Archive for January, 2010

Serenade Under Pottery Road Bridge

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Pottery Road Serenade

Yes, believe it or not, this is a picture I took in downtown Toronto, just up along Bayview Avenue from the fabulous Evergreen transformation of the historic Brick Works site.

With the incessant sound of traffic swirling overhead, I recently recorded in one of my favorite spots in the city, playing my flute under the Pottery Road Bridge down in the Don Valley. Juxtaposed with the gritty, urban graffiti and the cooing of pigeons nesting in the girders, this classic war-time song seemed well suited given the sweet nostalgia of the melody…I guess we could rename this (There’ll Be Pigeons Over) The White Cliffs of Dover!

In this rendition, I pop up and down the octave to best play with the acoustic space that the water, concrete and graffiti afforded me.

To learn more about the revitalization of the Don River, check out Don Watcher.

Here’s the space where I recorded…


…and here’s a detail of the artwork I discovered there beside the Don:


Allmark Automotive

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Melancolique, Laszlo Lajtha

Prepare yourself for a sonic feast here. Not the first time I’ve recorded in an automotive shop, the nuance of extraneous sounds that accompany this exquisite flute solo by Laszlo Lajtha appears almost orchestrated at times, and in this regard is truly mystifying – the layers of sound are even stunning, especially towards the end.

My friend Johanness has learned to put up with my idiosyncrasies and knows the drill, so to speak, as I gamely play at being Grease Monkey* alongside him, taking breaks once in a while to jam out on my flute. So he was happy enough to put up with me giving this fav piece of mine a read-through while he tinkered away, truing my wheels and putting on my winter tires just as the snow began to fly outside.

I hadn’t realized that Lajtha was a close colleague of Bartok and Kodaly – learning alongside you here!

Sure, friends raise an eyebrow querulously when I mention that I drive all the way to Newmarket to get my car serviced, but a mechanic you can heed is a friend indeed…or something like that. You can find Allmark Automotive (905-478-1011) just north of Newmarket on Leslie Street in Queensville – just tell Johanness that Urban Flute sent you.

Oh, and almost forgot to mention – while you’re in the area, be sure to check out the incredible Sharon Temple just down the road. It was back when I was looking for this architectural gem in the summer of ’08  that Johanness and I first chanced to meet.

What can I say, it’s worth the drive to Newmarket!


* And for a little more Jeff Beck, check out My Thing.

Classic Infiltration: Insane Acoustics

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Caprice en Gigue, Bodinus

Talk about your classic urban infiltration, here’s the third of three recordings from the hauntingly deserted Downsview hangars. Once again, my thanks to ArcticLamb for the terrific photos (while my camera is in for repairs) as well as for his camaraderie and shared sense of adventure! While AL snapped away, I set up to record with my flute, all the while keeping a wary eye and ear open for any approaching security.

My gratitude as well for the kind offer of a lift up the Allan Expressway on a cold winter afternoon – if you venture up that way, you can dump your car at the nearby Idomo parking lot, though you don’t actually need a car to get there – there’s a TTC station right across the snowy field from the hangars.

Currently listed as a Grade 8 piece in the RCM Syllabus, this charming work for solo flute by Sebastian Bodinus seemed well-suited for some classic infiltration! Recording it in one take, huddled as I was behind a discarded pile of pink insulation, would bode well for the glorious acoustics of the huge interior space…withe cascading arpeggiated passages reverberating off the high, vaulted ceiling, I wasn’t disappointed!

Toying with the idea of venturing further through the series of massive, interconnected series of hangars and shivering with the cold and adrenaline, we talked it through and quickly agreed: dealing with security or police was one thing, but messing with the military was something yet again. I don’t know, I guess we were undetected as we respectfully tiptoed along the perimeter of this intriguing room, but, call me paranoid, I had the unnerving sensation that some sniper might be training his scopes on me as I played, or that a black-clad members of a SWAT team would suddenly descend from the  overhead skylights- yet again risking my life for Art!?

So we retraced our steps and got the hec out of there, perhaps to return another day.

Note: In reading a bit about Bodinus on good ol’ Wikipedia, there’s both good news and bad. It is quoted that, writing in a late Baroque style, he was a “minor master [who] appears to have written first-rate music.” That’s the good news. The not so good news is that in his latter years he became disoriented and was sent off to an insane asylum.

Insane music for an insane adventure at these historic hangars.

There’ll Be Bluebirds Over…The Hangars of Downsview

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White Cliffs of Dover

Here’s another recording from my recent adventure in the mothballed Downsview Hangars, with a pic courtesy of ArcticLamb. One of my favourite songs, (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover seemed the perfect piece to send discreetly echoing through the massive interior, especially given that this evocative war-song is of the same vintage as the stunning 1940’s architectural space pictured above.

Due in no small part to a public outcry in response the real theat of demolition, the last I heard is that the military – Canada’s Department of Defence owns the abandoned complex – is back at the bargaining table to continue discussions as to how these historic buildings might be saved.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and Built Heritage News for their tireless efforts preserving architectural treasures like this!

Transcendental Flute

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Tower Automotive Improv

There must be a story here…

The Weirdies @ The Horseshoe Tavern

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Bad Chemicals, The Weirdies

Most would agree that, if anything, there is simply too much music going on these days in Toronto, um, if that’s even possible…one practically has to morph oneself to begin to take it all in!

As your tireless roving music journalist, I’m happy to report that there is a great music scene at The ‘Shoe these days – I find myself heading there regularly for a little R&R. Case in point, I dropped by late last year to check out my friend Prince Perry and his Gladtones, and stuck around long enough to hear the next band. So glad that I did!

The Weirdies were insane, a power trio that sounded like Aqua on bad drugs, and a stage presence to boot that consistently displayed a wry, droll sense of humour – what a tight set they delivered! Edgy to be sure, this song was one of my favourites. I hope you dig Bad Chemicals as much as I did.

Asked whether there was a story behind the writing of this song, it turns out that there was no particular epiphany that inspired the penning of it, but what was suggested is that it reflects “a theme of instability that runs through a lot of our songs“. Quote unquote.

Admittedly not every one’s cup of tea, but if you want to catch The Weirdies you can check them out this Saturday, January 16th at the infamous Silver Dollar, located on the west side of Spadina, just next to the homeless shelter north of College Street.

See you Saturday, and don’t forget your ear gear!

Links to follow…

Downer in Downsview?

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Estlandler, Arvo Part

I received a press release on January 3 that these historic hangars up at Downsview, currently owned by the Canadian Military, are about to be ripped down. You can read the details courtesy of Built Heritage News below in Press Release #1.

As if losing the Avro Arrow back in the 50’s wasn’t enough, it has come out of the blue that these hangars are suddenly slated for demolition, going the way of the dodo bird as it were. Located just east of Downsview Park* these classic hangars built in 1944 might very well have housed a few of Arrow prototypes, who knows? Well that is at least before we sold out to the US, the planes were dismantled and Diefenbaker essentially gave away our hard-won, space-age and proudly Canadian technology. Or at least that’s one version of the story, which led to the first prominent brain drain south of the border.

But I digress.

Demolition of these extraordinary, historic buildings has commenced, and this after pitched lobbying from conservancy and heritage groups which include some of the most prominent architects in Canada. Advocates for creative use of this space have been in dialogue with the various players – including the Department of National Defense who own the site – for well over a year, travelling to Ottawa and criss-crossing the continent in discussions which have included exploring the idea of a land-swap with the park and possibly converting these terrific buildings into a public-use aviation museum.

Preservation and public use sounds good by me.

But the end result of all these discussions? The military suddenly broke rank and announced that demolition would begin immediately in the New Year. And this was announced on December 22nd, just before the holidays, a classic move aimed to reduce outside interference. With condos going up right across the street, one can only wonder if it might be some kind of cash-grab.

If these buildings indeed were coming down, I was determined to get up there and record in the space for posterity, and perhaps generate enough public interest that the buildings might yet be saved. Traipsing across some snowy fields with my cohort ArcticLamb, we found the place eerily deserted. However from beyond the barbed wire and chain link fencing, I can confirm that there indeed was demolition equipment on the site.

The place was completely empty, and perhaps there was a work-stoppage in effect – one can only hope! And speaking of the Department of National Defense, I guess I’ll go so far as to suggest that we jumped de-fence to wander in and explore one of these massive hangars!? We didn’t stick around too long – getting escorted off a property by security is one thing, but messing with the military is something again and we didn’t want to push our luck!

There are six conjoined hangars like the one pictured above, replete with a classic control tower at the far south-west corner of the site. Just head to the top of the Allan Expressway if you want to catch a glimpse of the hangars in question. It would simply be a shame to see these historic buildings ripped down.

One of several pieces I recorded that day, crouched down behind a protective bunker of old pink insulation, this flute solo is my version of a musical play on words: written by Arvo Part, this is intended as an ode to the Avro Arrow.

So I hope you enjoy Arvo’s ode to the Avro, recorded in the very hangars where the infamous Arrow perhaps once proudly stood!

NOTE: And good news arrived as I was mid-draft here: as of today, demolition is suspended and they are back at the bargaining table. See Press Release #2 below for more information. Congratulations, Lloyd, and best of luck at the bargaining table.


* The site of SARS-stock (remember that?) and a visit from the late Pope, Downsview Park was inspired by none other than Bruce Mau Design. It might seem that with Mau now based out of Chicago that this might be yet another example of brain drain, but with his strong Canadian roots, I like to think this is not the case!

Press Release #1:

Toronto’s Downsview Hangars Face Immediate Demolition by Department of National Defence
Heritage Canada Press Release

Photo, Paul Oberman

Demolition is scheduled to resume today on the historic Downsview Hangars (Buildings 55 and 58) at former CFB Downsview air base in Toronto, Ontario. Constructed in 1943, these structures were designated as heritage buildings by the federal government in 1992 for the role they played in Canadian aircraft production during the Second World War. The hangars are owned by the Department of National Defence (DND).

There is strong private sector interest in developing these buildings. Mr. Paul Oberman, President and CEO of Woodcliffe Corporation has been working tirelessly to find a solution that could both meet the needs of DND and save the historic Downsview hangars, including a land exchange negotiated with Mr. Tony Genco, CEO of Parc Downsview Park. On December 24, DND offered a short stay of demolition. Now, DND has taken the position that they are not interested in considering any proposals and are not responding to inquiries.

While some demolition has already been done on the hangars, their potential for redevelopment remains intact. DND still has the opportunity to allow the private sector to recycle and adapt these buildings rather than sending them to landfill.

HCF calls on Defence Minister Peter MacKay to delay demolition and allow interested parties to finalize their adaptive reuse and land exchange proposal.

For further information:
Carolyn Quinn, Director of Communications, Cell: 613-797-7206 or Chris Wiebe, Officer, Heritage Policy & Government Relations, Telephone: 613-237-1066 ex 227.

Press Release #2:

Stop the Emails: Demolition Temporarily Halted
Lloyd Alter, ACO President

We are informed by Major A.J. DeBruin that he he has received authorization to stop destructive demolition until Friday morning. He said that “work would continue in the interim but that no materially destructive work would occur until Friday morning”, to allow time for an offer to be presented to National Defence.

High level officers in the Military have specifically asked that we stop “the barrage of emails.”

I want to thank everyone who supported us in this campaign; clearly it got their attention, finally. No guarantees, but it is the best news we have had to date.

Thank you again; clearly when enough people scream loudly enough, the message can get through.

Lloyd Alter
President, Architectural Conservancy of Ontario

Editor’s Note: Congrats Lloyd

Evocative Dialogue for Wind & Flute

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Dialogue for Wind & Flute

Here is an eery dialogue for wind and flute recorded recently during a return visit to Tower Automotive. This majestic building sits abandoned in Toronto’s west end, and is a popular site for urban explorers wanting a unique glimpse of our city’s rich architectural history.

The extreme winter weather gusting through these broken windows created the perfect soundscape for this short improv on my Native American Flute, and, in combination with this almost Dickensian panorama of the Toronto skyline, yielded a most evocative experience.

My playing continued a little longer, but it was so cold that day the frozen batteries in my Edirol died part way through!

The World According to Tower Automotive

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Borisova-Ollas, Elegy

What a way to kick off 2010! I had heard about TLR‘s infamous New Year’s Day photo-expeditions, but this was the first time that I tagged along. Tower Automotive is perhaps easy to miss out on Sterling Road – adjacent to some massive chocolate factories, this century-old automotive factorywas to die for.

Every building that I visit and record in has a distinct character, and The Tower had personality in spades!

Believe it or not Tower Automotive in the the city’s west end was once the tallest free-standing structure in Toronto, even taller than The Royal York Hotel, at least back in 1912! This Mies van der Rohe Louis Sullivan-inspired edifice now sits abandoned in the heart of one of Toronto’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, an area rife with transition.

Having been designated historic, the good news is that this classic building will stand the test of time as it awaits its pending conversion into upscale condos, and this in contrast to other factory buildings that I have visited even in this very section of Toronto, some of which are long gone. I guess that would be the bad news: that we are losing as many buildings as are saved these days here in Toronto, or so it would seem.

So the other bit of good news? That I can afford you a glimpse of this place in its present poignant & derelict state and share this with you, acoustics and all.

This picture, kindly taken by acclaimed architect Dieter Janssen who had joined in on the UE fun that day, was snapped on the uppermost floor just steps from the reverberant concrete stairwell where I had recorded after he and I discovered this massive and graffitied wall-sized map of the world.

The acoustics in the stairwell were tensile in the extreme as I read through this piece by Victoria Borisova-Ollas, an Elegy marked Cantabile, Espressivo that I thought well-suited for this forlorn site-in-transition. Like singing in the shower, this was an extremely live echo-chamber – although if you sense a restrained quality, this was because I was extremely wary as I recorded.

The alarm had been sounded early in our expedition as we moved further into the shadowy depths of the monolith, and the text that came around was “stay away from the windows” so you might very well understand my concern in blasting away on my flute – the last thing I would want is to get us all busted! These urban exploration photographers go about their work almost religiously and in near-silence, so I played Sotto-voce almost whispering into my flute, so as not to catch the attention of the security guards who we spotted prowling around the exterior of the antiquated skyscraper!

The image is kind of fun here in how it captures the global parameters of my project, and, with graffiti veiling the world map, there’s just the right suggestion of insouciance, if that’s the right word. After all, the flute – like music itself – is the most ephemeral of instruments in an ephemeral world!

My thanks to Dieter and everyone at TLR, Ms. Borisova-Ollas for her inspired composition, and Urban Explorers everywhere! Below you will find a couple more pics of Tower Automotive from an after-hours visit that I paid to the same site back in the summer…but, well, that’s a whole other story!



…Tower Automotive is even taller than the CN Tower!!