Archive for November, 2007

Laird Crow, Leaside

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Laird Improv with Crow

Where this remnant of a massive warehouse once stood near Laird Avenue in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto, I discovered the most incredible space to record. A crow greeted me that day, and the recording suggests that it acted as my guide as I sounded a primitive flute in the underground, cavernous lair that lies beneath the surface of the earth at this location.

I returned to record here a second time before the entranceway was bricked over, and this can be heard in the post entitled Werther’s World. On the same site there still remains a separate and equally incredible second warehouse, where I recorded on a couple of occasions, once using a flashlight to light my music!

Right, it suddenly makes sense: Laird Avenue~Underground ‘Lair’!

Kalais, Sigurbjornsson

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Kalais, Sigurbjornsson

I hope you enjoy this evocative excerpt from Kalais, a piece for solo flute by the Icelandic composer Thorkell Sigurbjornsson. I recorded the piece in its entirety on my last day in Iceland on the windswept outskirts of Reykjavik. What appeared to be a deserted golf clubhouse was in fact still open, and with the help of an ‘unseen assistant’ gamely swinging the evocative wind hose – as per the instructions at the end of the piece – I gave the piece a solid read-through. For this excerpt, I have removed the headjoint and am playing the tube of the flute shakuhachi-style.

Appropriate for the piece – Kalais was the son of the North Wind, Borealis – a raw wind was ripping in from the North Atlantic over this exposed spit of land, and gusts of wind fluted in the chimney of the fireplace as we recorded. My thanks to the golf pro who was in his final days of shutting the place down for the season – and there was no green fee for playing a few winter links, after I had warmed up in the shelter of the building pictured above! I think he actually got into helping out with this spontaneous collaboration: a bit of native, musical novelty for him before he packed up work and headed off to Orlando, FLA for a well-deserved holiday! (He was not the only Icelander I met who had chosen this destination spot – kinda makes sense, I guess: Iceland, Florida…Florida, Iceland!)

There is something to be said for understanding the context within which a composition is created, and I have to admit that my appreciation for this piece – which I loved in the first place – is wonderfully enhanced after spending just a few short days in Iceland, not to mention after hitting a golf ball into gale-force winds! Mind you, playing downwind? Simply magical!

A lighthouse could be seen down along the coastline, appearing quite close at hand; in actual fact, it was probably 20-30 minutes away, walking distance. Maybe next time I will arrange to record in that wonderfully romantic spot!?

[Having diligently worked this piece up in my student days, I stand by my performance – but on a technical note, I have found that I run into trouble posting mp3’s over 3-4 minutes in length. This piece clocks in at 7+ minutes, so what I’ve done here is simply put my headphones up to the stereo mics and record just these last few minutes. This might explain the strange lack of fidelity (although the stereo effect should still work fine), and I will post the whole piece, as well as fill in the gaps of this story, once I find a solution for posting Kalais in its entirety.]

Pan on Prairie Patrol!

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Maple Leaf Forever, Muir

There’s pandemonium in Regina this weekend, as Saskatchewan Roughriders fans vividly imagine a possible Grey Cup final! Whether or not you are a football fan, one can only marvel at the tenacious hold that the the CFL has on the Canadian Psyche.

Once the football frenzy settles down, there’s still lots to get excited about in Saskatchewan’s capital city. I posted some Caboose Stories from my visit to Regina last spring, after examining for the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as a few sound files from an incredible Deco Government Building. Yet those adventures were only the tip of the iceberg. A diehard fan of mixed metaphors, the real icing on the cake for me was being invited to play at the brand new RCMP Heritage Centre, designed by Canada’s own Arthur Erikson. It was a privilege and distinct honour to be the first musician to officially play in this incredible structure!

Just days before hitting the road for RCME ‘Prairie Patrol’, as I affectionately call it, I had noticed an article in the Globe & Mail about the RCMP’s multi-million dollar site’s official opening. I was warmly recieved there; however, afterwards I held off posting these files: at the time there was sustained media scrutiny of the RCMP, with a new leader being installed, and what was portrayed as an internal shakedown unfolding within the organization.

In typical Canadian style, the media seems to either love or hate the RCMP, and certainly our Iconic Police Force has had its fair share of news coverage – currently there is a national pall of collective sorrow for officers who have lost their lives while on duty in recent weeks and months. No matter how they are understood by the general public, the RCMP are inextricably linked with Canada’s earliest history and continue to shape our identity as a nation, as this phenomenal museum would attest.

When next in Regina – if not to catch some Grey Cup fever – you owe it to yourself to visit the RCMP Heritage Center: ‘pan’-demonium indeed! (more…)

Elf Sonaten, Reykjavik

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Handel, Elf Sonaten

What repertoire does one pack to play in Iceland?

This question haunted me in the weeks before my recent trip to this remote and fascinating country. In doing a little reading I discovered that ancient mythologies are given great credence in Icelandic culture. This includes a strong belief in Elves, and the day I learned this my eye fell on an edition of Handel’s ‘Elf Sonaten’! This simply translates to ‘Eleven Sonatas’, but I couldn’t ignore the magic in the air before even heading for my connector flight out of Buffalo!

Imagine that, going to Iceland by Buffalo! Okay, bad joke, but perhaps not so ludicrous, as it turns out – my travel companion had worked on the sound production of a film about these two people of Icelandic descent, who travelled from Iceland to Gimley, Manitoba…on Icelandic ponies!! (I’ll try to find that link for you)

No, I didn’t play all ‘Elf Sonaten’, but here are a couple of contrasting movements. You don’t have to go to Iceland to encounter Elf Mythology, as this link on Histori.ca will reveal!

Hallgrimskirkju Improv

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Hallgrimskirkju Improv

A modernistic church, Hallgrimskirkju, dominates Reykjavik’s skyline, and despite its rather austere appearance, the welcome there on my first day in Iceland was warm and hospitable. Long in advance of my departure for Iceland -and besides a vague idea about recording a flute version of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ at Yoko Ono’s rather controversial beacon of light – the possibility of playing flute in this massive, grand structure stirred my imagination.

Iceland Icicle

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Icicle, Aitken

I knew that my flute teacher, Robert Aitken, had recorded in Iceland, although I just read in the Encylopedia of Music in Canada that he had visited almost 25 times by the early 90’s! So it is apt that I had tucked along my copy of Icicle, his playful, descriptive piece written for solo flute.

Having set the recorder some distance away to catch the ambience of Hallgrimskirkju‘s spacious acoustics, some of the subtlety and nuance of the wonderful contemporary effects are lost here, however I’m happy with the overall result. In fact, every time I play this piece, I hear something new in it, and this reading of it certainly is no exception!
It was the only icicle I encountered while visiting Reykjavik, although on a spit of land exposed to the raw North Atlantic, there was snow edging the lip of the bunkers where I played golf on the last day…I felt like an icicle by the time I caught the city bus and headed back to the Hotel Fron!

For a chance to hear Icicle performed live here in Toronto, I encourage you to sit in on some of the Flute Class of the Contemporary Showcase next Thursday, November 22nd. The Contemporary Showcase, an annual event, will be held all through next week out on the Danforth.

Pioneering Flute

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Red River Valley

Along a main drag in Sudbury, I was captivated by these fenced-off, decomissioned grain silos. Almost lost in their shadow, I discovered this diminuitive yet poignant ‘Pioneer Park’ (note the plaque!) that was somehow even more compelling. Red River Valley – admittedly a Manitoba-based song – seemed to capture the spirit of the scene as I recorded outdoors with the busy 4-lane road nearby!

Visionary Flute

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The Lark in the Morning

The BMO Financial Group Institute for Learning is, simply put, an inspiring, visionary place, both in concept and design. Recently I had a chance to play there with a student as part of an annual meeting for histori.ca, however it was a couple of months earlier that I had first  stumbled upon the place – the distinctive, bow-like atrium caught my eye as I cycled south from the IBM Freedom Centre on Steeles.

Frog-Blog!

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Frog Freak-Out!

Forget about the canary in the mine-shaft: the ecological barometer in Ontario Wetlands is the frog population!

From this recording, it might be safe to say all is fine and dandy, but frog-counting is an ongoing service constantly in need of volunteers. Be a good citizen: how many frogs can you count in this recording?

Saint Cecilia Parish, Fenway

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Invention, Alain

Early one Sunday morning, in the heart of Boston, the sight of welcoming, open doors drew me in to a most incredible sanctuary. Welcome to Saint Cecilia Parish! Here is what the Vatican has to say about the Patron Saint of Music as well as the word on the street from the Fenway Community.