Archive for April, 2009

Tom’s Place

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Kummer Duo

It was a year ago that I purchased my Armani tux from Tom, along with a couple of choice suits, and it’s hard to believe his annual warehouse sale at the JCC has rolled around again so soon! Playing there today with Max, after testing the acoustics with Tom and his staff yesterday.

Please drop by, the sale runs from today through Saturday…uh, Tom’s prices and amazing selection will definitely suit you!!

Supersonic Flute

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Trio for Flute, Planes and Birdsong

Just running off to play duos with a violinist at L’Espresso for their Sunday Brunch, but wanted to get this crazy recording out there. Camped out overnight on Dixon Road up near Pearson International Airport for a conference last weekend, I got up early to go exploring the abandoned Regal Constellation Hotel, but got totally entranced by the planes that started roaring in starting at 6.30 sharp!

Maybe see you at L’Espresso if you’re in the area, I’m there most weeks. The timing is now 12-2.30pm, and here’s more info, and just follow the first link for directions.


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When planes weren’t roaring past overhead at my OSSTF CBC conference last weekend up on Dixon Road up by the airport, I was exploring my sonic surroundings. Uh, splish-splash indeed! Just taking a bath in some pretty freakin’ phenomenal acoustics!

Yes, later I got my swim in, bien sur! I’ve never done laps before with incoming jets visible through a glass dome above: very cool! Talk about jumbo-sized aquatic fun!?


Seems like Summer is I’Cumin in…and not a moment too soon!!

The Ghost Whisperer

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Silver Flute Improv

Bit of a freaky job,but I figure someone’s got to do it: to commune, through music, with Toronto’s lost souls in historic and purportedly haunted buildings. The King Eddy ballroom is not the only space that is in need of a little ghost-busting, rest assured!

Who you gonna call? The ghost whisperer!

Admittedly this spontaneous improv on my silver flute is a little rough-and-ready, but I think nonetheless it nicely conveys the mysteriousness of this deserted ballroom, especially as explored after hours. Different from the more melodious results that Oliver Schroer achieved so brilliantly in his ‘conversations’ with buildings, this is one of numerous recordings I made one evening last week which suggests a dialogue between instrument together with the resonant reply of the more passive, evocative space.

The flute, as far as it goes, is ideally suited for conversing with the departed, and has a long history in numerous cultures of uniting the living with those who have passed. Some would say that the flute is even ideally suited in this regard, as it links the inner and outer worlds through the player’s breath; the ethereal sound of the flute serves at least on a certain level as a conduit between the conscious with the subconscious.

The flute serves even in traditional North American culture as being the Voice of the Ancestors, as I will explore in another post. My First Nations’ Flute sounded exceptionally beautiful in this amazing place, as you will hear!

Ancient Roslin Castle

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Roslin Castle

I can’t stay away from the King Edward Hotel.

Who knows, it is conceivable that masons who built Toronto’s historic King Eddy Hotel were descendants of the stone masons who had a hand in building the ancient Roslin Castle. It is that old, crumbling edifice in Scotland that is the subject of this evocative, plaintive tune, and, well, simply the saddest tune I had on my person that day a couple of weeks ago.

I mistakenly thought that this massive room was whispering my name, calling me back, but actually I think its the sound of my flute that it likes, and the place just kinda puts up with me as some kind of agent or facilitator of these ethereal, musical results. Like Haydn ascribing his creations to god, I can’t begin to claim full responsibility for the extraordinary sounds once the flute begins…something else kinda takes over. This abandoned ball room -previously described on UFP – has some of the eeriest acoustics in Toronto, and not to mention that it also offers up some of the best lake-views in the city, with sweeping vistas of the docklands and harbour islands!

I had returned with the feeling one has when walking down a familiar street awaiting the return of a long-lost friend, looking at things as if for the first time, yet not sure who or what might be just around the corner. It’s this feeling – a sensation of longing and connectedness – that draws me into intriguing, unusual acoustic spaces. Speaking of Freemasons, the Manitoba or San Francisco Legislative Buildings have pulled me like a magnet into their empty embrace…or perhaps more like a moth to a flame. Maybe it’s actually Roslin Castle that’s beckoning, calling out across time for me to pace those evocative, darkened hallways once again, ancient spaces resonating through the kindred, present-day spirit of this ‘castle’ that is the King Eddy in our downtown core.

It’s definitely haunted, or so they say, although no disembodied workmen this time. Just the disarming sounds of that security guard that I kept hearing, coming up the stairwell shaft behind me as I reading my music leaned up in the dusty window ledge. And then, listening attentively in the silences between pieces, peering intently with all faculties through the blanketing shroud of stillness, the sounds would stop. The guard who never appeared.

Certainly it is oddly quiet up in this place, forgotten as it is, while the city streets teem with life far below. Another time I’ll have to bring along my Loaded Skateboard, you know, for a little levity and just for some light-hearted fun! Nothing like a little skateboard n’ flute to break the spooky spell of the place, and besides, there’s that long service ramp that angles down into the main space from beside the classic balcony: very inviting for a little sk8ing!

Seriously though, a few of us ought to meet here….how cool would that be? Say, for example, around the time of the next full moon later in May – hang on, let me check my Tibetan Nuns Project calendar…hmmm, falls on a Saturday, which could be a little problematic. So why don’t we say Sunday May 10th, latish around 10:30. I’ll post more specific info and directions here closer to the date.

So how does that sound: a short recital for a select audience…besides, who’s afraid of a ghost or two?

Ultimate Flute!

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Fly Me to the Moon, Take 2

Here is a sampling of the acoustics in the cavernous sports bubble that U of T puts up at Varsity Stadium each winter now since they re-built the place a couple of years ago. It’s easy to just kind of wander by Bloor and Devonshire and take this new giant bubble for granted, but if you listen carefully from the outside, you will likely hear the muted sounds of enthusiastic team sports underway, or perhaps tryouts of some description going on in the massive interior.

The other day, after some teaching and a couple of meetings next door at the RCM, I discovered that there was a province-wide Ultimate Frisbee competition going on all weekend. So here is a little Ultimate Frisbee Flute for you! Incidentally, there is a direct connection between sport and music, to be sure: in professional development workshops and clinics, The Inner Game of Tennis is sometimes cited as the foundational, pioneering tome in the understanding of the importance of psychology in both athletics and the performing arts. Zen and the Art of Archery springs to mind as well, and here is a delightful analysis of Herrigel’s classic work that introduced Zen Buddhism to the Western world and explores the spiritual subtleties of performing any physical task, whether it be playing flute or swinging a racquet..but we’re talking Frisbees here, and all-out, do-or-die competition!

In this recording, I love the way the sounds of the four simultaneous Ultimate games being played in the dome intermingle with the sound of the flute, and Fly Me to the Moon seems appropriate, as much for a little comparative study in acoustics (see recent post) as well as it likely is the wish of every Ultimate player when they fling that disc! I keep meaning to try U of T’s early morning driving range that is offered to urban golfers in the ‘hood, but I guess with spring in the air I’ll likely have to wait til next year…this dome will be down within a week or two, and is a classic example of temporary, even transient urban acoustics!

In case you thought Ultimate was just some blip on the radar, here is evidence of its international popularity! As you will read below, musicians perhaps could borrow a page from the Frisbee player’s code of conduct:

“Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate adverse conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, intentional fouling, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the spirit of the game and must be avoided by all players.”

And finally, speaking of domes, assembling this playful post for you reminds me of a classic trilogy, The Tripods, by John Christopher. Specifically his book The City of Gold and Lead features a dramatic escape from a post-apocalyptic, domed city! For any of you science fiction buffs out there who don’t know these books, I won’t tell you any more lest I give away the outcome of the gripping plot!

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

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Avenue Road Soundscape

Happy Easter, y’all! Hope the Easter bunny,er, hare was good to you! Ah, to be in Toronto when Spring is in the air…summer must be just around the corner! Check out this YouTube for a little Krishna Consciousness, circa 1925.

Yes, there is a flute connection, for any of you flute die-hards!

Flute is the oldest musical instrument known to mankind. Everyone is attracted towards the melodious sound of flute, which is Lord Krishna’s favorite instrument. Bamboo flute is the only musical instrument which is most natural and does not contain any mechanical parts. This is the reason the flute is very close to Nature and sounds very melodious when played in an atmosphere surrounded by Nature. Flute has been mentioned in the Puranas which were written thousands of years ago.

Flute along with Mouth Organ is one of very few instruments which are portable. You can carry a short flute in your pocket and can carry it anywhere with ease unlike most other instruments which are very bulky. Flute sounds best when played in the atmosphere surrounded by nature. For example, if you take a short flute to mountains or a thick forest and then play, the echo of the sound bouncing back either from the leaves of the trees or from the mountains is simply very delightful. Every flute player in such circumstances receives a celestial experience. Nature actually talks back to you. Flute being the most natural instrument goes very well with the nature. Even while playing flute you can see that birds start chirping and try to talk to you through their singing. Although it sounds very melodious, the flute player of course cannot comprehend as to what the birds are trying to communicate.
Once, Lord Krishna asked his devotees what they would like to become in his hands. Some said the lotus, some the conch, some the chakra and so on, but no one mentioned the flute. Krishna advised them to become his flute. In his discourse to his devotees, he said that in the human personality structure, as in the flute, there are 8 main spots: The five organs of perception, mind, intellect, and ego. If you get rid of your ego and become like a hollow reed flute, then the Lord will come to you, pick you up, put his lips and breathe through you and out of the hollowness of your heart, the captivating melody will emerge for all creations to enjoy. But if you will continue your attitude of dislike, hatred and jealousy, the Lord will distance himself from you, since you will be useless for his purpose.
Among all Hindu Gods, Lord Krishna is very close to common folks. He was always called as “Natkhat” (roughly translated Mischievious in English) since he played pranks during his childhood with his friends Gwaalas and also with his God-Mother Yashoda and later in youth, he played pranks with Gopikas.
(Above photo is taken from

Musica Universalis

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Fly Me to the Moon

Yes, I actually took this pic through one of the University of Toronto’s powerful, 1950’s-era telescopes after providing some space-themed flute pieces at the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics most recent open house last Thursday evening. The telescopes are housed in classic, twinned observatory domes perched atop the McLennan Physical Laboratories Building (60 St. George Street, two blocks east of Spadina, just north of College), and these monthly public tours are increasingly a big hit for casual space-enthusiasts like myself.

Urban light pollution has increased since these intriguing downtown telescopes were installed; however on a clear night the viewing of heavenly bodies can be spectacular, as you can see here! In addition to the monthly open house – held on the first Thursday evening of each month throughout the year – there’s a handful of other free special events that are open to the public. During Earth Hour, for example, the telescopes were made available to the public to take advantage of the lights being dimmed across the GTA. Unfortunately the skies were overcast that evening, but that didn’t stop dozens of people to drop by and mill around the open-air balcony, enjoying the night-time air and extraordinary views of the city from this unique 17th storey vantage-point.

It wasn’t so long ago that there were a scant 20-30 people showing up for these free public tours, but recently its practically standing room only in the large lecture hall, with audiences of close to 200 showing up! Word is clearly getting out about this wonderful community service offered by U of T, and it’s wonderful to see young families as well as school and scout groups in the mix…and I don’t think it’s just the free Timbits that are up for grabs after the lecture!

The lectures that precede access to the telescopes are consistently engaging and informative, even for amateur astronomists like myself. In collaborating with Bryce and his friendly team of graduate students who volunteer happily to coordinate the proceedings, my contribution is to provide background music in the wonderfully resonant hallway outside the domed observatories. After the 50-minute presentation and slideshow, as you come up the stairs from the elevators or wait your turn to peer through one of four telescopes, you might very well hear selections from David Bowie’s Space Oddity, or the majestic theme of Jupiter from Holst’s The Planets.

Music and the heavens may seem like an odd juxtaposition, but they are actually closely linked in history. Ancient GreekIndian, and Middle-Eastern scholars explored profound, even mystical connections between music and the movements of the planets and stars…you know, the Music of the Spheres, or, as it was originally called Musica Universalis.

Hope to see you on May 7th for the next Thursday night viewing, or perhaps even on Saturday, May 2nd for a special evening that will pay tribute to the fact that this is International Year of Astronomy. Check out the schedule of free public tours presented by U of T’s Astrophysics and Astronomy Department here, and just check these directions if you, too, want to fly to the moon!

Call me Ishmael.

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Newfoundland, Traditional

I had been wanting to get into this space for some time now, and finally befriended the trio of workers who seemed quite agreeable about me taking a few snaps ‘for the local paper’ and playing my flute as, uh, part of my research! I knew exactly which piece that I wanted to play in this future Starbucks cafe. There’s about a 45 second delay at the start of this recording as I take a few snaps and assemble my flute, but eventually Jack Was Every Inch A Sailor arrives! The construction crew can be heard before and after, but seemed to offer me a respectful silence while I was playing…thanks guys!

Once I get playing here, check out the roomy acoustics, which are expansive and spacious, especially before the ubiquitous barristahs and gleaming coffee-makers are installed…nothing like a raw space to play in! Originally this was the site of a thriving, family-run drycleaners; however, after sitting idle and empty for many months, locals are now counting down the days til they can walk up the block for their short brevi latte!

So why this rollicking sea shanty in this space, you might wonder? The Starbucks icon may be emblazoned just a little more deeply in your subconscious than you might have realized. “Call me Ishmael” might serve as a clue! To spell it out for you, Starbuck is indeed one of the supporting cast that helps make Moby Dick complete as a literary behemoth.

Starbuck was an important Quaker family name on Nantucket Island, and there were several actual whalemen of this period named “Starbuck,” as evidenced by the name of Starbuck Island in the South Pacific whaling grounds. The multinational coffee chain Starbucks was named after Starbuck, not for any affinity for coffee but after the name Pequod was rejected by one of the co-founders. (-Wikipedia)

For further reading, check out this one page synopsis that sheds new light on the Melville classic…In Ed Friedlander’s words, Starbuck, the pacifist Quaker “…sees the white whale only as a natural animal, without malice or supernatural power. Unlike the modern horror thriller, the reader must decide for himself whether Ahab or Starbuck is right. Melville has given us what has made Stephen King so popular — only he did it even better.

Speaking of things to do with the east coast, happy 60th, Newfoundland! Literally the day after recording Jack Was Every Inch A Sailor in this latest Starbucks to pop up along Dupont Street in Seaton Village, I read the good news about Newfoundland’s big anniversary. Even though the vote was a squeaker – 52% to join the Dominion of Canada back in 1949 – we love you tons, and you will always be Canada’s rock! Hey, I’ve been to Saint John’s a couple of times now, so I know of what I speak!

Starbucks continues to be very supportive of my photographic artwork, and in fact an exhibition of my work can be viewed at the Yorkdale Mall, just up the escalator in Chapters. Actually, I should stop in and check in on the show as it’s been up for a while and might be due for one serious dusting!! Thanks Starbucks, with or without an apostrophe!

Speaking of terrifying whales, Twitter fans are advised not to follow Twouble with Twitter…Tweet, or whatever his name is, the giant white whale, makes a cameo appearance towards the end. And if you need just a little more leisure reading, here is the Wikipedia link for Moby Dick.