For a festival of any stripe to last until its nineteenth edition suggests a deep commitment by its organizers to maintaining the attention of their audience. crys cole, director of send+receive, builds the festival around a different theme every year, going with “outside of the box” for the 2017 edition. The result was a program of artists whose work reflects idiosyncratic approaches to particular instruments, sounds, and spaces.
As always, the festival included public installations. Hand-drawn companion pieces to Graham Lambkin’s performance hung at a coffee shop, while the Poolside Gallery featured the room-sized pH: Measurement of Success by local artist Kelly Ruth. The latter was visually highlighted by a handwoven centrepiece representing coral reef, evoking the issue of human-sourced ocean acidification by emitting sound in response to the presence of people. Finally, a local community-radio station featured Annea Lockwood’s electroacoustic piece Dusk, every night of the festival at the appropriate hour.
Beyond those broadcasts, Lockwood was the artist featured most prominently throughout the festival. The opening performance on Thursday at Knox United Church kicked off with James Rushford performing Lockwood’s prepared-piano work Ear-Walking Man. The sound came in gradually, wiped strings creating an almost vocable effect before a trot through several generally engaging passages, the piece closing on a high, with a glass-sliding passage. Also that evening, Heather Leigh performed a set of sprawling songs on pedal steel guitar, the extraterrestrial sound of which soared in the room, often overpowering her voice. Thursday concluded with Rushford returning to the church to play on the pipe organ Henning Christiansen’s Fluxus piece Op. 39: Fluxorum Organum, a durational serial work in five movements.
Rushford also opened the Friday night at Aceartinc gallery, this time performing his own work. After establishing a cavernous electronic feel, Rushford processed his voice, breathed into a bag, inserted a droney synthscape, even briefly dipped the audience in a frying pan, and generally ensured that everyone paid attention for the rest of the night. Next up was Graham Lambkin performing Tidal Archers, featuring imagery and sounds sampled from wild animals, along with live contributions from a table filled with simple noisemakers and a laptop. Lambkin’s voice and whistling cracked just enough to underscore the pathos of a piece inspired by environmental strain. The evening closed with extreme screamer Junko Hiroshige, whose sound is as shocking to hear as it is challenging to describe. With nothing to comprehend linguistically, and no clear musical metre to be divined, it tempted this listener to impose a narrative on body language. By captivating without the help of welcoming reference points, Junko’s performance embodied the outside-of-the-box theme as well as any during the festival.
Saturday night featured Lockwood’s evocative tape piece Tiger Balm, which has recently been reissued (Black Truffle, BT028). That was followed by the first appearance in Canada of Tetsuya Umeda, whose unassuming demeanour belied a performance that amused and amazed as a transparent lesson in forging a fascinating soundscape with common objects. Joe McPhee followed, his performance an emphatic attestation to there being many compelling ways to push air through valves. He underscored the point halfway through by swapping out his horn for a clarinet. Moaning, flapping, and whistling are but a few of the descriptors for the various ways McPhee animated his instruments, all those techniques regularly punctuated by blasts of more conventional tone.

Sunday opened with Irene Bindi performing Pala Pallida, a solo drum work that triggered the light of a projector to spellbinding effect in an achingly brief performance. The Nihilist Spasm Band then commenced with a raucous, noisy, hilarious performance, each song anchored by a recitation before blasting into cacophony. Opening and closing with some of their best-known pieces (“No Canada” and “What About Me?”), they variously welcomed Junko Hiroshige, Tetsuya Umeda, and Joe McPhee joining in. The group’s unschooled improvising creates a chaotic sensation of impending collapse, making for a gripping live experience. An inspired choice to close this edition of send+receive, their scrupulous iconoclasm was a fitting end for an outside-of-the-box festival that lived up to its theme.

Photos of send + receive v.19 by Robert A. Szkolnicki. Top: First Canadian appearance of Tetsuya Umeda, an Osaka-based sound and visual artist. Middle: Heather Leigh performs a set of songs on pedal steel guitar and vocals. Bottom: Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser Joe McPhee.