Ottawa Showbox’s Favourite Shows of 2014
It’s been another crazy 52 weeks in the nation’s capital and it’s coming to a close. How did we get here? What happened this summer again? Who is asleep in the bathtub? Who cares? It’s time for another kind of Throwback, to what rocked this year in Ottawa!
What’s important right now is listing our favourite shows of the year in no order. Thank you to all local musicians, creators & performers who made our days & nights entertaining, and thank you to all those travelling artists who graced our city’s stages in 2014.
Photo: Joseph Mathieu
“Possibly the most anticipated act for me that evening was by a fine Brit by the name of Simon Green, better known to the world as DJ & producer Bonobo. Is there anything better than watching something you know to be good turn out to be great? The man on the bass & buttons was flanked by five other artists who added dimension to his downbeat electronica but who also let him play solo so we could meet the hard-working multi-instrumentalist he truly is…”
Photo: David Kawai
“There was a lot of pushing, shoving, moshing, pogoing, falling, crowd surfing, and general disregard for our own bodies. That’s just the kind of music it was – they truly inspired us to sacrifice our bodies and leave our collective problems at the front door while letting the music take us away. There were a few instances where I got a bit worried for some smaller individuals in the pit, but everyone made it out alive and well (save for the aforementioned bruises and aches)…”
Photo: Hanhong Dan
“These sounds overlapped and crashed into each other as Jesse spun his extraterrestrial tale on his Terran synth. On five screens you could see the images of earth (also included on the golden discs) shifting and melting as the Reactable throbbed with the voices of the children of Earth with greetings in numerous languages. The middle screen captured Jesse’s pate, directly above the Reactable and its Tangibles…”
Photo: Joseph Mathieu
“Thank Christ for Deltron Zero and the cantankerous Captain Aptos, AKA Dan the Automator. We found out exactly why he’s called the Automator by watching him orchestrate with little finger wiggles and full arm movements while pounding on a synth with his free hand. There was a live band supporting these two supers making their way through the future, as 3030 slowly became 3040, as well as the third of the trinity: Skiznod the Boy Wonder AKA Kid Koala…”
Photo: Joseph Mathieu
“Quand elle jouait de la guitare, les marques d’usage sur le corps m’ont dis qu’elle l’a joué en tabarnac sa guit’, et quand elle jouait le banjo, elle l’a joué comme j’ai jamais vu un banjo joué. C’était une performance inoubliable, et possiblement pour Lisa aussi. Le premier concert de sa saison d’été et d’après sa réaction à nos applaudissement après « Kraft Dinner » elle a été touché par notre enthousiasme. C’est pas mal facile de se donner complètement à la chevelure en statique, la voix rauque & l’humour de cette Acadienne. En chantant « Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde » pour finir la nuit, c’était un show du tonnerre…”
Photo: Eric Scharf
“One of the other big highlights was during “Paper Girl” when Leah could be seen chatting with a girl in the crowd as the song began. After a little discussion she pulled her up on stage and had her sing Leah’s first verse for her on stage. They then danced, sang together and Leah even picked her up and cradled her while spinning around. I am sure that lucky fan will never forget that night…”
Photo: Eric Scharf
“While all of the singers were extremely impressive and convincing in their unique adaptations of Nirvana’s songs, the one that really stood out for me was “Territorial Pissings” sung by Craig Proulx of Pregnancy Scares. If you’ve ever seen Pregnancy Scares before, you know that Craig is an absolute maniac on stage, his eyes filling with a possessed look while lunging back and forth to the audience. He is one of those singers that seems to really thrive off the chaos in front of him, and there was chaos as bodies were flying everywhere…”
Photo: Jeff Watkins
“The magic moment of the set came when they paused just before the last drop in “Shine a Light” and all put their arms in the air. The crowd matched them while hooting and hollering, until Constantines kicked it back into gear. The band really looked like they were having a good time, and Webb confirmed it, “It’s fun to play these songs again, I love the Constantines.” Ottawa does as well Bry, come back anytime!…”
Photo: Ming Wu
Rich Aucoin @ House of TARG (Oct. 2)
Rich Aucoin’s ‘drop everything and just have fun’ attitude couldn’t have fit more perfectly at House of TARG. With great projections, the sounds of video games all around, and one giant parachute, Aucoin was at home. He played a number of songs off his acclaimed new record Ephemeral, and made sure that every single person was involved in making this a night to remember. About a third of the way through the set, Aucoin got the entire crowd together and got local photographer Ming Wu to take a photo together. Who does that? Rich Aucoin, the eternal party, that’s who.
Day three of Ottawa Explosion Weekend was absolutely insane! It went from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. I think… I can’t completely remember. It featured so many amazing bands — Jon Creeden, ROBOTS!EVERYWHERE!!, Outtacontroler, Tough Age, Protomartyr, The White Wires, Dig It Up, The Creeps, and Radioactivity all in a row! It was total madness.
Photo: Eric Scharf
“What is so great about Propagandhi is that it’s clear that it’s not just the lead singer pushing the message. Drummer, Jord Samolesky, spoke up about how he has been around for over 40 years now and has see the government go from “Liberal to Con to Lib to Con, and we are just moving more and more right, it is getting worst… it is time to start something radical, it is time for change. You are in Ottawa — start some fucking shit!” Combine that with the ever intense songs where the bass player takes lead vocals and this band packs as much of a musical punch as they do politically…”
Photo: Eric Scharf
“Even with sweat dripping off all the band members and everyone in the crowd, there was no slowing The Steamers or staggering the energy in the room. The Steamers have a great collection of original tracks that had us all dancing and singing along…”
Photo: Stephen McGill
New Swears Album Release @ Gabba Hey! (Aug. 23)
It was one of the sweatiest, messiest, most outrageous hoards of human flesh moving to music I had ever witnessed going to a show. Ever. New Swears were at the top of their punk rock game at Gabba Hey!, not giving a shit about their own well-being and somehow managing to continue playing and singing while crowdsurfing over the mass of disturbed moshing people (I was one of them). It wasn’t even moshing, because that implies that there was some set of rules or… something. This was the definition of chaos.
Photo: Jeff Watkins
“The four-piece sounded great and were thrilled to be there, constantly mentioning how awesome the bill was. Sometimes sounding like bands of the Gang of Four variety (and I say that as a compliment) Ought had my head bobbing along all show… Glad I stuck around late to check these guys out, they did not hit the stage until around 1 a.m….”
Photo: Ming Wu
“They were heavy, technical, and completely unorthodox. The way they used effects to supplement their really well-written songs is captivating, and I couldn’t help but just move erratically to what I was experiencing. I won’t say too much more other than that they kind of scared me in a really weird and good way…”
Photo: Ming Wu
Mac DeMarco @ Blacksheep Inn (Apr. 4)
This was by far the best show I have ever seen at The Blacksheep Inn. DeMarco’s neo-crooner style fit perfectly at The Blacksheep Inn, and the packed house was writhing in anticipation for him to come out and play. Once he got on stage, there was some obligatory crude banter from Mac and a wide, gap-toothed smile. The set included songs from both his first album, 2, and his latest release, Salad Days. It is a sight to see – an entire venue as nice as Blacksheep (which is host to many seated candlelit performances) explode with maniacal fans, losing their minds more and more one song after the next. By the end of it, Mac crowdsurfed his way into our memories, delivering himself into the storied history of Wakefield.
Chamberfest Premieres the Voyager Golden Record Remix Project @ St. Brigid’s
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” — Johann Sebastian Bach
Before we can get to the show we have to set the stage. If “Sounds from Space” were a play, the Playwright would be humanity — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and former US President Jimmy Carter could snag Producer titles — Carl Sagan and his committee would be the integral Theatre Consultants — Roman Borys (artistic director of the Chamberfest) would be Dramaturge — Colin Power, the fastidious videographer, would be Scenic Designer — and Jesse Stewart would be Artistic Director, Master Electrician, Sound Designer & Stagehand.
It’s complex but in a nutshell it’s a science fiction remix. The Voyager Golden Record Remix Project premiered at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts last Friday as part of Chamberfest.
The Project uses close to half the golden record’s 31 recordings. Jesse’s original plan was to use more than 10 turntables to spin wax simultaneously. He had thought it out back when samples couldn’t be found by the click of a mouse. You had to scour vinyl bins in music stores, with a scribbled list from an encyclopedia or perhaps a NASA press release you found in a library. This was before the Internet, before digital synthesizers like the Reactable.
With this instrument, Jesse acted out the Plot: An alien has found a Voyager probe and deciphered the golden disc to make sounds! It is confronted with a salutation of human civilization and, without any context, will understand this to be a snapshot of our “culture.” A valiant effort undertaken by Carl Sagan and his counterparts at NASA, who definitely dug chamber. So what would the saucerman do with this “culture?” Would he make it his own? Would he sample it with his Reactable? Because we have to believe this spaceman has the counter-high, circular instrument from Spain that Jesse has. It’s an illuminated table with blocks called Tangibles that play sound generators, sequencers, oscillators & a large number of effects. The sound is made visible as electrical bolts all linked to the centre dot, which pulses with tempo. In the background, the golden record’s coded side spun lazily in a hazy blue.
The actual gold-plated, copper records attached to the side of interstellar spacecraft contain three pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, as well as Beethoven’s First movement of his Fifth and his “String Quartet No. 13.” The only piece of music I could actively identify through the sampling was “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. Then there are tons of flutes, chanting by Australian, Indian & Navajo peoples, a Pygmy girl’s initiation song from Zaire, “La Castabel” by Mexican guitarist Lorenzo Barcelata, and other folk songs from countries like Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Papua New Guinea. And what would a mixtape from the 70s be without the melancholic Louis Armstrong?
Jesse Stewart interfacing the Voyager Golden Records on his Reactable for Chamberfest’s Chamber Fringe at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Photo credit: Hanhong Dan
Four tracks of the record’s 31 are human greeting and bio-diverse noises ranging from volcanoes to dogs. Also, the sounds of industry: horns braying, machines clanking, saws sawing & planes flying. These sounds overlapped and crashed into each other as Jesse spun his extraterrestrial tale on his Terran synth. On five screens you could see the images of earth (also included on the golden discs) shifting and melting as the Reactable throbbed with the voices of the children of Earth with greetings in numerous languages. The middle screen captured Jesse’s pate, directly above the Reactable and its Tangibles, flanked by two MacBook Pros. All in black, Jesse Stewart was Conductor to the performance’s Orchestra.
Only about 80 sound samples were used that night, just a glimpse of the little green man out there banging on our drum. And still it would have been overwhelming without the visuals: spermatozoa impregnated an egg, bridges stretched and trees grew, people ignored or smiled at the camera, and a range of animals posed in their natural habitat, once with the outline of a hunter over the crest. It made me wonder what a saucerman would actually think of these images, or Beethoven’s aggressive joint, or the voice of Legion saying “hiya.” At Jesse’s finicky fingers we were immersed into a cloud of reverb & echo of that creativity. Ever the percussionist, his head started to bob as Chuck Berry started riffing. The hour slid by for the Fringe crowd — the common patron of OICMF had been in bed hours ago.
Jesse’s remix was a quiet tip of the hat to all the people who made the golden records possible, from the earliest aboriginals songwriters, to the makers who engineered the technology, to classical composers & avid interviewers, and to great thinkers who figured out how to say hi to the unknown. When the curtain fell, the silence that reigned was of stunned awe, like the airlessness of space. Then we remembered where we were and who we were and we applauded.
Interview: Jesse Stewart, Percussionist, Instrument Creator & Educator
Photo by Michele McMillan
This is about a man enraptured by sound, someone who never stopped hitting on pots and pans once he grew up. Oshawa-born Jesse Stewart will be the focus of Ottawa Chamberfest’s Siskind Snapshot on Friday, Aug. 1 at 5:45 p.m. at the Dominion-Chalmers United Church showcasing his stellar performance later that evening at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. “Sounds From Space” will be unlike anything you have ever seen or heard… Tickets are $30 and might run out soon. The full title of the show is “Sounds From Space: The Voyager Golden Record Remix Project.”
For six years, Jesse has taught a number of classes at Carleton University, including music composition, improvisation, and jazz history among others. Before Ottawa, he lived in Guelph where he formed the band Stretch Orchestra (formely Tallboys) with Matt Brubeck & Kevin Breit. Their debut self-titled album won them a JUNO Award in 2012 for Best Instrumental Album of the Year. We had the chance to chat with him last week.
Q & A with Jesse Stewart
You’ve done so much varied work in visual, audio & multimedia art that you have a long list of titles growing after your name. What describes you best: creator, percussionist, or educator?
I guess the two that stand out for me are creator and educator. A creator is an artist, and that doesn’t necessarily mean one idiom. Because I work in visual and sonic arts I do a range of different things in those areas. But I teach as well, for me those are both connected. My career as an educator is closely linked to the creation of art. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student that I haven’t learned from.
You’ve been teaching at Carleton University for six years now, but how has this year been different?
This past year I was not teaching because I received the Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship. There’s one per year. It buys a faculty member out of teaching for that year. I am fortunate enough to be able to focus on my own work — lots of recording, playing, writing — this year, and as you may know university faculty get a sabbatical every seventh year. So this is now my sabbatical where I’m not teaching, I’m free to focus on my own work again.
I look forward to going back because I love teaching but it’s been very nice to have an extended period of time to focus on my own research. I’m still doing a range of different things that have pedagogical aspects to them. In Newfoundland I taught for a couple weeks at a summer institute for graduate students. This fall I’m teaching at the Discovery University created by the Ottawa Mission. I’ve only taught a couple classes there but I’d be happy to have the chance to do more with them. More and more I’m doing community music initiatives, basically collaborations with a community organization. I was the artist-in-residence at the Regina Street Public School, and the whole school, about 160 kids, and I put on a show. That’s a very clear example of initiatives where my background as an artist and as an educator coincide.
You’ve worked with an organization called H’Art of Ottawa, which actively encourages creativity & self-expression for those with developmental disabilities. Could you tell us a little about the “multimedia opera” Turning the Page you put on with them in April of this year?
The organization facilitates art-making for all types of people with disabilities, and one time the executive director of H’art [Lin Rowsell] and I were speaking at the same event. She showed the images of artists’ paintings, and I thought they were amazing so I went up to her later to tell her I was taken with the images. She asked, would you ever want to collaborate with us? And I said I’d love to. So every week for the past six to eight months I’d be with a different group and bring in some percussion or electronic instruments and we’d make music together. The idea was to just sort of let this project emerge on its own. I wasn’t telling anyone what to play, I’d just bring stuff in and just see what would happen. Together we decided what parts we’d like to incorporate into this musical theatre. Images of the artists were projected during the whole performance, and we used a variety of found objects as instruments, percussion instruments, iPads with an Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) software that transforms movement into sound, and the reactable.
Jesse Stewart plays his reactable. Photo by Brett Delmage
Can you describe the reactable instrument for us?
The reactable is digital sampler and synthesizer that takes the form of an illuminated table. Basically, the table is a kind of interface for controlling sound and sound synthesis on a laptop. By placing objects on the surface of the table I can trigger different sounds, add filters, oscillators, sub-oscillators, and wave forms. It allows me to create electronic music live so it’s not just pressing play and checking my email. I’m actually controlling every sound with a visual interface. It’s very intuitive — groups of people who don’t necessarily have musical training figure it out quite quickly. It has allowed me to realize an idea I’ve had in mind, probably over the last 10 years, to create an extended composition using the recordings that were sent into space in 1977 on the Voyager spacecraft. I’ve always wanted to use those pieces as source material to create something new.
On Friday Aug. 1 you’ll be showcasing that project you call “Sounds from Space,” a remix of the music and images on the two golden records sent into deep space on the Voyager shuttles. Please tell us more!
I started tracking down copies of the recordings much before you could just go online and find them. The idea was “what if an alien species finds these spacecraft?” That’s a big reason they were being sent to drift throughout space for all eternity. Carl Sagan said if you’re going to do that it’s an opportunity to have a message in a bottle, and the message took shape in these gold-plated copper records. Lots of different music, sounds of Earth, and greetings in 80-odd languages were encoded along with over 100 images. About 10 years ago I started to think if it was found and successfully decoded, what would they do with it? What if this alien race didn’t necessarily have any art or music or culture of its own? What if they took this music and images and used them to construct an art of their own? What would that look like? What would it sound like?
I really have to give props to Roman Borys, the artistic director of the Chamberfest, for this. We’ve been talking about much bigger projects for years now and he contacted me several months ago to tell me this was the year to realize one of those projects at the festival. I sent him 10 or 12 ideas of larger-scale projects and he suggested we do “Sounds from Space.” When I first conceived this project I thought I’d be using turntables but now I have the reactable. Technology has caught up to the idea so I felt like the time had come too. Roman is programming what people would expect out of a chamber music event but he’s also taking chances on a lot of things. He’s pushing boundaries of how we conceive chamber music and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
Essentially, I’m creating the performance specifically for Chamberfest, and I’m very happy to be able to perform it first in Ottawa. In addition to this musical remix there is also a visual component. I’ve been working with local filmmaker Colin Power to have a little video of the still images from the golden records animated. I do want the performance to be documented and I hope to tour this piece. I’m already booked to perform it in May 2015, so maybe I’ll have a chance to perform it again before then.
Jesse presenting at TEDxCarletonU in 2010
You create instruments and use unusual musical devices throughout your art. Where does this fascination for peculiar sounds come from?
I think a lot of it is fueled by curiosity, really. One of the things I love about music in general is the sense of wonder that can go along with a musical experience. A lot of what I do is based on that, what I think of as a quest of discovery. It extends in the way I approach the drum set, probably the instrument I’m most associated with. I’ve played drums in the conventional way but also in a range of unconventional or “extended” techniques, as a way of discovering new and unexpected sounds even from familiar instruments.
That process of experimentation goes into other things, and the way I interact with the world around me. I’m constantly tapping on everything, looking for sounds I’ve never heard before. How can I interact with this familiar object so it produces an unexpected sound? I’ve done a whole concert on a piece of cardboard before. I use rocks, sea shells, saw blades, bits of garbage I can find, and sometimes I even look for things backstage before the show.
I’ve built instruments out of ice, stone, cardboard, newspaper, and other various types of paper. Again it’s all motivated by this sense of curiosity and exploration.
Do you have a catalog of the instruments you possess?
I don’t have a catalog but my website has some pictures of the various things that I play. Of course I play instruments that I haven’t built too. I went through a phase around 1996 or 1997 where I made all kinds of instruments out of glass. I made a glass marimba, an udu drum, a flute, and almost all of them have broken by now. It’s one of the dangers of making things out of glass.
What is your favourite instrument?
My favourite instrument is the one I have yet to discover. The drum is my first instrument, I’ve always banged around on pots and pans. When I really started to study drums I loved playing them in part because it combines many other instruments of different cultural traditions. In order to accommodate the growing rhythmic complexity of the music, early jazz and ragtime drummers had to have a variety of different toms, they combined the snare drum and the bass drum, cymbals from Turkey, and originally the tom-tom was a Chinese drum. I like that, the fact that it’s got these bits and pieces from all these different traditions.
And I really do like the fact that there are many universes of sound within the drum set. You can play them with sticks but I’ve dedicated myself for the last 15 years to try and explore other nuances to create a kind of expanded vocabulary for the instrument. What I’ve found is that this vocabulary is infinite.
What are your writing projects these days?
I’m currently writing a book about jazz history where each chapter is a look into the relation between jazz and another genre: so afro-cuban music and jazz, hip hop and jazz, western music and jazz, etc. That’s one book on the go, and the other I’m co-authoring with Ajay Heble on the pedagogy of musical improvisation.
Are you still making music with Matt Brubeck & Kevin Breit as Stretch Orchestra?
Yes we are, we have a show in September at the Guelph Jazz Festival. We have a few other things in the fall and winter. We’re hoping to make a new recording in 2015.