by carl wilson

Tales from Nuit Blanche

How was your Nuit Blanche? The first edition of Toronto's all-night arts extravaganza (an adaptation of an idea that's been used in Paris and other cities for years, of course) seemed like a pretty huge success to me. I couldn't believe how many people there were, way into the night (it got smaller but never small), wandering the streets in pleasant confusion, eyes and ears peeled. I was disappointed with the weakness of many of the individual pieces (not to mention the lumpy architecture of the website and the spotty documentation in the program, which was way too scant on details about times and specific programming within larger projects) - but even the question of the quality of the art seems minor compared to the overall civic adventure of it.

And for the record: I got home at about quarter after seven, I think, feeling like a hardcore. How'd you do? On my walk home I spotted a mother coming out of the Trinity-Bellwoods nightswimming with a kid who must have been about 7 or 8 - I think he wins.

Among the pieces that succeeded for me was Adrian Blackwell and AIMT's Model for a Public Space (Speaker) in Grange Park near the Music Gallery - which makes sense, since Blackwell has been working on variations on this portable-spiral-amphitheatre structure for years, and it's ideally suited to Nuit Blanche (unlike a lot of the other work, which seemed either slapped together or hastily adapted). I wish I had hung out there more - especially after getting two emails today from musicians who had stories to tell about their experiences playing in the structure last night, one showing the bright side of interactive space and the other the less positive.

First, here's a grim story from keyboardist John Kameel Farah: In the middle of my set [with Rick Hyslop on violin and effects], which was sounding wonderful, and enjoyed by a full audience at 3:15 a.m., some person stormed into the centre of Blackwell's contraption-stand, and, screaming that he couldn't sleep for hours on end, ripped my equipment off the stands, tearing out my cable and sending my toiled-for Nord Lead 3 synth into a pool of mud, breaking parts as well and causing enormous amount of noise & feedback. I was so angry, all i could do was hold out my hands and say to the audience "Nuit Blanche!" They obviously had no idea what I meant, but it was my almost speechless way of saying, "See what happens when you try to create something beautiful? Someone destroys it." It was, admittedly, very negative in that moment. I was totally stunned, but somehow maintained my composure and we plugged back in after a few minutes, and kept playing, and the audience was filled to capacity, and loved it and were somehow even more on our side. But I am still really stunned. The guy was chased away by security - I don't think they caught him, though... Totally messed up, eh?

And now a more redemptive tale from guitarist/electronics player Nilan Perera: I left my home this morning at 5:30 AM, feeling some small sadness in my heart, to play a closing performance at an installation in Toronto. The event was an all-night culture fest that involved hundreds of performers over a wide area of downtown Toronto.

My collaborator had bailed because of health and I was looking at a solo performance for an hour. When I got there I found a small spiral amphiteatre and a friendly but energetic debate between an organiser and a local person. I started setting up and was promptly engaged by this guy, who was pretty strongly advocating his and others right to perform as well. After a small exchange involving a bit of confrontation (him saying, "well, why can't i rap?' and me saying, 'if you can sound like birds and frogs, no problem, dude'), I started playing 'wet land' which is a composition of mine which emulates a swamp.

He stayed quiet for a while, but then started speaking. It was amazing.

He was your archetypal macho, stylin', clubgoing guy from Scarberia and spoke with that slightly hoodlum braggadocio that we sometimes shudder to hear and he was on something other than alcohol. I had told him that he could join in but he had to 'feel it, dude'. He was respectful and listening and phrasing very well. But the heaviest thing was his monologue. He was speaking about loneliness, disconnect and frustration that sometimes drifted into macho pronouncements, but it was his vulnerability that stunned me. And since I was somewhat there already I went with him and it was great!

When security tried to eject him and he was starting to play the game, I told them to back off and when I said "darren, man: guitar solo" over a faux tabla section I set up on a sampler, he totally went silent and came back in when i segued out of my solo. He eventually left during another piece.He said goodbye and I addressed him as 'my brother', which he truly became.

That kind of experience is priceless to me. The power of music/sound and compassion from all, including organisers, security, audience, him and me revealed itself beautifully. And also the intrinsic performance ability he had put to shame some seasoned musicians I have played with who had somewhat less humility in their approach. I played one of the best sets of my life, some guy from the audience walked up, thanked me and dropped a $20 at my feet and the rest of the audience was enthusiastic and happy. I wasn't going to let it end there so i jumped in my car and burned it to the east end where I stood for an hour on the rocks by Lake Ontario, watching the sunrise and clouds on the lake, feeling the power and song of some of the biggest breakers I have seen in Toronto and studiously counted my blessings. I wasn't sad anymore.

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, October 01 at 9:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)



The Model for a Public Space (Speaker) music programming was done jointly by AIMToronto and the Music Gallery. Jonny Bunce and John Gzowski get my praise and thanks for their roles in this memorable event.

Posted by Scott Thomson on October 2, 2006 9:18 PM



Hardcore yes! Me too, Carl! I returned to my bed at 7:30 a.m. and felt quite proud! I happened upon a similar event in Ghent, Belgium about six years ago. That one was called "Over the Edges" and the lights in the town square would flash on and off every time a baby was born.

While I didn't see anything as mesmerising or thoughful on this similar full city art installation, I did find the amount of people out there pretty amazing.

And Roy and Silo's Gay divorce was pretty overwhelmingly detailed in the Harrison Bath House!

Also, the "Ballroom" where 10 year old DJ's played tunes and the balls were being whipped at people's heads was pretty maniacal. The video install in Yorkville combining present and past was very stimulating and Sabrina Jelis' bedtime stand-up was hysterical in the Heliconian Club.

Swimming at the Bellwoods Pool at 5:30 a.m. with a bunch of clothed voyeurs looking on was creepy but cool as I ran into half of Toronto's music community while in the water. The music being piped into the water was pretty awesome too.

Overall, looking forward to another outing next year!

Posted by becs on October 2, 2006 6:58 PM



I witnessed the senseless aggression on John and Rick (whose playing was one of the finest things of the night), but I wasn't hardcore enough to stick around for Nilan's set; now that I have read about it, I sorely regret missing it.
I helped with contact-amplifying Adrian Blackwell's stage/bleachers for the Joe Sorbara-conducted improvisation. One of the most rewarding moments for me was when the audience started hearing their own footsteps on the boards being processed in real time by Jim Bailey and served through the PA. You could see people of all ages smiling, converging to the structure from around the park, each with a virtual question mark balloon hovering over their heads.
It was so great to see that many people having fun on the streets of Toronto into the night, that I did not mind the fact that most art was forgettable. Oh, and there should be more parties in public pools.

Posted by Michelangelo on October 2, 2006 5:49 PM



I couldn't make it to the city, but sincerely regret missing "Roy and Silo's Gay Divorce".

Posted by Kathryn on October 2, 2006 2:54 PM



These two experiences at the spiral bench were actually the most interesting and discussion-inspiring of the evening for me. They showed the range of unpredictable civic interaction better than any planned installation.

I was shocked and disgusted by that guy's horrible mistreatment of John's keyboard, but at first was unsure whether or not his behaviours were part of a larger performance! On his way into the circle, he said something like, "Don't you guys ever stop?" and because that was so contrary to the theme of the whole event, I thought it had to be a line. Sadly, it wasn't, but the continued concert was a triumph. John and Rick were in an amazing place together, and the audience that remained was quite robust, not even considering it was almost 4am.

During Nilan's set, the drunk fellow was standing in such a way as to align himself with Nilan, occasionally holding his arms open in a pose that could be interpreted as either self-congratulatory or open and communal. His rapping brought up timeless themes of isolation and disconnection... which the security guards worsened with their intrusive swarming of the stage. It was like watching a play, with the most evocative music I've ever heard. Incidentally, I never want to play a plain old guitar again - Nilan has made all that seem impossibly boring.

These two combinations of performers + audience made it happen for me on Saturday. Not only was the music amazing, but the shared experiences of these strange, early-morning conflations brought everyone closer, if just for a timeslot. Bravo, John, Rick and Nilan! And kudos to Adrian Blackwell, for making an intimate space that nonetheless connects to the outside world... maybe even a little stronger than he thought.

Posted by Laura B on October 2, 2006 12:31 PM



The "Ghost of Yorkville past" guy blasting a single bass note amidst piles of debris in front of the immaculate William Ashley china store was pretty cool.

He was a lone psychedelic ranger railing angrily over what sounded like pre-recorded Hendrix (almost as talented as that 'one-note led zeppelin' dude who somehow got in the CBC, but far more sincere in purpose) to a crowd of maybe two, not caring that the rain and wind was soaking his stuff. I was hoping that his soundwaves would shatter all the elegant mouth-blown glassware in Ashleys, but that didn't happen. Maybe next year?

Posted by marco on October 2, 2006 10:20 AM



Thanks for your observations on Nuits Blanche, Carl. I was toasted from work and had a slight cold, so I decided not to participate in the hang so that I was good to go for the concert.
I am so happy to hear that participation was high. As a matter of fact the security guy was also contracted to take attendance at the installation where I played and he said that 4000 + people visited it over the course of the night!
Toronto fukn ROX!!
I am so happy to BE here!!
As an addendum to my experience, the same security guy also said that the dude with whom I did my non-scheduled duet was, earlier on, wandering around the empty park waving his arms and ranting at no one in particular.
I think he may have left in a more chilled state than when he came in.



Posted by nilan on October 2, 2006 8:36 AM



"the overall civic adventure of it."

Exactly! I was so happy to see so many people out on the streets, despite the rain and cold (both of which seemed to go away). I really could never have imagined seeing TORONTO streets with people out at 3, 4, 5, even 6 in the morning! (fwiw, I got home at 7.30)

Posted by andrew on October 2, 2006 2:45 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson