Natsuki Tamura in the dark ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Natsuki Tamura played his trumpet in the dark to save power on the first day of IMOO Fest 2018 ©Brett Delmage, 2018

IMOO Fest 2018, Day 1:
Natsuki Tamura solo
Adam Saikaley and Elizabeth Millar
The Craig Pedersen Quartet
General Assembly
Friday, September 21, 2018 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of these performances

When we arrived at General Assembly Friday evening, there was light spilling out of the door, but not because there was any electricity in the area. The owners had rigged a fluorescent light powered by a car battery and placed it in the corner of the hall, and that was the only illumination.

It was the first evening of IMOO Fest 2018, a long-awaited festival of improvised music and jazz. A few hours before, everything looked great: the festival's Japanese artists-in-residence had arrived the previous day and run their first rehearsal, and then held a masterclass that afternoon. Other out-of-town musicians were on their way.

Then the storms hit. At 6 p.m., an unprecedented EF/2 tornado skipped across west-central Ottawa, and destroyed one of the two major local Hydro transmission stations. The electricity abruptly disappeared for about half the city. Musician Adam Saikaley saw part of that storm on his way in to IMOO Fest – a funnel cloud near Woodroffe and Medhurst – but luckily was able to dodge any debris.

The organizers, the musicians, and the audience were determined not to let the festival be scuttled, regardless of the power outage. If there was a mood of uncertainty in the room that night, there was also a considerable feel of good fellowship. And lots of bodies – more than 25 people showed up, filling all the chairs in the small Hintonburg hall.

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura was the first scheduled artist that evening, and he suggested he play in the dark to save the battery. That, in fact, worked very well for his set, because it benefited from deep and intense listening, without distractions, as he worked his magic with his instrument. He was only dimly and intermittently visible from the light through the open door, provided by the full moon and by occasional car headlights going by.

Since 1998, Tamura has been creating and recording solo trumpet performances, exploring the new sounds and combination of sounds he can create with his instrument. In this half-hour set, he began very quietly, with tiny attenuated sounds, and then alternated long calls with punctuated splats. Growls, snorts, curling lines, extremely high treble notes, and percussive taps all followed in a cascade of sound filling the room. Near the end he sang along with his trumpet in a lament, played loud cries, and then finally slowly faded down to silence.

It was a dramatic and ear-opening performance, which the audience recognized with strong and extended applause, also in the dark.

Montrealers Adam Saikaley and Elizabeth Millar are best known for playing the piano and clarinet respectively. For this show, however, they planned to create electroacoustic music, exploring fine gradations of sound created from the electronic processing of acoustic and electronic sounds. But that type of music needs microphones and a mixing board – and the concomitant power to run them.

So they made an abrupt change of direction, with Millar quickly improvising by stripping wires and reconnecting her motors to go directly from batteries. They went acoustoelectric instead – and the extremely quiet space in General Assembly and the respectful audience allowed every sound they made to be heard.

The long table in front of them was littered with a diverse collection of articles: motors, small plastic balls, fans, an aluminum pouch and foil, CDs, tape, a retractable measuring tape, a plastic cup, mini-cymbals, a plastic funnel, a battery-powered CD player with the cover missing, and more. They produced a constantly changing stream of rustles, flutters, jangles, clicks, swishes, rumbles, rings, metallic bangs, high whines, bumps, and more – a fascinating improvised suite of sounds paying homage to our industrial age.

The only problem I had with their music was that I couldn't see it all, being in the middle of the audience. I was left guessing many times as to how they had produced a particular sound. This was one performance where the visual was at least as important as the audio, in stretching one's idea of what could be considered music.

The Craig Pedersen Quartet from Montreal, with Pedersen on trumpet, Ottawa's Linsey Wellman on alto sax, Thierry Amar on double bass, and Bennett Bedoukian on drums, closed the evening with a strong set which walked the line between the raw avant-garde and more mainstream melodic music. Pedersen and Wellman have been playing together in this quartet since 2010, and have released several albums.

For this show, the quartet played all new (and so far untitled) pieces which Pedersen wrote last year when he spent three months in Tokyo – and which they had just recorded the previous week.

Playing all-acoustically suited this music, as General Assembly's resonant space enhanced and rounded their sound. They opened simply with a deep, restrained bass riff and drum crashes, over which muted trumpet and finely-tuned alto sax played a still and lovely melody, and then alternated with bass and drums.

The music became faster and more energetic for the second piece – almost danceable and verging on the raucous. Next up was Amar playing a fantasia in bowed double bass, ranging from screeches to intermittent taps to quiet and atonal, over loud, echoing, fast drums – and, in contrast, slow and quiet horns.

The quartet closed with another fast, bright piece. It boldly created loud thunderstorms of sound, dipped down to a quiet pause, and then sprang up again in aggressive circles before ending abruptly, and leaving the audience with the energy to brave the dark streets.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance:

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