uh oh Obohemia – Oboe Comics by Esther Wheaton
Saturday — July 7th, 2012

Horton Misses His Cue


Open Ears: Day 2, Part 1 – Morning Music

So quickly, since I have missed the bus to get to Maryem Tollar‘s performance on time: I have been reading about Morning Music since I’ve been subscribed to the Soundlist – i.e. a seemingly long time (although probably not actually that long) and wanting to go. Imagine my delight when we bring them here, to Kitchen-town, to Café Pyrus for coffee and weird vegan muffins and music! I enjoyed listening to it as an atmosphere: trombone and saxophone and percussion all making “avant garde” improvised music (i.e. extended techniques to the exclusion of all else), but with the hum of refrigerators and coffee machines, the clink of spoons and mugs and coins, regular customers coming in and placing orders, and all together it was tremendously interesting to listen to, and even beautiful in the contrast.

It’s also surreal for me, because look, there’s John Oswald, sitting next to an old armchair, playing the saxophone – and I, having learned about this gentleman in high school as a “prominent current composer” and then throughout university in various classes and even in my textbooks, find this terrifying and wonderful.*

It's BREAKFAST time!

Amanda and Nick are all "It's BREAKFAST time!" (but with less enthusiasm)


*principally because I’m one of those people who hold in awe the people who have been a part of my education in the same way most people hold in awe the people who have been a part of their entertainment, hm hoom.

Open Ears: Day 1

The Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound is here again, hooray!

Things got started last night with Klang! an event in which all the bells in downtown Kitchener get rung at once. I was eating sushi at the time, but ran out to hear them at the appointed time. There were bells! It wasn’t quite the glorious cacophony I was expecting, but at least there were bells ringing at 7 PM on a Wednesday in an urban city.

The opening concert featured Members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (essentially principal winds + bonus horn & trumpet + piano and 2 percussion) playing the Mauricio Kagel Ten Marches to Miss the Victory, 2 and 3 at a time, interspersed between pieces like John Adams’ American Standard (arranged beautifully by Mr. Jascha Narveson, A++, and also “damn you John Adams, damn you and your effective communication”), Philip Glass’ Changing Opinion (Ann-Marie Donovan’s singing sounded amazing), a WORLD PREMIERE by Nicole Lizée called Simulakra (I really liked the careful colours of the brass and the samples chosen for the keyboard – I feel like it would have worked even better in a different space, though), and an arrangement of David Lang’s Born to Be Wild. For those of you not familiar with that piece, the lyrics are spoken, deadpan. Greg Oh KILLED it, holy crap, it was hilarious.

Following the MotKWS show, we went to the Registry Theatre to see John Oswald and Susanna Hood perform Spinvolver. I think this is the future of art, you guys – you couldn’t look away from the screen and the dancing, there was constant sound, there was laugh-out-loud humour, and it was constantly changing. There is no way anyone could be bored by that. Brilliant, brilliant. I loved it.

People Like Us is also Incredible, Straight Up. Essentially, Vicki Bennett (who flew in from England the day before yesterday, I think), creates collages of music and sounds and clips from iconic films. Things like combining The Hills Are Alive from The Sound of Music with The Doors’ The End and footage from Apocalypse Now, many clips of eyes and faces from old films with a tattered version of “I Can Sing a Rainbow”…the compelling thing for me about this kind of art is how it’s so strongly female. In the same way that a straight man wouldn’t write this, in the same way that a white woman wouldn’t make this,* the elements of People Like Us’ genre collages fit together intuitively and inexplicably – or rather, in a way that explanation would defeat the purpose. And secondly – it’s very much women’s art in that it’s subversive. I love this stuff so much.

People Like Us – The Sound Of The End Of Music [2010] from Vicki WFMU on Vimeo.



An Evening with Isengart

Isengart has the most fabulous air and the most fabulous suit.

© Irene Kaoru (click for gallery)

The audience does not know what to make of him – no idea what to expect. They have symphony tickets, who is this man oozing around the stage with a cabaret voice, doing the unthinkable, engaging with the orchestra and the conductor and most of all the audience; he is capital E, Engaging. He is teasing the audience with his trade, charming the stockings off the lovely old ladies, they like him in spite of themselves. And it is all to a purpose – he weaves the story of The Seven Deadly Sins in a way that is amusing and exciting; we get it. “I’m pretty – pretty crazy” he says, introducing himself as Anna.

It is very strange to hear Measha Brueggergosman through a microphone. It tins her voice, disembodies it (while it has an opposite effect on Isengart). He has a microphone grown onto his hand, she eyes it warily from a few feet back…even while Measha sings and the orchestra plays and the chorus of men closely harmonize, he is the most arresting thing on the stage, standing stock still like he was born to, though the standing is as much a more a part of the performance as the singing without being assumed or pretended.

And while Measha headlines and sounds (as every diva should) like three million dollars, and while the orchestra is good too, and Weill is nothing if not witty witty witty with his careful orchestration and clever melodies, for some reason it is the role of Anna II, the dancer (who does not dance but instead stands and watches), that gives the performance depth.

Yes; it did.

I’ve come to the seemingly-obvious conclusion lately that art is about communication on several levels. For example, in orchestral music:
First: the composer’s communication to musicians through written notes.
Second: the musicians’ interpretation and the resulting communication to the listener (and composer).
Third: the composer’s communication to the listener through the musicians’ performance.
Fourth: the communication of whoever programmed the piece on a concert (and the effect of a combination of works on a program), or lent a recording to be listened to, or brought their friend to a performance.*

Photo © Sean M Puckett

There is a paradigm (probably only a couple hundred years old) in classical music that it is a passive experience for the audience: seated, silent, still, listening. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that! Being communicated-to on a deeply emotional level the way this music is capable of does not require participation apart from open ears.
I should also mention that I’m one of those people who rolls my eyes at statements like “classical music is dead” and “the arts are in trouble”, usually because they are clearly not – there is a higher proliferation of more kinds of amazing art in the world today than ever before -  but it is pretty undeniable that times change. Attention spans are maybe a little shorter than they used to be; multi-tasking is a standard mode of being; there is a constant information flow… But perhaps most significantly: there are more and more immediate ways for people to interact and communicate, to participate. People want it both ways, as a personal experience, and as part of the community.

I think that is where classical concerts should start to step up…and don’t get me wrong! Not totally! There will always be a place for pure reception on the part of the audience!**

Lately the music director at the symphony where I work has been incorporating elements of this into a particular series of shows. At a concert in October he encouraged the audience to clap at the climax of the fourth movement of Beethoven 5, to not be afraid to cheer, and when we all left the hall we were buzzing with energy. Everyone who knew Beethoven 5 found out they didn’t actually. Everyone who didn’t know Beethoven 5 found out they did. When the audience identified with part of the music and (here’s the important bit), they were given the opportunity to react singly and as part of a group; the effectiveness of the communication of old music in a new age was slingshotted to a new level.

Photo © Sean M Puckett

Well, what next: from empowering a reaction, we can go to encouraging participation.
I quoted some beer-infused ramblings of Dan’s from earlier in the week in the house program that I think describes this idea pretty well:

The new rebellion will push the boundaries on what music is – about the visceral, about the experience.

I wrote some pretty kick-ass copy for this concert last year that says: Dan Deacon’s music is simultaneously dance party, electronic odyssey, minimalist magnum opus, and childhood gone horribly right.#
This should sort of give the casual oboe-blog reader an insight into what the show was about. We called it “Dan Deacon’s Electronic Bus” (but the bus did not make it up, because it is early February and this is Canada and the bus runs on veggie oil, come on).

The following is my ‘review’:

The concert was great on Thursday night, but a million times better on Friday. Dan wrote a Fluxus-style “for audience” piece called Take a Deep Breath (draft 3) and then Take a Deep Breath (draft 4) and on Friday night nobody talked, everyone listened. There was concerted adding to sounds and taking away from them… One of the steps was to phone someone you love and get them to sing on speakerphone – and at the end, when almost everyone in the audience had finished, one man called a lady and everyone heard the conversation and her responses. Everyone laughed together at the right places, everyone was perfectly silent “Will she sing? Won’t she sing? Don’t scare her!” and when she sang (Simple Gifts I think) it was totally magical and everyone applauded and you could feel the end, (the only thing I learned from Glenn Buhr is how to listen for an end in improvised music) and that was it, it clicked.

Photo © Sean M Puckett

The other music on the program – the middle pieces, an arrangement of Pink Batman and of Moondog’s Stamping Ground, and also Powerhouse by Raymond Scott – were well played and interesting and prettily orchestrated and I definitely danced (because I am giving up movement inhibitions for Lent) and Dan was endearingly self-deprecating (you could feel the entire audience behind him, wanting him to succeed) throughout the evening.

Dan’s two pieces were the highlight of both nights for me (the Friday Take a Deep Breath coming in a close second) because they were different. Dan told me (and I put it in the program notes) that he learned to see the orchestra as a synthesizer with a whole bunch of different channels with a bunch of different timbral samples each that can be routed into one another in numerous different ways. And it totally worked: Dan’s orchestral pieces sounded a bit like his regular works, but by nature of this giant, modular, organic synthesizer, they had a different quality, more alive. The timbres were not “perfect” in the sense of a digitally-generated sound, nor in the sense of “orchestral audition excerpts oh god oh god” but they were perfect, believe you me, and stunning, yes that too, and complex. I was taking orchestration notes in my head all night.^

These pieces also went places but not in the usual sense of ordinary musical forms and so on. I suppose that the looping techniques Dan uses would inevitably give the piece form, but to hear it talked about as a bell curve (rather than, say, a Rondo) was interesting and unusual, and the different approaches paid off, yes they did. It was first careful and detailed and then it grew to exultant and there were children screaming (an amazing colour mixed with brass), and it had no agenda or manipulations or pretensions, but it did communicate: yes, it did.

*this is very similar to the opening paragraph in my grad school statements, uh oh
**I was reading a short story by my favourite author, Ursula K. Le Guin called ‘The Author of the Acacia Seeds’ and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics where she addresses the art of other species in a sociological/speculative/science fiction sort of way. The ‘paper’ addresses the poetry and art of different animals, and then later goes on to say something like “people thought that plants were not alive enough to have art until we realized that we had only been looking at art as communication…the art of plants is receptive.” This is very Flatland to me, but about art. If there are three dimensions, why can’t there be four, five, six and more? Just because we can’t quite ‘see’ them yet? Why stop at art-as-communication, go to art-as-reaction, go to art-as-participation, go to art-as-experience!  Onwards!
#apparently people really like this copy
^Because I foolishly did not bring paper and had already used my ticket stub to quote the house manager on how she would get everyone into the hall on time: “I am a giant and I will eat the pilgrims”.


P.S. You all need to get up into Colin Stetson, I am so excited for his album to come out on February 22. Listen to this and remember that it was recorded live and in one take.

Colin Stetson: The Stars in his Head

Hourly Comics – Feb 1, 2011

Christmas Joy

So this is even sketchier than my usual comic drawing style, but everyone needs some Christmas joy! The Irving Berlin picture is the one below. HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Reeddeer: Reedux

Some of you may remember that an odd quirk of the Laurier Double Reed studios is that we do things together, weird things, fun things. Things like tea and traybogganing and making reindeer (and other things) out of castoff reeds. This year, reeddeer inventor and yearly event organizer (and Most Fabulous Bassoonist) Nathan Van Strien created an entire reeddeer nativity.

Happy Holidays, y’all! One of my new year’s resolutions is to update more.

And Megan made Santa, a sleigh, and four tiny reeddeer.

Hoboe: The Oboe Band of your dreams

These guys have been floating around my peripherals for a while as the real oboe rock band. Anyway! They are playing a show, and they sent me a press release and fact: I get a little happy inside whenever I get press releases via this account and wish to encourage the behaviour. They are publicizing a show!
I think seeing a concert of oboe rock would be some kind of crazy fantasy.

Performing at Genos Rock Club with Project VII and Bukura

Portland, ME, USA November 7, 2010 — Hoboe will perform at Genos Rock Club, 625 Congress St. with alt-rockers Project VII and heavy blues-rockers Bukura, on Saturday, November 13 which has been designated “World Kindness Day,” to promote more kindness around the world. The show starts at 10 pm, doors open at 9 pm.  Admission is $6, 21+.

World Kindness Day was established by the World Kindness Movement along with a Declaration of Kindness with a mission to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.. “In acknowledgment of the fundamental importance of simple human kindness, …we pledge to join together to build a kinder and more compassionate world.”

This will be Hoboe’s third time sharing a show with Project VII and second billing with Bukura. “The Project VII guys are real kind guys,” says Hoboe’s Zen Ben, “and Timmy Gangbang from Bukura can be kind of kind sometimes, too.”

Attendees are urged to bring a heightened sense of compassion and understanding and to be expressive with their acts of kindness. Gestures such as hugging, holding hands, giving compliments and buying friends (and the bands) courtesy beers are all highly encouraged!

Hoboe will ring in the next day at midnight with some mean riffs, bad ass beats and maddening jams, but kindness will still be encouraged and/or tolerated.

Oh, Bo

Watch from 4’15″ where, yes, there is a real live oboe.

Cultural Learnings of Internet for Make Benefit Glorious Organization of Orchestra

Someday maybe I will stop reading things on the internet. In the meantime, a compendium of the latest array of Marketing Things:

Pair the unconventional with the conventional. The unconventional can stand on its own. Don’t sully the traditional with the contemporary. People don’t like new music.* Try things before there is a plan, and don’t ask anyone or it won’t get done at all. You will get in trouble if you do things without telling everyone. Even if those things are good things. Give up some control. Carefully craft everything. New ideas are good things, but they might not show return right away.

The internet is the future. Don’t think you can know the future. Social media doesn’t work as a marketing tool until you’ve reached “critical mass” – and to get there you have to market the social medium. Texting. Um. Texting? TextingStatistics work. Statistics lie…but so does everything else. Discounts work…or do they?

The most effective marketing is telling the truth.

Slogans are important.** Orchestra branding: not a big deal if the quality/popularity isn’t there first. Oh god buzzwords. Less (current) is More. More (retro) is More. Quality sells itself. The image should reflect the product – unless it’s off-putting? A little wit goes a long way. Everything needs to be SPELLED OUT. Symbols communicate.

Ads should make you happy!***

Ads should make you AFRAID/feel the drama/raise an eyebrow. Take advantage of all opportunities to advertise to the masses. Enthusiasm is the key. Treat people like individuals.^ Times, they are a-changing. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Whatever you do, don’t offend the donors. It’s about the art! It’s about the money. It’s about “Growing” as in “(size of) the audience”.

We have to make 17th-19th century European Music relevant! It is relevant.#

And the most important lesson of all: Justin Bieber sells.****


*This bothers me. This bothers me SO MUCH, this “I don’t like ‘new music’ ” thing. How much new music have you heard? Hasn’t everything sounded pretty different? Seriously! To say you don’t like “new music” is to say you don’t like ethnic food. It all tastes different, and there is no way you have tried it all, not to even begin to talk about trying it enough times to acclimatize a palate. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.

**How do we actually feel about “Let yourself go” as a slogan? I don’t think I like it. It’s got that negative connotation like, “Oh, she’s really let herself go” when isn’t the Met all about “I’m at the Top of My Freaking Game”? (Oh well, I guess it is working.)

***Also: muppets should do all marketing, sycophants.

^I have a little thing about this, too: when people go “we should treat that person like they are small potatoes because I have so many more important, better things to do that Will Sell Tickets when I don’t happen to think what this one person says or does will”. It’s like: underestimation, much? I still kind of believe that word of mouth is the best way to get people in the door and keep them around, so treating one person like she is a person is maybe the most effective way to sell a product.

# I kind of wonder sometimes – everyone goes “oh, young people don’t come to the symphony because they’ve never been,” or “they’ll come if they hear it once” or “it’s an experience they’ve never had” and I often wonder if they know exactly what to expect because they’ve been surrounded by classical music presented in films (both visually and in soundtrack form), on TV, online, remixed by their favourite artists, on the radio, as part of commercials…and I wonder, too, if they…if we don’t go because we know exactly what to expect, and it’s exactly what we get?
I have this crackpot theory about an oversaturation of this music which is such a tiny niche of the Total Music Of The World…and also a weird distaste for people who talk about certain eras as being “the most revolutionary” music-wise. Again! That new/different music thing. Yes, we know you like steak and potatoes with occasional pasta, yes they are de-friggin’-licious, but have you tried this amazing chueo-tang?

And then I feel overwhelmed with all the amazing things I haven’t heard or eaten or tried, and I wonder if this is the problem, if people get overwhelmed with new possibilities and like to retreat into “comfort food” hmm hoom.
Maybe Beethoven 9 is toast after all.