by carl wilson

Speaking Concretely


Here's the email interview Sarah Liss did with me about Concrete Toronto Music, the show Jonny Dovercourt of the Music Gallery curated with me, happening tomorrow (Sunday) at the Polish Combatants' Hall downtown and the following Sunday at the Ontario Science Centre (we've got a bus chartered to take people there).

Can you guys both give me a bit of a backgrounder on the genesis of this project and your involvement in it? How much were architectural and acoustic concerns on your mind(s) before taking this on? Was the book your key source of inspiration, or were either of you already thinking about a project that would encourage musicians to interact with some of the city's not-typically-musical spaces?

The idea was born at the Coach House launch party this winter where the Concrete Toronto book was being launched - at the same time as the bpNichol anthology, which got me thinking about the concrete buildings/concrete poetry parallel in '60s and early '70s culture. And then of course the "musique concrete" connection occurred to us too.

Jonny and I were both saying how much we liked the book and then one of us - I think me but I'm not sure - said we ought to do a site-specific show in honour of it.

I think we've both been interested in site-specific shows (such as the Extermination Music Night series or a couple of the shows Jonny's old band Republic of Safety played) for a long time, and in particular Toronto-celebrating and Toronto-exploring culture. So it wasn't a huge leap.

Concrete Toronto: just a clever play on musique concrete, or a name with deep connotative meaning - discuss.

Most of the music in the show won't, I don't think, have much relationship to musique concrete, though some of it will. The name of the show is just taken directly from the book, but I like the phrase too - that what we're paying tribute to here is the "concrete" Toronto - the tangible, physical Toronto - rather than an abstract idea of the city, like the one sometimes evoked (by me and Jonny among others) the past few years by the phrase "Torontopia."

[... continued...]

I'm not familiar with the Concrete Toronto book -- would you mind setting it up for me and talking about why it's so interesting?

The main thing I love about the book is that it takes a long look at exactly the structures that a lot of people in this city might consider the ugly ones - all the 1960s university buildings, Robarts, the Science Centre, New City Hall (ok, most people like that one), the Gardiner Expressway - and considers them as our architectural heritage, with their own kind of beauty and meaning. It makes the case that at least some of that heritage should be preserved just as much as our Victorian and Edwardian buildings are.

Preservationists discuss how the real danger period for losing heritage buildings is in the 30-to-40-year period after they were built, because that's when they seem just deeply unfashionable but not yet part of official History. So Concrete Toronto comes along just at that moment of danger as a low-key kind of intervention.

And because I was a child when these buildings were new, I have a strong emotional reaction there, too - I feel like, ugly or beautiful, that's the Toronto that partly made me. I was born here but didn't live here as a kid - I was in not-so-concrete-filled Brantford, Ont. But Toronto was still the big city over the horizon, and I found it all so exciting when we would visit - there'd be big bus trips to the Science Centre every few years and it was pretty much the most fantastic place a kid could visit, for example. Especially since I wasn't a nature-loving kid, these concrete Toronto buildings lie somewhere near the core of my urban-space-loving heart. I think that must be somewhat true for a good chunk of this generation, but it's not something that has a public acknowledgment, unlike other parts of our relationship to the built and natural environment around us.

How (and why) did you choose the roster of contributing artists for this project? What concerns did you have to keep in mind that don't necessarily come up when you're programming, say, an event at the Music Gallery? Were you more interested in finding musicians who'd already proven themselves in space-navigating ways, or did you have a sense that you wanted to challenge folks like Tony (whose singer/songwriter background seems much more traditionally pop-oriented than many of the other artists on the bill) in order to see what they'd come up with?

Jonny and I just kicked names around and then saw who was available. There were people we couldn't get - our first pick was the now-defunct Barcelona Pavilion, since they sang and thought a lot about architecture, but some of the ex-members were out of town. But we thought about people whose work evoked the themes. In CCMC's case, they were a band founded in the era these structures were built, and through Paul Dutton very strongly connected with the concrete-poetry/sound-poetry nexus that bp Nichol represented. In Tony's case, I thought that he sang a lot about the body and the environment but not about its harder surfaces, so it would be neat to put him together with Sandro, whose electronic side as Polmo Polpo connected with the musique-concrete aspect. And so on.

How did you settle on the Polish Hall and the Science Centre? What's so special about them?

They're buildings that are represented in the book. The Science Centre was our first thought. Jonny did some digging on other possibilities, and then it was a question of what was available. The Polish Combatants' Hall is a great combination of old-world and new-world, and the Eastern European connection calls up for me the Soviet-era expanses of concrete architecture that were built as workers' housing. It's a very poetic, out-of-time kind of space, both quaint and muscular, as people who attend that show will see.

Carl, can you talk a bit about the text you've composed for the show? Is it a straight collabo with Darren [O'Donnell, the other librettist], or are you guys working independently? What was your process -- i.e. were you working alongside Erik [Ross, the composer] or did he provide the framework before you started writing?

Darren and I worked independently and just gave Erik some text he could work with. Jonny mediated the contact with Erik - he left the parameters very wide open. I wrote a much bigger piece that included some pop-song-style lyrics -- about Toronto concrete buildings, kind of modeled on The Modern Lovers' bursts of enthusiasm (in songs like Government Center) -- as well as a more concrete-poetry minded section that worked with anagrams to generate language about music and buildings.

Erik edited the text as he saw fit. I was just pouring in the raw materials, you could say. I'm not sure what his process with Darren was like. It was fun to write song lyrics again - I haven't done that in a long time.

Why is this festival [SoundaXis] important? What do you think it brings to/what purpose does it serve for the local music community?

There are two sides to this: First, in its connection with Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (its initial focus) but with a site-specific, out-in-the-city feel, it helps to make the more formal side of contemporary composition feel relevant to this time and place, which is always a challenge. And then there's the way that it showcases the fact that sound is something that unfolds within space - that musical ideas are generated out of our lived environment, but also that through acoustics and other aspects, the way those ideas sound when they're realized is also determined by environment. It's a nice mix of the abstract and the (watch out) concrete, a reminder that music that seems really heady is in many ways just as physical, as corporeal, as dance music is.

Has working on the Concrete Toronto project inspired new ways of looking at music-slash-buildings? (god, I keep wanting to make a pun on that tired "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" line.) Is this something that you think will spark similar undertakings in the future?

For me it's just been a chance to bring out that connection, to experiment with what I already thought and felt - I feel like it'll be when we get to hear the music (which I haven't at all yet) that the changes in perspective might happen. I can't wait to get out on the floor and start dancing about architecture.

It's hardly a paradox anyway, is it - dancing is architectural, all shifting planes and angles. And architecture is deeply concerned about how arrangements in space affect the body. Aside from sex, what's a more natural thing to dance about?

Read More | Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 23 at 2:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)




Zoilus by Carl Wilson