Archive for March, 2009

Neon Kokopelli

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Karg-Elert, Caprice #2

Don’t you just want to hug these socks?!

Last chance to view a unique neon installation, One Sided and Small Minded, by my friend Orest Tataryn on display at the Stantec Building at Spadina and Wellington: i.e. ye olde MacGregor sock factory. I was afraid I had missed this installation, but the show has been extended through the week and is definitely worth checking out.

The old MacGregor Sock is one of my fav buildings in the city. Or at least it was, while it was in limbo for years as an outlet store for amazing sock bargoons. I’m not sure what the deal was there, as there seemed to be manufacturing going on in the main space behind the small retail area, but the machines seemed to be sitting idle more often than not. Never one to question the reasons behind good value for socks, especially when they were so unique and beautiful!

MacGregor Socks is to Canada as apple pie is to America – it seems like MacGregor socks have always been around and are part of our national heritage: you know, Voyageurs, beaver pelts, Hudson’s Bay outposts….and MacGregor socks…it all goes, er, hand in hand!

At the time of recording, I felt my playing was super-bad…and, uh, not in a good way; however, as I have stated before here, purists should check their baggage at the door when they arrive at Urban Flute Project! With only a few minutes on the parking meter, and the weather very chilly despite the bright late-March sunshine, I was frozen and short on time. And not to mention badly under-caffeinated!

And in fact, even though my playing might leave something to be desired, and the outdoor acoustic basically sucked, there were some distinctive elements to this soundscape that make it noteworthy: first of all there is the distinctively Toronto sound of a Spadina streetcar at the outset, different in tenor than even other streetcars around the city – maybe something to do with their speed and the broad expanse of the boulevard that Jane Jacobs helped preserve for posterity?

If you listen carefully, the other remarkable element is about halfway through.This is a short Caprice, so as I started in a second time at a quicker tempo, the sound of very fast walking can be heard passing on the sidewalk behind me. I was amazed to observe that, as I played, the footfall was exactly in time with my faster eighth note pulse…I even automatically adjusted my tempo to match what was happening on in the landscape around me…really, what’s with that?!

This kind of synchronicity does not surprise in the least. It is yet another example of the phenomenon that is even evident in the two previous posts: the timing of those walls at coming down at National Rubber Industries creates a natural cadence in the music, and seems oddly aligned to the ebb and flow of the particular pieces that I happened to be playing.

What does one play for a neon installation? Perhaps Give My Regards to Broadway, or some Psychedelica, would be in order, you know, like maybe some Purple Haze? I did a quick Google-search before leaving the house to see if there was some composer who had even a vague neon reference, but instead of sheet music, I came across this unique flute-related Neon Kokopelli!


Eureka! For order info, try the link above…and only $200 USD for a most amazing conversation piece at your next social gathering!

The featured composer here, Karg-Elert, continues to spark synapses for me, 30 years on. He is one of those progressive composers who can still electrify especially the younger player. His obvious background as an organist, as evidenced by the many diverse and quicksilver shifts of character in his Caprices and Sonatas – from ‘Elfin’ one moment to ‘Volcanic’ the next – align him immediately with a modern sensibility…and this almost eighty years since he penned these ‘progressive studies’ for the ‘modern flutist’!

I’m not sure when neon made its first appearance in cities across North America and Europe…oh, wait, here it is: NEON, and check out the dates here, which back up my hunch that Sigfrid Karg-Elert would have borne witness to some of the earliest neon signs during his lifetime, around the same time that he wrote his 30 Caprices for solo flute.

Get yourself down to Front and Spadina, before these lights are dimmed to make way for the next installation…and, hot off the press, here is the link to discount sock-shopping, assuming you might be heading out west on the Queensway. As the saying goes, it’s worth the drive to Acton Etobicoke, that is if you’re into socks!

This is not the last you will hear of my friend Orest…your local, neighbourhood arc-welder fire captain neo-neon artist! And here is what the artiste has to say for himself:

Orest Tataryn
One sided and small minded
installation, 2008
winter solstice – spring equinox

One sided and small minded was a statement made in a mild state of disgust by the architect / artist Kurt Schwitters of Hanover, Germany regarding the use of a limited number of materials to make art. Although he was part of the dada group of artists he was considered a bit too bourgeois for their comfort and thus thrived as a willing outsider.
I was thinking how this building was dedicated to the singular production of socks and how it has transformed into a house that now deals with the production of architecture. And then I was thinking about how I am dedicated and somewhat entrapped by my own artistic expressions, primarily in neon, regardless of what embellishments surround it.
In this sculpture I stabilize and conceal a colour field behind three horizontal, white, sanded acrylic boxes. Over these I shall be suspending an array of antique sock stretchers made out of white neon over which fit patterned socks and stockings.

Orest Tataryn has been a high steel worker, a professional firefighter (captain), a founding member of the collective Skunkworks/Outlaw Neon, and is currently a Light Sculptor interested in tranformation — how light can transform space, create optical illusions, project afterimages, and alter perception.
The Stantec Window is located at Spadina and Wellington.

Produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council. Support of Stantec Architecture and Stantec Consulting is gratefully acknowledged.

The installation One sided and small minded is a public art project of the convenience curatorial collective.

A Jurassic Moment

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The Blue-Eyed Lass, Scottish Trad

Well, last week was March Break here in Ontario, and it seemed like half the city cleared out, sensibly heading someplace warm or maybe hitting the slopes north of the city. Me? Between meeting with students and a few gigs around town, I had just enough going on that I stick around and revel in how much less traffic there was in getting around town. I ended up having some fine adventures in-town, including this Jurassic moment out in The Junction!

I had been tipped off the day before that a couple of the buildings out in The Junction were coming down, including the old, abandoned GE factory and NRI (National Rubber Institute?) where I had tagged along with members of TLR camera club. I had joined them and played flute in the cold while they wandered around taking photos and documenting massive interior spaces.

Dinosaurs of the manufacturing era, I’m glad that these buildings have been documented in sight and sound as they meet their demise: these warehouses each have their own characteristics, personality…and lifespan, it would seem. NRI is like an contemporary version of the slow-moving herbivore like the Brontosaurus, especially when compared to the stealth and deadly accuracy of the T-Rex pictured above. This Trawna-saurus Rex is kinda cute, though, don’t you think?

This image reminds me of that scene in Jurassic Park, you know, where the dinosaur peers eerily into the car of our hapless heroes. The sounds that this dino made were absolutely awe-inspiring, and if you listen carefully, there is one particular moment towards the end where a wall comes down, the cascade of bricks completely engulfing this old Scottish Air.

Where one might imagine the sound of a building being being torn down as ugly or just plain noisy, this recording reveals that the sounds of demolition can be endlessly nuanced and even beautiful in their own way. The flute offers contrast, and adds to the poignancy of the moment where our urban landscape changes dramatically. For the better? For the worse? Depends on who you talk to, of course.

Recorded on a second floor area of NRI as the adjacent section was being torn down, I returned a few days later at dusk, just to check in on my old friend. As I tried to get my bearings in the fading light and clambered over large mounds of bricks and metal, I suddenly realized that the space where this recording was made – that whole section of the building – had vanished.

Where I had stood and played my flute no longer existed.

So, how was your March Break?

Musique Concrete, Guelph

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Bach, Partita in a- (1st mvt)

(Note: This soundfile not sounding clearly – while I continue to resolve this issue, here is a link to the Fibonacci Number. The spiralling and almost vertiginous perspective in this photo seems appropriate for the music of Bach, reminiscent as it is of The Golden Ratio.)

I’m not sure what it might be about me and playing my flute in stairwells, but returning to this concrete matrix of sight and sound in a residence at the south end of the University of Guelph campus was like seeking out some fountain of youth of vibration. It was a deserted, two-storey concrete bunker at the bottom of these stairs that served as an exciting echo-chamber as I puzzled for weeks on end over the intriguing intricacies of the first movement of Bach’s Partita in a- for solo flute as a student at the U of G . As with the stairwell described in that earlier post, it was a richness of acoustic that drew me like a moth to a flame.

In this case I didn’t have hours of solitude on hand, but was anxious to get back to Toronto before daylight faded after having completed a wintry road trip conducting RCM exams in Oakville, London and Kitchener-Waterloo.

So I gave myself one take, slightly under tempo for the first section of this movement, and then picking up the tempo on the repeat. The sound of my flute was amplified magnificently, although the ensuing racket made me a little self-conscious since I hadn’t received clearance from the in-house donmaster.

My powers of concentration were particularly tested halfway through the middle section with the bang of a door and distant voices echoing from far above. As much as I might love an audience, I guess I felt a little wary of having to explain myself in case anyone descended towards me! Set up at the base of the unheated stairwell I was prepared to step aside mid-record…but no-one ever materialized. A mental exercise of shadow-boxing with an unseen and even imaginary audience!

Not the Musique Concrete that you might have been expecting, perhaps, but just try explaining that to the pumpkin that I had seen and photographed from above, smashed at the bottom of this vertical shaft days after Halloween when I was a music student in residence here… hey, concrete is concrete, and let’s just say that the acoustic here is solid!

College Street in Transition

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College Street Improv

I have found the doors to this historic church on College Street, just west of Bathurst a few blocks, unlocked and beckoning several times now. My first visit was an exciting solo, late-night excursion through mysterious corridors and shadowed stairwells into the expansive, awe-inspiring sanctuary – the diffuse streetlights and muffled street-sounds sculpted the silence and darkness that winter’s night in the 4-storey space. I had a good look around that first time, although didn’t have my flute and recorder on me. I did get some evocative night-time photos on my cellphone, but thought I really should get back, not only to capture the beautiful acoustic of this site in transition with some flute-sounds, but to see the massive interior by the light of day!

On the day of my return, the work crew must have been on lunch-break, as oddly no-one was around. Passing discreetly inside (with a copy of my Urban Flute Project  CD on the ready like a protective talisman, you know, if I needed to explain myself!), I then proceeded up some stairs and into the sanctuary. I discovered that yet again I had the place to myself, or at least so it seemed, so I quietly set up and played my South American wooden, primitive flute, reverently sounding the space. In hindsight I guess I shoulda played, like, Ave Maria or something – either the Bach or Gounod arrangement, I’m not particular – but I am nonetheless thrilled at my success with this rather daring, daytime infiltration!

I’ve been meaning to post this material for a couple of months now, and happened to be down along College Street just yesterday. Update: the condo-ization of this gorgeous building is moving right along, with new roofing shingles and fancy copper trim. I’d love to get back in and play some more, but this at least offers you a glimpse! FYI, my CD Urban Flute Project [transforming space with sound] is available at Soundscapes, just near Clinton & College in Little Italy – great store, and a fun place to browse for magazines or music.

Like the previously described Roy Square, and depending on your perspective, this church conversion can perhaps serve as yet another example of Toronto’s ‘fall from grace’. Let’s just say the jury’s out, and we’ll know better in the coming months as condos are retrofitted with their massive stained-glass windows here. The Church just down the street at the corner of College and Bathurst is often touted as a successful conversion; however it happens that – in pre Urban Flute days – I boldly slipped into the original church as it was in mid demolition. And I have to say that despite the clever conversion, nothing, simply nothing, can replace the religious sense of mystery and history that I experienced that day, treading over mounds of broken plasterand lath, stepping around the pews thrown into jumbled angles in the darkened space, the work crews nowhere to be seen. The basement of that other church was even more dimly lit and emotionally poignant. Feeling my way back above ground, I found myself relying on the sense of touch and smell – in the plaster dust I could almost smell the history and sense of community that was being ineffably altered. – J


CD available at soundscapes

I remember reading a while back that College Street is one of the hippest places on the planet! Well I wouldn’t doubt it for a second, although in the 10 intervening years, this hip strip has likely shifted a half-mile to the southwest, if you’re wanted to keep pace with the in set: Dundas West, now that’s where things are really happening…just head south from College and Bathurst, hang a right on Dundas, and voila, hipster Shangrila!

So, in case you weren’t looking, this massive church space at the corner of College and Palmerston is undergoing a massive reno.

Happy 175th, Trawna!

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Happy Birthday, Hogtown!

Well, the festivities apparently continue for the rest of 2009, but March 6th was the official day that Toronto marked its 175th, so happy belated birthday, Hogtown! I had decided to give the camel a miss at Nathan Phillips, and am glad that I did – not that I don’t love seeing a dromedary once in a while, it’s just I had only gone a block or two when I heard some distinctive music on the breeze. (But why a camel I kept wondering – couldn’t city officials find a moose?) Anyways, tossing a quick spelling into a Google search just now, I lucked out: Trawna, slang for Muddy York, is the exact spelling featured in Urban Dictionary.

When travelling outside the country, I often forget myself when explaining where I’m from, and out of habit or sheer laziness will say Trawna and inevitably have to repeat myself with forced diction: Toron-toe, which is then met with nods of understanding, even curiosity and interest. When travelling within the province, however, or especially across the the country, the reaction is usually a distinctive yet polite form of Canadian sympathy! I will often emphasize this slangy vernacular as a way of deliberately introducing good-humoured self-deprication into the conversation. A taxi driver in Winnipeg, for example, will delight in hearing me admit that I’m from ‘big, bad Traw-na’…makes a good ice-breaker while driving across town, say, in -40 C weather, discussing shared urban interests and concerns.

One urban treasure to celebrate here in Toronto is the great wealth and diversity of street musicians, and you definitely know Spring is in the air when you hear bagpipes from a distance in the downtown core. Some readers might remember Curly, a gifted local piper. You can read about him here. Re-introducing myself last Friday, I asked Curly if there was a piece that he thought might be good to play on the occasion of Toronto’s 175th. Turns out it was a bit of a dumb question!

Next time you’re near Queen & Uni, make a point of stopping by to enjoy some great music…and no forgit ta’ pay tha piper!!

Maple Cottage, Leslieville

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Muir, The Maple Leaf Forever

On the occasion of Toronto’s 175th birthday last Friday, I felt like I really ought to mark the day in some kind of special way, and Maple Cottage is very much part of Muddy York’s colourful history. So I finally got around to something I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years now, which was to track down the very maple tree that is reputed to have inspired Alexander Muir to pen Canada’s patriotic anthem, The Maple Leaf Forever. This huge tree can be seen on the right side of the picture above.

Possibly a sucker maple – hard to tell for sure this time of year – this tree is definitely very big and almost as big as the myth surrounding it! If you follow the link below, you will discover that some would think you sucker to believe this quaint piece of local lore. Call me a romantic, but I don’t doubt the authenticity of the story for a moment. And funny how things turn out – just by chance I found myself back in Leslieville only two days later, exploring an abandoned church over on Jones Avenue, almost as if Muir himself was taking me on a guided tour of his old neighbourhood.

At the corner of Memory Lane and Laing Street, just south of Queen out in Leslieville, you can discover Maple Cottage for yourself. Now a vibrant art school, it’s hard to believe that this charming century home was once slated for the wrecking ball.

‘Reel’ Flute @ Dora Keogh!

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Irish, Traditional

For great traditional Irish music, Dora Keogh on a Sunday evening is the place to be, or so I have been led to believe recently.

After getting nailed with a $100 ticket for – apparently – being within 3 metres of a hydrant, I would like to proclaim that I am still very much a believer, and this after just catching the end of a final set! God, I hate the Danforth for their parking ticket stranglehold on law-abiding citizens like myself! (uh, see previous post)

Six more shopping days until St. Patrick’s Day – a week from tomorrow – and I would strongly recommend arriving early if you want to be part of the action at Dora Keogh, just east of Broadview.

Keeping up with the Jones’

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Jade Ferroud

With my music illuminated by the feeble glow of my flashlight in an abandoned church over in the east end on Jones Avenue, there is definitely a story to be told here.

An evocative slideshow on Phanfare, as well as the whole sordid tale, coming soon on Urban Flute…

Rotman Postlude

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While I sort out ongoing technical problems with WordPress, please enjoy this post as a slideshow on Phanfare.

After appearing as a special guest at the Rotman School for a graduate course in Creative Industries, I unwound by playing through a favourite piece…in a favourite location!

‘Agra’ was spontaeously ‘composed’ by Paul Horn in the heavenly acoustics of the Taj Mahal, in the Agra District of India…instead of those glorious acoustics, the ambience is created here with the delightful fountains of the Massey College courtyard.

My sincere thanks to Professor Ajay Agrawal and his class for such a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm about shaping a National Policy for the Arts!

“Agra, a center for learning arts, commerce and religion.” – Wikipedia

(Photo Credit: Thanks, John!)