Archive for June, 2009

After Hours OCAD!

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Black is the Colour…

I finally had a chance to test the acoustics beneath the massive ‘floating box’ of Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design despite it being after hours…

With the area deserted, and just an occasional passerby in the distance, I felt a little exposed as I set up to record; however the soothing strains of Black is the Colour (of my True Love’s Hair) helped put me at ease. I wanted to pick something that might not disturb the residents at the nearby Village by the Grange! I discovered afterwards that I had set my recording levels on the low side, although the resulting muted quality of my flute blending with the gentle hum of the Toronto night has a pleasing effect.

I remember the day that I got caught in traffic headed northbound on McCaul Street as a ridiculously over-sized flatbed truck with its load of what looked like giant toothpicks maneuvered in the narrow street just down from the AGO. Those ‘toothpicks’ of course ended up being the whimsical support columns for OCAD’s wonderfully audacious, architectural makeover!

It was some time later that I first caught a glimpse of the ‘new’ OCAD at night, and what a splendid sight! And the sheltered area under the massive, checkered box is an inviting parkette if you haven’t taken time to wander into that delightful little green-space. As mentioned, I have long wondered what the acoustic might be like, so I finally had my chance at the stroke of midnight as I cycled back from a spontaneous visit to the Horseshoe Tavern last week. Just as I had imagined, the acoustics were quite lively – almost like an ‘indoor’ reverb – yet expansive somehow, and elusive, with the city’s ambient street sounds gently spilling in.

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One of those shadowy passersby turned out to be quite generous! Seeing me fiddling with the time-release of my NIKON D-60, Mike Soares and his friend wandered over and obliged me with this portrait snap of me mock-playing in the shadow of OCAD’s underbelly…what is it they say about Torontonians being friendly?

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…case in point! Thanks Mike!

Telekinesis

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Telekinesis

As mentioned in a previous post, I stumbled upon musicians warming up for some west coast band at the Horseshoe the other night as I made my way back from R. Murray Schafer’s Children’s Crusade opera. Oh, that’s kinda appropriate, don’t cha think: a band called An Horse at the Horseshoe?! The sign out front of the ‘Shoe announced some main act Telekinesis. The name sounded kinda familiar, but maybe I was mixing them up with some band called Television?

All I know is that I just needed a beer after all that traipsing around for two hours in an abandoned warehouse over in Liberty Village following the action of Schafer’s Chosen One (what a geat voice this young boy and all his fellow-choristers from the CCOC displayed) as he visited, amongst the numerous elaborate sets, a Hades-inspired version of a strip club. And not to spoil it for you if this singular opera gets re-staged in the near future, I got particularly bummed out when all those kids he was leading with a kind of Messianic innocence – and who were simply trying to save the world with a plaintive message of Love  – drowned as they attempted to cross the darkened, angry seas to Jerusalem…

Well, you can see why I needed that beer, along with the purifying blast and good humour of this band Telekinesis! Hey, any band that heralds from Seattle is good in my books, so this was the icing on the cake after Schafer’s exquisite and requisite dose of Canadian content, courtesy of Soundstreams and Toronto’s Luminato Festival!!

Sanctuary of Sound

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Evans, Thoronet

With so many incredible church spaces in Toronto, there was only one place I could think of that would really work for this wonderfully meditative and reflective piece, and last Friday I had my chance…

Venturing into this hidden, abandoned site up in Toronto’s Overlea neighbourhood, I figured that the chances of running into some graffiti artists late in the day on a sunny Friday afternoon were slim. Not a soul in sight as it turned out, though as I set up to play I wondered who might be lurking behind these columns. There’s something exhilarating about venturing solo into a place like this, though I wouldn’t have said no to some company – we likely would have had a good laugh together. And besides, the muted rattle and hiss of aerosol cans being shaken and put to use in the background might’ve sounded kinda cool as I tagged the space with sound. Perhaps on a return visit!

Together with a colleague, I’m currently in the midst of compiling an exciting – yes, exciting* – new RCM Examinations Flute Syllabus, and one of the essential works that we have included is Thoronet for solo flute by Robert Evans (1933-2005). Subtitled Hommage aux cloistres et l’eglise de l’abbaye du Thoronet, the performance instructions suggest seeking out an abbey church or similarly resonant building.

Not quite the original Le Thoronet Abbey as referred to in the title** this underground space off of Laird Avenue offers up some of the liveliest acoustics in the city. Here’s a glimpse of the interior that offered inspiration  for the writing of Thoronet:

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In describing this remarkable recording adventure to someone, I learned that the area off of Laird Avenue just south of the big box stores that have mushroomed up in the past couple of years, is sometimes called ‘The Golden Mile’. Sounded vaguely familiar. If indeed that is the case, surely this must refer to these glorious, shimmering acoustics, and how the sound goes on for miles? If you listen carefully and think about it for a moment, the sound of my flute criss-crossing the space sustains for close to 10 seconds, bouncing off the painted pillars and graffitied walls, so each note probably travels for at least a mile if not more…

Evans’ performance directions are revealing:

Composed in St. Maxime, 1971: Thoronet is intended for performance in an abbey church, but any particularly resonant church or other similar building will provide the desired contrapuntal overlay and dovetailing of phrases. The breath marks indicate pauses of varying lengths (to be decided by the performer) to allow time for the accumulating echoes to decay before the next phrase begins, slightly overlapping.

* Exciting is the word for the new syllabus: just you wait and see! The launch date for August, 2010 at the NFA Flute Convention in Anaheim. This breakaway syllabus will feature all grades, as well as comprehensive compilations of graded studies, repertoire and excerpts. (Evans’ Thoronet is currently listed as a grade 7 list C (solo) piece.)

** To record in this actual abbey? I can only wish!! Anyone have some spare Air Miles kicking around that might get me to Paris and environs?

My heartfelt thanks en avance to The Estate of Robert Evans.

High-Rise Jam Session!

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High-Rise Recital

Biking across town to catch the penultimate performance of Schafer’s The Children’s Crusade, I didn’t have much time to spare. I had hardly gone two blocks, however, when I heard what I thought to be some kind of noisy, musical protest at the Chinese Embassy on St. George Street, which struck me as odd given that the ever-present Felun-Gong gang is usually notably subdued.

Glancing south, I saw no one at the embassy, just the usual RCMP cruiser and a driver attempting to parallel park. So, slowing slightly as I rolled through the 4-way stop, I realized that the music was coming somewhere from way above me, like maybe from the 12th floor of that nearby high-rise!?

Instead of a trick of the light, this turned out to be an illusion of acoustics! What with the way the sound was reflecting and ricochetting off adjacent buildings, I was certain there must have been close to twenty people singing or something – it turned out to be just these two guys jamming away from their balcony, to the delight of passersby like myself in the street below!

And as if by cue as I doubled back – retrieving my handy Edirol from my satchel and firing it up while dismounting from Brodie all in one deft movement – one of the musicians started into this freakin’ fantastic flute solo!

And, yes, I made it to R. Murray Schafer‘s warehouse opera over in Liberty Village just in the nick of time!