By James Sandham

Well, folks, it seems like it’s already that time again: Labour Day is just around the corner, which means another beautiful summer is sadly winding down. On the other hand, this means we’ve got another long weekend to enjoy. As the evenings start to cool and the sun starts to set a little bit sooner, I can’t think of a better time to sit back with some mellow tunes and maybe a glass of wine, and to just wind down with the season. Here are a few tracks to help you set the mood.

 

Kurt Vile – “Wakin On a Pretty Day”

This was the first track released from Kurt Vile’s latest opus, Wakin On a Pretty Daze, which came out earlier this year, and like almost all of his work, I immediately fell in love with it. He’s got this dreamy, wandering and kind of worn-out quality to his songs that makes them feel so comfortable. It’s like the musical equivalent of putting on your favourite pair of old jeans. Vile really is one of the most under-appreciated current American troubadours. His music is the perfect stuff for closing off the summer.

 

World Party – “Always”

This is the final track from World Party’s 1997 LP Egyptology (later re-released in 2006), and it doesn’t really sound like anything else on the album. It’s got filtered vocals and a much more introspective feel to it, and it almost sounds like it’s by another band altogether. I really like the weary, sort of pseudo-mystic vibe it’s got going on. Good stuff for some contemplative self-reflection as things wind down.

 

Blood Orange – “Champagne Coast”

I was introduced to Blood Orange by a friend of mine. It’s one of the many musical projects of Devonté Hynes, a New York City–based composer (formerly from England) who’s worked with groups such as The Chemical Brothers and Florence and the Machine. He’s also known as Lightspeed Champion and is a former member of the now defunct Test Icicles. His work as Blood Orange has a mellow R&B kind of feel to it, and this track in particular seems perfectly suited to an easygoing, early autumn mood.

 

Lou Reed – “Satellite of Love”

This track comes from Lou Reed’s second album, Transformer, which was released in 1972; although, a more up-tempo version was first demoed by his band, The Velvet Underground, in 1970 (that version was later included on their five-disc box set Peel Slowly and See). It’s one of the many tracks that makes Transformer an epic, awesome album. There’s a sort of threadbare beauty to it, a certain melancholy that’s perfect for the playlist.

 

The Tragically Hip – “Ahead by a Century”

Last but not least, this is one of my favourite tunes by the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2005 inductees, The Tragically Hip. This was the Hip’s first single from their 1996 album, Trouble at the Henhouse, which won them the 1997 JUNO Award for Album of the Year. It would go five times platinum in Canada (with tracks like this one, it’s not hard to see why). It’s the perfect tune for watching the sun set on your Labour Day weekend. Hope you have a good one.


By Adam Bunch

THE PAUPERS CALL IT QUITS

They were supposed to be one of the most successful Canadian bands of all time. The Paupers built all kinds of buzz in the 1960s, having made a name for themselves in the dingy, smoke-filled rock clubs of Toronto’s Yorkville scene. Two full-length albums and nearly a dozen singles hit the airwaves, showcasing the band’s psychedelic sound. They opened for legends like Cream, The MC5 and The Lovin’ Spoonful. When Jefferson Airplane played their first-ever show in New York City, it was The Paupers’ powerful opening set that grabbed all of the headlines the next day. Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, was in the crowd. A few days later he signed them. It seemed as if The Paupers were poised to become the next big thing.

Their breakthrough was scheduled for 1967. That summer they were included in the lineup for Monterey Pop, a three-day music festival in California that rivalled Woodstock. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar would all be there to play in front of a crowd of thousands of fans. Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker would turn it into a documentary seen by millions more.

But by all accounts, The Paupers delivered a lacklustre set – thanks in part to technical difficulties and some ill-timed LSD. They didn’t even make the cut for the documentary. Their momentum sputtered over the course of the following year and, finally, after a three-day stand at the Electric Circus in New York City during this week in 1968, the band decided to call it quits.

It wasn’t the end of their musical careers, though: drummer Skip Prokop would go on to form Lighthouse; their most recent bassist, Brad Campbell, joined Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues Band; and guitarist Adam Mitchell would go on to produce records for artists like Linda Ronstadt and write hits for KISS, Olivia Newton-John and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Paul Anka.

 

THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS DROP THEIR DEBUT

The Paupers weren’t the only Canadians gracing the stage at Monterey Pop during that weekend in the summer of 1967. They weren’t even the only graduates of the Yorkville scene. Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Papa Denny Doherty was there, too, singing with The Mamas & The Papas.

Doherty had been born and raised in Halifax, where he formed his first folk groups before heading west to Toronto. There he met another future Hall of Famer: Zal Yanovksy (who was living in a dryer in a Yorkville laundromat at the time). The two would soon move to New York, where they formed a new band – The Mugwumps – with an up-and-coming young folk singer by the name of Cass Elliot. She wasn’t their only new friend: they spent lots of time hanging out with John Phillips, his model wife Michelle, and the dealer with the best drugs in Greenwich Village, John Sebastian.

After dropping acid and throwing a dart at a map, four of them headed off to the Virgin Islands. Yanovsky and Sebastian stayed behind and would form The Lovin’ Spoonful while the others spent their time in the tropics doing drugs, having sex and writing songs. When the governor finally kicked the quartet off of the island and they returned north to California, they were calling themselves The Mamas & The Papas. The songs they wrote in the Virgin Islands would turn into their debut album, released during this week in 1966. Tracks such as “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday” would make it one of the most popular records of the 1960s, generally regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.


By James Sandham

Well folks, the Canadian National Exhibition – better known as the Ex – is back again. Now in its 135th year, the Ex opened last weekend and that can only mean one thing: summer is winding down. But don’t fret yet – there’s still plenty of fun in the sun to be had, and the Ex is a great place to have it, not only because of the mouthwatering calorie bombs they infamously serve, but also because they’ve got a great schedule of live music to check out. So if carnival rides and midway games aren’t your bag, then why not check out some of the great Canadian musical talent performing at this year’s CNE.

Dragonette with Dirty Radio – August 25 – CNE Bandshell

JUNO Award-winning electro trio (and hometown heroes) Dragonette will be pumping up the CNE Bandshell on Sunday night, along with Vancouver’s Dirty Radio, who, incidentally, started out as a passion project by Dragonette’s production team. They’ll be joining forces to blast the crowd with their addictive, synth-heavy sounds. The track below comes from Dragonette’s third LP, 2012’s Bodyparts.

Dragonette – “Let it Go”

 

Jane’s Party – August 26 – Molson Canadian Midway Stage

You might recognize Jane’s Party from Toronto’s Cameron House, the iconic Queen Street bar and music venue that launched the careers of local luminaries including Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Blue Rodeo. They’ll be laying down their brand of blues-infused rock on Monday night, likely drawing heavily from their new sophomore release, Hot Noise. Perfect tunes for these lazy late summer nights.

Jane’s Party – “’Til You Got Yours”

 

Danny Fernandes, Massari and Mia Martina – August 27 – CNE Bandshell

OK, but maybe you want something a little more pumping – as in fist pumping. Well, if that’s your thing, then why not swing by the Ex on Tuesday for Danny Fernandes, Massari and Mia Martina, clubland’s kings (and queen) of Canadian content. Fernandes is the younger brother of Toronto R&B star Shawn Desman; the JUNO Award-nominated Massari is a Montrealer via Beirut who mixes Middle Eastern sounds with contemporary western club beats; and Mia Martina, of course, is probably best known for the song below, an international club hit that also happens to feature some great shots of good ol’ T.O. in its music vid.

Edward Maya and Mia Martina – “Stereo Love”

 

Walk Off the Earth – August 30 – CNE Bandshell

Walk Off the Earth are insane, and I mean that in the best possible way. As one YouTube commenter put it (and YouTube is certainly where WOTE built its fan base, sans aide from record labels), WOTE have been making mediocre songs incredible since 2006. This is a reference to the band’s particular talent for covering other people’s music in unique and unforgettable ways (and then, of course, posting videos of them on YouTube). The track that really brought them to attention is the one below, their cover of Gotye’s international smash hit “Somebody That I Used to Know.” People then realized that WOTE had, like, five years worth of similar videos floating around the Internet. Subsequently, many hours of people’s time were then lost as they sat transfixed to their computer screens. Take a break from online and see ’em live next Friday.

Walk Off the Earth – “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye cover)

 

Devin Cuddy – August 30 – Molson Canadian Midway Stage

Last but not least, Devin Cuddy. It’s gonna be a tough one if you’re at the Ex next Friday: you’ll have to decide between Cuddy on the Molson Canadian Midway Stage and WOTE on the Bandshell stage. I guess that’s a good dilemma to be faced with though – too much good music to take in at once. Cuddy’s set is scheduled to run longer than WOTE’s, however (from 7:30 to 11:00 p.m.), so maybe you can see both. In the meantime, check him out below, performing with his famous father (Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo) on CBC. And enjoy these last few weeks of August!

Blue Rodeo and Devin Cuddy – “Rain Down on Me”


By Adam Bunch

THE BEATLES COME TO CANADA – AND IT DOESN’T GO WELL

It was during this week in 1964 that The Beatles first came to Canada. They touched down in Vancouver on August 22 to play a show at the Empire Stadium. And things quickly got out of hand.

After opening sets by acts including Jackie DeShannon and The Righteous Brothers, the Fab Four took to the stage to play a quick half-hour show to more than 20,000 screaming fans. As they did, those who were stuck outside tried to rush the 10-foot-tall stadium gates, briefly bursting through before police managed to hold back the crowd.

Inside, things weren’t going any better. Beatlemania had the audience in a frenzy during the 11-song set, which included many of the group’s earliest hits, such as “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “She Loves You.” Halfway through the show, Beatles press officer Derek Taylor interrupted the performance to plead for calm. But it didn’t work. Fans rushed the stage, crushing those who were stuck in front of them. Dozens broke their ribs; hundreds would be treated in hospital. The band finished off with their cover of “Long Tall Sally” and decided to get the hell out of the country.

They cancelled their plans to spend the night in a Vancouver hotel and instead raced straight from the stage into a waiting limo – it took about 30 seconds – and headed directly to the airport. Less than seven hours after they played the first notes of their first show on Canadian soil, John, Paul, George and Ringo were already on the ground in Los Angeles.

Live recording of The Beatles’ Vancouver show (including Derek Taylor’s interruption)

PAUL ANKA RULES THE CHARTS

Ottawa’s Paul Anka was just 14 years old when he recorded his first single, “I Confess,” in 1957. Before long he was one of the most famous teen idols on the planet. His boyish good looks and tremendous talent for writing memorable, hook-filled pop tunes sparked a craze in the late 1950s that foreshadowed the Beatlemania that would come just a few years later. Tracks like “Diana” and “It’s Time to Cry” raced up the charts not just in Canada, but all over the world. During this week in the summer of 1959, his No. 1 Billboard hit “Lonely Boy” was finishing up a 12-week run on the CHUM chart. Decades later it still stands up as a catchy ballad, a staple of oldies AM radio stations and retro diner jukeboxes everywhere.

It would be 15 years before Anka scored another Billboard No. 1. During this week in the summer of 1974 it was “(You’re) Having My Baby” – a duet with the singer Odia Coates – that sat atop the CHUM chart. This time, though, the song was destined to be remembered a little less fondly. In fact, CNN once called it “the worst song of all time.” That seems more than a little harsh, given how beloved it was back in the 1970s, but thanks to its questionable, misogynist lyrics and syrupy, adult contemporary-style production, it feels much more like a relic of a bygone age than Anka’s earlier works like “Lonely Boy.”

Still, that was just a blip. Anka produced an impressive number of truly great songs during his career, including tracks written for other artists, such as Tom Jones (“She’s a Lady”) and Frank Sinatra (the English lyrics to “My Way”). Anka was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1980.

Image of The Beatles leaving Seattle for Vancouver via NPR. Image of Paul Anka via the National Film Board.


By James Sandham

The Rascals a.k.a. The Young Rascals: If you’re like me – that is, born in the ’80s – they may be the most famous band you’ve never heard of. They’ve got tons of singles – “People Got to Be Free,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “Groovin’” and the list goes on – and they’re songs that you’re probably already quite familiar with. Yet it wasn’t until my dad popped on their greatest hits album that I realized they were all by the same group.

Well, this week I had the opportunity to catch up on everything I didn’t know about The Rascals. The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream is a sort of concert/Broadway musical hybrid and it just opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, where (full disclosure) I also happen to work. In fact, I’ve been stocking the dressing rooms of Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish – who are all original members of the band – all week (there are no stand-ins), and I can report to you this: they drink a lot of tea. But I digress.

The Rascals – “Groovin’”

The show basically chronicles the first part of The Rascals’ success – an era spanning from roughly 1965 to 1972, at which point they initially disbanded. It was during this period that the group dropped most of its biggest hits, including “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” (which reached No. 23 in Canada), “Good Lovin’” (No. 1 in both Canada and the United States), “A Beautiful Morning” (also No. 1 here) and many more. The show includes huge multimedia screens that display old concert footage, news reels, visual projections and archival images of the band, all while the band itself, of course, is right there live on stage in front of you, cranking out their singles between hits of interspersed narration.

Once Upon a Dream is directed by Steven Van Zandt (who you may know as Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist or Silvio on “The Sopranos”) with lighting designed by Marc Brickman (who is perhaps best known for his work with Pink Floyd). In other words, it’s not just a play, but a full on rock ’n’ roll (although maybe “rock ’n’ soul” is more accurate) experience.

“We did a lot of songs, a lot of albums, a lot of travelling,” says Gene Cornish, the one Canadian in the band (he’s from Ottawa). “And this is the fruition of it.”

Fresh off of a soldout run on Broadway, we’re lucky enough to have The Rascals in Toronto until August 25. After that, the boys are back out on the road, taking their show with them. So catch ’em here while you can.

The Rascals – “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”


By Adam Bunch

THE MURDER OF LENNY BREAU

Lenny Breau wasn’t just one of the best guitarists in Canadian history; he was one of the best guitarists in the entire history of the world. It was during this week in 1984 that his story came to a tragic end. He was found floating facedown in a pool on the roof of his apartment building in Los Angeles, strangled. He was 43 years old. His murder remains unsolved to this day.

Breau was born in the United States to a pair of francophone country and western singers who would soon end up living in Winnipeg. His immense talent was obvious even back then. By the age of seven he could sing harmony. By the age of 14 he was playing guitar. Not long after that he was appearing on stage in the family band. But it was jazz that Breau was most passionate about – and after his father slapped him across the face for playing a jazz solo during one of their shows the young phenom set off on his own.

He developed his own unique style, a breathtaking mix of jazz, country, flamenco and classical music that left audiences and fellow musicians speechless as his fingers calmly flew across the frets and twisted into impossible chords. He played things on guitar that no one had ever seen anyone play on guitar before. No less of an expert than the world-famous guitarist Chet Atkins called Breau “the greatest guitarist who ever walked the face of the earth.” It’s an opinion echoed by many other musicians and critics.

But Breau also battled personal demons. His drug addictions were the thing of legend – some say he would take as many as 15 hits of LSD before playing on stage. It began as a source of inspiration, but as Breau admitted, “I got the inspiration at first, but in the end it turned against me.”

He was always deeply loved and respected, but he also gained a reputation for being unreliable. His live performances suffered terribly. One fellow musician said that working with Breau was “like herding snakes.”

Despite the sad ending to his story, Breau left behind a legacy matched by few others. He was generous with his time, happy to pass his knowledge down to budding guitarists. Winnipeg’s Randy Bachman – who would go on to form The Guess Who and be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame – says Breau “taught me everything about guitar.” And Bachman wasn’t alone. “He planted all these little seeds and every seed he planted turned into a great guitar player,” says Bachman. After Breau’s death, Bachman started a record label in order to share the guitarist’s previously unreleased recordings, sharing that legacy with an entirely new generation.

Lenny Breau was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

Here’s an excerpt from a documentary made about his life, The Genius of Lenny Breau.

THE VERY FIRST MARIPOSA FOLK FESTIVAL

It’s summertime in Canada – better known as folk festival season. Last week we celebrated the anniversary of the first-ever Winnipeg Folk Festival; this week it’s the anniversary of the first-ever Mariposa Folk Festival.

The event was born in a small Ontario town in August of 1961, when thousands of concertgoers brought their lawn chairs to Oval Park in Orillia. The festival got its name from a fictional version of the town – Stephen Leacock called it “Mariposa” in his novella Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. The event wouldn’t be welcome in Orillia for long, though: after a couple of years it was forced to move after locals complained about the disruption. For the next four decades, the festival travelled the province – there were versions in Barrie, Cobourg, Bracebridge, Caledon and a variety of venues in Toronto – before it was finally welcomed back home in the year 2000. It’s still held there every year.

Back in 1961 an all-Canadian lineup took to the stage over the course of two days. Artists included The Travellers, Bonnie Dobson and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker. Tyson even designed the festival’s logo. Years later, Murray McLauchlan would update it to the version used today.

Ian & Sylvia weren’t the only Hall of Famers who wanted to play that inaugural year. Gordon Lightfoot also applied – but he was rejected. Organizers decided the duo he had formed with fellow folksinger Terry Whelan was “not of high enough caliber.” Thankfully, they tried again the very next year. That second time, Lightfoot made the cut, joining a long list of Hall of Fame inductees who have played Mariposa over the years, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Here’s a recording of Neil Young playing the festival in 1972.

Photo of the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1978 via York University’s Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections.


By James Sandham

Alysha Haugen, José Contreras and Geordie Dynes of By Divine Right

Is it August already? Where’s the summer gone, eh? Better make the best use of these last few weeks then, because we all know what comes next (a clue: coldness). To that end, we present some of our top picks for concerts this month, from Vancouver (well Burnaby, technically), all the way out to la belle ville de Montréal.

Vancouver – Blue Rodeo @ Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival – August 10

Ah, the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival – now there’s a wholesome way to round off the summer. Situated in picturesque Deer Lake Park, the daylong event, now in its 14th year, features such artists as Charles Bradley, ZZ Ward, Shakura S’Aida, Ndidi Onukwulu, David Gogo, The Sojourners, John Lee Sanders and, of course, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, Blue Rodeo. You can’t go wrong with these guys on a lazy August evening.

Blue Rodeo – “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”

 

Calgary – A Tribe Called Red @ Flames Central – August 13

Blue Rodeo a little too mellow for you? Well, why not roll on over to C-Town then, where you can check out one of the most innovative and intriguing acts currently around, the Ottawa-based electro trio known as A Tribe Called Red. Comprised of two-time Canadian DMC Champion DJ Shub, DJ NDN and Bear Witness, the trio is currently sitting pretty on the $30,000 2013 Polaris Music Prize short list. It’s their second nomination for the indie award, and I seriously hope they win it.

A Tribe Called Red – “Electric Pow Wow Drum”

 

Winnipeg – Majical Cloudz @ Union Sound Hall – August 14

Majical Cloudz is the nom de chanson of Montreal-based musician Devon Welsh. He collaborates with synth programmer Jason Otto to produce the aloof, stoic, yet intensely personal tracks featured on the duo’s two albums. They’ll be laying it down at the ’Peg’s Union Sound Hall in mid-August and word is it’s a show not to be missed. They’ve been referred to as “searingly direct” and their shows often end with Welsh descending into the crowd, “basking in the communal emotional wellspring he’s summoned” (Pitchfork). High praise. Sounds good.

Majical Cloudz – “Childhood’s End”

 

Toronto – The Beach Boys @ CNE Bandshell – August 18

For something a little more upbeat, why not check out the classic summer sounds of The Beach Boys. They’ll be playing a show at the Canadian National Exhibition Bandshell on August 18, and I can’t think of a better way to get one last hit of summer vibrations in before the season inevitably winds down. Plus, you’ll be able to simultaneously indulge in the CNE’s notoriously calorie-rich concessions, which this year feature bacon and peanut butter milkshakes, The Canuck – a.k.a. The Pig Mac – a burger featuring a patty made with ground bacon, and a variety of other artery-clogging goods that no one in their right mind would otherwise indulge in.

The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”

 

Montreal – By Divine Right @ Il Motore – August 30

Last but not least, why not revive the late ’90s/early 2000s with a show by Toronto’s indie darlings By Divine Right. The track below comes from their 1999 release, Bless This Mess, which also happens to feature Brendan Canning and Leslie Feist of Broken Social Scene (and, obviously, Feist) fame. Interesting fact: In 2003, By Divine Right was one of the only Canadian bands to do a concert tour of China. Their latest album, Organized Accidents – their ninth to date – was released earlier this year by Toronto Arts imprint Hand Drawn Dracula.

By Divine Right – “Come for a Ride”


By Adam Bunch

“BORN TO BE WILD” RACES UP THE CHARTS

Before the members of Steppenwolf were Steppenwolf, they were Jack London & The Sparrows. The band originally formed in Oshawa, Ontario, back in the early 1960s, but moved to Toronto soon after, playing British Invasion–style rock ’n’ roll in Yorkville’s dingy smoke-filled clubs.

The lineup – and the band’s name – would change a few times over the first few years. First they left London, the frontman, to pursue his own solo career. Then bassist Bruce Palmer headed off to join Neil Young and Rick James in another Yorkville group called The Mynah Birds; Palmer and Young would eventually move to Los Angeles where they formed Buffalo Springfield.

Soon The Sparrows were in L.A., too. Back in Toronto, they had added a new German-born guitarist and songwriter by the name of John Kay. When he moved to California, he invited his bandmates to join him. That’s how The Sparrows became Steppenwolf. They quickly recorded their debut album in just four days, including a single that would prove to be one of the most popular rock songs… well… ever.

“Born To Be Wild” raced up the charts that summer – a hit not just in North America, but in Europe and the United Kingdom, too. Back home in Canada, it peaked on the CHUM chart during this week in August of 1968. But that was just the beginning. In 1969, the song would be included on the soundtrack to Easy Rider and become even more popular. More than 40 years later, it still gets regularly mentioned as one of the greatest songs of all time.

THE BIRTH OF THE WINNIPEG FOLK FESTIVAL

During this week in 1974, 20,000 people were gathered in a field just outside of Winnipeg. They were there to celebrate the city’s 100th birthday at the Winnipeg Centennial Folksong Festival. The stage in Birds Hill Provincial Park was graced by dozens of acts over three days, including Murray McLauchlan and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Bruce Cockburn and Sylvia Tyson.

The festivities were completely free that year and were hosted by CBC Radio’s Peter Gzowski. It was supposed to be a one-time event, but on the festival’s final night, Gzowski announced that he was donating his paycheque to bring it back again the next year. Many in the crowd followed his lead and there’s been a concert on that spot every summer since. Today we know it as the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Over the years, hundreds of artists have played at Birds Hill. Canadian Music Hall of Famers have been a familiar sight: Blue Rodeo, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian Tyson, k.d. lang. The festival has featured everyone from legendary folk musicians (like Pete Seeger, Janis Ian and Don McLean) to a new generation of Canadian artists performing in a variety of genres (like Feist, Neko Case and K’NAAN).

This year the festival celebrated its 40th anniversary. Over the course of five days in July, tens of thousands of people converged on the park. They saw some of our country’s best new acts: performers including A Tribe Called Red, Jason Collett, Whitehorse and Rich Aucoin. But those musicians weren’t alone. Hall of Famer Sylvia Tyson was there, too, playing the same festival she first played in its inaugural year, during this week in August all those years ago.


By James Sandham

Last Wednesday, as the sun was setting, I found myself heading down an alley off of Spadina Avenue to a door in the wall marked CineCycle.

CineCycle, as I discovered, is a sort of bare-bones arts space, a former coach house that now basically resembles a garage. They usually play movies of the 8 to 35 millimetre variety there. The space is also used, somewhat incongruously, as a bicycle repair shop. Last Wednesday, though, it was neither, serving instead as the venue for Daft Flute, the latest flute-related project from the mind of Jamie Thompson.

Thompson, you may recall, is the man behind the previously blogged about Post-Industrial Wednesdays series at Toronto’s St. Anne’s Anglican Church. We also had an interview with him up here a few months ago. He’s an urban explorer, a classical musician, founder of the Urban Flute Project, a faculty member at the Royal Conservatory of Music and, among other things, an all-around interesting man. Some might even go so far as to call him a visionary.

Well, what his vision was last Wednesday was hard to say with any precision, but as with many of his flute-related projects, it was immersive, experimental, abstract and transcendental. Performing with five other musicians – including Bruce Gremo on Cilia and David Shelly on Treeotica, two unique homemade instruments – in CineCycle’s intimate, derelict space, Thompson et al. proceeded to whip up a lurching, sonic storm of improvised free-form sound. And that’s really the only way to describe it – not music per se, but sound, and an experiment in where that can take you.

Highly unstructured, the improvised compositions seemed to feed off of and incorporate the energy they generated between the musicians, their guiding principle not melody or rhythm so much as physical feeling and the visceral reaction the body has to certain sorts of noise. At times, this was an almost dream-like sensation – due in no small part to Shelly’s Treeotica, a bizarre instrument that appears to render acoustic input, such as his heartbeat, in digitally recycled loops. At other times, an incredible tension was built, almost a madness, as the improvisation spiralled up toward frenzy.

It’s interesting, if challenging, to experience instrumentation this way. To appreciate it fully from an audience perspective I think you really have to surrender a part of yourself to the experience: relinquish your conventional self-directing or rational faculties and allow them to be temporarily replaced, or redirected, by your visceral reaction to the sound. Sitting in CineCycle’s dimly lit space, with lightsweetcrude’s abstract visual projections shimmering on the walls, can create an almost out-of-body-ish experience for the listener as the soundscape starts to develop, the listener’s senses are gradually disoriented and the self-directing mind is lulled.

Granted, this sort of thing probably isn’t for everyone. It takes an open mind – and quite a bit of time (the first improvisation of the night, for instance, lasted nearly an hour). But it’s nice to know that at the ends of unassuming alleys, hidden away in bicycle repair shops, strange and fantastical events like this one are humbly being staged.