by carl wilson

Torn Between Two Music Lovers (or More):
V-Day Weekend, Evan Parker vs. Wavelength
(Also: WL Swan Song's First Note)

wl450.gifevanparkerside.jpg

Eye weekly breaks the news that this weekend's Wavelength 450 anniversary shows mark the beginning of the end (or at least the beginning of a change) for the series at the heart of the Toronto scene. Stuart Berman reports that as of next February's Wavelength 500, there will be no more weekly pwyc Sunday-night shows at Sneaky Dee's. The Wavelength umbrella organization will shift its sights towards other kinds of projects.

Besides transforming the number that accompanies each edition of Wavelength from a mounting total to something of a countdown, the move reflects an overall mood and to some degree a puzzlement among those of us who were part of the upswing in DIY activity in Toronto music and other arts in the first few years of this decade. Stuart and his interviewees have smart reflections in the piece - here's my two cents:

The novelty and excitement of that "Torontopian" time led to an exploratory, anything-goes spirit not only in groups like Wavelength that drove it but in a wider circle of people, audience members who were inspired to become more participatory in their attitudes and often to make the leap to starting projects themselves. Now that the amount and diversity of work going on here is taken more as a given, people are more inclined to stick to their own areas of interest - and for a bordercrossing series like Wavelength (or, I'd add, an eclectic website like this one), the result is an apparent re-narrowing of our audiences and contacts. I applaud the Wavelength team for being willing to take risks and reinvent itself to respond - we're all called upon to think creatively about how to renew the culture adventurousness that we cherish, rather than just kvetch that things ain't like they used to be.

It's unfortunate, then, that this weekend's Wavelength birthday festivities - which have been an annual occasion to draw together the best of different scenes and styles - are happening at crosspurposes with a signal occasion in the improvised-music community, an AIMToronto "Interface" series welcoming the renowned British saxophonist Evan Parker to town to play in mixed ensembles with Toronto improvisers at Somewhere There.

Is it really a conflict, you ask? Well, notice how both downtown weeklies, full of WL anniversary coverage, neglected to highlight Parker's visit (same goes for the dailies, but that's less surprising). At least Now has a Q&A; with another jazz giant, Randy Weston, who plays up at York tomorrow night. And it's partly that publicity is not AIMToronto's strong suit. But both papers have writers who should be well aware of Parker's stature.

Not to make more of this than it deserves, as conflicts inevitably arise between different concert organizers, but the missed opportunity for intersection - that is, to invite Parker and some AIMT'onians to play one of the WL gigs, for example - is symptomatic of the current, somewhat atomized state of affairs here in ErsTOpia. Not to mention how much trickier it makes my own calendar for the weekend (while trying to squeeze in a bit of proper V-Day hearts'n'flowersing at that).

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 12 at 5:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (14)

 

COMMENTS

Hey Jonny,

I didn't intend 'cashing in'to be a reference to grants, just a colloquial way to say 'end'.
As for the rest, well, I stand by the oblique commentary (non-judgementally, btw.
Wavelength's consistency as a venue was as important as the programming and something that created an identifiable 'scene' of sorts.
The decision to bail is understandable and the Stranglers quote is on the money when it comes to one of the reasons why any long-running contemporary alt. venue folds...generally you get tired of organisational shit easier when you get older. Being in bands 'til you croak is easy as long as you can avoid looking like you should go home (Mick..Keith!!).
As for the grants...fuck...just givin' ya the gears, man.
There was a smile on my face!

peace

nilan

Posted by nilan on February 20, 2009 5:54 PM

 

 

The Torontopian ethic, as I understand it, was a way of promoting the DIY. It is natural that, as these projects developed, they would become more specific in answer to a need to go deeper. While collaboration does promote fresh thinking, those impulses are inherently superficial.

I love improvisation but the idea that playing with any random group of musicians has a benefit misses the boat for me. Artists have a need to go deeper not broader. Broad is just a construct of the marketplace.

Posted by Half on February 20, 2009 8:36 AM

 

 

While there may be occasions when folks like Evan Parker play in unsavoury performance conditions for virtuous reasons like a desire "to address an audience that isn't just the already initiated," more often they do so because festival gigs pay the rent. Maybe the former rationale is a euphemism for the latter.

I just wish there were better ways to initiate the uninitiated than to play the curatorial gambit that puts creative musicians in mercenary roles. I expend a lot of energy imagining what those ways could be.

Posted by Somewhere There on February 19, 2009 9:48 AM

 

 

Scott - I think you're mistaking the nature of our disagreement a bit; I agree with you that ST is a better venue than all those others, and even agree that it's often in spite of context that those bigger shows work. Where we seem to disagree is about how important it is to have bigger shows anyway, to address an audience that isn't just the already initiated - about whether the musical sacrifice is worth it. I don't dispute there is (often, at least) a musical sacrifice.

Posted by zoilus on February 18, 2009 9:01 PM

 

 

I certainly won't deny my own purist streak, Carl! In fact, if I'm "taking the argument to extremes" above, then the most extreme argument that I've made is opening Somewhere There in the first place. I may be the only one -- sign me up for the asylum if so -- but I feel that the evidence of what I'm saying is there.

In my experience (with certain special exceptions), the improvised music that I've heard in bigger, more popular, more accessible contexts has been successful in spite of and not because of the context. Of course this is subjective, and never mind that I feel it pretty palpably in the gut. At any rate, I'll be happy to disagree with you on this one.

Yes, it was Evan's schedule that forced AIMToronto's hand to present him last weekend. In fact, he was originally booked for an October Interface Series but some US immigration bureaucracy scuppered the tour of which it was to be a part.

Posted by Somewhere There on February 18, 2009 1:40 PM

 

 

I'm just playin' Jon. We weren't into Kid Sniper either, so fair enough. But in all sincerity: you (and all the others) did/do an awesome job with Wavelength, and whether it meant/means shit to me is irrelevant. Hats off, wildcat.

Posted by Mike W. on February 18, 2009 1:14 PM

 

 

Scott, no one's questioning the fact that Somewhere There is a very special venue for improvised music, but you're taking the argument to extremes. I've seen players improvise in a wide range of spaces, especially in a festival context in places such as Victoriaville and Guelph - including much larger churches than the Music Gallery's space, not to mention a hockey arena - and on other occasions under bridges and in parks - and those have often been great shows too. Not as ideal and pure as what happens at ST, perhaps, but more (literally) accessible, among other things.

I know that some attempts to have improvisers play Wavelength events in bars haven't gone very well, because in that context the audience doesn't tend to quiet down enough. That's mainly to do with acoustic-vs-electric instruments though, and there are ways around it - Jonny's idea about putting Evan together with a skronky rock group would be one (hard to know if he's interested in that kind of pairing or not), but another would be to pair him with louder instruments - Eric and Nick from Drumheller for example on electric guitar and drums would probably work.

None of this is to take away from the great things at ST, but let's not have the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And in any case my main original point was less about crossover than about conflict - that it seemed unfortunate that the two events were scheduled at the same time, given that the WL anniversary is the same weekend every year - not because it meant that there wouldn't be enough people to come to the Interface series but because it meant that a whole segment of the people who might have come were less likely to. (Using myself as an instance.) Of course I know Evan's schedule was probably a huge factor, but it seemed worth raising.

Posted by zoilus on February 18, 2009 12:48 PM

 

 

Jonny:

Apologies if you felt attacked. To be clear, the venues For Wavelength are really great for some music. However, having played in them, I feel confident that they are not good for collective improvisation of the kind that is featured during Interface Series. I wouldn't have needed to open Somewhere There if there were already suitable venues readily available for the optimal presentation of informal creative music in Toronto. Evan Parker, William Parker, Eddie Prévost all love playing at Somewhere There. Ab Baars says, "it's absolutely perfect." Is this really subjective, or is there something about the music these people make that thrives in such an intimate environment that tends to get squashed elsewhere?

Good point, though, about the Element Choir (who remain in residence at Somewhere There on Sundays this month). That's a group with the resources to handle diverse and challenging contexts more ably.

Posted by Somewhere There on February 18, 2009 9:18 AM

 

 

Well, hello everyone. I kind of feel like the elephant in the room here, or maybe the room next door if the walls were paper thin?

I'm trying to resist the urge to get defensive here, since as (I hope) we all know by now, doing so on the Internet all ends in :( ...

(Hey, that ellipsis kind of looked like dripping tears. Unintentional. Neat!)

Anyways, I feel I must respond to some of my friends here:

Scott - Sorry to hear the McPhee experience was so negative for you guys, and sorry that I'm first hearing about it here, 2+ years later. We did give the festival a big publicity push, and I think our friends in the media were responding to that, and it is too bad they overlooked the AIMToronto/Interface connection. In retrospect, I wish I had done more to communicate that connection to them.

But I think you might want to reconsider your assertions about both the Wavelength audience and the venues we choose to use. All four of our shows saw incredibly attentive and engaged listeners, and none of those rooms lacked for personality. Then again, that is entirely subjective....

Nilan - I know you must be teasing when you say we're "cashing in," but we're just going for - and getting - the same small project grants that AIMToronto gets to stage events like Interface. The funding system, such as it is, is not going to allow WL to go full-time any time in the foreseeable future. And I appreciate the Stranglers quote, but I'm getting younger all the time. I'm getting a new band together which will be my most immature yet!

Allison - You rule, and are lovely, as always. I appreciate that you "get" what we are trying to do.

All - Indeed, it is tough to bring communities together and not work at cross purposes. Different expectations, frames of reference, modes of being, behaviour, etc, can create friction. Sometimes it's creative friction, other times it's just annoying.

I'd like to think, however, that there was a link between these two events, in the form of the Element Choir, who we invited to play at the Saturday night of WL 450 and who performed a beautiful, inspired set in front of a hushed and attentive Polish Combatants Hall. Many in attendance had never heard (of) them before, and many were asking who they were and when they were playing again. (I made sure, as ad hoc emcee, to plug the last night of their residency next Sunday Feb. 22 at Somewhere There.) And the next day, Choir members Christine Duncan and DB Boyko took part in the Interface along with Evan Parker and Paul Dutton (the full choir being too large for ST with EP playing). I wish I could have been there, but alas, organization duties called. Maybe that's a tenuous link, but I think it illustrates the efforts we at WL make to bring "small music" to a larger audience.

And Mike Wallace - dude, I'm sorry I was such a Poncelord nine years ago. I should have just said "we're just not that into you." Since then, I have learned to be more tactful and diplomatic. But back then we were just starting out with the series, and trying (a little too) hard to distinguish ourselves from everything else that was going on at the time.

But dude, it was nine years ago, get over it! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Anyways, I hope you are doing well and still rock'n'rolling and making the musics.

Thanks Carl for the thoughtful and provocative piece. If any opportunity like this arises again, AIMToronto folks, Wavelength would be happy to host some kind of non-intrusive, non-attention-grabbing, late-night surprise guest appearance for an improviser such as Evan Parker... I would have loved to have seen him kick out the skronk with BRIDES, for one.

JD

Posted by Dovercourt on February 18, 2009 3:04 AM

 

 

Thanks to the AIMToronto folks for weighing in - and thanks to their frequent collaborator Allison for the backup. I hadn't known about the McPhee case, and I see the point about contexts for the music; the benefits Allison points out remain more important to me. I trust everyone gets that this is said in the interests of constructive dialogue and not backseat carping. Also, I should add that I attended two of the WL events and one of the Parker evenings and had a marvelous time at both (I'd particularly mention Joe Sorbara and Wes Neal's trio with Parker on Sunday, as well as Mi Ami's opening WL set later that night) - and certainly the intimacy of the Somewhere There show was part of what made it so richly memorable.

Posted by zoilus on February 18, 2009 1:14 AM

 

 

In 2006, AIMToronto actively sought a partnership with the Music Gallery so that a visit by brilliant American improviser, Joe McPhee, could be tied into both an Interface Series and the (Wavelength-inspired) X-Avant Festival. We sought this partnership because the Board thought that it would be a good thing for all of the reasons that Carl and Allison mention.

There was lots of press for Joe but, unfortunately for us, only for his show at St. George-the-Martyr, and there was essentially no mention that AIMToronto was involved at all despite the fact that we had done all of the programming and brought him up under our own steam. Cross-purposes indeed.

Worse yet was the fact that the church turned out to be a terrible venue in which to present the highly collaborative, informal, fundamentally intimate music-making that comprises Interface Series programming. As Eddie Prévost once said to me with characteristic astuteness, "It's a small music. That's its virtue."

Regarding the possibility of linking Evan's Series with Wavelength, it would have detracted from the music to present it in either a big, boomy, impersonal church or a dark, ratty, impersonal bar where people invariably talk over it. Evan Parker deserves better and, from all reports (I was away), he got it from the new AIMToronto Board, the musicians with whom he played, and the large audiences that came to hear them at Somewhere There.

Posted by Somewhere There on February 17, 2009 8:31 PM

 

 

Greetings all,
I could not agree with Carl more about intersecting the two events WL 450 and the Parker Interface.
Would have been a great thing to do!
It's not about audience numbers but audience sharing, no? How many kids from the WL scene would go to an AIMT gig? At least at such an intersection they would know a little more about the musicians about town, perhaps even their own neighbours (which is how I found $100, btw) and indeed about the amazing Evan Parker. If the great and innovative producers of Toronto all took a cue from Guy Maddin (saddest music...) we could have had British free improv vs. funky post punk country. Now, that's something I'd go see in a heart-beat!
-Allison C.

Posted by Allison C. on February 17, 2009 6:29 PM

 

 

Wavelength is a hero to most, but it never meant shit to me.

Ever since late 2000, when the Buncelord said my band couldn't play there because we were "too mainstream". I have never forgotten. I will never forgive.

Just kiddin'. (Not really!).


Posted by Mike W. on February 17, 2009 2:31 PM

 

 

yo...AIMToronto publicity?
fer who, pray tell?
The Evan Parker Interface(Interfaith?...sorry..my lisp ) was sold out and SRO.

Evan loved it, as did we.

For those wanting to know what's 'out' and on get on soundlist.ca ,though I expect all these writers/papers knew Evan was here and chose to go populist (cute and contemporary, as Lenny said) with our lovely friends at Wavelength.

Goin' for the grants eh?

"They never told me what was the truth,
Just a young man losing his youth"
GMBH - Stranglers

I mourn anything that cashes in it's ostinato crossdressing musical programming, but these things appear anyway as artists are always doing that in their work. It's just a shame that it's not out there for the punters to actually witness as juxtaposition.

Just keep open, aware and try and keep up..'k?

Present company excepted, of course...I did see you there, Carl

Posted by nilan on February 16, 2009 11:43 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson