by carl wilson

Axis of Essential

Iannis Xenakis with DJ Spooky.

Today in The Globe and Mail, I have a very straightahead little piece about the SoundaXis festival, with its themes of music, acoustics, architecture and Iannis Xenakis, which runs June 1-11. As well, I fly the friendly skies of Essential Tracks again, this week featuring Ray Lamontagne's cover of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy (apres lui, le deluge), Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland on Promiscuous, Beirut's Postcards from Italy and Twentieth Century, a track from the new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamental.

But more interesting in today's Globe are all these efforts by my colleagues: Robert Everett-Green gives three-and-a-half stars (out of four) to Final Fantasy's He Poos Clouds ("he's both a tease and a truth-teller, and as usual that's an unbeatable combination"), and also explains the pooka; Jennie Punter profiles American composer Elliott Carter, the nonagenerian master who makes a Toronto visit this weekend at the Music Gallery and the Glenn Gould Studio; and Guy Dixon profiles Amy Millan, the Stars/Broken Social Scene singer whose solo album Honey from the Tombs comes out this week. I had a strong identificatory reaction to what she says at the end of Guy's piece, about her musical cohort: "We're all in our thirties, and we didn't think we were going to make it. We didn't think anybody would ever give us any money or care. We had nothing to lose because we already lost." Something in there about why the new-emerging generation of "indie" musicians may be different than the last - it is coming from a different realm, not necessarily of aspiration but of expectation; not worse or better, but unlike. They haven't had this experience of outliving their idea of themselves.

City of sound

By Carl Wilson
The Globe & Mail
May 26, 2006

Goethe famously called architecture "frozen music," but in the upcoming SoundaXis festival, the two forms melt one into the other and go shimmying out into the life of the city. The festival, June 1-11, is the brainchild of a coalition of new-music groups, with an ear to Toronto's cultural megabuild.

The boom is not just a change to the visual cityscape, they suggest; those new museums and galleries and halls will also be filled with sound -- not only music, but a community palavering about what it could be.

The timing is ideal for a city that's become newly eager to explore its own utopian potential, whether in salons and books, "psychogeographic" rambles through unexpected alleyways, illegal rock shows in abandoned warehouses or guerrilla games of tag between the bank towers.

SoundaXis has taken as its patron saint the notoriously knotty Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, who died in 2001. Xenakis, when not busy being maimed fighting in the Greek resistance to the Nazis, was trained as an architect and engineer, who collaborated with that great-and-terrible-Oz of modernism, Le Corbusier, on building projects in postwar European reconstruction.

Acclaimed Xenakis biographer Nouritza Matossian plays a prominent role in the festival, which coincides with a three-day symposium on his legacy at the University of Guelph. (Other related scholarly events include the Subtle Technologies conference on "Responsive Architecture" at Innis College and an Architecture/Music/Acoustics conference at Ryerson.)

While Xenakis's music was put together with daunting math, in another way his perspective makes uncommon sense: Taking his cue from architecture, he looked at notes and rhythms as unimportant in themselves, merely bricks and mortar that ought to vanish into larger, macroscopic shapes and patterns. This was a reversal of many of the serialist games modernists had been playing for decades, and Xenakis probed the implications to their explosive hilt.

By the late sixties he'd achieved no small vogue in hip culture -- his oracular obscurity made him a bit of a Marshall McLuhan-like guru -- and lately he seems to be undergoing a revival. Not only do his ideas rhyme with new thinking such as chaos theory, the old charges that his music was "inhuman" because many of its processes were calculated by computer (IBM gave him special access) seem laughably quaint: A composer now is no more bound to manuscript paper than an architect who designs on AutoCAD.

And so, along with guests such as renowned French harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka (who will play music Xenakis composed for her), the festival will host the likes of Jaron Lanier, a musician better known as the man who coined the phrase "virtual reality."

For every analytic bull session or high-toned event (such as June 11's concert for four string quartets plus light show), SoundaXis also offers direct encounters between listener and locale, from opening fanfares in the atrium of the CBC to a "Sonic Boardwalk" on Ward's Island, Sarah Peebles's surprisingly poignant found-sound compositions from a walk through Tokyo, spontaneous "X Marks the Spot" performances in public places or a weekend that treats the Ontario College of Art and Design's new table-in-the-sky addition as an acoustic playground.

In June 8's "Four Lines," local improvising musicians (Peebles, Rob Clutton, Nilan Perera and the band Barnyard Drama) will lead listeners on a sonic chase across the city by foot, bike, TTC, laneway, shopping cart and any other transport they please, converging on that evening's featured concert. It's a usefully gritty event amid proceedings that might hover too much in rarefied air to get the city's full musical measure.

But that's a small caveat about a multifaceted festival that could make some significant renovations in how you hear your world.

For complete schedules see

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 26 at 10:56 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



I don't think she is saying they have no past. Just that this past was intimate, unpublic, unrelated to expectation. (And the past before that past, the one where there was expectation, is so far gone as to be like myth.) And that now, having expected nothing, whatever may come is by definition extraordinary.

I think exactly what I like about her statement is that it can't be made into a Joplin or Sex Pistols sort of axiom. It says, "This is what has happened to us. What happened to you?"

Posted by zoilus on May 26, 2006 2:25 PM



Nice article about an intriguing event!

I'm pinged by the Millan quote too --

"nothing to lose because we already lost" --

'60s, Janis -- "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" -- the glory of having had something and the romance of starting over.

'70s, J. Rotten -- "No Future For You" -- the exhilarating terror of futurelessness.

'00s, Amy Millan's great quote would be self-defeating if converted into an anthem -- not only no future, but no past either.

Posted by john on May 26, 2006 2:03 PM



Love the Goethe reference almost as much as this straightahead approach to explaining why this is such an important and very likely mindblowing event. Nice writing, as usual.

Posted by Phil on May 26, 2006 12:07 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson