In the summer of 2013, I was on the hunt for photos of Charlemagne Palestine and was put in touch with crys cole, the artistic director of Winnipeg’s Send + Receive festival. She had invited Palestine to perform at the festival, and our friendly email exchange (with attachments!) not only helped me out but also put Winnipeg on my radar.
Like many directors of music or sound-art festivals, cole is a practising artist. Her collaborative and solo work immediately entranced me, yet her name lingered on my editor’s to-do list for months. Then last fall I found myself having coffee with Kristel Jax, whose engaging writing about Toronto’s exploratory-music scene made me consider her as a potential new contributor. She grew up in Winnipeg, I discovered, and still has strong ties to its arts scene. Push “Play!”
How—not to mention why and where—we listen was very much on my mind while working on this issue. The cover story opens with Jax’s description of an intimate performance cole gave at a Winnipeg gallery; she later refers to cole’s solo recording debut “mixing with street noise” over her headphones. The Winnipeg piano trio Burden encourages audiences to walk around while the three musicians are performing: “Listening from a different angle might let you hear something you weren’t noticing before,” Burden’s Doreen Girard tells Daniel Emberg. Christopher Willes evocatively describes Public Recordings’ sound–dance piece what we are saying as “a choreography of listening.”
Listening to music is so often a passive experience, but vocal artists Ayo Leilani and Gabriel Dharmoo, whose creative lives are explored in two separate articles, succeed in engaging audiences while giving them something to think about—something that might make them even a little uncomfortable. “What do we accept as valuable music?” Dharmoo asks, rhetorically.
Composer Marc Sabat provides something of a response, if not an answer. “One can thematize art quite a lot,” he tells writer Nick Storring, “but in the end, music is really about the things that we experience in listening to sound and through sound.”
This spring I took my curious ears to Knoxville, Tennessee, to experience Big Ears, which David Dacks and Peter Burton refer to as “the paragon of large-scale festival economics crossed with exploratory sounds” in their commentary “New Stages for New Music.” I saw my music heroes Australian improv trio The Necks and jazz saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington in action, as well as Anthony Braxton, Laurie Anderson, Mary Halvorson, and many more. But in terms of my experience of listening to and through sound, two works by John Luther Adams stuck out. On my first day I spent more than an hour in the sanctuary of the former First Christian Church of Knoxville with Adams’ immersive Veils and Vesper, an installation of connected electronic pieces; on my final day I took a trolley to the Ijams Nature Center to wander through Adams’ Inuksuit, a concert-length work for many percussionists, installed in open spaces along a winding nature trail.