Archive for the “Canada” Category


Literally. This is Audio Lodge, a collective based in London, Ontario. For more information, check out the Spring issue of Musicworks.

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The job requirements of a working composer are elusive, perhaps especially for composition students enrolled in University degree programs that fail to provide graduates with the interpersonal and business skills necessary for survival outside the walls of academia. One student composer told me recently: “We are all being trained to teach.”Woody Allen famously said: “Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” But those who compose and don’t teach do find ways to sustain themselves and their passion for music through a variety of collaborative and creative means, some perhaps less “traditional” than others. With this in mind, let’s have a chat with my friend composer Tom Myron.

The range of Tom Myron’s work as a composer includes commissions and performances by the Kennedy Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Topeka Symphony, the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Bangor Symphony and the Lamont Symphony at Denver University. He works regularly as an arranger for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, writing for singers Rosanne Cash, Kelli O’Hara, Maxi Priest and Phil Stacey, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and the Quebec folk ensemble Le Vent du Nord. Le Vent du Nord’s new CD Symphonique featuring Myron’s orchestra arrangements is receiving an incredible amount of positive press throughout Canada and will be available for purchase in the U.S. soon. A video preview of the recording is included in this interview.

His film scores include Wilderness & Spirit; A Mountain Called Katahdin and the upcoming Henry David Thoreau; Surveyor of the Soul, both from Films by Huey. Individual soloists and chamber ensembles that regularly perform Myron’s work include violinists Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, Elisabeth Adkins and Kara Eubanks, violist Tsuna Sakamoto, cellist David Darling, the Portland String Quartet, the DaPonte String Quartet and the Potomac String Quartet.

Myron’s current projects include commissioned work for the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra and creating arrangements for Joe Jackson’s music-theater piece Stoker
inspired by the life of Bram Stoker author of 1897 Gothic novel Dracula.

Tom (I’ll call him Tom now) graciously took time out of his schedule to answer a handful of questions including several having to do with the “business” of making music.

Chris Becker: You arrange and orchestrate music for a variety of artists and have a career composing concertos, string quartets, and various settings for voice. Are these two separate careers that you have to juggle? Or do they intersect providing you with even more musical opportunities than if you were focused only one or the other?

Tom Myron: From a purely logistical point of view it’s a juggling act. Both types of work tend to lead to more opportunities within their respective areas, but there isn’t a lot of overlap. That said, they DO intersect for me on a more personal, creative level. I love getting to know all kinds of musical idioms in a very practical, mechanical way. I also love just about everything that goes into handling, preparing and rehearsing music for live performance. My training in composition and the orchestral repertoire has benefited my commercial work by giving me the flexibility to consider (and rapidly execute!) multiple solutions to specific problems. The commercial work in turn informs my composition by instilling a disciplined work ethic and keeping organization and clarity of intention foremost in my mind.

Read the rest of this interview.

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A few of the of the unusual and interesting events coming up soon, soon soon:

Victoria, B.C. : Wednesday May 12th, 8pm at Knox Presbyterian Church (2964 Richmond Road, Victoria / $10), LaSaM (Luminosity and Sounds by adventurous Musicians) is presenting a program titled “And Beethoven Heard Nothing“. As they tell it, the show will be “exploring Beethoven’s inherent belief systems, his deafness and the sonorities of his later work. Sonic phenomena; tinnitus and deafness; acoustic space, climax and stasis; memory and silence… The ensemble has pulled experiences of Beethoven’s thought and music through the filters of contemporary soundscape and performance practice into an evocative environment of dancing shadows, image and light.”  Directed by musicologist Dylan Robinson and composer Tina Pearson, with technical direction by George Tzanetakis and live video projections by Tim Gosley. Besides Pearson (flute, voice, glass) and Tzanetakis (clarinet, saxophone) collaborating musicians include Chris Reiche (piano), Cathy Lewis (voice, percussion), and Alex Olson (bass). Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Society will be on hand with information; the performance will be followed by a discussion about the project, and about how we use our ears in contemporary urban life.

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Baltimore, MD : Friday May 14th is the kick off for the 2010 edition of the Megapolis Audio Festival, running all the way through Sunday the 16th. Right from the horse’s mouth, there’ll be “circuit bending /noisemaker constructions, sonic slumber parties, free-form audio editing sessions, kickass musics, interactive demonstrations, urban sonic explorations, experimental musical practice and theory, film with funfun sounds, musical performances, subversive audio tours, (un-boring) lectures, and moremoremoremore.”

The line up is mind-boggling in its scope, filled not only with listening but workshops, installations, player participation and likely wild parties hither and yon. A special shout-out to my composer friend Erik Spangler, who in his alter-ego known as DJ Dubble8 will be working with Baltimore’s intrepid Mobtown Modern ensemble.

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Toronto, ON : Saturday, May 15th is the day to catch Contact Contemporary Music: Six Team League at the Music Gallery (197 John St., Toronto / 416-204-1080 / $20).

In celebration of Canada hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics with a nod to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six,” Contact Contemporary Music is pitching in with an ambitious attempt to connect the country through music. Six ensembles across the country will simultaneously present and perform a concert of six new works by six composers from six regions of the country in a musical sweep from sea to sea to sea.

The participating ensembles are the Motion Ensemble (Fredericton, NB) who have commissioned composer Joel Miller; Bradyworks (Montreal, QC) who have commissioned composer Michel Frigon; St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble (Edmonton, AB) who have commissioned Dave Wall; Redshift Music (Vancouver, BC) who have commissioned Jordan Nobles; and Contact Contemporary Music who have commissioned Juliet Palmer..

Six composers. Six ensembles. Six cities. Six concerts. Six Team League.

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Saint-Gilles, Belgium : Also on Saturday, May 15th, 8pm but half a world away (Maison du Peuple de Saint-Gilles, Parvis de Saint-Gilles, 37-39), the brilliant pianist Stephane Ginsburgh will be joining  many other wonderful musicians, in a free concert titled “Constellations-Figure“. A clumsy translation:

What is a constellation? A design, a network. Links forged between the points seen from afar, but apparently close. They are a familiar and enigmatic. A graph that tells us about relationships, geometric and experienced. Paths traced between places and individuals symbolic or real. What form a constellation? The proximity of the points or the path of truth? Twenty artists are encouraged to draw their constellation, while participating in the figure which will rise by the force of things. Do you like the Milky Way?

Did I mention many other wonderful musicians? It’s a “Night of Soloists”: Jean-Michel Agius (voice), Primitiv (beatbox), Laurence Cornez (piano), Tom De Cock (percussion), Fabian Fiorini (piano), Stephane Ginsburgh (piano), Philippe Liénaert (piano), Céline Lory (piano), Barbara Mavro Thalassitis (voice/dance), Laurence Mekhitarian (piano), Gerrit Nulens (percussion), Isabelle Roeland (voice), Jessica Ryckewaert (percussion), Jan Rzewski (saxophone), Johanne Saunier (voice/dance), Laurence Vielle (voice), Gilles Wiernik (voice).  It’s a cryptic but promising event, in a beautiful and historic location.

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Each generation of composers coming up through college is always a little dismayed to find their music history survey books fizzling out in their descriptions current composers. Maybe one compressed chapter at the end, with a jumble of names or the barest of thumbnail sketches. Half are already only half-remembered, and the other half are musicians you desperately want something, anything more from or about!  Yet often somewhere out there beyond the curriculum, there’s another kind of book; one some dedicated fan, critic or participant created,  providing fuller sketches and often interviews with the people that matter most to them in the here and now (one such that mattered greatly for me in the 1980s was John Rockwell’s All American Music).

Another of my little quirks is a strong liking for a number of recent and contemporary Canadian composers. I have no idea how it happened — other than perhaps years of government funding and a certain image of some “outsider” isolation and independence — but to my ears Canada has produced a remarkably large group of surprising and creative musicians.

So I was very happy to see that one of the latest “catch-up” books on composers comes from a Canadian perspective. Paul Steenhuisen, a fine Canadian musician in his own right, has recently published Sonic Mosaics: Conversations with Composers (University of Alberta Press, 2009), a collection of interviews with (mostly) living composers from America, Europe and Canada.

We asked another Canadian musician and journalist, John Oliver, to review the book:


Sonic Mosaics is a book of interviews conducted by composer Paul Steenhuisen over a three-year period from 2001-2004. Over half of the interviews were commissioned by Toronto’s monthly, short-run music publication WholeNote on the occasion of a composer’s presence in the city for a premiere performance or CD release. Two were originally published in Musicworks magazine and the rest were conducted by Steenhuisen afterward to complete the book and attempt to represent more Canadian composers.

Steenhuisen gets full marks for disclosure: he reveals the shortcomings and strengths of the book in the introduction. Although the book contains a large number of interviews with Canadian composers, the author admits that it is by no means representative of the entire country. The reader is treated to six interviews with non-Canadian composers, three of which occur as a result of a composer’s appearance as a guest of New Music Concerts. Five are with the most senior generation of international contemporary music “stars”: Pierre Boulez, George Crumb, Mauricio Kagel, Christian Wolff and Helmut Lachenmann; the sixth is UK composer Michael Finnissy.

Equivalent Canadian senior composers include R. Murray Schafer, John Weinzweig, Udo Kasemets, John Beckwith, and Francis Dhomont. Yet equivalent senior composers of Quebec and the rest of Canada are not represented. The rest of the interviews give a glimpse into the creative minds of primarily composers who reside in the province of Ontario. Place-of-residence analysis reveals that, of the 26 Canadian interviewees, 16 reside in Ontario, 6 in Quebec, 3 in British Columbia, and one in Alberta: not an accurate proportional representation. The reader may also note that over half of composers represented here teach at universities, an understandable bias given the author’s background and the general tendency in Canada for composers to gain a livelihood from teaching. If this represents only a subset of important Canadian composers, the reader’s curiosity will be aroused to seek out information about more as a result of reading this book. A second volume is in order.

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Sunday, November 15th, the Esprit Orchestra and conductor Alex Pauk are giving what I think will be a really wonderful concert. It happens in Toronto, at 8PM in Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory (273 Bloor Street West, Toronto), with a 7:15Pm pre-concert chat with a composer and guest artists. That composer would be Alexina Louie, and my guess is the guest artists are Inuit throat singers Evie Mark and Akinisie Sivuarapik. First up on the bill is Louie’s work Take the Dog Sled, for two throat singers and ensemble.

Throat singing is an ancient traditional musical form/contest where two women join in a face-off, chanting back and forth in a rhythmic game. The point is for each to keep the rhythm going through all its elaborations; the one who either runs out of breath, misses, or starts laughing is the “loser” , but the loss is not nearly so important as the bonds formed. Louie here incorporates their singing into her piece for western ensemble, part of which you can preview in this clip from a documentary made about Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal‘s recent journey through the high north, to bring classical music and instruments to places that had never heard them live before:


Following that will be one of the great evocative experiences of my own teen years: a performance of R. Murray Schafer‘s mysterious North/White for snowmobile (!) and orchestra. I think it may have a couple different versions now, but I first heard this near its premiere in 1973: as a teen in an agricultural region of Washington State, my modern classical education consisted largely of late-night radio listening, to the swelling and fading signal of the CBC wafting over the border from Alberta. One of those nights came an utterly strange rustling of orchestral music, eventually mixed with menacing sounds that I could never quite place; but they were textures, harmonies and sonorities that stayed in my head to this day. All I knew at the end was that the announcer’s voice told me this was some composer named R. Murray Schafer, and the piece was called North/White. I was taping the radio with a little cassette placed just next to it, and even years later I would sometimes pop the tape in to hear that moment again. Well, here it is in the flesh once more, and I’d give a lot to be there to hear it. The concert’s site tells us that “North/White is the composer’s highly personal statement on how industrial forces impact on Canada’s Northern mythology”; I’ll take that, and add that it certainly impacted my own personal mythology. (And you just name me one other piece for snowmobile and orchestra, huh?)

Rounding out the program are two very much non-Canadian works, but both I think very much a fit with the sound world that came before, and are both among my all-time favorites: Gyorgy Ligeti‘s classic Atmospheres, and Toru Takemitsu‘s Green (November Steps II).

If you’re anywhere close (or what the hell, use that New-World pioneer spirit, jump in the car and drive all night!), this is a must-hear.

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Two shout-outs for events that, if only they’d have gotten around to inventing teleportation by now, I’d certainly try to make:

celestial mechanicsTuesday evening (27 Oct.) in Princeton’s Taplin Auditorium vocalists Sarah Paden, Anne Hege and Lainie Fefferman — otherwise known as Celestial Mechanics — will be presenting five new pieces by composers M.R. Daniel, Matt Marble, Jascha Narveson, and group members Fefferman and Hege themselves. Not your typical vocal trio, CM describes their performance as somewhere between “a chorus of angels and Robert Ashley, body percussion and Laurie Anderson, yoga practice and Wham.”  Things kick off at 8PM, it’s FREE, and easy to find.

horveycdThe next evening (28 Oct.), up and  across the border to Montreal, Quebec, our tremendously-talented, trumpet-playing web pal Amy Horvey is celebrating the release of her first CD, Interview, 8:30pm at La Sala Rossa (4848 Boulevard Saint-Laurent). Released by Malasartes Musique, it contains impeccably intense performances of works by Cecilia Arditto, Isak Goldshneider, Anna Höstman, Ryan Purchase and Giacinto Scelsi. Amy will be playing, along with new label-mates Cordâme and Nozen. This disc’s been a long time coming, but your ears will tell you it was worth it.

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For a lot of you Vancouver, British Columbia is one of those “way out there” places.  But coming from its U.S. “way out there” sister Seattle, I know that the art and music scenes are anything but moribund (though the Canadian government seems well on its way to getting in line with the venerable U.S. tradition of “screw the arts, let them find their own damn money!”).

One of the things keeping it hopping is Vancouver New Music, whose 2009-10 season is underway. As part of said season, VNM is presenting a fairly mind-stretching festival, the 21st through 24th of October, titled “Copyright/Copyleft.”  The four-day festival will rely heavily (but not only!) on electronic musicians, many of whom appropriate and transform existing music, video and audio material into their own work.

The line-up is adventurous: Andrew O’Connor‘s large analog tape-loop soundscapes; Jackson 2Bears‘ remix and re-narrative of American Native cultures; grandaddy of “Plunderphonics” John Oswald, Eric Hedekar‘s; Jake Hardy‘s and Aja Rose Bond‘s extended-DJ techniques; Percussion/improv/thinking-man legend Chris Cutler; People Like Us (aka Vicki Bennett‘s) disjunct enviroments; Sonarchy‘s “miserabilism”; Scanner‘s highly influential electronica; David Shea‘s unique mix of electro and acoustic; Mark Hosler‘s (Negativland) film, presentation and critique of mass media and culture; and Uri Caine‘s phenomenal reworking of the music of composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mahler.

The VNM Festival website will give you all the details about dates, locations, times, tickets, as well as info on and preview sounds from each artist.  While you’re over there, do check out the rest of Vancouver New Music’ great season, too.  Maybe you’ll be able to find some time come and visit the excellent stuff that happens “way out there.”

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