On a recent trip to Montreal I encountered one of the most exciting pieces of new music I had heard in a long time. The sound came quietly at first, a distant pointillistic, tinny gesture. Granular synthesis? The mixing was superb, from niente to loud surround-sound and back again. At its peak, the timbre was metallic, with a range of colours. Spectral music? The odd thing, though: I wasn’t in a concert hall; I was in a hotel room and I wasn’t playing any music. I searched my room for the sound source. iPad? No. iPod? Nope. Radio? Silent. I ended up at the open window, witnessing a small group of people as they moved through the street below, banging pots and pans: a casserole protest.
What started as student protests over Quebec’s tuition fee hikes has morphed into a more general population protest against Quebec’s Bill 78, a law aimed at controlling the time and place of protests and the number of protesters allowed by law. Named the Casserole Protests for their use of banged pots and pans, these semi-spontaneous street protests have now taken place in many Canadian cities this spring. The protests are only one indication of the bigger issues at play here. Since the global financial crisis that was initiated by the U.S. banking crisis in 2007, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is clear that the “99-per cent” feel that the status quo should be demolished. The one per cent has all the resources and all the power. My experience of mistaken new-music identity in Montreal this spring made me wonder if there is a parallel in the experimental music milieu. Who is our one per cent? Or are we all the one per cent?
As editor, I am charged every issue, with the task—and pleasure—of choosing the artists, ideas, and music that best express Musicworks’ mandate: to educate the public about the diverse venturesome sound-art practices. A wealth of well-crafted, thoughtful, and original music and sound art comes across my desk and into my ears. But is the majority of it venturesome? No. The least inventive art by far is the work that relies on large cultural institutions for expression: the orchestras, ensembles, and operas. This isn’t a surprise; endemic in writing for orchestra, classical ensemble, or opera are centuries-old traditions of formal, conceptual, and cultural expectations. Even the last hundred years of new instrumental techniques and new musical language haven’t been enough to reinvent the genre, especially when the artist has to convince the ensembles to take risks and change with him or her. Inventiveness has stalled and we are overdue for our century’s Stravinskian Rite of Spring—a new sound that changes everything.
In a milieu that relies on public money to survive, these ensembles are our one per cent. Their size requires the most resources to maintain and the depth of their tradition dictates what is possible in new music. With the economic reality of the new millennium and the paucity of political will to support expensive cultural institutions, we are about to experience our own global financial crisis in new music.
Change is coming, and not just to those that are banging pots in the street, but to those of us entrenched in traditional experimental aesthetics. Will we know what it will sound like? Probably not. Revolution is never predictable. But our ears will be hit with a sound that we have never heard before and it will be experimental. Listen. You can hear the new voices just outside your window. Pick up your pots and pans and join them, or batten down the hatches.

Image by: Lucinda Wallace.