The Centre for Sleep and Dream Studies

The Scream Literary Festival 2010Last Wednesday night I returned to The Centre For Sleep and Dream Studies by way of Levack Block’s front room bar in Toronto. This version of “The Centre…” took the form of a late-night, 4-hour interactive audio-lounge surreality event curated by Angela Rawlings for The Scream Literary Festival.

I first entered The Centre almost 5 years ago as part of a creative team assembled by Angela to help investigate how her book, Wide slumber for lepidopterists, might translate from page to stage.

Here is Angela’s own “Report on The Centre for Sleep & Dream Studies, + Somniloquixotic Questionnaire” from last week’s re-visiting.

… and here is an excerpt from the night’s audio highlight – an improvised performance by Angela Rawlings and Ciara Adams (vocally improvised sounds of breath, fricatives, song, and orgasm) and Richard Windeyer (live electroacoustic processing)

While the event ended well, I have to say this was a crazy (but insightful) gig.

Angela and I had met the week before to plan out what “The Centre” would sound like over the course of its 4 hour performance. We used the different stages of NRem sleep to create a loose temporal structure, collected a variety of audio sources (live interviews with audience members on the subject of their dream experiences, the nocturnal utterings of Dion McGregor, excerpts from Gordon Jenkins classic recording “Seven Dreams (A Musical Fantasy)”, pop songs of sleeping and dreaming and so on.

Now, we were expecting to perform this in the back room of the venue to a fairly captive listening audience. However, upon arriving at the bar, we found our gig re-located to the front room bar, which was now waist-thick in a very frantic and hungry post-reading chatter party vibe. Suddenly the room for the kind of sonic detail and nuance we had emphasized in our planning was gone. Obliterated by a crowd starved for party.

The sound system was basic and the overall noise level in the room intense. In retrospect, what would have really helped me take control of the room, was a free-standing DJ set in my back-pocket, with all tracks fully beat-mapped, warped and indexed – just to keep the party bouncing while our well-made plans started to self-combust. Unfortunately I had come prepared with something very different. So after dashing back and forth between my prepped tracks and stuff on my iPhone, I let the groove settle on a very stripped down texture of beats (built gradually by hand/mouse), oscillating low-end bass patterns, randomly looped and  vocoded fragments from the dreamer interviews happening at the back of the room. In the end, this approach seemed to work, largely by establishing a rhythmic framework or counterpoint, through which, all the party chatter (and the surreal dreamings of Dion McGregor and audience members) could be heard. The trick was in knowing to leave (a lot) of space for every other sound in the room, working with it as a foregrounded texture, rather than pick a fight with it. I know many other artists and DJ’s who would have handled the situation with much more assertion (even sonic aggression). But this seemed to work – at least for this (nicely niche) crowd – evoking mostly positive responses (thanks everyone!)

I would love to try this approach again sometime.

(though I still resolve never to show up to the gig without something in my back pocket!)


rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL (2010-2011) is a conducted freepolyfunk big band project conceived and directed by Toronto musician Nilan Perera. It’s musical subject is the early electro jazz recordings of Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’, ‘On the Corner’ etc.

Simeon Abbott- Keyboards/tapes
Bryant Didier – Electric bass
Jeremy Strachan – Sax
Dan Gooch – Trumpet
Rebecca Hennessy – Trumpet
Jesse Levine – Keyboards
Germaine Liu – Drums/Percussion

Nian Perera – Guitar/Conductor
Jeremy Strachan – Woodwinds
Richard Windeyer – live sampling/dub effects
Mark Zurawinski – Drums/Percussion
Ronley Teper – voice

I joined this band a little while ago, not as a drummer, but as a live dub and sample artist. My function is to loop, sample and process (filters, echoes, modulators) the band LIVE (!), in ways that mirror the great producer Teo Macero’s studio manipulation techniques, which he used to (literally) construct these classic (and pioneering) albums. The basic idea is that my activities should complement Nilan’s activity onstage as a ‘conductor’ – steering the individual musician’s output in ways that emulate the ‘tape edit’ aesthetic of the original recordings (It’s similar in spirit, I suppose, to the ‘jump cut’ techniques John Zorn employed in pieces like ‘Spillane’). I was attracted to this project initially because, at the time, Miles was listening not only to Jimi Hendrix, but also the electroacoustics of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. At the same time, the pioneering dub producers (King Tubby, Lee Perry…) were also digging into the very same territory. In the context of my own work (ambient/dub/psychedelic/live electronic performance), all of this represents (for me) a critical and vital intersection of influences and sonic territories.

Hear rEDwIREaRCHaNGEL on Myspace

Finger performance (an introduction)

Since 2002, I have been collaborating with Cameron McKittrick and Leslie Wyber under the name of FINGER, a live electroacoustic performance trio creating new work and re-interpreting old works by mixing fresh compositional approaches with new performance technologies. We have become increasingly interested in the impact of electronic mediation on live performance – especially where it concerns the perception of physical gesture, interaction and issues of scale. In our recent work we have examined the role of mediatization in performance forms.

A common obstacle in creating convincing electroacoustic performance concerns the use of laptop computers as instruments — their computational (and compositional) power hugely outweighing their corresponding visual appeal as instruments in live performance. The traditional instrumentalist’s large and culturally familiar gestures are in stark contrast to the visual component of a typical laptop computer performance:  In a laptop performance, the audience regularly reports frustration resulting from their inability to ground the sound they are hearing in the actions they are seeing. Past FINGER performances have often evoked experiences similar to that of sitting in a live radio audience watching the small physical actions of the sound effects artist become transformed into much larger, sonic images. For example, how the tapping of coconut shells comes to represent horse hooves in the mind of the listener. More recent FINGER performances – focusing specifically on the intense amplification of small, manually performed aural and visual gestures – have made us aware of the audience’s need for a larger performative context.  At the same time, we are increasingly aware of the risks involved in amplifying an audience’s incredulity through fantastic gestural interface without apparent governing artistic intention.

( ( (cocktail party effect) ) )

Audible hors d’oeuvres for large social functions

(   (  ( cocktail party effect )  )   ) is a performance installation series intended for large social functions, a series of fun, surprising and entertaining interventions appear from, and disappear quickly into the crowd.

Antique black and white photo of waiters in formal attire

Audio Waiters premiered as a ‘guerilla performance’ in 1999 during the intermission of a NUMUS concert in Waterloo. The central themes explored in this work included the use of music in restaurants, fine dining as a theatrical experience, the mass consumption of music (disguised as hors d’oeuvres) by pre-occupied listeners engaged in the larger social context of music concerts, and a consideration of the ‘service staff’ role which working musicians have typically found themselves playing in Western societies throughout history.

Inter Arts Matrix has presented (   (  ( cocktail party effect )  )   ) in many unusual venues, including the National Ballet of Canada Galas (2008-2009) and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Fundraisers (2008-2009).

Performed by:
Pam Patel, soprano
Margaret Báardos, mezzo soprano
Michael Donovan, baritone
Jamie Hofman, baritone
Donovan Locke, tuba, multi-instrumentalist