by Daniel Emberg
Transcendence. That is the theme of the 15th edition of send + receive, Winnipeg’s international sound art festival. For 2013, the festival has booked some of the most exciting names in… well, a field that seems to suit the theme quite well. Sound art is conceptualized broadly enough at send + receive to transcend even a common descriptor. In speaking about send + receive, the artists variously use expressions such as “avant-garde,” “challenging,” “subversive,” and “ecstatic.”
The transcendence theme stemmed from the booking of a legendary act, explains festival director crys cole. “It all stemmed from Charlemagne Palestine,” she told Stylus. “I’m a huge fan of his work and love this idea of ritual transcending the everyday, this ecstatic musical experience that is rooted in all of his work.”
Citing one of several Palestine shows in Japan several years ago as one of the most remarkable things she has experienced, cole had something specific piece in mind when booking him for send + receive: Schlingen Blangen, his pipe organ works, which will be performed at a local church. The hype for Palestine’s show was echoed by every artist contacted for this piece.
The Sons of God are an experienced Swedish duo who defy easy description. Leif Elggren offers that he and Kent Tankred are “a constellation which moves freely between performance, music, and the visual arts, whose productions often reach a point where traditional aesthetic boundaries, limitations, and concepts are eliminated.” Their reputation is thus partly defined by refusal to conform to expectations of an audience. Sometimes they start their show before the audience arrives and continue until after the audience leaves, to emphasize a sense of timelessness.
Another of the major international acts is pioneering interdisciplinary artist Tony Conrad, who will perform a solo amplified violin concert that cole says represents the Eternal Music idea on which Conrad has been working for decades.
One artist is being co-presented with a festival called Art + Body: See Me Hear, a project of Arts and Disability Network Manitoba (ADNM). ADNM and cole were both eager to bring Christine Sun Kim, an emerging deaf sound artist from New York. Kim will play two shows, including one using piano wires and transducers that invites participation. Her early work included visual representations of sound, while Kim’s current work is deeply entangled with the politics of sound. She addresses conceptual implications of sound as a form of social currency, which is clearly linked to the experiences of deaf people.
If that sounds interesting, Kim will be one of several artists doing talks during send + receive (others include Conrad, Palestine, and Sabrina Ratté). These talks are a common feature at sound art festivals because much of the work presented stems from sophisticated questions with which the artists have grappled for years, and for which “three chords and the truth” can’t provide answers.
“You get a lot of people who go to all the artist talks: the academics, some profs, students,” says cole. “They might not come to the concerts … then you get people who only come to the concerts, no interest in sitting and listening to somebody talk about their work.” Of course some check it all out, and something is clearly working as send + receive is the second longest-running sound festival in Canada, with a wide reputation for booking the finest talent for highly appreciative audiences.
“It’s amazing when I am overseas,” cole chuckles. “You’re in a city like Berlin and everyone knows about the festival and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’d love to come to Winnipeg!’ In Canada … most people couldn’t care less about coming to the prairies, but we’re exotic to Europeans!”
The appeal for Europeans extends beyond fascination with the unfamiliar. She continues, “[Sound art is] not a huge community in any one place…people need to be brought together. Festivals are an integral part of developing those relationships, and I feel proud to do that here in the prairies because it’s such an unorthodox place to do it.”
Despite Winnipeg’s obsessive self-deprecation, one of the Canadian acts is pretty jazzed about playing here. Vancouver’s Joshua Stevenson grew up on the prairies but has never visited this burg. His past tours and projects are many (Kemialliset Ystävät, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Jandek, to name a few), but at send + receive he is playing as Magneticring, another good fit for the transcendence theme.
“I like to play in a realm between improvisation and composition,” explains Stevenson. “I keep a palette of compositions and modes but never prepare when they will be executed. I try to reach a place where the instrument and myself reflect off one another, and the sound can lead the way.” That effort to let the sounds dictate his course is a clear inversion of the dominance many of us expect musicians to seek over sound.
Curran Faris says the latest recordings of his project Greenhouse are mainly drone guitar work dotted with textures. He says while there will be some familiarity for those who have seen Greenhouse before, he is trying to “stretch things out” a bit for the send + receive performance by including more slow-moving, subtle changes and noise than usual.
Faris is one of the locals with high praise for send + receive, crediting the event with helping inspire his Greenhouse work.“[It] may have developed very differently—possibly not even at all,” had he not been at the 2007 festival to witness a couple of particularly inspiring shows. “It was unlike anything I’d ever seen or heard. This really is an event with very few parallels in the world.”
Doreen Girard agrees that send + receive is a special event, saying, “The festival brings performances to Winnipeg that aren’t typical of what you see on the prairies. I think it’s super important in that it broadens the typical Winnipeger’s idea of what music can be.” Girard will be performing a brand new piece she calls Type|Error, which she describes as live or expanded cinema in a vein similar to some of her previous work.
Additionally, Girard curates the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) Project which will be exhibited at send + receive. EVP is a paranormal sound phenomenon that, as its name suggests, depends on tools of the electronic age. The EVP Project being presented here stems from research into BBC Radiophonic Workshop co-founder Daphne Oram’s idea of harmonic frequencies as a potential portal to telepathic communication. Transcendence strikes again! Girard and co-curator Kier-La Janisse combed Winnipeg and Montreal, assembling five sound artists from each city to create installations that engage with the idea. The presentation is dubbed Voices From Beyond, and hits send + receive mere days after debuting at Film POP in Montreal.
The artists of Voices From Beyond are all women—a nod, Girard says, to Oram’s groundbreaking work in the field. That sense of consciousness regarding gender in art was an easy sell for cole, who states, “It’s important that there be a political element, especially when curating and making sure women are involved with events like this. Being a female curator and also a female artist in this field, I’m very attuned to it.” Gender equity is listed by cole as similarly important to the balance between emerging and established artists when planning send + receive. The goal seems to be fostering the development of an equitable, cooperative creative community that helps young artists feel empowered to pursue their own sonic inspirations, rather than awed to the point of intimidation by higher profile creators.
To a person, the performers rave about the consistent quality of programming and are thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of it. These artists passionately delve into demanding ideas, but there is still plenty in the shows to enjoy without having to know everything. A good portion of what happens at send + receive will be stuff you’ve never heard before, and odds are there will be a bunch you never again have a chance to hear.
The festival will also feature Montreal interdisciplinary duo Lé Révélateur and the screening of two Jordan Belson films provided by the Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles. Festival passes are $35 at Plug-In ICA and Into the Music; though non-passholders can pay admission at the doors. Keep an eye on stylusmagazine.ca leading up to send + receive for q&a pieces with some of the artists.