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You'll lose sleep over Guelph's Nuit Blanche

Choreographer and dance artist Susanna Hood and trombonist and composer Scott Thomson who played IMOO in June, will both have their own performances during Guelph's Nuit Blanche. ©Brett Delmage, 2012


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Merely reviewing all the website details of the 58 performances and art presentations during Guelph's 2012 Nuit Blanche, from 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 8, to 7 a.m. on Sunday, made me exhausted. And that's actually a great sign for listeners and art installation and performance lovers. It indicates the incredible depth and breath of this festival within the Guelph Jazz Festival.

Despite being tired from a lot of reading, I'm incredibly excited about it too. (I'm also wondering how I should start my 'awake' training so I don't fall asleep at 3 a.m. like I did last year. Suggestions?)

'Cage'y. Eclectic. Improvised. Interactive. International. Inventive. Participatory. Visual. Vocal. Surprising. These are a few words that describe Guelph's Nuit Blanche, now in its third year.

As the festival points out, you can “Hear the world in one night!” Bringing a wide variety of styles and approaches, some exceptional performers are coming from afar. Three sets of artists not from here include:

  • Germany: saxophonist ‘firebrand' Peter Brötzmann teams up with US vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz for a dynamic, sensitive exploration of improvisational jazz.
  • Norway: The Norwegian trio Huntsville (who will also play IMOO at Umi in Ottawa on September 9) interweaves the sounds of different folk and popular music in a way that evokes the flavour of folksong and extends it into realms of electro-acoustic noise and minimalist composition.
  • Brazil: At 2:30 a.m., the São Paulo Underground, (leading-edge Chicago musician Rob Mazurek, and Brazilian musicians Mauricio Takara, and Guilherme Granado) will combine complex Brazilian rhythms with laptop, cornet, drums, percussion, keyboards, and cavaquinho (the 'miniature guitar' of Brazil that Evandro Gracelli made Ottawa-Gatineau listeners very aware of).
  • One of the festival's highest-profile artists, Abdullah Ibrahim, will perform in conjunction with an 11 p.m. / 3 a.m. screening of the documentary film “A Brother With Perfect Timing”, about his struggle for freedom with apartheid in South Africa. Discussions about two of his compositions, Anthem for a New Nation and Mannenberg, will be included.

The full line-up also includes performers from South Africa, India, Israel, France, and the US.

Canadian musical improvisers can keep you awake all night too. Scott Thompson, who, together with Christine Duncan and the Element Choir, presented the compelling Chamber Elements throughout the National Gallery as part of Ottawa Chamberfest, will make several appearances. Again making use of its environment, the Radiant Brass Ensemble will play suitably nocturnal music from the south bank of the Speed River to listeners on the north bank - at 4:30 a.m. I assume there are no nearby residents, or else they will all be Nuit Blanche fans or heavy sleepers.

Clarinetist François Houle's performances and recordings “transcend the stylistic borders associated with his instrument in all of the diverse musical spheres he embraces: classical, jazz, new music, improvised music, and world music.” He played two different concerts to very satisfied audiences in the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational Series. His 2011 Nuit Blanche performance in the Bikram Yoga Studio last year was so engaging that I could not move myself to the concurrent Nuit Blanche concerts I was supposed to check out. Now, I don't know whether to avoid Houle's spell again this year or submit to and embrace what I expect will be another superb performance.

Other notable Canadians who will play that night include 2012 Juno winner Matt Brubeck on cello, and oud player Gordon Grdina.

The Macdonald Stewart Art Centre's galleries will be animated for all twelve hours, with performances and installations that celebrate the work and philosophy of John Cage. Musicircus will present visual and audio art installations and performances in honour of the 100th year of Cage's birth, and of his collaborators, David Tudor and Merce Cunningham. Participating artists and musicians include Ben Grossman, Scott Thomson, Quartetski, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Nobuo Kubota, Susanna Hood, Lynette Segal, Matt Rogalsky, Germaine Liu, Gregory Oh, Parmela Attariwala, Christine Duncan, Heather Segger and Doug Tielli. Several of the musicians have made Ottawa Chamberfest and/or IMOO Series appearances this year.

Beyond the traditional role of quiet listener, interested attendees can participate as co-creators. As an easy toe-in-the-water, there's a mainstream drumming circle, Dawn of the Drum, from 4 to 7 a.m. It's in a coffee bar - which I'm sure will be greatly appreciated by many.

If you're into drumming but are looking for something edgier, check out “Tuned Casseroles”, led by Guelph-based playwright/songwriter/composer/producer/community activist James Gordon and “context artist” Tanya Williams. An "homage" to, and in solidarity with, the Quebec "casserole" protests, Tuned Casseroles is a “structured, improvisational, participatory score with sound, movement, and verbal rants. You are expected to bring a pot and a wooden spoon and join in the action! Call-and-response sections as well as improvised solos will be a part of the proceedings, and the event will conclude with a ‘soap box' improv, where the ‘orchestra' responds to short spontaneous phrases by audience members about current issues.”

For vocal fans, there's something for everyone, from traditional jazz vocals to edgy choirs, spoken word, and the unusual and participatory.

In the River of Sound and Voice, “any vocal method and style is welcome: reading, spoken word, rhyme, rant, singing.... there is room for everyone in this live audio installation that will create a continuous, flowing, and changing soundscape. It's orchestrated by Guelph artists Matthew Stephens and James Zirco Fisher by using a wide variety of instruments and sound sources, both electronic and acoustic.”

Artist, architect, Zen Buddhist and descendant of the Samaria, Nobuo Kubota adapts chanting and scat vocalizations, developing his own individual vocal style, a form of sound singing. He'll do a solo vocal performance as part of Nuit Blanche's tribute to John Cage.

More traditional choral and vocal performances (as 'traditional' as they get at this avant-garde festival!) can be heard. Songs of Sky Woman brings together the interdisciplinary group Slant and the Indigenous drum group Mino Ode Kwewak N'gamowak to present texts by three Native Canadian authors through contemporary music by Peter Skoggard and traditional Aboriginal music. Choir in Motion “Remix” is inspired by the infinite possibilities of intertwining and kaleidoscoping music and dance genres. It's an “eclectic mix of sacred song, tango, samba rhythms and improvisations taking you through a journey of bizarre reverie”. And on the more serene side, Anthemusa brings “candlelit hymns to the moon, watery dreams, whispered secrets of the heart and the strong undertow of the unconscious channeled through the ethereal voices of Ondine Chorus and the dazzling aerial artistry of Vol au Ventsilk” (aerial silk rope) artists.

Music and all that jazz

It's understandable if your ears need a rest during the frenetic twelve hours of Nuit Blanche.

Fortunately, because Nuit Blanche is an arts event and not strictly a music festival, visual art, sculpture, and video is also a part of it.

See silent sculpture. The Rooting Project: Ghosts presents a sculptural representation of the tree symbolically cut down by John Galt, an area pioneer, in 1827. It will be made from invasive plant species collected from the riverbank ecosystems by community volunteers. And until midnight, Brutal Andrévil will present an exhibition of Haitian steel drum art.

If your ears don't need a total rest, take in a project like Nuit D’Encre Noire (Night of Black Ink). The seven-member Guelph Pen Club will “draw a gigantic cartoony mural of The End OF The World while a guy in the corner makes a bunch of terrifying noises with computers and things.”

There are also numerous video installations with musical or sound elements. On the more peaceful side, you might watch “Paint the Town: A Collaboration With Young People.” This video installation of children painting the window at the children's art factory will be displayed on a storefront window. The video shows “that for many artists it is the pleasure in the process that is elemental to artistic practice.”

Venues

The short walks between performances are healthy and will help keep you awake all night. The venues, from traditional halls to yoga studios and coffee bars, are mostly in Guelph's compact downtown, with the exception of Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC). The Nuit Blanche Night Bus (free) will travel between downtown and MSAC. Some performances take place outside, integrating into the built or natural environment, including the Speed River that runs next to downtown.

In contrast to Nuit Blanche Ottawa

Nuit Blanche Ottawa will follow on September 22 this year, a few weeks after Guelph's event. While both events are all-night artistic events, the similarity stops there. At Ottawa's first event, you will have to listen hard to find the music, let alone jazz and creative, improvised music. But at Guelph, you'll have to try hard to get away from it. (To be fair to the Ottawa organizers, they are mostly visual artists, and their focus for this first year was on the art they knew best.)

On average, one performance every 12 minutes

To really appreciate Guelph's Nuit Blanche and prepare for your all-nighter, you'll have to visit their website and see what interests you. I've really only given an impression in this limited space and not mentioned every performance or detail.

Whether listening to world-class avant-garde musicians and pioneers, or becoming an active part of Nuit Blanche through your own personal sound-making, Guelph's Nuit Blanche has many good reasons to keep you awake at night. Will you be up for it?

    – Brett Delmage

(Descriptive quotes excerpted from the Nuit Blanche festival program)

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