by carl wilson

Strokes of Scenius

I've got a piece in today's Globe and Mail about the Morr Music tour (featuring Lali Puna, Styrofoam, Duo 505 and the Go Find), in Toronto on Saturday, and the 416 improv festival, running all through this weekend. Guaranteed political-rant-free: Instead, it's a decent little intro to the muso theme of "scenius," to which the copydesk then gave a totally inane headline that makes me grind my teeth into shrapnel. Look at the headline on this post - it could have been that easy!

Anyway, I notice less of the local improv scene is represented in this year's 416 than usual; I assume there is a scandalous, gossipy sort of reason for this, and expect my informants to tell me now. There's competition in the form of a Leftover Daylight gig at the Arraymusic space tonight that looks especially strong: a Joe Sorbara-Nick Fraser drum duo; a band led by Brodie West with Alex Luchachevsky, Tania Gill, Ryan Driver, David French, Doug Tielli; and a set by John Kameel Farah. Me, I'll be at the sold-out Devendra Banhart/Six Organs of Admittance show tonight at the Music Gallery. (As discussed in last week's column.) I will report back tomorrow.

Also tomorrow (Sat. Nov. 13) my regular Overtones column appears in the Globe. This week, we take a mental flight down to Rio to chat about Brazilian music, including favela booty beat . Listen to the great mixes at that link, then come on back for the 'splainin' amanhă.

Or if Gretchen's booty is more your speed, go visit Nancy and Sluggo at the Opry.

It's just possible we'll have a moment later today to address this whole Nipplegate=Death argument, but we are still running behind panting like a deaf-ear dog when it comes to the new Emine(meme)m.... [...]

Let's get scenius

By Carl Wilson
Friday, Nov 12, 2004

What is pop without a pop star? In a culture that craves celebrity the way a fishing village depends on boats, the vocabulary strains to cope with creativity that springs from a conglomeration rather than a charismatic leader. We know what to do with movements, if they come complete with enemy lists, manifestos and identifying haircuts. But what can be said about loose circles of the like-minded?

Yet collectivization is the shiny, happy, dirty little secret of art. Songs that make the charts are usually not brainchildren of untrammelled artistes, but the aggregate spawn of producers, singers, writers, studio musicians, the past musicians and peers whose styles they're biting, and a mess of marketing maestros.

Sampling makes the method so explicit as to trigger legal action, and much of the public is still choking down that lesson in how sausages are made, but it's only a mechanized version of a folk process as ancient as song itself -- as old, in fact, as thinking. (Consider those thieving dogs Homer and Shakespeare.)

A couple of Toronto events this week illuminate what clown-prince pop subversive Brian Eno calls "scenius" - the "intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene," rather than some lone Great Man of history.

For a grand example, think of the Enlightenment, or more minutely, the simultaneous blooming of be-bop, abstract expressionism and beat poetry in 1950s New York. These days, perhaps look to present-day Munich, home of the German label Morr Music, which has become a gathering point for an incestuous crowd that wants to make techno music more sensitive to the nuances of human feeling.

Founded by record collector Thomas Morr in 1999, the label has released about 40 recordings by two dozen different artists, hailing mostly from Germany but from as far afield as right here (Toronto synth enthusiast Solvent has a disc on Morr).

Fresh from the label's fifth-birthday party back home, Morr has sent an old-fashioned package tour North America's way: It arrives in Toronto tomorrow and includes Duo 505, Styrofoam, The Go Find and label standouts Lali Puna, featuring the querulous coo of Korean-born, Portugal-bred singer Valerie Trebeljahr.

Besides frequent crossover in personnel, albums on Morr tend to share a sound: They're layered with airy electronic beats, filaments carved out of the fat drum-machine sound of dance music as if with a crystal scalpel. But they also have lyrical melodies, sometimes computerized and sometimes on conventional instruments.

When there are vocals, they are not the whooping exaltations of rave anthems but half-whispered verses of loneliness and romance that wouldn't be out of place in indie rock, although generally delivered with a cooler Teutonic distance.

Some fans and foes call Morr's style "indietronica," but "computer pop" might be less off-putting. The label's early definitive compilation was jokingly titled Putting the Morr Back in Morrissey, but a more apt parallel can be found on a later sampler that included a full disc of Morr artists covering songs by Slowdive, the long-forgotten British "shoegazer" guitar band, contemporaries of My Bloody Valentine.

The Morr mob translates the lush droning strings and mumbled vocals of that brief moment in pre-Britpop to computers, but staves off monotony using the broad sonic palette from 1990s techno, ambient and avant-electronics. They're far from the only players in that game, but they're among the most richly reliable.

For less pre-programmed pleasures, this weekend also offers the 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival, which has become an annual highlight from the fringe of the city's jazz and improv action. It began Wednesday and continues through tomorrow. Some of the ensembles are ongoing concerns, others are one-offs, but either way the music is conceived on the spot. Don't expect pop from the trio with guitar, drums and trombone, much less the one featuring piano, "heat sink" and cookie tins. But they're decidedly collective creations.

Toronto improv circa 2004 hasn't evolved a signature style, but it tends to be marked by Canadian restraint: The musicians trade gestures without trampling on each other's space. The raw material may be "noise" more than rhythm or melody, but with a gentle touch. It seldom becomes a barrage (except when it does).

There will be electricity in the air at the 416 too; the series climaxes tomorrow with Powerbuch, a quartet featuring the laptop and synth of local composer John Kameel Farah (a techno fan himself) alongside drums, trumpet and sax.

It may not attain "scenius," but it's a celebration of sociable ingenuity, and that's the first foothold on the way to the heights.

The Morr Music Tour is at Lee's Palace tomorrow, starting with the band The Go Find at (roughly) 10 p.m.; Styrofoam performs at 11 p.m. and Lali Puna at midnight. $15 in advance. 529 Bloor St. W., 416- 532-1598. The 416 Festival is at the Tranzac Club, 292 Brunswick Ave., 9:30 tonight and 8:30 p.m. tomorrow. Suggested donation $5.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 12 at 12:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson