Welcome to the sound of summer

Sound Symposium begins Friday

Published on July 2, 2014

Summer in St. John’s sounds like the honking of ships’ horns (at least every two years), and this one will be no different.

A weeklong celebration of sound in all its forms, from horns to jazz jams to poetry and dance combined, the 2014 Sound Symposium begins Friday with a varied soundscape requiring no musical background to enjoy.

Held every two years, the Sound Symposium brings artists and audiences together for concerts, workshops, sound/art installations and more, all in the spirit of innovation.

This year, there’s a particular focus on invented instruments — something that happened by accident, publicity co-ordinator Alex Pierson explains, as the list of invited guests grew, and with the inclusion of the ARC.

Created as a project of Memorial University’s music and engineering departments, the ARC is an interactive electronic instrument created to bring more of a performance aspect to electronic music, for electronic musicians who aren’t comfortable hiding behind a laptop.

Musician and Experimental Musical Instruments magazine editor Bart Hopkin will also be in town to perform on some of his creations, and will lead a workshop July 9 where he will guide participants in making their own.

“With these instruments, it’s different from conventional ones, where you have all these centuries of techniques that people have developed,” Pierson says.

“The invented instruments, a lot of times, don’t have that element. There could still be stringed instruments or percussive instruments and you can still apply those traditional techniques, but a lot of times it’s a completely different ap-proach.”

Musicians Doug Blackley and Andrew Czink will be bringing their spectral piano to this year’s Sound Symposium, presenting a concert Saturday evening at the MUN School of Music.

A similar idea to the EBow, a hand-held device for guitarists, the spectral piano involves a device that mounts on a regular piano, and uses electromagnets to create dramatic sounds by bowing the strings.

“As far as I know, it’s the first time anybody’s ever done a giant thing like this,” Pierson says.

“It was quite a technical challenge for them. You can create continuous sounds and the piano opens up and almost becomes like a keyboard; an analog keyboard where nothing is electronic. It’s interesting to watch, and they take it to some weird and wonderful places.”

Other Sound Symposium performances happening over the course of the week include Boujou Badialy Cissoko, a Griot musician and storyteller from Senegal who will perform with local musician Curtis Andrews and lead a workshop on Griot music and tradition; “This Far North,” an art installation by Andrea Cooper; “Boreal Breaths and Steps,” a poetry and dance outdoor performance by Marlene Creates, Don McKay, Nicola Hawkins and Louise Moyes, and concerts by musicians including Katelyn Clark, Jesse Stewart, Trifolia, Ouroboros, Patrick Boyle, Greg Bruce, teenage jazz group Stompbox NL, improv comedy group Stanley Braxton and more.

The symposium’s signature event, the Harbour Symphony, will happen every day at 12:30 p.m.

Volunteer players on vessels in St. John’s harbour will collaborate on five-minute scored performances written specifically for the horns, co-ordinated over a Canadian Coast Guard radio frequency.

The symphony, originally inspired by the spontaneous blasting of the ships’ horns in celebration of New Year’s Eve, has been a part of the Sound Symposium since 1983, and has since caught on in other locations around the world.

A detailed Sound Symposium schedule and ticket information is available at the Symposium’s website at www.soundsymposium.com.