instrument; it’s all a matter of approach and perspective. Their sounds push the boundaries between human and machine, technology and sound, and instruments and maker. Lastly, music is creative as it is playful, and for those of you at the concert, I leave you with two words in a whisper: Kit Kat.

James O’Callaghan and Objects Interiors: (Re)presenting Space

Concert: Sound Symposium XVIII, July 12, 2016

by Ellen Ringler

2-soundsymposium-2016-43127On Tuesday July 12, 2016 at the LPSU theatre James O’Callaghan shared his work entitled “Objects Interiors: the piano as an acoustic Space” as a part of St. John’s Sound Symposium. O’Callaghan’s work haunts the theatre and defers the traditional repertoire of (re)presentation.  As described by the artist in the programme, “Objects Interiors is the first in the series of extended-acousmatic pieces investigating the acoustic interior properties of musical instruments. This first piece for piano will scrutinize the piano as an acoustic space, and its possible metaphoric associations with ‘real spaces’. It will move from the ‘rational’ world of the piano-as-space to a surreal juxtaposition of outside and unexpected spaces integrated into the acoustic space of the piano.” O’Callaghan placed speakers inside the piano and weighted its pedals in order to allow the strings to resonate freely, and he employed the GRAIL (surround sound speaker array) in order to play his electroacoustic piece. While the audience listened carefully in the darkness, the artist executed his work from behind a laptop. It seems to me as though O’Callaghan employs his music as a series of deferrals, in order to emphasize the social implications of representation.

All representation is misrepresentation in the world of the stage, in that as an audience we recognize and subsequently misrecognize what is presented to us. Because sound is representational the audience will consistently and constantly misrecognize what they are hearing and ultimately what it ‘means’. We will always experience misrepresentation because it is mediated by performance and we will always misrecognize representation because it is mediated by the composer. O’Callaghan’s work seems to invite us to think about (mis)representation and the space that it inhabits. By diffusing an electroacoustic piece of music through speakers inside the piano as well as through the sound system of the theatre (itself a kind of performance of his composition), he invites the audience, sitting in darkness, to defer representations of sounds.

These representations are deferred through the visual of the piano, the sound emanating from the piano, and the sound surrounding the entirety of the theatre space itself. The speakers within the piano help to ‘colour’ the sound, but also invite the audience to ask who/what is represented as well as who/what is absent. When we hear the sound of a piano we may expect to see a musician physically playing the piano on stage – but we do not. Instead the sound emanating from the speakers ‘plays’ the piano by vibrating its strings.  When we hear the sound of this piano and wonder about the potential pianist we may ask ourselves who this (absent) pianist could be. What do they look like? What is their skill level? What is their gender, race, cultural background, ability etc? The representation of or lack of representation of a pianist on stage allows us to question ad infinitum who we may expect to see at the St. John’s eighteenth Sound Symposium. This deferral of representation invites the audience to develop avoid (mis)recognition and challenge expectations through sound metaphor.

O’Callaghan’s ‘Objects Interiors’ is sonically haunting. Perhaps a part of this haunt is its evocation of the mystery of representation. I was left uneasy most likely because my expectations regarding who is represented in any given space were challenged. The deferral of meaning, the sonic bounce from space to space and place to place disavowed any common assumptions I may have about who and what is (re)presented and who or what is misrecognized at the St. John’s Sound Symposium.

Concert: Kay Etchegary; Turkwaz // LSPU Hall

Concert: Sound Symposium, July 11, 2016

By Garry Wasyliw

This blog looks at the second half of the concert on July 11 – for a review of the first half, check out Clinton Ackerman’s blog.3-soundsymposium2016-43379

Kay Etchegary: Songs from Lebanon

Kay is originally from Lebanon, having emigrated to Canada many years ago.  In Lebanon, she learned to sing the folk songs of that country in her first language of Arabic.  At the concert, Kay introduced these songs as being old songs that do not change, like the folk songs of Newfoundland.  They reflect familiar themes such as romance, a plea for people who have left Lebanon to return for a visit, as well as a boy insisting he will stay on the dock until his girlfriend returns from a sea trip.  Musically, these songs display a sense of the pitches from Arabic music and include many soaring ornamentation melodies. I also noticed that they are not based on short repetitions but rather weave out long lines of melody which left me with the impression that I was listening to poetry set to music.  It was interesting to listen to songs in a language I didn’t understand which allowed me to concentrate on the music as pure sound itself.  I appreciated hearing Kay’s voice solo and restrained as it left room to focus on the beautiful inflections of the music as well as the sounds of the Arabic language.  Kay is a modest performer and left me with the feeling of a friend coming over to sing some folk songs from her past.

Turkwaz

Turkwaz is a group of four performers, brought together through their shared study and performance of a large area of music traditions.  They play a combination of original folk song renditions as well as musical interpretations by the group.  We heard songs from Greece, Bulgaria, Syria, Turkey, Bosnia, and Egypt.  All of these musicians are versatile on a number of instruments from these areas and are also very skilled vocal performers within the many styles and languages.  While I do not speak these languages, it was apparent that each song was sung in that of its source and with the appropriate change in vocal inflections and pitches to reflect the specific musical style. Each was introduced by the specific country with a description of the theme of the lyrics.  While there may be some connecting elements between these musical styles, there is actually a wide variety of musical details between them and Turkwaz have a superb ability to create the many specific musical flavors and language inflections required for each.  Of note was the very powerful harmonic blend of acapella voices in the Bulgarian women’s song.  The Greek wedding song was propelled along by energetic drumming and instruments.  Turkwaz have traced some of these songs to different regions and performed a blend of the same Greek and Turkish piece.  The final song of the set was a medley in which the audience created a drone to go with an Albanian wedding party.  This was a very spirited performance with very precise singing, and presented a kaleidoscope of sounds and cultural styles from many regions of the Mediterranean and Middle East.  Turkwaz projected a sense of fun with their music and the audience was very engaged with their show.

 

Concert: Instruments of Happiness; Steve Cowan, James Hurley, James O’Callaghan // LSPU Hall

Sound Symposium July 11, 2016

By Clinton Ackerman

2-soundsymposium-2016-3564The rain is pouring and there is no old man snoring as I walk into the LSPU Hall, the excitement palpable. The reception is packed and there is a line out the door as people wait eagerly to get their tickets, I would later overhear someone mention there were none left, not even for pass holders. As we enter the hall and find our seats our eyes are greeted with a vast array of guitars and amps – blues, oranges, blacks, and sunbursts are a feast for the eyes against the black-box of the stage. The eclectic shapes of each guitar popping out as they lean against, or lie in front, of their respective amp. Each guitar is its own character, and we see the individuality of each player before they even enter the stage. The chatter a constant until the lights go dark and we are thrown into the middle of a sonic world filling the space in full surround sound.

Instruments of Happiness: Les Dentellières (Laceworks), Composed by Joane Hétu

After the usual greeting and introduction an all male cast of 16 guitarists enter the stage with their leader Tim Brady. Everyone is dressed in black from head to toe, but like the individuality of each guitar there is a mix of dress shirts, jeans, t-shirts, slacks, and a bright red fedora to boot. These are individuals, and these individuals will be led together to blend 16 guitars into a singular sonic journey.

The journey Brady takes us on, guided by Hétu’s colourful score, takes us through different soundscapes, but watching Brady’s actions is as much a part of the experience as listening to it. He leads the group and the audience through many different sound worlds from rippling swells, dripping guitars, to churning tones, and gives us playful surprises. At one point while guitars were oozing ad-hock, Brady pointed with a rocker’s devil’s horns at individuals to solo for 1 or 2 seconds, punctuating the grotesque with bursts of sound. The metal visual had a certain irony when laid against the art-music aesthetic of the sound.

At times the 16 guitars were mesmerizing and it was a new experience to hear that many guitars at once. It would be a treat to explore all the textures and sounds that could be created by such an ensemble. And with generous performers like these I imagine it would be quite a good time to pass around the figurative baton and see what everyone comes up with.

James Hurley (piano), Steve Cowan (guitar), James O’Callaghan (sound diffusion): voyages sans direction, sans durée (duartionless, directionless journeys); Shadow Prism; de mythe et croyance (of myth and belief); One Foot in the Past – 4 pieces composed by Jason Noble.

This brings us to the serious portion of the evening. As the guitars got pulled off one by one, all colour was stripped out of our visual sense and replaced with blackness. A black piano was pulled onto center stage (a flat black stage mind you, with black curtains all around too), the black bench tucked under the keys, and a black chair put into its proper place. This is serious music, presented in a serious space, in a serious way. The only colour we are allowed at this point is the colour of sounds, and all seriousness aside, we can trust Jason Noble to gives us colour.

Noble’s first piece, voyages sans direction, sans durée, was performed evocatively by pianist James Hurley. The piece is based on the water cycle. I’m not entirely decided that the sound reflects this idea, but I found myself concerned more with what the relationship was between the piano and the manipulated piano in the speakers. There were moments where they seemed like two independent parts, not really responding to each other, while other times the sounds blended so well it was difficult to tell them apart. Other times, the electronic track was adding texture and depth to the live piano – these moments were super satisfying! This seemingly random relationship didn’t seem to go anywhere, or develop, it was just there, and the piano just kept doing what it was doing. Perhaps this disconnect is the “without direction” part of the title, but when the two parts were in step the piece really shone.

Noble’s second piece, Shadow Prism, for solo guitar, is built on the idea of how a harmonic being pulled out of the sound of a string is like a prism pulling out a colour, while also being like a shadow because all of the other partials must be blocked out. The piece began with just harmonics being played in small groupings (the prism), and in the second section Steve Cowan reversed the process and sounded all of the strings of the guitar first and then dampened them to pull harmonics out (the shadow).  The shape of this piece was reflective of the idea and it was delightful how Noble held back using the distinct open strings until the end. This was one of those rare instances where the sound, the form, and the idea are all in harmony together. Basing the piece all on natural harmonics gave it a consistency, but Noble cleverly had Cowan tune his guitar to an alternate tuning to create a lot of interest in the harmony.

The third piece, for solo piano, was titled de mythe et croyance (of myth and belief). Noble explained to us that this piece was a direct commentary on his belief that there is no distinction between pop music and contemporary music. I must say I’m disappointed there wasn’t even a hint of Beyoncé here – although in the case of this particular half of the concert Justin Bieber would probably be a better fit considering his male whiteness. Noble spoke of how this piece was mathematically composed, which is notable because the piece had a very organic quality. It started at the top of the piano on just the white keys and as Hurley slowly worked his way down tension was added bit by bit to the harmony, until finally ending on the lowest notes of the instrument and resolving the tension that was built up while passing through the middle of the piano. Nothing pop-like about it, but it had a very simple and clear direction, and became a meditation on the timbres of the piano.

Finally we arrive at Noble’s piece for piano, guitar, and electronics, One Foot in the Past. This piece is about the 1916 battle of Beaumont Hamel and its resonance in Newfoundland and Labrador. The piece blends electronic sounds, recordings of interviews with Newfoundlanders who remember the second world war, folk songs, and extended techniques. The piece focuses our attention on the interviews, with the instruments first playing a collage of folk songs. There is a single phrase that provides a framework for the piece, a woman saying, “You can always learn from the past,” and in the later part of the piece the live players enter a more contemporary sound world. Here, Hurley threw a chain onto the strings to great affect, this was startling, jarring, and brought about a fairly intense reaction in me of both anger and fear. The noise-based music here was in stark contrast to the earlier folk collage. There is dialogue between the old and the new happening here and the chain was a part of that. The sound of the chain was intense, especially when dropped, there’s no resolution to this sound, not even from the dainty one used on the higher strings. Perhaps Noble is saying we’re chained to our past or carrying the burden of the war still. Moving on might not be a necessary part of the process, but maybe holding on is. Maybe this aggressive chain is a necessity. We can carry it, remember it, acknowledge it, and continue living by honouring the memory of the soldiers who died at Beaumont Hamel.

After the matching performers and composers, dressed head to toe in black of course, took their respectful bows we came back to a starkly different second half. Garry Wasyliw has written a response to this, which if you haven’t yet, I urge you to read now.