September 17, 2021 was Day 1 of Salvage, a three-night collaboration between Mile Zero Dance and the Lowlands Project Space.
The Lowlands is a unique venue: the back yards of two adjacent bungalows in the Highlands neighbourhood of north Edmonton. Several pieces of installation art were set up in the adjoining back yards. They also set up three formal stages. One traditional one in one yard; one wrapped around a tree between the two yards; and a round stage in one of the front yards.
However, the performers on the first night defined other performance spaces: on lawn, on a cement walk, in a patch of dirt, around a fire pit.
The first work was a solo performance by Jason Romero, set to recorded contemporary music from around the globe. It was a sensuous, grounded performance. At one point, he was seen through colourful hanging window frames of an art installation. At another, he danced on a patch of fresh soil that my friends and I had avoided stepping on, lest it had been newly seeded. Instead of being a garden, it was actually a stage for Romero, who who danced on and in the patch, coating himself in dirt, flinging it about, either to shake off excess, or to share its richness. No matter where he performed, or the genre or language of music, Romero’s movement vocabulary seemed to communicate who he is in this place at this time.
The second work was by dancer Katherine Semchuk with musician Julian Anderson-Bowes. They combined dance improvisation and jazz improvisation in a performance which started on the front yard stage with a table and chair, to the middle of the yards around a fire pit, to the back of one of the yards on a formal stage with light sticks. They defined space and spatial relations throughout the set. Because there was no fixed seating, we were able to follow them from staging area to staging area, often being close enough to watch the pair watch each other as they improvised. They started low-key, but built up to a spectacular end, as they moved from no light to fire light to electric light, and as Anderson-Bowes’ music went from acoustic to electronically processed. Semchuk’s performance was bold throughout, but became epic–one could say incandescent–by the time she wielded lightsticks like ancient weapons.
This was the first live dance performance I’ve seen since February 29, 2020. It was a spectacular evening of art and dance, made all the more memorable by the mild autumn weather and the opportunity to see friends and artists I haven’t seen in person in 18 months.
Day 2 and Day 3 of Salvage are on tonight and tomorrow afternoon. If you can’t make it to the venue, you can live-stream them. That’s what I plan to do, and I can’t wait.
He became a global superstar after designing David Bowie’s wardrobe for the Ziggy Stardust era. The clothes defied gender, ethnicity, and norms for stage wear and streetwear, and would be forward-looking today.
Yamamoto made a cameo appearance in a graphic novel about early 70s David Bowie, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, written by Steve Horton and drawn by one of my all-time favourite artists, Mike Allred. A friend asked about it, so I’m sending her a link to the publisher and my review:
Reviewof BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams (Originally published in Sequential Tart, December 16, 2019)
News that Michael Allred was working on a graphic novel about David Bowie had me, erm, dancing in the street! In the afterword to BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams, Allred writes that he had planned to do a Ziggy Stardust comic in the 1990s, but was told by reps that David Bowie had plans of his own […] so I turned my Ziggy Stardust comic book into the graphic novel Red Rocket 7, in which I told the history of rock and roll through the eyes of a red-headed alien clone.”
Allred’s Ziggy Stardust comic finally became a reality when writer Steve Horton approached him with an idea for making it so. Using the last Ziggy Stardust concert as a framing device, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams traces how Bowie built and rebuilt identities and created innovations that affected music, art, fashion, videos, and even financial products. For example, it suggests that the visions experienced by Bowie’s half-brother while having psychotic episodes may have influenced Bowie’s interest in altered perceptions (although, curiously, there is no mention of the heavy drug use that characterized much of this phase of Bowie’s career, something that had been acknowledged in Red Rocket 7). Bowie’s unwillingness to deal with the business aspects of his career in the 1970s explains why he later took the reins of management, going so far as to issue “Bowie bonds“.
Horton and Allred bring significant milestones in Bowie’s career to life, and provide insight to some obscure or overlooked aspects of his life and work. The dialogue is perfunctorily casual at times — STEVE MARRIOTT: “I hear tell you’re old mates with Pete here.” DAVID BOWIE: “School mates.” PETER FRAMPTON: “My dad was even David’s teacher.” — but helps to create (or perhaps reflect) characterize the London music scene as being far larger in influence than its actual size, with all the camaraderie and rivalry endemic to tight-knit groups. It’s a delight to see so many future superstars, but Horton and Allred also credit those behind the scenes who helped shaped Bowie, from stylist Suzi Fussey, who created the Ziggy haircut, to Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter, who had several musical intersections with Bowie, and who gave him the heads up about the management side of things.
The documentary nature of such passages is matched by the close likenesses Allred has drawn of major figures in music, some based on the heroic rock and roll photography that has memorialized moments such as The Who and Iggy Pop in concert, Bob Dylan and Elton John album covers, and, of course dozens of memorable Bowie album covers, newspaper photos, concert snaps, fashion shoots, and music videos. Still, the drawings are recognizably Allreds’ (I’m including colourist Laura Allred in this assessment), with instantly intelligible pictures, clean, bold lines, and vivid colours– iconic artwork for an iconic subject.
As befits a book with such strong visuals about a man who led such a cinematic life, the artistic credits are given as if the comic were a movie: “Screenplay by Steve Horton and Michael Allred. Technicolour cinematography by Laura Allred. Directed by Michael Allred.” (The book was edited by Mark Irwin. Hans Allred provided colour assistance and Neil Gaiman contributed the foreword.) It also has bonuses of pencilled pages and Pin-Ups (see what I did there) by the Allreds.
Below: an interior page from BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams.
Since mid-March the arts scene around town has mostly been a series of cancellation announcements. Our province is in lockdown mode. Businesses are starting to re-open, but the ban on large gatherings of people will last some time.
Art galleries have been closed for two months. Most performing arts seasons ended early. The Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival has been cancelled. Teatro la Quindicina has postponed its entire 2020 summer season. The Citadel Theatre has added a note to their website letting people know that their 2020-21 season is subject to change in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
However, this does not mean that there has been no art. Galleries and museums hosted virtual tours, the Metro Cinema hosts movie nights where you stream new releases through their portal, and NeWest Books has hosted book launches online.
When it comes to scheduling arts events, I’m fond of saying “there is too much going on!” That has not changed. There is too much going on even in in this pandemic!
I’m not sure if it’s because we’re all supposed to have “nothing to do”, but I find it even more stressful than usual to choose between art events. The reality for me is that I’m working from home full time, so the number of hours available to me for events has not changed. But with artists and arts organizations figuring out how to do or present their work virtually, the arts calendar is overflowing again.
I didn’t get a chance to see that show this afternoon, but I saw a different project that began as a stage show and ended up being staged via video: the Fringe Theatre off-season show Tracks, which was supposed to be presented at the Backstage Theatre. The work would have been an environmental one: the stage is located inside a building that housed a turnabout for streetcar trains in Edmonton (the Edmonton Radial Railway Society operates a museum in the building), and just outside the theatre is the Strathcona terminus for a historical streetcar ride that goes downtown to the legislature.
Tracks is a which-way performance anthology directed by Beth Dart and tied together by the stories of Mac Brock, who told us about some personal epiphanies he had about himself while encountering trains. Raised in Saskatchewan, the first time he ever took a train was when he moved to Toronto and took the subway. I was charmed by his description of the trains (they looked like giant toaster ovens to his prairie eyes), and moved by his meditations of what it means to be a storyteller when you aren’t that confident in your stories, or, more fundamentally, in the significance of your own personal experience. But we need these stories. We need to know that our experiences are unique, yet shared, and that they’re real and matter.
Throughout the afternoon, Mac gave us two sets of performances to choose from, so it was not possible to see all the performances (unless you had two tickets and two computers — I wish I had thought of that before!). This was probably the plan for the live performance: to get the audience to participate by making a choice. We were further engaged by a feature that let us communicate with the performers via online messages. That was the other interesting aspect of this video presentation: it was all live. The performers were in the space of their choosing — or maybe just the space they happened to be in when the quarantine order came down. So while we were not all in the theatre, we were all, or almost all, in the same place: at home.
Two performances stood out for me. One was by Mustafa Rafiq, who I got to know while covering the noise music scene in Edmonton last year. His segment was wordless, but nevertheless, he communicated experiences that resonated strongly during this lockdown. He was under the covers of his bed the entire time. The room was dark, except for a bright, colour-changing spotlight. At first, we see his arm extending a violin bow to play a guitar that was slung in front of the curtains. Next, he went from the prone position to a kneeling one, all the while playing a saxophone and still under the covers. You could just feel the weight of the blanket pressing down the urge to create, but also the desire to shield the self from the spotlight, especially when you may be conspicuously alone.
The second performance that will stay with me was Hayley Moorhouse’s more logos-based segment. She asked us questions that we answered; hearing her read back the answers in real time made viewers feel seen (I’m not just guessing: someone typed that in). I’m not sure what the experience would have been like in a theatre, and I didn’t hear any of my comments read, but to see and hear someone read your comment back to you on video would be like being featured on a TV show. Like Mac, Hayley also reflected on the concept and the desire to communicate. She said it was like floating around “Sandra Bullock-style” in space, throwing out a distress signal and having someone receive it on the other end. It’s like that sense of relief that character felt, first of all of not being alone, and second, of the possibility of being saved or somehow having your circumstances or perspective change.
I really appreciated those sentiments and thank the creative team for bringing this to us through new ways of communicating. Message received.
Autumn 2019 was a bit of a blur for me as I suffered two rounds of a viral cold while juggling a busy schedule. I did get out to some performances, but did not manage to write about them. I’ll say a few words now for prosperity, and also because I still think about these performances.
Work: Eve 2050 Artist: Van Grimde Corps Secrets Date: Friday, October 18, 2019 Venue: Triffo Theatre, MacEwan University
Last summer, I saw Isabelle van Grimde’s dance film Eve 2050 at DYSCORPIA: Future Intersections of the Body and Technology, a massive visual art exhibit at the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Gallery. The exhibit was curated by Marilène Oliver, whose sculptures can be seen in the film, and who wanted to further explore the themes of the film.
As the title implies, the film version of Eve 2050 is about humanity in the future. It was also the first part of a triptych of performances by van Grimde’s company, Van Grimde Corps Secrets. The second work was a Montreal performance installation in which dancers and audience members co-mingled. The last part of the triptych was a stage performance which debuted in Montreal, and was subsequently presented in Edmonton in October as part of the Brian Webb Dance Company’s current season.
I attended the first of two performances of Eve 2050 at Triffo Theatre. Walking into the auditorium, it was apparent to even those who had not seen the film that the evening was going to be about the interaction between humans and machines. A dancer was already on stage. A vertical beam of light from the stage was scanning the audience.
What followed was not merely an adaptation of the film, which was about cyborgs and human-machine hybridization. The stage performance focused on artificial intelligence and other technological inventions that have allowed humans to extend their presence beyond their bodies. Van Grimde carried over some of the dance vocabulary seen in the film and added a layer of interactive technology. Using infrared technology that was invisible to the audience, dancers triggered and interacted dynamically with seemingly 3D images, including Marilène Oliver’s full-body MRI (which Edmontonians would have seen in the Dyscorpia exhibt) and an architectural rendering which was like a mind palace come to life.
The nine-member dance company was far from overwhelmed by the technology, whether digital or analogue. (One of my favourite “special effects” was a scrim in a door frame with a dancer on either side, suggesting a full-length mirror or a portal to another possible existences or selves.) Fittingly, as they were performing in the the birth city of Marshall “the medium is the message” McLuhan, Van Grimde Corps Secrets’s symbiotic relationship with technology was both the means and the meaning of the work.
Work: Chapter One Artist: Ballet Edmonton Date: Friday, October 25, 2019 Venue: Triffo Theatre, MacEwan University
Ballet Edmonton’s first show of the season was also the first time I’d seen the company since it changed its name from Citie Ballet and hired dancer and choreographer Wen Wei Wang as its new artistic director in 2018.
For the 2019-20 season, Wang has put together three shows, each numbered as a chapter, rather than named. Chapter One was performed on October 25 to 27 (I attended the October 25 performance) and featured two ensemble pieces with themes of seasonal change.
The evening began with Forêts by Serge Bennathan with sound design featuring sounds of the forest by Karissa Barry and Wade Staples. All the dancers wore black outfits, but each one was a little different, so we could tell the trees from the forest. Forêts was a work of pure motion and sound that prompted me to reminisce about the way being in the forest can feel like a reassuring hug, and also a privilege to witness the dynamics within its environment.
The second piece was The Rite, choreographed by Shay Kuebler. Inspired by The Rite of Spring, the 1913 ballet by Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky, The Rite did not cause the audience to riot, but it did portray cycles of nature with choreography that rejects formal stuffiness and embraces organic movements. At first, the ensemble appeared and moved as a huddled mass. Gradually, they flew apart, like fall leaves in the wind, until one dancer portrayed a full life cycle. In the end, the other dancers huddled around her, as if taking her back into the ground, ending the piece as it began, and setting up for the next renewal.
Kuebler will be bringing his company, Shay Kuebler Radical System Art, back to Triffo Theatre on February 14 and 15, 2020, as part of the Brian Webb Dance Company’s season.
I should mention that Ballet Edmonton and Brian Webb Dance Company are collaborating, sharing flip sides of the season souvenir booklet and other resources. It’s a fantastic development, as the two companies perform in the same theatre and offer complementary takes on dance, with Ballet Edmonton presenting modern ballet and Brian Webb Dance Company presenting avant garde dance.
Work: Sara Does a Solo Artist: Sara Porter Date: Friday, December 13, 2019 Venue: Mile Zero Dance
Mile Zero Dance has been doing interesting things with its new storefront space in Little Italy (10816 – 95 Street). It hosts daytime yoga and dance classes, evening dance performances, and all-day exhibits of art in its front lobby.
The evening performances vary from its Dirt City Cabaret series of experimental work to full-length work by the company and by guests. In December, I attended the opening night performance of Sara Does a Solo by Toronto’s Sara Porter, who had also spent the week conducting workshops at Mile Zero.
Porter walked in and welcomed us after we were seated in the intimate space (it’s a dance studio with folding chairs set out on the same level as the performance area). The house lights remained up as her greetings slid into an introduction, and then into the first monologue of the piece. There was no formal boundary between the three pieces of communication, and this was intentional.
Normally, I would introduce an artist with their area of practice. I might have written, “Porter is a dancer and writer”, or, “Porter is a writer and dancer”, but Porter’s piece questions the idea of occupational labels and identity. Porter, who has taken breaks from dancing, made a statement, then amended it, reviving the tenses, challenging the urge to pinpoint an artist’s activities on a static timeline. She said, “I was a dancer. I could have been a dancer. I will have been a dancer.”
The piece reflected the fluidity in her life. From the audience’s point of view, the program was delightfully unpredictable. Porter would follow a story with a movement piece. She would pull a seemingly endless stream of dresses out of a suitcase and wear them all. She would perform a dance to a silent soundtrack. But nothing felt out of place. Everything was about who she was as an artist.
Sara Does a Solo was a combination of memoir, theatre, and dance. She managed to keep you in the story while she deconstructed the story. At no point did being reminded that I was watching the construction of a story kick me out of the story emotionally. She had a way of keeping the audience reeled in. For example, in telling the story of how she met singer Mary Margaret O’Hara (a personal favourite of mine, so I appreciated the story and the MMOH music included in the piece), Porter repeated the beginning of Sara Does a Solo.
At the Q&A after the show, Porter said that she created Sara Does a Solo five years ago. She hasn’t revised it, so as an actor, she’s playing herself from five years ago. “You have to find a way to make [the work] come alive for now.” Sara Porter found the way.
The Mandalorian is so fun to watch, you almost forget that it’s an excellent example of how a corporate entertainment behemoth can freshen up an IP and sell a whole new product along the way.
For this week’s issue of Sequential Tart, I wrote about The Mandalorian‘s ties to the genres that inspired George Lucas, and the secret to Baby Yoda’s success as a pop culture figure.
Baby Yoda is an open signifier, practically invented for memes. Within the context of the show, Baby Yoda can mean a fresh start for the Star Wars franchise. It can symbolize a new generation that prompts older, jaded generations to act against the resurgence of fascism. It can represent renewed appreciation for artisan handicraft in a digital age (the enthusiasm for the mostly puppet creature is a marked contrast to fans’ refusal to warm up to the mostly CGI characters of the prequels).
Even the storytelling style of The Mandalorian seems designed to clear a path for this adorable new overlord.
I participated in a roundtable review of the beautiful new David Bowie book by Mike Allred and Steve Horton:
“Using the last Ziggy Stardust concert as a framing device, BOWIE: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams traces how Bowie built and rebuilt identities and created innovations that affected music, art, fashion, videos, and even financial products.”
One of the things I like about the book is how Horton and Allred credit those behind the scenes who helped shaped Bowie.
UltraViolet with Guest Vocalist and Composer Jane Berry November 23, 2019 McDougall United Church Presented by New Music Edmonton
On November 23, 2019, New Music Edmonton invited me to their first concert of the season. The featured group was UltraViolet, a quartet featuring Chenoa Anderson on flute, Allison Balcetis on saxophone, Amy Nicholson on cello, and Roger Admiral on piano.
On this occasion, they were joined by Jane Berry, who provided vocals on all five pieces performed that night, including her own composition.
I’m going to walk through the program from beginning to end because it made for a perfect evening, starting with the venue. McDougall United Church was built in 1910 with oak interiors and maple floors. It has been used as a church continuously, but has been a concert venue from the start. Its grand opening on January 20, 1911 featured a 50-person choir, and a pipe organ was installed the following year. Opera, symphonies, and recitals have taken place there. (This description summarizes a report by Lawrence Herzog and Molly Staley as part of the Edmonton City as Museum Project). This is all to say that the space is storied and cozy, which complemented and contrasted with the adventurous new music on the program.
The evening opened with John Cage’s “Living Room Music” (1940). The musicians sat on comfy reading chairs and “played” everyday objects of their choosing. They made music with magazine, wooden stools, books on a bench, and a two-by-four, among other items. They took text fragments of “The World Is Round”, a children’s book by Gertrude Stein, and gave it a sound-poem reading. Cage probably didn’t call for vehicular traffic to be incorporated into the piece, but the noise of cars driving past the church became another quotidian source of sound in the performance.
The second piece was “Tanzer Lieder” by Quebec composer Ana Sokolovic. The composition is built around poems written by Francisco Tanzer in German, French, and English (to honour the languages of the members of Trio Phoenix, for which the piece was written) . The natural echo in the McDougall sanctuary added a “special effect” to Berry’s vocals, and her harmonizing with Amy Nicholson’s cello was divine.
Next, Berry sang and hummed her own composition, “The Break”. With lyrics about living with bipolar disorder, the song was gorgeous and haunting, particularly when she sang the words “catch me when I’m falling”, or the repeated phrase, “I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying”, or the poignant line, “If I told you a flower grew in the darkness, would you believe it?” “The Break” resonated both musically and emotionally.
After the intermission, the ensemble performed “The Woman and the Lyre”, a five-movement piece based on poetry fragments by Sappho. The composer, Alyssa Aska, used translations by Canadian poet Bliss Carmen (1861 to 1929). This was the only piece of the night with an electroacoustic element, as Berry’s vocals were processed live from the mic. It also had a performative aspect. At one point, Roger Admiral got up and plucked piano wire as if they were strings on a lyre. The piece also called upon Berry to pace across the stage nervously, perhaps reflecting the anxiety of the poet. I thought the action was also a metaphor for the tightrope the musicians were walking in presenting a fully realized contemporary piece of work based on fragments for which we do not have a full context. Satisfyingly, the piece ended on a sure and sublime note.
Finally, UltraViolet performed five movements from Frederic Rzewski’s 1986 composition, “Chains”. If the Sappho piece had a historical flavour, “Chain” was unnervingly topical. Jane Berry sat on one of the comfy armchairs which made an appearance at the start of the program. This time, she was holding a copy of the National Post, and literally reading the news: Trump, the provincial budget, university funding, the Climate Strike march, oh boy! Berry begin to break down the words until they were music, while the Chenoa Anderson and Allison Balcetis coaxed their wind instruments to make sounds like early morning bird calls. The ensemble referred back to the John Cage piece by incorporating everyday objects once again to make music, this time there was a wrench, and a stapler, and a set of keys on a lanyard. Berry provided a physical performance as she did in the Alyssa Aska piece, but instead of pacing, she sat in the chair, building a structure with Jenga blocks, until she dramatically swiped it all off the table.
“Chains” was the perfect book-end to “Living Room Music”, with elements that brought “Tanzer Lieder”, “The Break”, and “The Woman and the Lyre: Sapphic Cycle” to mind. Kudos to UltraViolet for a well-considered, fun, and beautifully performed program.
UltraViolet was named in honour of the late Edmonton composer Violet Archer. The ensemble is especially interested in performing brand new work, and have pledged “to maintain gender parity in our programming and commissioning.” Check out video of performances of three new works on their website.
New Music Edmonton presents a number of shows during the year. They host a series called NME at The Aviary: New Music, New Voices (the next one is on January 16, 2020) and an annual spring music festival called Now Hear This, which will take place on March 19 to 22, 2020. Details about these shows are on the New Music Edmonton website.
A week after watching Paul Rudd’s Netflix show Living with Yourself, I kept coming back to one thing: the music.
The show was interesting enough. It’s about a bedraggled man who goes in for a wellness treatment and wakes up in a grave. He finds out that he’s been replaced by a cloned, better version of himself. Amplifying the character’s growing unease and horror, as well as the plot’s self-aware absurdity, was the soundtrack by Anna Meredith. I binged the show, partly to see what was going to happen next in the story, but increasingly to be delighted anew by the score. After the show was over, I went looking for more of the music.
As luck would have it, Meredith has a brand new album out, her second, called Fibs, and it’s thrilling. I just did not know what musical phrasing, instrumentation, or style would come up next, but when it did, it all fit together in its own bold way. Meredith’s musical foundations for this album are in classical music, pop, and electrionica, but flourishes reminiscent of carnival rides, video games, and big, brash marching bands keep the listener tumbling along through her audacious musical explorations.
Meredith is playing a couple of festivals in the Netherlands this weekend and has gigs lined up in the UK for February 2020. I hope she gets to play some Canadian dates soon.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of back catalogue to binge before I circle back for another musical adventure ride with Fibs.
When it became clear that broadcast television was hellbent on reviving every procedural show from the 1970s and 80s, I thought, “Fine, but I want a Rockford Files reboot.” We could use some of that working class, down-but-not-out attitude a new Rockford could bring.
Enter Stumptown, the new ABC show based on the comic, itself inspired by the Rockford Files, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Justin Greenwood.
It stars Cobie Smulders (who plays another comic book character, Maria Hill, in the MCU) as Dex Parios, an army vet with PTSD who hasn’t had regular employment in 10 years. The show’s first episodes trace her journey from realizing that she has a knack for detective to seeking a license to become a private eye.
But Dex is the centre of the show. Like Jim Rockford, Dex is a bit of a mess–alcohol and gambling are two self-destructive ways she’s been dealing with trauma–but she also has some serious responsibilities, most importantly looking after her younger brother, Ansel, who has Down’s Syndrome (played by Cole Sibus, who also has Down’s Syndrome).
Also like Rockford, Dex loves her car. Rockford drove late-1970s golden Firebirds. Dex drives a $600 POS Mustang with a cassette of late-1970s/early-80s music stuck in the tape deck. Few things on TV are as gratifying as watching Cobie Smulders beat up the bad guys to a soundtrack of Joan Jett, the Cars, and the Clash.
So far, not a second of the first five episodes is wasted. Details matter in the show, both for the mystery of the week, and for the longer character arcs. And every recurring character seems so well considered and full of history like they could walk off and star on their own show at any time: Jake Johnson (Dex’s ex-felon friend), Michael Ealy (Dex’s cop friend, Miles), Camryn Manheim (Miles’s boss and Dex’s sometime antagonist), Adrian Martinez (Dex’s food truck friend), Tantoo Cardinal (Dex’s ex’s mother and antagonist), and Donal Logue (Dex’s P.I. mentor and antagonist).
There’s another character that makes the show: Portland, Oregon (the show is named after the city’s nickname, Stumptown). I’ve never been to Portland, but the show makes Portland, with its reputation as a hipster big small city (or small big city) constituting another character.
I’m already invested in how things turn out for all the characters. And each week, I look forward to hearing what else is on that endless mixtape.
Last week, Edmonton musician Mustafa Rafiq announced that he would be putting his music curation activities as Sweaty Palms on hiatus while he takes some time off to travel and explore music scenes in Europe.
I met Mustafa this summer while preparing a two-part article on the sound art scene in Edmonton for Luma Quarterly (part one went live in August; my interview with Mustafa appears in November). I was impressed with his commitment to bringing local and international experimental acts to Edmonton stages. He’s presented hundreds of different kinds of shows in different venues, but as someone who doesn’t drive and has a day job, I appreciate his efforts to put on centrally located shows with early start- and end-times. I’ve been avoiding gigs because they just start too late for me, so I was happy to check out some of the venues I’ve been missing out on.
I managed to catch two of the last Sweaty Palms gigs of 2019. The first was on October 11, an electronica triple-bill at 9910. It was my first visit to this downstairs space under The Common. I liked the brothel-esque aesthetic! I sat in one of the banquettes along the wall, opting for comfort over better sightlines, but I am the type of person who closes their eyes once the music gets going.
First up was Matthew Cardinal, a member of nehiywak who also has a solo act. His set ebbed and flowed between being atmospheric and bringing in more of a dance beat. There were passages marked by notes that rang the top end of the hearing range, followed by booming sounds that we could feel through the floor: it was a head-to-toe experience of sound.
Next was Jonathan Kawchuk, who set up what looked like a ping-pong table. He stood on one end with his back to my side of the audience (my viewing angle actually let me see Kawchuk reflected in a mirror on the other side of the room); another musician (I didn’t get his name) was at the other end of the table. Instead of ping-pong paddles, they wielded iPads which seemed to control both the music and a bank of lights above the audience. The sound and light alternated between being soothing and being unsettling, which really brought to mind how little it can take to nudge a person (okay, me) out of their comfort zone.
The final act of the evening was Kara-Lis Coverdale. Coverdale’s set-up was minimal—just her, her sequencer, and a tight spotlight on her fingers—but the music she produced was maximal. Her set came in strong with complex, layered sounds. It evoked images of air travel for me. For the friend who accompanied me, Coverdale’s music specifically evoked Montreal, where my friend had recently vacationed, and where Coverdale is based. I’m sure everyone in the room had different thoughts. The point is, Coverdale’s epic set allowed listeners to dream or meditate on a huge scale.
Less than a week after the triple-bill at 9910, Sweaty Palms in conjunction with New Music Edmonton co-presented a special double bill at The Almanac on October 16. I’ve been to The Almanac for poetry readings. The front of the restaurant is a bistro; the back is a pub set-up where they hold events. This show was an experimental, noise gig featuring two “supergroups”. Opening the night was the duo of Allison Balcetis playing saxophone and Kelly Ruth operating a weaving loom equipped with contact mics running through a sequencer. I interviewed Kelly (also for Luma Quarterly) about her use of a weaving loom to make music, and this was my first time seeing her play. She used a weaving shuttle and her fingers to get sound out of the loom. Maybe because it was October, but the images their set inspired were of wandering through a mansion, exploring the biggest rooms and the smallest corners, and perhaps finding an egress to a batcave or to the outdoors in the end.
The visiting headliners at the Almanac gig were Montreal’s Sound of the Mountain with special guests from Japan, Tetuzi Akiyuma and Toshimaru Nakamura. This was a spectacular set with a reed instrumentalist and a guitarist on either side of two synth players. The synth and guitar evoked visions of machine-built cities, with the reed instruments evoking the breaths and voices of humans who design and live in them.
I feel really fortunate to have caught these shows, and only wish that I’d caught more Sweaty Palms productions over the past few years. I’m looking forward to whatever Mustafa will bring back from his travels.