By Katie Thompson
I’ll preface by saying that I’m not a musician. I pride myself on knowing how to play the Star Wars theme song on the piano as a party trick, but that is pretty much the extent. I’ll also admit that I knew very little of the Sound Symposium until recently, even though they are their nineteenth year.
While not familiar with creating music, I am however deeply familiar with sound. I focused on radio documentaries in my Journalism undergrad at King’s College. While pulling news clips and interviews bites together in Adobe Audition, I never thought I was making anything to close to music. However tonight’s concert made me reconsider, just a little.
There were four acts on tonight and were introduced by the incredibly jubilant Mack Furlong, who makes a surprise cameo later on in the show. The first piece, Kits Beach (1989) by Hildegard Westerkamp, required no visuals. The lights dimmed and a woman’s voice came through loud but soft. Based on its moniker, Kits Beach captures the sounds of Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach in the ’80s. By mixing real sound with artificial sound, Westerkamp makes you question reality without the use of visuals. I closed my eyes too late, about halfway through, but as soon as I did, my surroundings were completely eclipsed by Kitsilano Beach. In such a short span of time, Westerkamp proves that sound is universal, all encompassing, and never static.
Terri Hron’s Nesting (Work, Dream & Build), incorporated visuals in the form of both video and performance. Hron moved decisively along with her soundscape, picking up carefully placed recorders. Sometimes she would play soft and sweetly, other times loud and with intention. In the background, a video played of Hron using a wood chipper, reminding us that sound can be invasive and uncomfortable.
Musicians Jennifer Thiessen (viola d’amore) and Ida Toninato (baritone saxophone) came on stage to perform from their album, The Space Between Us. Thiessen and Toninato describe their music as an ‘ongoing conversation in sound,’ and like most conversations, they have their peaks and valleys. The duo created so much space with their sound it was impossible to ignore them. They were intentional, loud and unforgiving, and it made me swell with pride.
The last act of the night was a 5-piece ensemble entitled >-noice-<, which is a really good band name. The band quickly set up, bringing out a cello and a drum kit, which seemed innocent enough. Then out came a dystopian collection of tubes and wood I dubbed ‘Ugly Stick 5000’ and a variety of other instruments I can’t name. Although chaotic, the group played in sort of a harmonious unison of sound. >-noice-< isn’t fearful of noise, they embrace noise in all its forms with some serious experimentation. If there are rules in music, >-noice-< certainly doesn’t care to follow them.
A commonly used phrase in audio storytelling is that sound engages the theatre of the mind. Last night’s collection of sound, noise and everything in between made me nostalgic for my days in the King’s radio room, editing clips and mixing audio. I was reminded of the power of sound, how when I close my eyes I could be transported by sound, be uncomfortable with sound or reminiscent for it. I’ll think about sound a little differently after this experience, but will I start calling myself a musician? Unlikely.
Katie Thompson is a former journalist, current comedian and (hopefully!) future filmmaker. She currently works as the Communications Coordinator for the 29th St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival.