Jesse Stewart rehearses for the BOOM performances ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Jesse Stewart rehearses for the BOOM performances ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Jesse Stewart's "Boom"
Ontario Scene
Diefenbunker blast tunnel
Sunday, May 3, 2015

Improviser and percussionist Jesse Stewart conjured up auditory references to the Cold War and the Diefenbunker - the Canadian government's massive underground Cold War nuclear bomb shelter, now museum – with his performances in its blast tunnel entrance on May 3.

Stewart's performance of “BOOM” was highly dynamic. He animated the tunnel with sounds ranging from barely audible dripping water – a reference to its use in torture – to bass drum beats. The drum beats grew from an almost inaudible low rumble conveying a heightening sense of impending doom, to the loudest of booms that echoed for seconds inside the tunnel, invoking images of nuclear bombs exploding outside.

In his two, forty-minute, continuous and improvised performances, he transformed the simple ribbed texture of the concrete floor into a variety of sounds with aid of a dragged metal bar. He created sound from a struck and shaken spring, audibly referencing the many springs which suspend equipment inside to protect it from bomb-induced shock. He also used a wide variety of unusual devices to make music with, which included a metal kitchen bowl, wind-up toy, and more traditional brass bowls/gongs, drumsticks, and mallets.

Throughout both sold-out performances, the listeners were visibly transfixed by Stewart creating auditory magic in front of them. The improvised sound, the ambient noise, and the audience were so quiet during some movements of his performance that I discovered that my jacket rustled with even the slightest movement - and to my ears sounded like thunder by comparison.

The second performance was followed by an enthusiastic question-and-answer session with audience members.

BOOM, which was presented as part of Ontario Scene, was the first of seven events that Stewart will be presenting until the end of September as part of his artistic residency titled "Geometries and Auralities of Survival" at the Diefenbunker. His creations will include multiple audio installations and visual art, performances in different parts of the museum, a talk about his work, and an artist-led-tour.

   – Brett Delmage

Watch for our video interview with Jesse Stewart and excerpts from BOOM. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be notified when our story is published and receive timely reminders of the other upcoming events.

Related stories:

Photos from the rehearsal and live performance
All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2015