Prepare your ears! Morgan Murray will be blogging about the Sound Symposium XV for The Scope from July 2-12.
I’m going to be completely honest with you. I didn’t know what the Sound Symposium was, or that it was for that matter, until a week or so ago. This is only my second proper summer in St. John’s, so I missed the last Sound Symposium in 2008 by a few months (If there are any more biennial festivals here that are this good, can someone please tell me?) Nevertheless, I know all about it now.
Correction, I know of it now. I wouldn’t say I know all about it. I still haven’t quite figured it out, but I don’t think you are supposed to. Case in point: the opening night show at the LSPU Hall.
It began with “Cross-Current” a video/sound piece by Reinhard Reizenstein, Gayle Young and Delf Hohmann (this piece was a last-minute replacement for dancer Louise Moyes who had fallen ill). It was video of a flowing stream by Reizenstein, a visual installation artist, accompanied by Young playing some crazy nine-stringed monochord (nine-strings on nine separate pieces of pipe) that, the program tells me, was “being played here for the second time,” and “is still looking for a decent name,” and Hohmann playing banjo stand-up with a bow, like it were a cello. To top it off both the still-looking-for-a-decent-name-achord and the banjo were tuned in the Bohlen-Pierce scale. I told you I was going to be completely honest with you, so I will be, I don’t know who or what a Bohlen-Pierce scale is. I also am not completely sure what it was I saw and heard either. The stand-up banjo was enough of a jolt to my hillbilly roots (you pick it, not play it!), let alone the still-looking-for-a-decent-name-achord being played for only the second time ever, all in Bohlen-Pierce scale (whatever that is), that the piece ended before my poor ears and limited musical vocabulary could catch up.
Mind you, if we were waiting for that, it would still be have to be going on, and I doubt there is that much music written for the still-looking-for-a-decent-name-achord.
Then came the one-man electro-funk FM radio band, Radio Wonderland . Which, in the words of Joshua Fried, the man behind the magic, “turns commercial radio into recombinant funk […] using a real steering wheel, old shoes and some gizmos. […] Radio Wonderland interrogates the media so you can feel the truth: that deep in the crass sexuality of commercial pop is a frequency we can really move to.”
Why would anyone do this, you may ask? Because, he answers, “we’ve got to get down.”
Yes, you read that correctly, the guy takes live FM radio playing on a real live boom box (last night it was a smattering of French talk radio, classic rock, some blues rock, and a commercial for a Honda Civic) and using a steering wheel, a couple of pairs of old shoes and some gizmos (by gizmos he means a laptop and some shiny mystery box, and the steering wheel and the shoes are all wired up and on stands, and well… take a look at the picture) remixes it into funky dance music. The idea of it alone should be enough to make you want to get down, but it is as incredible in action as it seems on paper.
In the spirit of being completely honest with you, you should also know I am not really a fan of dance music, because I am not really a fan of dancing. I know, I know, that makes me a horribly lame person. My mom told me that if I wanted to ever find a woman I’d have to learn to dance, but I’d squirm away from any potential family wedding dance and go play in the dirt, and when it came time to learn to two-step and country line dance in my hillbilly elementary school gym class there weren’t enough girls in the class so I had to dance with my friend Cory, turning me completely off dancing entirely. In spite of these emotional scares, I did manage to find a wonderful woman without having to woo her with dance moves at all (I think it was the beard I was sporting at the time.) Take that mom!
Besides all of this, I have the grace and style of a baby moose sinking into quicksand. But as Radio Wonderland turned French talk radio into a funkadelic dance party, my toes started tapping and I couldn’t stop. The only downside was we were sitting in the comfy theatre seats of the LSPU Hall. Radio Wonderland needs a dance floor. He may have even got a creaky rusty barn door dancer like me out there, who knows. I overheard on my way out of the hall that Radio Wonderland may be performing again on the 9th. I know not where or when, but when I do, you will too, because we should all go, because “we’ve got to get down!”
After an intermission spent asking strangers in the lobby “wasn’t that awesome?” the Maryem Tollar Ensemble took the stage, along with belly-dancer Roula Said. Following a guy remixing talk radio into awesome dance music is tough, but Maryem and her group did an admirable job, with their eclectic mix of stellar Egyptian-Arabic-Canadian folk music, highlighted by a several-minute long song to which Roula spun in a circle the entire time. I could barely watch towards the end for fear that she was going to spin out of control and take out the rhythm section, but she managed to keep it under control and finished the set off with a fantastic belly dance with the last song that was an exclamation point on a fantastic first night of the Sound Symposium.
So, if you ask me to sum up the Sound Symposium in five words or less after the first night, I would be at a loss. The best I can come up with is “The Sound Symposium is crazy!–in the best possible way” but that’s ten words. How do you sum up a babbling brook and Bohlen-Pierce banjo/still-looking-for-a-decent-name-achord, Radio Free Funk, and Egyptian-Arabic-Canadian folk spinning belly dancing? You can’t, and I don’t think you’re supposed to.
You’re just supposed to sit back, tap your toe, grin like an idiot when the guy cranks on the steering wheel and beats on the shoe and turns some annoying commercial for some annoying compact car funkalicious. And enjoy it.
What craziness will day two bring? I’m not sure, but any day that starts with a boat symphony in the harbour (12:30 everyday) is bound to be a good one.
Sound Symposium XV, an international festival of new music and performing arts, continues from July 2-12 in St. John’s. You can find more information at their website.