Archive for November, 2008

Oh, What a Beautiful City!

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Oh, What a Beautiful City!

I was asked to provide some flute music as part of a fund-raiser for the GEMS of the Antilles, and here is a run-through of one of the spirituals that I selected for the eclectic program. The concert was amazing, and I’m looking forward to posting some of that wonderful music for you!

This is the view looking out on Lake Ontario from my music studio at the Cawthra Adamson Division of the Royal Conservatory. Not a bad place to teach, any season of the year, but especially in the autumn with the incredible colours…unless you are easily spooked – apparently this is one of the hot-spots of haunted Canadian locations.

It is most definitely haunted, seriously, but in the best possible way…just listen to these warm acoustics, how they lift you up and carry you away, the sound of this traditional spiritual, like a lullaby, dissolving the weight of the world…you almost feel yourself floating away to another universe, where you leave your cares behind…enveloped by the warm voice of the flute, together with this amazing view…forever…

See what I mean??!

Post within a Post

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The Last Post

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Oh, What a Beautiful City

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What a Wonderful World

Later on that November 11th as I came back in to Toronto from teaching in Mississauga, I espied a platoon of horse trucks in the dark near the Exhibition grounds. Seeing that the lights were blazing in the Armory, I figured that there was a special region-wide Remembrance Day ceremony taking place in the massive structure. Your intrepid reporter, I thought that there might be some incredible sound recordings to make. Finding a place to illegally park the car in an adjacent parking lot, imagine my surprise when I peered through the crack of a doorway and discovered the place completely deserted. Later I discovered that the horse trailers had nothing to do with Remembrance Day, but everything to do with the Royal Winter Fair which was in full swing…or in fullcanter, you might say!

The massive wooden doorway that I had approached across the muddy parkingt lot in the darkness of that November evening turned out to have a ‘door-within-a-door’ and, to my even greater surprise, this smaller door opened freely, allowing me to step in. With the utmost respect, I set up to record. A few moments later a few cadets used the same door, opening the whole thing to drive their truck into the space, as you will hear in the first of these three recordings.

This is not the first time I have posted the Last Post, and admittedly it is not my finest, however you, too, can play this using one fingering on the flute (I prefer low D), and then by overblowing to pick out the harmonics, much the way a bugle or trumpet makes use of overtones.

Remembrance Day Duo

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Telemann Duo

Just minutes earlier, 75 patients, family members, staff and admin of Toronto Rehab filled this space for a collective Remembrance Day service. I had been invited by my student, Susan, to join her to play a few duos as part of the ceremony. We spent a couple of lessons finding the most poignant, expressive duos in our repertoire for the event.

In the end, for the most critical piece of the service, we settled on this Duo in d- by Telemann, lingering and conducive for personal reflection. No worries, your computer is likely working fine, it’s just that this recording captures the latter part of the two minutes of silence that preceded our performance…an emotionally charged silence which naturally didn’t place any pressure on us as performers!

This was a special opportunity to contribute music in a meaningful way. What made this performance even more remarkable and memorable is that my student herself is a former patient at Toronto Rehab, and in our audience were some of the remarkable support team that not so long ago helped guide her to recovery after her debilitating stroke.

[NOTE: Simultaneously I have experienced a technological breakthrough as well as a setback with this post. To begin with I found myself wrestling with a soundfile that was just a minute or two too long to upload…typically my files need to be under three minutes, unless I magically figure out how to compress them. Finally, out of desperation – even exasperation – I actually edited my first recording, reluctantly cutting some of the two minutes of silence at the start, as well as as a few seconds of lag time at the end of the raw file. Editing is a first for me, and long overdue. Generally I take the same approach for my soundrecording as I do for my art photos: I choose to work ‘full frame’, and diligently keep manipulation to an absolute minimum…no colour enhancement for photos, and definitely no additional reverb for flute recordings: the natural acoustics are the critical part of Urban Flute Project. In this case I was reticent to tamper with the silence that preceded the duo, since I feel that this offers such a critical aspect of – and contributed to the integrity of – the recording. Triumphant after having successfully shortened the original recording, you can imagine my dismay to hear this robotic AVS voice overlay, especially for such a solemn occasion! I’ll get my techies on the case to get this straightened out asap! Annoying as this inexplicable glitch may be, I find it oddly intriguing, akin to the recording I made in the transit centre while on a layover in Chicago last summer on my way to the flute convention in Albuquerque]

Rubber Flute

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Oh, What a Beautiful City

Breaking away from the other photographers, two of us ended up in this decommissioned Rubber Factory in Toronto’s east end. Especially after the capacious, almost impersonal GE Factory, this space was quiet, welcoming and light-filled. Sam, in the middle-distance, offers some perspective as to the actual size of this interior. Funny, from the parking lot where TLR had first gathered, this building looked unassuming, even low-slung against the rest of the residential skyline. Step through the unlocked door, however (okay, fine, after climbing through the hole in the chain-link fence beside the tracks!) and you enter another world.

The sound was rich and vivid, even crystalline, perfect for this gem of a piece. Oh, What a Beautiful City, a spiritual from a collection of Marian Anderson songs (Schirmer, 1948) that was given to me years ago by a student, is somehow the perfect piece for this nostalgic space.

Geodesic Flute

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Geodesic Improv

Playing Shakuhachi-style on my silver flute, I finally realized my dream of creating geodesic flute-sounds. This isn’t quite as spectacular a structure as Buckminister Fuller’s geodesic dome from the Montreal Expo, but definitely of the same design influence. Attached to the light-filled Rubber Factory from the previous post, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play for even a minute or two in this forgotten space. And this despite the fact that there was a car parked across the street just outside the door with a uniformed driver.

There I go again, risking my life for Art.

“X” Marks the Spot

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Speaking of trains, here is an intriguing close-up recording captured at TLR Camera Cub’s rendezvous spot on the day that we explored several adjacent, spectacular warehouses…the ‘X” of the rail tracks adjacent to the GE Factory Buildings featured in the previous posts. Okay, so there is no flute-playing here, but sometimes I know when to step aside for some spectacular results…besides, I was frozen at this point after two hours of urban exploration, and I still had two buildings to check out and record in!

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a spot where two rail lines cross perpendicularly like this, so I guess there’s a first for everything. I got the impression that ‘firsts’ are standard fare for this group, as TLR dares to go where few artists have gone before. And judging by the feedback that I got from my flute playing, these vigilante photographers had never been serenaded before as they positioned their tripods about massive interior spaces. In otherwise almost religious silence, they moved as solitary figures, arranging the colours and suffused light of the grey afternoon in their ground-lens viewfinders, composing for posterity images of epic decay .

Jackson Pollock in Toronto

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I was invited to play some music at a splashy reception for the Jackson Pollock that rolled into town a couple of weeks ago, the now infamous painting that was purchased for $5 sixteen years ago in sunny California. I had originally approached the Delisle Gallery out in The Beaches and spoke with Amanda, pictured, about the idea of communing musically with the Pollock. She and the staff were so taken with the idea, I ended up spending a wonderful evening on opening night, providing music and having a chance to meet with Teri and her son Joe, who are the custodians for the Pollock while it is on the road.

What to play? That question answered itself in the most unexpected way, as you will read in subsequent posts here. With Pollock’s love of jazz, surely this lingering rendition of Funny Valentine was a good fit.

Security was tight, and good-humoured as well, I might add, as reps for the gallery offered detailed explanations as to why this painting is the real McCoy. Their argument is convincing, and the painting extraordinary, however what will ultimately authenticate the piece will be a confirmed sale for the $50 million asking price, as ironic as that may be.

Silent Tears

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I sight-read Schumann’s Silent Tears from a Marion Anderson collection that I happened to have with me while exploring this old GE Factory in The Junction. With the sad fate of this building in limbo, I thought this was a good selection, although the title was perhaps even more appropriate than I had originally intended – Stille Tranen at a glance alludes to the train that could be heard rumbling past on the adjacent tracks as I recorded!

After all of that explanation, however, the Schumann mysteriously did not upload, so you will just have to imagine Kiri Te Kanawa performing it in this industrial setting! Here is Peter Crisafulli’s arrangement of Greensleeves instead, recorded on my Edirol that same day, again with the evocative accompaniment of a passing train sounding in the background.

Electric Flute

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Alain Weber

For some urban exploration fun, I recently tagged along with TLR, a loose-knit collective of Twin Lens Reflex camera enthusiasts. These shutterbugs go where few photographers dare to go: into the depths of your urban landscape, searching out and celebrating forgotten corners of Toronto and any derelict buildings within a days’ drive.

In the last couple of weeks, there had been some e-mails flying around arranging a train trip to the Muskokas to explore an old, deserted Sanatorium near Bracebridge. This sounded pretty cool, not to mention the prospect of wonderful scenery, but this was nixed at the last minute due to inclement weather.

So when I heard about a plan to meet up and wander around the decommissioned GE Factories at Dupont and Lansdowne – right here in my own neighborhood – my imagination was fired up like a tungsten light bulb!

This is the first of a handful of soundfiles collected that day, a short excerpt of a Lecture Rythmique by Alain Weber, published by Alphonse Leduc, Paris.

Thanks, Sam, for the ‘electric’ photo!

Clean Sweep at Sharon

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Okay, this post makes it a ‘clean sweep’ for my wonderful sonic adventures at the picturesque Sharon Temple. For this soundfile, I set aside my improvs and settled into a lyrical etdude by Gariboldi, accompanied by the sounds of sweeping in the background. As I reviewed this particular recording, I marvelled again at the wonderful, ample acoustic of the room; however I was puzzled as to why my tuning wasn’t more precise and secure.

And then I remembered! I had chosen to play my historic 1920’s Berlin-made Wunderlich flute which I happened to have on hand that day. I figured that this older construction of instrument, akin to the first Boehm Flutes of the 1850’s, was appropriate for the setting (Sharon Temple was built between 1825 and 1831), despite the fact that this older wooden flute can be a bit stubborn when it comes to intonation!

Historic spaces like Sharon Temple are constantly trying to stay attuned to the role and significance that they play in their community. Surprisingly, even Sharon, well north of the hustle and condo-development activity of Toronto, is also feeling the pressure. It sounds like a bit of a sour note to me if townhouses are approved that would encroach on this rare, singular idyll. To learn more, check out Planning to Protect the Temple on their official website.

My enthusiasm about this site extends beyond playful acoustics. The Children of Peace who built the temple played a major role in the shaping of Ontario’s early political landscape, including a number of firsts: the first homeless shelter in the province, as well as the first credit union and Farmers Collective.

Sharon Temple is a National Historic Site in need of grassroots support.  The best way to begin? Head up the 404 and find Leslie Street, north of Newmarket. If you get lost, just ask a passerby: anyone living in the area can tell you the way to Sharon and it’s phenomenal, historic temple!

Apparently musicians would play from the upper level, hidden from view…imagine hauling a ‘cello up that ladder!’

Kaleidoscopic Flute

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Curiosity took me to the centre of Sharon Temple, where I was arrested by this perspective looking up within the interior of the spire. What can be discerned as a yellow bannister defines the second floor gallery which traditionally served as the choir loft for singers and musicians. The idea is simple yet brilliant, allowing the shimmering musical sounds to cascade down from players unseen, as if by magic – akin to playing in a pit orchestra, but from the heavens above, rather than the depths below!

Make no mistake, this is a world premiere of my Improv for Flute & Dustbuster 2 ! Rather than wait for a break in the ambient sounds of the vaccuum, I elected to just play along with the situation as I sounded the ample acoustic of the light-filled space. Personally, I like the juxtaposition of unexpected sounds, similiar to the Trio for Primitive Wooden Flute, Pneumatic Drill & Birdsong, posted a while back.

Urban Flute Project offers you a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds!

kaleidoscope

[Greek kalos, beautiful + eidos, form; see weid- in Indo-European roots + -scope.]
ka·lei’do·scop’ic, ka·lei’do·scop’i·cal adj., ka·lei’do·scop’i·cal·ly adv. *

1817, lit. “observer of beautiful forms,” coined by its inventor, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), from Gk. kalos “beautiful” + eidos “shape” (see -oid) + -scope, on model of telescope, etc. Figurative meaning “constantly changing pattern” is first attested 1819 in Lord Byron, whose publisher had sent him one.**

 

Gem within a Gem

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Here is a wonderful example of spontaneous collaboration!

Sharon Temple was quiet when I visited, with these two staff members prepping the site for a wedding and reception later in the day. While I was delighting in the amazing acoustics and stunning architectural detail, I noticed this organ off in one corner. I’m not sure if I had ever seen – let alone heard – a pump organ before, and how wonderful it would be to record the sounds of it together with some of my flute-playing…

I learned that John, seated, plays organ for events and concerts at Sharon, and, with some gentle arm-twisting, he agreed to take a break from his duties and give a read-through of a piece I happened to have on hand: an excerpt from Handel’s ‘Messiah’. So, after a brief tune-up, we dived in, and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did at the time…listen for the arrhythmic yet steadfast sound of the pumping action which turns this duo into a trio!

If you want to hear superb live music in this unique setting, and marvel at the wonderful, warm acoustic of the space, keep an eye on Sharon’s on-line concert-listings.

Sharon Temple

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Since I started my Urban Flute adventures, I have wanted to check out this local treasure – the famed Sharon Temple - and recently I finally had my chance.

With an invitation to take part in Doors Open Newmarket, I dropped by the historic Sharon Temple just up the road and was blown away by the stunning architecture and ample acoustic, not to mention the warm reception I received! I had seen the building from afar a couple of times, and, to my chagrin, had found the gate to the bucolic grounds securely locked. I did not fully realize what was awaiting: walking through the main 15-foot high doorway, the vast, luminous space gave me goosebumps, and this was not just because of the fall chill in the air! The red and golden maples outside the generous windows cast a warm glow on the otherwise stark interior.

Located just north of Toronto, I highly recommend you take a short drive in the country and seek this place out: Sharon Temple is absolutely incredible!