by Daniel Emberg
Every year the send + receive (s+r) festival is curated around a particular theme. For this, its sixteenth edition, that theme is “physical sound,” and the four-day schedule of performances and installations reflect a broad and unpredictable range of treatments through which participating artists are interpreting that theme.
Festival director crys cole recently told Stylus that after sorting through the various submissions for this year’s festival, “things took a turn more toward the [human] body.” The pieces to be performed are, “not so much about how sound can create physical reactions in an object, but more the ways in which sound is created by the body or the way the body responds to sound.” The emphasis on bodies does not necessarily colour everything you will hear at s+r, but there will be no mistaking the theme at any of the venues—several of which will be hosting festival performances for the first time.
This year, the “guest of honour” at s+r is Ellen Fullman. “She has developed this massive string instrument,” explains cole, “with piano strings strung across a huge resonant space. The bigger the space the better, which has been an incredible challenge in Winnipeg!” Fullman’s instrument includes small resonating boxes at either end. Fullman’s rosin-coated fingers slowly make their way back and forth along the meticulously placed strings. The resulting overtones and harmonics lead to captivating drones thanks to the instrument’s interplay with the acoustic properties of the room. After grappling with the challenge of finding an appropriate room for this piece, s+r settled on the spacious and acoustically appealing Ukrainian Labour Temple. In order to ensure a quality performance, Fullman spends five days at the venue tuning the strings and strategically marking the floor to guide her route. There is no mistaking cole’s excitement at bringing this show to the festival, as s+r has been waiting several years for all the necessary variables to align so Fullman’s “unusual and very hypnotic” instrument could fill a room here in Winnipeg.
Accompanying Fullman at that performance will be experimental cellist Okkyung Lee, who is far from a mere footnote for the honoured guest. On the evening of October 4 at Media Hub (72 Princess), Lee will also team up with dancer Michelle Boule to close the festival with a piece they have performed just a few times. Both artists play with sound and light perspectives by constantly moving through the space. Boule brushes right up against audience members while dancing, and her very breath will be part of the sound at play. Lee, meanwhile, will be wandering around the area playing her cello—just take a second to read that over again, and focus your mind’s eye on a cellist strolling through a crowd while playing. Media Hub may be an unfamiliar venue for many local music fans, but it is an enormous room with multiple levels and opportunities to take chances with sound.
Earlier on that Saturday night, sound art fans will get their expected s+r serving of local fare as piano trio Burden will be playing. If you haven’t caught a Burden show before, set aside whatever you think “piano trio” means, as this group has literally ripped the instrument apart to play around with what directions they might be able to pull the soundboard. Burden grabs the piano by its guts, smacking it with a mallet here, jamming a fork there, and evoking sounds that of us would never have guessed came from one of the world’s most readily identifiable musical instruments. The evening will also feature a performance from Kiiln, a BC-based duo who you will have to see to learn about because they seem to do a hell of a job keeping their name off the internet.
Jason Lescalleet’s live show is hard to predict: cole says the experience of an audience member may go from sitting, “in this weird dream world that’s almost grotesque but fascinating, then he’ll suddenly throw in a slowed-down Justin Timberlake song or something,” a juxtaposition which sounds almost too delicious for words. Lescalleet combines work on analog tape and reel-to-reel machinery with prepared digital elements, and though he has actually collaborated with numerous former s+r guests his first appearance at the festival will be on Thursday, October 2 in Eckhardt Grammaté Hall at the University of Winnipeg. As suggested by cole, the live performance is likely to include hand-stretching of tape or some other means of medium manipulation. Thursday night will feature a screening of Trophy Tape, a collaborative audiovisual accompaniment to an album he put out in 2012. The evening will also feature a performance from Sarah Davachi, whose work with synthesizers and samplers plays with psychoacoustic experiences such as ghost frequencies.
The opening night of s+r, Wednesday October 1, will include a piece from Erin Sexton which draws from experimental physics and electro-chemical improvisation (!) to lead you on a sonic trip at Actual Gallery (300 Ross), on an evening which will also feature a screening of No Ideas But In Things, a film about legendary sound artist Alvin Lucier.
As has become the case every year at s+r, there will also be some scheduled artist talks as well as an ongoing public installation that you can take in at your own convenience. Donna Legault’s Subtle Territory will be summoning unfamiliar sounds and pulses which exist around the lower limit of frequencies perceptible to human ears. Legault’s installation in The Cube will capture low-frequency sound events in the vicinity, running the inputs through an open source program called Pure Data to stretch them into something you will be able to hear. The installation will be in the midst of one of the city’s busiest areas, which means it will be picking up all kinds of uncontrolled noises, amplifying them, and pushing them back out into the surrounding acoustic environment to unpredictable effect. Additionally, setting up right in The Cube could mean some fascinating captures (creaky groans, wind lashing metal, maybe the footings will choose this weekend to sink and offer a seismic symphony!) as part of the sonic stew.
Scheduled artist talks include Ellen Fullman (12:30pm on October 3, Eva Clare Hall at 65 Dafoe Rd on the U of M campus), Donna Legault (5pm on October 3, Ace Art on the 2nd floor of 290 McDermot), and Sarah Davachi (2pm on October 4, at the Winnipeg Film Group Studio on the 3rd floor at 100 Arthur). The talks are all free of charge and are an important element of a sound art festival. While all the pieces are sure to sound interesting regardless of what a listener might know about them, many audience members will find their appreciation for the works enhanced by hearing the artists explain how these unusual sound worlds have come to exist.
Space will not allow for all the works to be described in detail here, but you can find out more by visiting the send + receive page or the artists’ respective websites. If you have any interest in finding out how far modern artists are stretching the limits of sound, send + receive presents a special opportunity to be in the room as they do exactly that.
send + receive v.16 runs from October 1-4, 2014. Festival passes are available at Into the Music for $45, while cover at the door for each event ranges from $10-20 per night.