In late 1977, somewhere in Toronto, the poet and noted arts programmer Victor Coleman, Music Gallery cofounders Peter Anson and Al Mattes, and music artists John Oswald and Andrew Timar convened to discuss establishing an artist-run print forum to serve the Canadian creative-music community. In early 1978, Musicworks made its debut as a section inside Only Paper Today, a monthly newsprint tabloid on the arts. By the end of the year, Musicworks was a stand-alone publication that aimed, as Andrew wrote, to “span the breadth of idioms sustained by a highly-divergent group—a group yet to attain awareness of its form and extensions.” In the tenth-anniversary issue—Musicworks 40, published in spring 1988—editor Gayle Young thanked her predecessors and regular contributors for shaping the magazine “into what it is today; an eclectic and devoted vehicle exploring (and mapping) some of the intricate fibres of the music of the planet.”

What makes me smile as I read those editors’ notes is that they describe what Musicworks is and what it still does in its pages and recordings. Thanks to a remarkably stable overall mission and the sustained commitment of its staff, board members, volunteers, and readership community, Musicworks has remained a cornerstone of Toronto’s exploratory-music community while evolving, in various ways, into an internationally recognized publication that celebrates and discusses the innovative works, ideas, and perspectives of a diversity of—mostly—Canadian artists.

The spring 2018 issue, the first of our fortieth-anniversary year, was programmed with the concept of “the journey” in mind. Last summer, sound artist and writer Andra McCartney contacted me about a trip she would be taking to the Bernheim Forest, in Kentucky, as a guest of the SONICBernheim series. She would be listening, field recording, leading a soundwalk and discussion—all part of her artistic practice. The stories about (or by) the artists in this issue—McCartney, Sam Shalabi, textile and sound artist Kelly Ruth, hip-hop producer Pursuit Grooves (Vanese Smith), percussionist–composer Sarah Hennies, vocalist–composer Jeremy Dutcher, and musician Tomoko Sauvage (who plays waterbowls)—all explore a highly divergent creative journey that continues to unfold.

This is our first-ever full-colour issue, and first available in a digital edition. This year we are working toward fine-tuning, refreshing, and expanding our products and presence in the digital world, with various practical and creative changes coming online as soon as they’re ready. Our new online shop, for example, is now taking subscription orders; our manager Jessie Rivést has done a beautiful job setting it up.

Musicworks 23, spring 1983, was the first issue produced in conjunction with a cassette tape, making us the first magazine (as far as we know) to come with a companion recording. “It’s the first time we’ve tried to make an illuminating interface between audio and printed information,” wrote editor Tina Pearson, tipping her hat to John Oswald’s creative efforts in putting it together. (The cassette’s j-card notes were printed in the issue with a dotted line indicating where to cut!). For many years now, Musicworks recordings have been released on CD. While we’ll continue to publish the recordings in that format, we’re working out the logistics and best method for a download option, which we’ll be offering to listeners very soon. (We don’t want you to have to drive around in an old car just to listen to the Musicworks mix!)

The very first page of the very first edition of Musicworks featured John Oswald’s intensely whimsical, personal, footnotes-only piece “Alto Sax1 Playing2.” A couple of page-turns later was an interview with the performing wing of the Vancouver creative-music organization NOW (New Orchestra Workshop), which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary. One of the NOW founders interviewed was Paul Cram—jazz reedist, composer, improviser, former artistic director of Halifax’s Upstream Music Association, and friend and mentor to many—who passed away just before this went to print. The sad news landed just as I was writing this note and flipping through that first issue, searching for connection points. So I will close this note with Paul’s concise answer to a question about what improvisation means—words that relate, I think, to many creative journeys explored in Musicworks over the years: 

“It means being yourself within the music.”

Cover collage by Atanas Bozdarov.