Archive for the ‘(BACK TO TOP)’ Category

Lost in Copenhagen

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Karg-Elert, Caprice #18, Opus 107

Just getting blogging again after wrestling with some nasty technical issues for the past 18 months.. the good news being that most of my urban flute site content was backed up, although it appears some recent posts were lost, including tales of my urban exploring exploits while in Denmark.

On the outskirts of Copenhagen, I had spotted an amazing, abandoned warehouse just off the busy circle road, and finally found a chance to sneak in. The massive interior was fascinating, if rather scary! As I wandered alone once inside, I became captivated by the incredible graffiti adorning the interior walls.. constantly looking over my shoulder, I kept trying to remember what kind of travel insurance I had, in case some of the tag artists dropped by!!

Included in the music I had on hand, I had a copy of Karg-Elert’s 30 Caprices on me. Sigfrid Karg-Elert is one of my all-time fav composers, and once I was warmed up and settled into the space, I decided to brave the rather daunting-looking Caprice #18, the notes of which look pretty black on the page! Despite all the 64th notes, this Adagio really isn’t so bad if you bring out the sustained melodic notes – like a lot of Karg-Elert’s works for flute, this fantastical piece is very well written for the instrument and actually lies so nicely under the fingers.

I fell in love with the spacious acoustic of this desolate warehouse, and the sustained reverberation allowed the ‘vertical’ harmony of the music to bloom and create a decidedly evocative mood, especially accompanied by the waves of highway traffic sounds washing through the space.

Hey, here’s a free download.. scroll down to #18 and you can follow along!

Tom Thomson’s Secret Hideaway

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Well, after Hurricane Sandy rips through, we may very well be looking at some of this white stuff in Ontario, somewhat prematurely mind you!

On a languid weekday afternoon and as in a dream, three of us trucked north of the city to check out an old haunt of one Canada’s most iconic visual artists. Our slushy highway meditation led us here, to this lovely cabin, sequestered on private property and tucked away in a magical, secluded forest,  just beyond the Grip of Toronto.

Purported to be Tom Thomson’s place to party en route to parts north – either Algonquin Park or Owen Sound – to imagine the young Thomson and his compatriots hanging out in these very woods, this wintery interlude was so welcome and truly inspiring.. think Canada’s Group of Seven meets Narnia – although the place was locked up tight, it was like discovering some incredible time portal, akin to C.S. Lewis’ magic wardrobe!

Yeah, my improv here is somewhat, uh, improverished, but bear in mind that I was standing knee-deep in snow and admittedly absorbed in the way that the sounds of my vintage 8-keyed flute was ricocheting off the surrounding tree trunks…

Looking back on it now, I like to think the nuance and gesture of my flute-playing was like ‘sketching with sound’, perhaps even suggesting the movement of Thomson’s paintbrush over canvas or wood panel; apparently, often short on cash, he even resorted to painting on the wooden slats from flour or orange crates that he had salvaged.

Listen for the chickadee part-way through.. this, together with the husky low register of my wooden flute, are the seminal moments of this short recording, at least imhe!

Cold War Acoustics!

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Mussorgsky

Welcome toThe Diefenbunker, a throwback to ’50’s-era Cold War mentality, and where worlds collide!

Certainly not the first giant flute I have played in, and hopefully not the last, the sound of my flute echoed all the way back to the 1950’s! Admittedly a card-carrying member of the Get Smart generation, I was intrigued by this eerie and ominous entrance way to this once top-secret Canadian bunker, discreetly buried beneath farmers’ fields just 30 minutes west of Ottawa on the bucolic outskirts of Carp, Ontario.

The acoustics were captivating, though not nearly as disturbing as the 100,000 square foot underground lair that lay beyond…and for those of you who have been waiting patiently for new material on UFP, here’s a thematic bonus track.

Read more about The Diefenbunker here…definitely not for the faint of heart!

 

Milano Polizia… On the Beat!

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Bach, Allegro

When recording in public spaces, it’s important to keep a wary eye open for friendly cops…out on the beat!

Before finding a morning coffee, I gave this lively Bach Allegro a read-through in the wonderful Galleria shortly before these two helpful Polizia offered me directions to El Duomo. Hey, I was watching out for security and caffeine-deprived, so if my tempo is a little unsteady in places, maybe go easy on me.

First time I’ve been busted for not keeping a steady beat!

La Poesia di Polizia (Poetry Police)

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Poem, Griffes (Introduction)

It was hard to leave the acoustic playground of Milan’s famous Galleria, so after finding a cafe that was open so early – believe me, something at least as strong as a double espresso was badly needed – I set up to record right under the massive central dome.

Bach had sounded great in the space, but I really wanted to see how the opening of the Paul Griffes’ evocative Poem would behave in the crazy acoustics before I carried on to the big cathedral.

Listen at the end, where these friendly polizia suggest Sunday is not the best time to be playing flute…oops, busted by la poesia di polizia, aka the Poetry Police!

NOTE: Check out the octagonal mosaic pattern in the floor, as mentioned in the previous post.

 

Postcard from Switzerland

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Romainmotier, Improv #1

My friends had gone ahead and were sitting in the distant shadows, somewhere down this gently sloping main aisle, a path barely discernible to me as my eyes valiantly tried to adjust to the gloom. It was this central, downward slope that left a lingering impression perhaps even more than the incredible acoustics, as I found its incline pulled me inexorably from the world, drawing me down and away into the depths of time.

Having arrived late in the day as the afternoon light was fading, it turned out we had the place to ourselves, such a remarkable gift to find ourselves alone and undisturbed; after all, we weren’t sure if the 1,500 year old abbey would even be open when we set out by car a couple of hours earlier.

Tucked in a quiet vale of the Swiss countryside north of Lac Leman, Romainmotier is extraordinary in so many ways…and our Time Travel, as we later observed, was about to begin!

Entering the atmospheric abbey space, I was immediately enveloped by darkness, save the oddly comforting glow of the large stained glass window hovering before me and the steadfast presence of a single, unwavering candle in the middle-distance. The high, vaulted ceiling soared far above, to the point of invisibility.

I remained toward the back, deftly assembled my silver flute, and sounded some notes, tentatively at first, exploring the living echoes and history of the cavernous space. Reaching out with the sound of my flute, I awakened the centuries-old mystery of the place. At times I tried closing my eyes as I played; however even with eyes wide open I could see only dim shapes.. such a strange sensation!

Improvising as I peered into the inky depths, I allowed myself to be guided by sound alone like dancing with ones eyes closed as described in the movie Pina. A dialogue gently emerged with the overlapping notes, a conversation with the invisible generations who remained in the dark, pressing in and reverberating all about me, ineffably beyond the grasp of my physical senses.

Mystery and gloom prevailed.

As we drove away into the twilight, we were left in a profoundly contemplative state, long after getting busted by the nun who came to check on the place as we were hanging out, lost in our time travel reveries!

Here’s a quaint, pre-wikipedia link that describes Romainmotier and provides a little more background info.

Classical Music Rave

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Phantom Concert 2

My thanks to those brave souls who attended the second in a series of innovative infiltration concerts. The CBC thankfully was on the scene to capture the extraordinary acoustics and some audience feedback as the daring and rather audacious event unfolded.

This segment, recently aired on CBC’s Radio 2, wonderfully conveys the magic and nuance of hearing fine music performed in unusual, off-limits locations – especially when you consider that audience and performers alike might have been busted by security at any moment!

After-hours on the evening of the full moon, Lucas and I performed several short sets in this purportedly haunted, abandoned ballroom high above the city, and I think there were just enough shadowy figures wandering about the space that this would qualify as a Classical Music Rave!

A special thanks to Andrew for his superb coverage and editing!

More pics and soundfiles to come, so stay tuned…

Demolition Flute

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Craigie-Burn Wood, Trad

Here is another remarkable staggering recording made inside the National Rubber Industries factory as it was meeting its untimely demise last week. I’m glad that I could bear witness to the final days of this dinosaur of a building out in the the west end of Toronto, as described in the previous post.

There are more images and soundfiles, however this is the one that is truly unbelievable, and that I thought I was describing in the A Jurassic Moment (see previous post) where I described the sound of a wall crashing down. If you listened intently to the last soundfile and perhaps were disappointed, I guarantee there will be no mistaking the incredible sonic wall of sound towards the end of this recording.

I would love to score some of my playing that day for solo flute and percussion. For this one I might need the services of five percussionists! The sound of the demolition at NRI was truly symphonic in its scope, diversity and intensity!

Nice pic, eh? I love the primary colours here with the afternoon light angling in. This photo was taken just minutes before I headed up those red stairs to record. Funny to think this is all gone now.

There I go again, risking my life for Art, and all for a rubber flute.

National Rubber Industries, R.I.P.

Recording in a Haunted House

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J.S. Bach, Sarabande

My thanks to everyone at Music By The Lake for a fantastic week of music-making in a beautiful setting – some readers may recognize this view from the second-floor of the Stone House where we had our flute masterclasses and ensemble coaching sessions.

MBTL was a great experience, and the enthusiasm of the flute students a true inspiration!

On the final day, after the campers and their families had packed up and the grassy parking lot had emptied of cars, I bravely returned to the deserted Stone House to record a few pieces in this historic old house on the hill.

This is what the ghost heard!!

Outlaw Flute – The Ballad of Jesse James

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The Ballad of Jesse James

I have no idea why, but at times I feel like a bit of an outlaw flutist!

So you might imagine that I felt right at home playing in the Jesse James Museum while visiting Liberty, Missouri recently – such a renegade, asking if I could play my flute in the restored room that was the setting for the first daylight bank robbery in America, land-sakes, the audacity of it all!

On the lam during a lunch break while conducting music exams at nearby Jewell College, what better piece to play than the Ballad of Jesse James, especially in this evocative and even spooky space with its wood-stove, historic clock and original, creaky floors? Funny thing is that I hadn’t even heard of this piece until earlier in the day.

And perhaps odder still – a classic example of art imitating life – was that Frank and Jesse’s grandfather, a baptist minister, was one of the founders of resplendent Jewell College. How crazy is that?

I’ll put together a slideshow on Phanfare, Jewell is such a beautiful, quintessential American college campus, and I won’t get into how back in the mid-1800’s the college would only accept money from the outlaw brothers’ sister, or how the portrait of the minister that hung for generations on campus was, uh, recently donated to the Jesse James Society!

Back to the museum, it’s a rare example of pre-Civil War architecture, and it’s a good thing I didn’t play all 50 verses of the ballad – I was having such a fun time of it I near lost track of the time and had to saddle up and dash back to the Pillsbury Music Center for my afternoon session of exams!

Such a vigilante, I know, no wonder they gave me trouble at security coming home! And speaking of outlaw artists back here north of the border…

As if the rumors swirling about the infamous graffiti artist Banksy* and his first ever visit to Canada to tag random Toronto laneways wasn’t enough, I’ve heard on good repute that Greg Patillo, aka Mr. Beatbox Flute will be in town this weekend with his ground-breaking trio, Project – definitely worth checking out.

Too bad I’ll be in Denmark, but I’ve put members of my Urban Flute Ensemble on the case to sleuth out any workshops or guerrilla concerts!

Jesse James was said to be as iconic as the legendary Robin Hood, stealing from the rich, etc, and perhaps any art worth its salt also features a redistribution of wealth, at least in a fashion – the wealth that is to be found in the provocative nature of the shared aesthetic experience.

And the more daring and audacious the better, at least in my law books.

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* Get it? Banksy?! -ed.

Postcard from Kansas

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Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Arlen & Harburg

With time on my hands waiting to board a flight back to Toronto from Kansas City MO how could I resist sounding the opening of this classic tune from The Wizard of Oz?

Hey, besides some pretty amazing mosaics in the flooring, they actually have tornado bunkers at the KC International – how cool is that?

Getting through security was another story. As it turns out tornadoes were the least of my concerns – stories to tell, but one rainbow at a time!

Here’s the space at the east end of the terminal where I recorded…

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Taj Mahal, North American-style!

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Paul Horn, Prologue/Inside

No, I didn’t play while sitting in the hot tub here, but it was this view as I listened to the ambient sound of the water in the deserted pool area that inspired me to set up and record a bit while the coast was clear.

At the tail end of a recent conference I had been attending up near the airport, I was determined to get at least one swim in, and finding myself alone in the pool area, I couldn’t resist checking out the acoustics – sitting in back-to-back workshops was all fine and dandy, but I needed to play my flute a bit!

This terrific piece was first performed in the Taj Mahal back in the 60’s, and more about Paul Horn and how he provided the original inspiration for Urban Flute Project in upcoming posts.

Or you can read more here – not the first time I’ve played some of Paul’s music in a pool setting!

You Raise Me Up, GWMC Choir, Guelph

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You Raise Me Up, Rolf Lovland

In a break in my schedule last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Guelph-Wellington Men’s Club Choir up in Guelph – it was a gorgeous day, and it felt great to hit the open road and play hookey for the afternoon. I knew that I was in for a treat, having attended the GWMC Spring Luncheon performance a couple years back, when I actually joined in for a spontaneous rendition of Moe Koffman’s Swingin’ Shepherd Blues, the recording of which is buried somewhere on my hard-drive!

You Raise Me Up, set at least in part to the tune of Danny Boy, was the closing number for their eclectic and delightful program which included the music of Thomas Morley, Harry Belafonte, along with such classics as Elvis Presley’s Jail House Rock and Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade.

Great job guys, and thanks again, Dad!

Subterranean Bloor Street

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Not far from the Glen Road bridge described in the previous couple of posts there is another interesting space, this one relatively public and respectable!

If ever you’ve driven west along Bloor towards the Danforth, you’ve unwittingly passed over this very tunnel, which can be easily accessed steps from the TTC’s Sherbourne Station. This magical tunnel truly links opposite worlds, and has a satisfying and lingering acoustic besides!

Passing through this space from south you leave behind a teeming and vibrant neighbourhood, replete with boarded up Century-homes and rich with ethnic diversity.  As you emerge on the north side there is a stunning footbridge that spans a deep ravine, and, scant seconds away, one is enfolded into the tree-lined streets of Rosedale, one of Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhoods.

Talk about a study in contrasts!

Mystical Satie in Toronto’s Ravines

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Erik Satie, Gnossienne #1

As you listen you may be wondering, but, no, my friend Steven and I did not drag a piano in under the bridge here, though that might have actually been kinda fun!

Sure, the defining element for my Urban Flute Project is offering a visual representation of the actual space you are listening to, but this is one of the rare exceptions, so I hope that you will indulge me – in this case I couldn’t resist putting together this image and music that seemed so perfect for one another!

I still had the music of Satie rattling around in my head as I came from rehearsal and wandered into the hidden Rosedale world as described in the previous post. While I reviewed photos from that afternoon, I realized that by chance this startling graffiti goes very nicely with the exotic mysticism of Satie’s Gnossiennes! I would credit the graffiti-artist, but I didn’t see a tag to identify who it might be…

It was great to be re-united with Satie’s music, the Gnossiennes in particular, penned back in the 1890’s. As much as I enjoy the Gymnopedies contained in the same folio, I find they tend to be over-played. These two sets of pieces are like day and night, with the Gnossiennes so mystical and illuminating, wonderfully wide open for interpretation. Written originally for solo piano, any of these pieces adapt nicely for flute and keyboard, with the flute taking the upper line in the music.

Here is the score so that you can print it off and follow along, or better yet even try it yourself – a kazoo or humming to yourself counts! The challenge for any instrument is to strike up a balance between sustaining the hec out of the melodic line versus conveying the ‘attack and decay’ of the piano original – listen for how some of my long notes have a bell-like tone, strong at the beginning and gradually diminishing to blend in with the syncopated harmonies of the piano, as I try to retain the texture of the music as it was originally intended. And of course, piano can’t employ vibrato, so that must also be handled with a certain discretion.

Satie’s quirky suggestions that he inserts into the score offer another layer of musical ambiguity with directives such as Shining, Questioning and, my favorite, On the Tip of the Tongue for the final phrase!

For more images from this evocative space hidden away under one of Toronto’s Rosedale bridges, check out the slideshow here.

Rosedale Underworld

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Debussy, Syrinx

Inspired by the late afternoon sun and glorious spring weather as I cycled back from rehearsal in Rosedale last weekend, on a whim I revisited this mysterious recording location that I had discovered about a year ago that’s hidden beneath a massive bridge right in the heart of this historic Toronto neighbourhood.

One of several impressive bridges that span the network of ravines in the area, the natural amphitheater created by it is made that much more compelling with the imposing graffiti and a couple of makeshift beds set up discreetly by some of Hogtown’s homeless.

The forlorn, abject solitude of the place seemed well-suited for Debussy’s classic and evocative Syrinx, written in 1913.

Watershed h2o Symposium at Metro Hall

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North American Flute Improv

The Council of Canadians held a symposium on water management down at Metro Hall earlier today, a watershed event where H2O specialists from Hamilton, Toronto and Simcoe County were given a chance to pool their ideas before a rapt audience thirsty for information.

This site may be called Urban Flute project, but without consideration of rural roots, our cities are sunk!

Serious environmental issues were bantered about, underscoring the dire need for establishing a National Policy pertaining to one of Canada’s most precious and embattled resources. Without federal legislation, water tables in Southern Ontario, Manitoba and other regions of Canada could be ruthlessly depleted in any number of provincial cash-grab scenarios.

If you consider that water is fast becoming the oil of our time, your attention to H2O issues are of paramount importance. Outcomes from today’s symposium? Create a veritable tsunami of solidarity demanding that the federal government address this pressing issue.

ideaCity10 in the WTF Building

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Paul Horn, Mumtaz Mahal

I have heard rumours of Moses Znaimer’s ideaCity swirling for some time now, and no surprise since the visionary conference marked its 10th anniversary last spring. Akin to the Creative Places + Spaces conference that I attended and covered as a live media blogger recently, ideaCity10 boasts a lineup of presenters that push the envelope in all aspects of contemporary urban thinking.

Dropping off a CD to the ideaCity offices took me east along Queen Street to a this historic building just near River Street, a property renovated by WTF Group. Heading up to the top floor, I reveled in the airy atrium-like lobby and found myself chomping at the bit to test what surely would be quite lovely acoustics.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Setting my Edirol on record, I discreetly assembled my flute and launched into a composition by one of my fav composers, Paul Horn. Somehow the M’s and Z’s in the title of this work seemed apt given the fact that it was Mr. Znaimer who was the attended recipient of my Urban Flute CD! Talk about serendipity, this creative process has been rife with odd, even humorous coincidence! Case in point, it was just by chance that I had a chance to meet Mr. Znaimer late last year on Staten Island of all places, while we were both attending Gadgetoff09.

Mumtaz Mahal was first performed by Paul Horn as an improvisation, recorded live in the Taj Mahal.

After successfully locating the ideaCity offices and having a pleasant discussion with staff, I was unlocking my bike afterwards when I noticed the signage out front.

Asking someone who was grabbing a cigarette out on the sidewalk what WTF stood for, and we both puzzled over it. It turns out that WTF is a leading group of property owners who specialize in transforming historic buildings in Toronto.

I’m not sure what the letters stand for, but WTF, how perfect is that?