It’s been almost two years since violinist-extraordinaire Mika Posen released her debut solo record under the new moniker Merganzer. Before that, she had studied violin with the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s David Thies-Thompson and gone on to tour with renowned acts such as Timber Timbre, as well as contribute her violin skills to the works of Forest City Lovers, Feist, Basia Bulat and Evening Hymns. Having grown up in Ottawa, Posen left the capital at 18 and lived in cities such as Toronto and Berlin until her return to her hometown after more than a decade.
These experiences, along with a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology from York, have provided Posen with disparate experiences from which to draw influences for her solo project. Merganzer is undoubtedly an extension of Posen, and the music we’ve heard so far—particularly off of the 2015 debut LP Mirror Maze—is eccentric, contemplative, and exploratory. The soundscapes are varied, as the listener is pulled between layers of mesmerizing beats, beautiful vocal melodies, enchanting string arrangements—like soaring gracefully through cavernous depths and over towering mountain peaks.
Merganzer has put out a new video of an unreleased track called “Cloud Cover,” which is exciting for those of us who have been chomping at the bit for more. It comes just in time for her upcoming performance December 1st at Mirror Mountain Film Festival (co-presented by Ottawa Showbox) along with Montreal media artist Sonya Stefan. The event is called Passé Composé, and will be a collaborative live performance based on the theme of transformation.
“The video was directed by Nick Dolinski (who lived in Ottawa up until a year or two ago) and shot by Ottawa media artist Tim Smith,” explains Posen. “We made it this past July on the roof of our Toronto apartment building right before we moved back to Ottawa. For Tim and I, it represents a final farewell to that big crazy city.”
Mirror Mountain Film Festival is the newest addition to Ottawa’s expanding indie festival landscape, and contains an exciting schedule of events for the people of Ottawa to enjoy. The festivities will take place December 1-3 at Arts Court Theatre, bringing together the creative minds of filmmakers from across the world. In addition to film screenings, parties, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions, Mirror Mountain is teaming up with Showbox as a co-presenter for this year’s live music programming. The live portion will combine two key aspects – a live music performance and a film/media art performance that will run concurrently.
We’ll be co-presenting two events throughout the festival, which you can read more about below. Tickets $5 / Passes $20 are available for pre-order here. Check out the full festival schedule on the Mirror Mountain website.
Ottawa musicians Merganzer and Montreal media artist Sonya Stefan present Passé Composé, a collaborative live performance based on the theme of transformation.
Stefan creates dynamic live images from a combination of damaged film footage and video feedback. Performing with disintegrating equipment of all kinds, from broken video mixers, to scratched and worn celluloid film strips, to glitched television screens, Stefan transforms, manipulates and overlaps projections in real time, creating a truly unforgettable experience. She will be joined for part of the performance by fellow Montreal media artist Emma Roufs.
Merganzeris the project of violinist Mika Posen, combining instrumental soundscapes, ambient textures and melodic interludes. Posen’s expressive compositions take the listener on a dream-like sonic journey. She will be accompanied on stage by percussionist Pascal Delaquis (Little Scream, Claude Munson). They will be using electronic effects to transform the violin and drums into a unique palette of polyphonic sounds inspired by Stefan’s images.
Join for a party in our festival lounge featuring a special set by Ottawa dream-pop quartet Sparklesaurus. Their sound pairs the emotional rawness of garage rock with the lush glitter-infused tonalities of glam, set in a landscape of scaling synths, swirling guitar tones, colourful harmonies, and a stoney rhythm section. Its members are Felicity DeCarle, Colleen Jones, Shamisa Schroeder and Brad Lapensee.
Featured photo: RBC Bluesfest Press Images. PHOTO/Danyca MacDonald
I got to Bluesfest later than I’d planned (because some things never change), and while I missed Bonnie Doon’s set, I got it on good authority that it was killer and complete with inflatable pizza slices. I kinda blew it, but it was too early in the day to be bummed so I hit the City Stage to catch The Peptides.
I’ve always heard this group puts on a fun show and, from the neon hair and plastic shirts to the choreographed dances and 5-part vocal harmonies, I’d say you can believe that hype. Shit was pure entertainment.
The PepTides at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 17, 2016 ~ RBC BluesfestPress Images. PHOTO/Danyca MacDonald
We split a bit early to hop across the bridge to the closest dép (because one can only budget for so many $8.50 beers in a day). Brown-baggin it, we honoured the traditions of teenage Bluesfests of yore, and hustled back to catch Bombino.
This band goes by the nickname of band leader Omara “Bombino” Moctar, who grew up in a Tuareg encampment in North Niger. They blend traditional modes and rhythms of the region with rock’n’roll, and Moctar himself (birthname Goumour Almoctar), has a hell of a personal history. He has lived through multiple Tuareg rebellions, lost friends and family, lived in exile in Burkina Faso, and also recorded in California with The Rolling Stones and was Angelina Jolie’s personal tour guide to his home region. That last bit about Angelina is kinda kitschy by comparison but the point is this dude’s getting around, and his music is reaching people around the world. A few years ago I was in New York and found a Bombino record produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys (a record which apparently won them a Grammy), and I knew I’d have to see this band live someday. So I did. And they’re amazing. Check it out.
Next we took a welcome break from the sun, to chill inside with Merganzer. The air conditioning only enhanced the relaxing experience of the ebbs and flows of Mika Posen’s dreamy layers of violin and keys. A drummer, bassist and another singer/pianist accompanied most of the set, and it fleshed things out beautifully. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone dedicate a song to a classical composer, but I guess shouts out to Dvorjak are kinda par for the course at a Merganzer show.
I popped back outside to watch leMeow,whose singer was described to me Ottawa’s Amy Winehouse, which was apt as the band rolled a slick cover of Amy’s song “Valerie.” They sailed through some smooth soul jams, with a rare minimalism in soul/r&b music (only piano, bass and drums accompanying the voclas). The singer also took the backseat on keys as the ivory mainstay took centre stage for an impressive flute solo on the Van Morrison classic, Moondance. Step aside, Ron Burgundy, this is some real jazz flute.
The air conditioning was calling my name and I was anxious to get back to the Wi-Fi (for no good reason at all, I’m not even playing Pokémon Go), so it was back to a packed Barney Danson Theatre for Monday I Retire.
This is a really cool band, inventive jazzy jams with some atmospheric pop and soul for good measure, their style spanned from reminders of Snarky Puppy to Explosions In The Sky. Super fun to watch with loads of clear chemistry, with the rhythm section watching one another and laughing at complex passages, not to mention the fact that lead singer Mackenzie and guitarist/keyboradist Ben are siblings as well as the main songrwiters in the band. It was challenging to follow at times, given some odd time signatures and that thing that jazz musicians do that’s kinda showing off, but not in a douchey way. I think that’s what the kids call “killin it”. I definitely recommend catching their EP release show August 27th at the Rainbow Bistro.
One last local for the day: Scary Bear Soundtrack, also in the lovely air conditioned Barney Danson Theatre. Dedicating songs to their parents, and sharing stories of living in Nunavut, they charmed a receptive crowd with their sweet, dreamy synth-pop tunes. Not to mention their back-to-back covers of the Sailor Moon theme song, and Dancing In The Dark. Now that’s how to reach everyone in the room. Consider this crowd pleased. Be sure to catch them at Bar Robo on August 25, presented by Ottawa Showbox.
And it’s then it was time for the feels trip of the evening. I have long since given up trying to figure out who hurt Dallas Green, in a way that left him perpetually writing songs that simultaneously warm and break your heart. The last time I saw City and Colour was in 2010 when Bluesfest set up a free stage in the Byward market, and he played a solo show to a sardined York Street. Things have really grown since then – his 5-piece band sounded huge, with new arrangements of older tunes and a much more sophisticated sound of post-rock, country and even some R&B.
City and Colour at RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa on Sunday, July 17, 2016 ~ RBC BluesfestPress Images. PHOTO/Mark Horton
Opening the set with the newest album’s opening track, the slow-burning atmospheric Woman pulled us in while he held us there with a few more cuts from the new record, If I Should Go Before You. I was hooked, but I couldn’t get over the blazer he was wearing… this cheesy plaid thing, with lapels that looked like a patch quilt, as if he was running late coming from his cottage and just cut up some blankets and threw a jacket together. I wouldn’t even forgive Don Cherry for wearing this thing.
He threw us more bones as the set progressed, playing songs like “The Girl” and “Sleeping Sickness.” For the latter, I’m sure everyone was hoping that Gord Downie might miraculously join him on stage, to no avail. But Dallas covered some classic Hip with “Bobcaygeon” as a closer. I left early to beat the crowds, and his voice reverberated off the Library and Archives building, keeping the vibe going as he cooed Ottawa Bluesfest to sleep for another year.
The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition is making good on its goal of growing Ottawa’s music industry, and it is doing so one step at a time. OMIC has just announced that a diverse group of Ottawa-area artists will be taking a trip to Toronto during Canadian Music Week – Canada’s largest and most influential media and music conference – to play a showcase. This announcement signifies a move by OMIC to begin connecting the region’s artists to larger music industry centres, and provide them a platform to be recognized by top industry professionals from around the globe.
The CMW showcase will be taking place on Thursday, May 5 at Burdock (1184 Bloor St.), and it will feature a stacked lineup including YAO, Pony Girl, Merganzer, and Catriona Sturton – all which you can hear below. Each of these artists exemplifies the high level of ingenuity and proficiency in music that exists in Ottawa.
Although this is just a snippet of what is really happening here in town, the CMW showcase is a conduit for a broader acknowledgement of Ottawa’s musical output. This, along with local initiatives such as Megaphono and Arboretum Festival, are helping put Ottawa on the map as a place that the industry should be keeping an eye on. Even more, this could lead to future participation in showcases at music conferences and festivals outside of Ottawa, such as SXSW in Austin, TX.
Hull-based Fairfield Circuitry will also be displaying their wide range of hand-built effects pedals, many of which have garnered international recognition and praise for their unparalleled design and tones and textures that they inspire. The showcase will be free for all OMIC members and CMW pass holders or just $10 at the door. Check out more details here.
Setting Wednesday’s Megaphono stage at St Alban’s, a relatively dark room with a single blue light filling the stage. A lighting arrangement that makes photos difficult for anyone, I was nervous I would spend the night consumed. I put my camera away. As the first artist started off the night, Simone Schmidt, also known as Fiver, brought with her detailed lyrics, telling stories as her voice reached all corners of the room. Well received by the filling house, the crowd listened intently to her set and the stories within her lyrics.
The stage was quickly turned over to Merganzer. Comprised of four musicians, instruments included a short keyboard and a violin giving way to many possibilities. Increased lighting made photographers hopeful, but I chose to leave my camera off for the most part and take in whatever Merganzer had to offer. Their continuous sound, as well as contrasting bass and harmonies left the audience in a trance. Having previously heard the headliner, the parallels between these artists were hard to miss. Carefully crafted lyrics, combined sounds made for an evening of core-shaking music.
Andy Shauf’s music holds an element of what I can best describe as a deep and poetic sadness. His carefully chosen lyrics paired with his soft-spoken demeanor give his music a cold radiance that vibrates deep into the audience. In addition to his haunting, yet hopeful stage presence, he brought with him a mixture of new songs that will be released on his upcoming album, and songs found on his The Bearers of Bad News album. For anyone who considers themselves to be avid Andy fans, they may have noticed connection between these new songs, and his earlier Darker Days album, or maybe that was just me.
He played to the now overflowing house, all there to see him, made clear when he played favourites and the large crowd was consumed by silence. He kept his conversations with the audience to a minimum, only giving hints to what his new work was inspired by, “here’s a song about dying and getting trapped in your body,” said Shauf. Slightly morbid, poetic, and beautiful, but Shauf brings it all together, leaving the audience longing with anticipation for his next album release.
At the beginning of the night I chose to keep my photography to a minimum. To take in what each of the artists had created without getting caught up in what minimal theatrics were taking place. It was clear that these particular artists were careful with their words, creating the theatrics within the stories and imagery given to the audience. Something not easily captured on camera.
Writer’s note: Despite efforts by many, it was not made clear if Andy Shauf was able to find a Burger King in Ottawa to enjoy a Whopper.
In its second year running, MEGAPHONO has upped the ante and significantly expanded its scope and size. The festival, which takes place February 2–5, 2016, brings industry professionals to Ottawa and gives local artists and delegates the rare opportunity to connect with those who are working in the music business.
Last year saw the release of the Connecting Ottawa Music report on the city’s status in the music industry, which presented some revelations about the challenges Ottawa faces with respect to its lack of music infrastructure and connectedness to the wider industry in Canada and North America. We at Showbox were very proud to contribute to this report by providing important data on 2014 album releases.
This unprecedented report not only outlined the barriers that are preventing Ottawa from moving forward as a “music city,” but it also offered a glimmer of hope by providing recommendations and a strategy based on core principles. One of the most critical recommendations from the report reads as follows [p.65]:
3. Connect Ottawa’s music community to the global music industry.
Advocate for Ottawa’s music community at national institutions
Facilitate exchanges with more prominent music clusters
Lead delegations to trade shows and festivals (e.g. MIDEM, SXSW)
Promote Ottawa’s music cluster to outsiders
MEGAPHONO is doing something that has never really been done in Ottawa before. Not only are the organizers tirelessly reaching out to important industry personalities in places like Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, New York City, and London (UK), but they are actually bringing them to Ottawa over the course of the festival. This affords Ottawa artists the opportunity to have an audience with the people that might be able to advance their careers – or at least get on their radar. This includes booking agents, record labels, music publishers, film/TV music supervisors, managers, publicists, and more. Like any other business, music is about connecting with the right people, and just as the report recommends, Ottawa needs to bring industry personnel together so that coalescence can happen.
“MEGAPHONO is about getting the right people in the room to see our artists,” says festival director Jon Bartlett. “The best way to tell the story of Ottawa music is to drag industry folks here to see and hear it for themselves. If we put our best artists on stage with key music people in the room, I’m confident good things will happen.”
Attendees will enjoy four solid days of music, with all performances open to the public. Over those four days, 60 artists will be performing in Ottawa at various locations, 47 of which are local acts.
Noted music critic and author Jessica Hopper (MTV, Pitchfork) will kick things off at the launch on Tuesday, February 2nd with a keynote speech at St. Alban’s Church; MEGAPHONO will also screen a film this year called Terminal Device, directed by Ross Turnbull, edited by U.S. Girls‘ Meg Remy and with music composed by Slim Twig.
Additional panels and networking opportunities with industry reps are available to those purchasing a delegate pass. Fan festival passes are $50; delegate passes run for $100. Both are available at http://www.megaphono.tv/passes/.
Highlights of this year’s festival include:
MEGAPHONO Meltdown — MEGAPHONO after party in Hull, QC at AXENÉO7
PANELS — daytime talks focusing on music industry-related topics and conversations focused on our local music community
FREE SHOWCASES — Wednesday & Thursday afternoon showcases in the Centretown & Hintonburg neighbourhoods
Over 30 visiting delegates from LA, NYC, London (UK), Toronto & Montreal
Tuesday, February 2nd
4:00 – 6:30pm
MEGAPHONO FESTIVAL OFFICIAL LAUNCH
w/ keynote by JESSICA HOPPER
@ ST ALBANS CHURCH Event Link
THE ACORN / EMILIE & OGDEN / PIPAHAUNTAS
@ ST ALBANS CHURCH Event Link
THE VISIT / HEAVY BEDROOM / NOVEMBER @ BLACK SQUIRREL BOOKS
The Saturday night sky seemed unsure, sprinkling water droplets onto the sidewalk, stuck somewhere between a mist and a steady rain. I was also unsure as I found myself in garage 11b, perplexed by its lack of adornment, by its smooth concrete floor, and by its industrial aesthetic. These artists were new to me, and I looked ahead with blind uncertainty. Ten minutes before any music began, a blue start-up menu shone against the white wall behind the ‘stage’ area, like a vast blue ocean and I got caught floating in the middle of it, not knowing where I’d drift ashore. Projectionist Matthieu Hallé’s live backdrop visuals were stunning throughout the evening, adding a terrestrial layer to the performance which allowed the sounds to transcend the venue’s confines.
An unaccompanied Théan Slabbert (Bosveld) opened the show. Soft and reverberating, his fingerpicking was meticulously calm, and full of lows and mids. Then, an unexpectedly deep voice. Soon the audience was noiseless – this peaceful brand of ‘future-folk’ had silenced us, trapped us in a cave, and painted us our favourite colours. The naked flame of a candle danced against the wall, casting shadows, deceiving us like some ancient parable, while Slabbert sang melancholy songs about “you were standing there” and “you are everything I’ve hoped for”. The voice was warm, the candle-lit projection was warm, the room was warm; then the fingerpicked melodies severed all of that, slightly distorted, like a knife through a pat of warm butter. Bosveld’s third song slowed down time. His fourth song nearly paused it. If you seek immortality, you could have glimpsed it here.
During the brief intermission, the blue start-up menu returned, once more like an ocean, but now I had a better idea what beautiful desert island I was drifting toward.
When Merganzer took the stage, the first thing I noticed was their flexible LED book-lights, just like I used as a small child, curled in my blanket-fortress while reading stories long past my bedtime. They were shining onto the band’s music stand. Genius! Their set began with slightly less genius, but much more effectivity – a beating floor tom, a cavernous bass guitar, and lush synth-strings. True fascination came with the arrival of two female voices; their inseparable harmonies flowing upwards, and downwards, and upwards again, while the delay on the bass guitar unceasingly captured my attention. With Merganzer the synths are steadfast, and the cymbals ring indefinitely. At this point, Matthieu Hallé’s projection featured rippling waves overlapped by the candle flame, seemingly contradictory, but complementary to the pleasant rippling of the music.
Merganzer @ House of Common (Photo by Ming Wu)
Suddenly, we the audience found ourselves in a vibrant garden, a garden of parsley and basil and flowers, and someone beautiful is playing a violin. Someone is playing beautiful violin, a melody that steps upward and skips back down in a well-timed loop. The strings add yet another layer of delicious sound onto this thick string-pop wedding-cake. Later, Merganzer sprung into a fast one, a song called Tritone from the brand-new album Mirror Maze, a song overladen with snare drum and everlasting cymbals, founded on a swooshing loop of ambient strings, and full of life. Their closing piece is the serene title-track Mirror Maze. Mika sings,
“The nights are getting longer / I wake up before the light / If I can make it to the solstice / Maybe I will be alright…”
It is December 12th, and the nights are seemingly longer than ever. But you’re almost there, Mika –and what a lovely way to get there.
This show was hosted by Debaser, their website can be found here. Lister to Merganzer’s album Mirror Maze below.