Archive for May, 2009

Bach Invention

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Hydraulophone Improv

OMG!! Check out this wonderful YouTube of the music of Bach being played on the Mega-Hydraulophone located at Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre! Bach is reputed to have loved hearing his music played on different instruments, so I’m sure he would have been blown away by this! I had absolutely no idea how fantastic this outdoor, stainless steel beauty of an instrument actually is, and I also hadn’t realized that it’s located out front of the Science Centre as opposed to indoors!

Pictured above in this post is a glimpse behind the scenes of where this wondrous new instrument was originally conceived by Torontonian Steve Mann. As mentioned in the previous post their workshop had been kinda turned upside down just hours as they crated up a Hydraulophone that was being sent to Texas.

Without my flute drowning things out, in the recording above you can more properly hear the sound of the ever-present water trickling in the background. Part Charles-Marie Widor, part Olivier Messiaen, I stand by my first little improv on my new favourite instrument, the Aqua-Flute!

Aqua-Flute, My Friend!

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Hatikvah

Yes, that’s Aqua-Flute, not Aqua-Lung, you Jethro Tull fans! This is a tale that I’ve been wanting to get out for some time, especially since reconnecting with Steve Mann, the inventor of the Hydraulophone, or Aqua-flute as I affectionately call it. Not just a unique solo instrument, here you have a chance to discover – as I did – just how wonderful it can sound in ensemble with the flute, when we had a chance to collaborate recently. Playing by ear, this is our spontaneous rendition of Hatikvah, our musical sounds blending as water gurgles soothingly in the background.

As odd as it might sound, I first met Steve in the wading pool area of the University of Toronto’s Athletic Centre, adjacent to their 50-metre pool during one of U of T’s Sunday community swims. Even more strange, perhaps, is that I had somehow already heard of his crazy contraption, which turns pumped water into heavenly music. Part keyboard, part celeste, and all fun, Steve had one of the more portable versions of his instrument set up at one corner of the smaller pool, and the other-worldy melodies and chords drew me like a magnet. And just to keep up the nautical analogies, you might say I was hooked!

So flash forward 12 years or so, and by bumping into one of his business partners at Papa Ceo’s one night and offering up an impromptu didjeridoo lesson (long story!) over pizza and beer, I learned that this new-fangled and wondrous instrument was going to be featured in U of T’s upcoming science fair. And with my Urban Flute Project well under way, what terrific content, and there is even some discussion about putting on some in-house concerts at their storefront down on Dundas Street.

As described in a recent edition of WaterShapes magazine, the instrument in its different shapes and sizes goes by a variety of names, the Nessie being my favourite! Suitable for water parks and indoor settings – perhaps even in a public space like Dundas Square – the ingenious instrument is being welcomed by a growing number of international clients. Judging by the activity at their storefront-cum-laboratory directly across from midships of the newly Frank Gehry-fied Art Gallery of Ontario, business indeed seems to be sailing along at a steady clip. The new AGO admittedly looks like a futuristic, billowing ocean-vessel – no surprise, given the Toronto-born architect’s love-affair with sailboats and music – so it seems appropo that there be water-based musical industry right across the street.

When I had a chance to meet up with Steve and some of the Aqua-Flute team there last week, the space was kind of turned upside down since they had just been scrambling to get a big order out to Texas that afternoon. For a Texas-sized version of the ‘Aqua-flute’, you don’t have to head to the Panhandle – just drop by the Ontario Science Centre where there is an exquisite stainless steel, hands-on version of the FUNtain in a public area that has water being pumped through it 24-7 and where it resides, just begging to be played!

I haven’t been to the Science Centre for over a decade – shame on me – and I can’t believe I haven’t checked out the newly renovated AGO. Now Steve’s Hydraulophone gives me an excuse to kill two birds with one stone, and I can get that albatross of apathy from off my shoulders!

P.S. You don’t necessarily have to trek all the way to the wilds of Don Mills to check out this incredible instrument…word has it that a small orchestra is being assembled to offer up some in-house ‘Aqua-Salon Concerts’ right down on Dundas, between Beverley and McCaul…check back here for details, and I’ll be sure to do a shout-out, should be pretty cool…or wet at the very least!?

P.P.S. Alright, here’s Aqua-Lung for you Ian Anderson fans…what, you thought I’d hold out on you? ; )

Sound Check

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King Eddy Improv

After having slipped into the darkened space, here is the sound of my set-up and a warm-up improv to sound the awe-inspiring resonance of the space. The acoustics were superb, and somehow magically enhanced by the incredible lighting! Thank you to those of you who attended my first-ever ‘Phantom Concert’ in the haunted ballroom of the King Edward Hotel…you know who you are!

King Eddy Sarabande

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Bach, Partita in a-, 3rd Mvt

Here is the evocative slow movement from Bach’s Partita in a-, the splendid and brooding Sarabande. I can think of no better setting for this section of Bach’s work for solo flute than in this empty ballroom, as the full moon hovered in view, its reflected light shimmering in the waters of Lake Ontario just beyond the reach of the Toronto Islands.

Silvery moonlight, quicksilver acoustics…here’s a view looking up at my profile, silhouetted against the city lights splayed across the frescoed ceiling as I played from the shadows of the balcony area overlooking the ballroom.

Phantom Concert

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Bach Partita, 2nd Mvt

After the success of my first ‘Phantom Full Moon Concert’, feel free to drop by the abandoned ballroom atop the King Edward Hotel on June 7th between 10 and 10:30 p.m. More detailed directions to the concert venue and how to infiltrate this hallowed space will follow closer to the date.

Rare Group of Seven Exhibition

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Muir, The Maple Leaf Forever

Admittedly I have been recording in some fairly run-down and decrepit buildings; however a passion burns deep within me for seeking out culturally vibrant, historically significant architectural spaces. The Arts & Letters Club of Toronto on Elm Street, just around the corner from the modern monstrosity that is the new Dundas Square, is just such a location. Be prepared to step back in time, or perhaps even to fall in step, actually, with some of the most engaged, forward thinking individuals in the GTA.

I had been wanting to check this place out for the longest time, and finally had my chance a few weeks ago when I spontaneously learned of a meeting of the Toronto Society of Architects and decided to drop by same day.

I found myself immediately welcomed in to a warm and inviting space, wonderfully old world, yet without a hint of any stuffiness or pretension that one might expect to find in such a storied, nationally significant historic site.

What a treat! This meeting hall bespeaks of an earlier time – it is certainly no stale museum, and there is a welcoming, socially conscious atmosphere that pervades the building upon walking through the front doors. The tradition of keeping lively debate and the arts relevant in Toronto is alive and well at the previous home of some of our most notable creative thinkers, including members of Canada’s Group of Seven.

Currently there is an exquisite exhibition of rare works of the Group of Seven on display in the space pictured above, and what better way to test the acoustics than with this read-through of Canada’s unofficial national anthem?

Oh, and the Arts & Letters Club might very well be splashed across the newspapers tomorrow morning, if the last Auction House Heinze & Company event held here is any indication. Held a couple of times a year the last one had incredible letters penned by an imprisoned Louis Riel on the auction block that sold for way above the opening bid.

Held on Wednesday only of this week, contact Heinze & Co. here to get on their mailing list!

Back in the Slammer!

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Atrium Improv

Well I’ve gotten busted playing my flute in public spaces in the name of Art and fab acoustics, but no, I’m still without a criminal record…so far! The resident ghost is sometimes seen in this lofted central atrium of Toronto’s historic Don Jail, and here is a little ditty to let her know that everything’s okay!

Native Yorkville

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(Untitled Improv, Native Flute)

Happy Victoria Day, Canadian readers! Here’s some North American First Nations’ Flute for you – this cedar flute was brought back by a student from New York City a few years ago, and its voice is subtle yet deceptively powerful. While developers and local Residents Associations squabble over land use and heritage issues in the Yorkville area, like kids fighting over a toy that’s not theirs, the sound of this flute might help keep us honest!

Not so much painting with sound as with the emotion of this empty, desolate space.

Syrinx in Yorkville

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Debussy, Syrinx

Not the first historic building that I’ve explored, deep in the heart of Yorkville.

Compare this rendition of La Flute de Pan (aka Syrinx) with the insane reverb featured in my recording of the same piece played in the underground, abandoned industrial space just off of Laird Avenue – instead of evocative drips of water in the background, the decrepit mechanical room of this historic building across from Heliconian Hall on Hazelton Avenue had an actual river sounding from the shadows.

Somehow perfect for how Pan, concealed in a rocky outcropping, played his flute for nymphs who frolicked at waters’ edge, don’t you think?!

In the Governor’s Chambers

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Ron Korb, Bass Flute Solo

While photographers infiltrated the old Don Jail, taking pictures of the old crapper in solitary over by death row, I discovered this remnant of William Morris-esque wallpaper in the original Governor’s Chambers, adjacent to the cell block on the second floor. Oh, if one could go back in time, even for just a minute, to understand or at least even to get a glimpse of societal norms and the whole urban tone of Muddy York way back when. Resplendent Governor’s Chamber’s, smack-dab in the middle of the crowded jail? Kind of defies ones imagination.

Of course the problem with visiting a haunted, Gothic jail back in time is that your Time-Machine might bail on you just when you need it to get back to present-day. Now that would truly suck!

Not the first and certainly not the last shout-out about the wonderful music of my world-flutist friend Ron Korb!

Jailhouse Bach

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C.P.E Bach, Partita in a-

Here is the atrium proper of the old Don Jail, haunted by a blond woman, as the story goes. The ghost is the mother of two kids who were incarcerated along with she and her husband, as there was a practice of imprisoning entire families if they couldn’t pay certain fees. Perhaps she did some harm to herself…guess I’d kinda despair too, as quaint as this olde gaol might appear now to our modern sensibilities.

I had been wanting to get in here to explore the acoustics and history of the place since I first googled the words ‘urban’ and ‘flute’ a couple of years ago and stumbled upon images of this interior. With a love of puns (the gallows humour of the previous post, Drop-Zone, serving as a classic, if somewhat morbid example), the idea of Jailhouse Bach sprang to mind in those heady, early days of UFP. Last weekend I was finally able to live my dream, as the site was opened to photographers as part of a community outreach initiative to document the site before it is given ye old makeover by Bridgepoint, Inc.

Saw some familiar faces in the line-up, and jokes abounded about ‘wanting to go to jail’…you know: ‘the easy part is getting in’, etc, etc! Truth be told, once in the embrace of the ghost of this gothic, storied building, I didn’t want to leave. Ever.

The acoustics were odd, not what I had imagined. Confined, not expansive. This plaintive slow movement of C.P.E. Bach is appropriately timeless and gutteral, lyrical in turn, opining for a greater freedom that comes in the other movements. Perfect for a haunted jail.

Perfect for some Jailhouse Bach! Looks like Mark Salzman beat me to the punch with this tag, but I swear I thought of it on my own before I discovered his moving tale of playing ‘cello in a jail for juvenile inmates in Los Angeles…hmmm, foreshadowing of The Soloist?

Hey Mark, next time you’re in Toronto for the film festival, have I got a killer gig for the two of us!

Don Jail Drop-Zone

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Gallows Improv

What does one play for the dead?

This is a glimpse of the de-commissioned gallows at Toronto’s abandoned Don Jail, where there was at one time a double-hanging, something I had never even imagined until my guide described the sorry fate of two inmates who met their demise in this very space. The Japanese traditional flute, the Shakuhachi, has a long, mystical history, and is purported to be able to commune with those who have passed.

Welcome to the drop-zone! More stories from the haunted Don Jail coming soon, for the brave-of-heart…

 

Impressionist Graffiti

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Syrinx, Debussy

I’ve had Syrinx on the brain of late, in part having incorporated it into a collaborative Plastique Animee movement session recently at the Royal Conservatory. Long story short, Dalcroze apparently worked with Nijinsky back in the early part of the 20th Century. What can I say, I’m learning as I go – check out this restaging of L’Apres-midi d’un Faune, which offers a broader context for this period when Debussy likely jotted down Syrinx.

Did you know that Syrinx, Debussy‘s famed work for solo flute, was originally named La Flute de Pan? Kind of cool that it was conceived as incidental music for a staged dramatic poem by Gabriel Mourey named, get this, Psyche!

How’s that for a title? Here’s the scene: Pan, concealed in the scenery, plays his flute from a hidden grotto as two nymphs chit-chat downstage. That’s why when Syrinx is now performed as part of a formal recital, it’s legit for the performer to situate him or herself offstage in the wings. Or, as in the case of Louis Fleury (who the piece was written for) to play from behind a screen right on the stage – sounds japonoise, non? I guess this would be a good piece for anyone with stagefright, and maybe a whole recital couldn’t be presented in this manner!

For me? Shy as I am, I recently returned to my fav urban lair, descending into this peaceful, resonant underground space near Laird and Eglinton, off-stage from rough-and-tumble Toronto. Do you think a modern-day Pan would have been a tag artist? Just possibly, and, yeah, here I go again, tagging with sound! Ahh, the sweet sound of Impressionist Graffiti!!

A stand-out experience for me of hearing Syrinx performed live was when Barthold Kuijken last visited Toronto as part of a concert series at Trinty St.Paul’s, home of our beloved Tafelmusik baroque orchestra. In the second half of the program, with an electrical storm brewing outside and setting the mood for the evening, Barthold deigned to perform, yes, from the wings, with the lights dimmed. To hear this acclaimed baroque flutist play Syrinx on silver flute as lightning illuminated the interior of the historic church-space – and the empty stage – in soft flashes and as the rumble of thunder mixed with muted street traffic sounds from beyond the stone walls, well this is iconic material for my own personal concert-going mythology!

Note the piles of snow at the base of the columns, as this was a couple of weeks ago, and my music stand, stage right. I had returned here with a videographer friend to do a shoot. Watch for material on YouTube!

And if you want to rub shoulders with Jeanne Lammon, artistic director of Tafelmusik, just drop by L’Espresso on any Sunday when I’m providing live music between 12 and 2.30 for their brunch…believe you-me, the musicians in the house perked up when we see Jeanne walk in!