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IMOOfest 2012 Night 1: showing off variety in improvised music (review)

Clarinetist Lori Freedman played through the bell of her clarinet during her solo concert at IMOOfest 2012  ©Brett Delmage, 2012

IMOOfest 2012, Night 1
Friday, October 5, 2012
Club SAW, Arts Court

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Improvised music sounds all the same... except when it comes to timbres, textures, colours, instrumentation and just about everything else. OK so really, improvised music sounds all the... different.

The first-ever IMOO Festival exemplified that, with its dynamic groups and experimental spirit. Friday kicked off the first night of festivities at Club SAW. It was the first time IMOO (the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais) had ever held a concert in that space.

It featured Craig Pedersen, Northern Sound Electrical System, Alternator, and Lori Freedman, playing to the most attentive audience I can ever recall seeing: something that Freedman acknowledged by cupping her ear and pointing to the audience with a smile at the end of her set.

The first performance of the evening was by IMOO co-organizer Craig Pedersen. who explored all of the sounds available on his trumpet by giving it a lot of air, clicking the keys, and making a variety of sounds that ranged from wah wah, to the human voice, to animalistic sounds including what resembled a mosquito approaching the ear. These sounds were all thematically connected by his frequent displacement of the piston closest to the mouthpiece of the instrument, giving the trumpet a thicker tone.

The second performance was by Northern Sound Electrical System: a group consisting of guitarists David Jackson and Scott Terry as well as laptop sound artist Brad Crowe. Their style of playing was spacey, floaty, and extraterrestrial in nature. Their music borrowed a lot from ambient rock groups such as Sigur Ross or some of Robert Fripp’s work with Brian Eno. They sounded somewhat along the lines of what I would imagine an instrumental Pink Floyd would sound like if they were emerging today. At times they could have been Foley artists making sounds for a bat cave filled with hundreds of bats, or a frog's croak created by scratching the guitar strings. The group used a wide range of electronics, loops, and devices such as a slide, an e-bow, a bow, and even a cell-phone pointed to the guitar’s pickups. They finished their non-stop, no-silence set with an extended decrescendo.

©Brett Delmage, 2012

The third group was Alternator, consisting of guitarist John Higney, cellist Mark Molnar, and bassoonist/saxophonist David Broscoe. Their set of group improvisations was an unusual mash-up of sounds from many different musical directions. Hallowe'en was in the air at the beginning of the set, starting with a low rumble and The-Shining-like screeching. At another point there was a constant bell ringing like Big Ben at noon; another section sounded like thunder. Yet another sound was like that of a low flying plane; Higney produced psychedelic playground tings with his guitar.

All three musicians used a variety of tools beyond their main instruments. such as electronics. Molnar used several different objects on his cello including a tuning fork and what appeared to be a rubber hammer. Broscoe’s performance was a study in the use of space: he came in when Molnar’s spastic playing grew less dense and the layers that Higney laid down created a bed for him. At one point he stopped for a period of silence; the audience did not catch this ending so the musicians started up again. Shortly afterwards, they went silent again and after a bit of nervous laughter the audience caught on and applauded.

The last performance of the evening was by Lori Freedman, who performed solo on clarinet and bass clarinet. She confidently started with a loud swoop on her bass clarinet, catching the audience’s full attention. Her performance was an animated dance with her instrument. She confidently paused, using silence throughout her performance, which contrasted from the previous musicians and demonstrated an added level of maturity. She was also the only artist of the evening to play multiple pieces with short breaks between them, as opposed to playing without pause or silence until the end of the set. She also contrasted from the other musicians as she was the only performer of the evening who had not played at any IMOO event previously.

Freedman’s improvisations had the forethought of a large-scale composition, in that each of her sections contrasted and complimented each other. Her first improvisation of the night focused on the upper range of the bass clarinet with the occasional sweep from below back to her highs. She made a lot of thumps, animal sounds, and vocalizations. In the middle of the piece, she kept bending and sliding her way up the instrument’s register, going higher and higher each time.

Her second improvisation was less experimental. Focused more on pitch, it started with bluesy chromatic themes and variations on a pedal riff. As the piece moved on, she left that idea to use the room’s acoustics, making longer breathy tones whilst continuing her dance, looking up and bending back with her bass clarinet over her head.

Her third improvisation was on clarinet, and was even more adventurous than the first. She started by squealing, and brought her instrument to ear piercing highs, and then asked the audience if that was too loud. Upon getting confirmation that it had been, she apologized, adjusted her volume level and turned her back to the audience to muffle her loud tones onto the stage drapes in the back. As she discussed with the audience, she changed the direction of her improvisation by taking apart her instrument. She started by playing only the bell of the clarinet, using it like a cone to amplify her voice and doing everything from beat-box to Daffy Duck sounds, finishing the section with a phrase in German. She then continued to play her clarinet with one of the longer pieces of the body missing, and using her hand as a mute.

Her final improvisation was, for me, the highlight of the night. It was less adventurous than her previous piece on clarinet but stood out as it focused on the bass clarinet’s beautiful lower range. She played with a slightly Stravinskyian sound. The timbre was somewhere between breathy and clear: a low gentle rasp that was at once beautiful and elegant yet primal.

    – Justin Duhaime

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All photos © Brett Delmage, 2012