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  • Writer's pictureToys

Toys' Story (vol. 1): AudioPollination N°74 (1st Ever Improv Performance!)

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

[Toys' Story is an ongoing series of writings documenting the experiences of one experimental musician thru interactions with the arts/music scene in his native landscape of towering corporate monoliths and perpetual urban sprawl — Toronto / GTA]


This is a recollection of events leading up to and including August 3rd, 2019.

So, my first ever improv performance! I guess I should give you a little backstory here though: This all came as a result of meeting one Curtis B. Whittaker in winter 2019. A drummer & percussionist, his mind was set on the mission of forming a new collective of creative and open-minded performers, offering a platform for community growth and experimental sound/art creation — Infinite Monotremes!

It made almost too much sense whence I initially met Curtis, knowing that I have been on a similar path with all the work that Splendid Industries is doing, so it seemed a stroke of good fortune that the two of us should meet. After a few initial jams, each one acting as a meeting with a new musician or two, Brent O'Toole (guitar) and Danielle Fernandez (alto sax) would join us one day for an improv meet 'n' greet. Shortly thereafter, Kieran Maraj (granular synthesis) would stop by, and Mickle Lynn (upright bass) subsequently introduced Elizabeth Lima (clarinet & voice) to the group.

While all of this was happening, Curtis had been recording our improv sessions and working alongside Evan Harkai (video editing & spoken word) to create improvised visual interpretations. With all of these videos, we talked quite a bit about utilizing a projector and re-interpreting the videos in a live improvised context (sort of referencing the "infinite" aspect of the Monotremes, considering this creates a bit of a loop of improvised interpretation.)

Since the groundwork had now been laid, we were booked for our first AudioPollination feature (a perfect event for this sort of thing), over five sets incorporating different playbooks/line-ups for each performance. Now with 9 contributors (Olivia Shortt joining us on baritone sax), we divided into groups of 3 for 3 rounds of video interpretation followed by two sets of full ensemble conducted improv (or sound-painting), using a combination of hand cues and card prompts.

Now, from my personal experience, this was all new to me. Not only was this my entry into performing live without a script, it was also my first time playing piccolo bass AND using a delightfully unruly Frantabit (bit crusher pedal) in front of an audience. If it were up to me, I'd likely dip my toe into a large group format to start, take a few more eyes/ears off of me, but instead my very first crack at this was to be a trio of Elizabeth (whom I'd only had the pleasure of playing with twice), and Olivia (whom I'd only just had the pleasure of meeting that evening), and myself. also occurs to me at this point that I've never even performed live without a drummer! With so many firsts this would be an unpredictable experience, for sure!

Well, that was exciting! What terrific partners were Elizabeth and Olivia — so inspiring and reactive, an absolute joy to perform with these two! Just honoured to have shared their sonic space. So, what's next?! After a lovely set featuring the trio of Danielle, Kieran, and Mickle, it was time for those big group sessions to get underway.

Performed in front of an ethereal meadow backdrop, the first full group set (conducted by Kieran) rolls and frolics organically as different pairings of musicians are utilized to create dynamic and playful interactions. Kieran is a passionate conductor, often embellishing hand-movements to generate an extra emotional incentive in the performers. Keeping things moving and building on motifs as the connections are established, the whole session is a thrill ride for the musicians, and I think the audience, too!

For the second sound-painting set, the Monotremes are conducted by Danielle, and when Danielle conducts there is always a thoughtful method in place. As a delightful contrast to Kieran's sweeping gestures (almost as if playing the group as an instrument), Danielle exhibits a high degree of tact and control in her motions. With precise and decisive instructions to her performers, a level of calm seems to be produced in us musicians as you can hear the results of her ongoing observations giving you a specific purpose in all of this. What an outstanding experience it is to be performing under the direction of someone who exhibits such musical command and understanding!

Now, I have only really spoken about the sets I was involved in, to sort of give you an idea of what it's like from this side of my whole-world-window. I can assure you that the other two free trio performances were wonderful — how great it is to see friends express themselves in real-time before my very ears, losing myself in their performances! And what fantastic people with whom I share the joy of collaboration! Just thanking my lucky stars to be up there with all of these amazing folks / excellent musicians!

So, I hope you'll join me again in the future as I mark more milestones and share untold insights on the music I find, the people I meet, and the things I encounter in this remarkably splendid community of creative human_people in our very own backyard!




To hear the other sets from the night's performance, plz visit:

Huge thanks to Mickle Lynn (aka mkl32) @ AudioPollination is a curated series of community events featuring multi-disciplinary artists from all over TO/GTA!

...Another massive thanks to Curtis B. Whittaker for founding Infinite Monotremes and acting as the orchestrator & backbone for this whole amazing thing!

...And a gargantuan thanks to all my fellow performers for the evening:

Brent O'Toole and Danielle Fernandez may also being found performing with Animatist

Kieran Maraj may also by found performing with Electro-Acoustic Orchestra

Evan Harkai may also be found developing video content with Acorn Noir


PS - you may also catch me nearly anytime in the SplendidMethLab conducting new xprmnts with Dusts of Binary


This entry comes in light of Infinite Monotremes debut audio document capturing their Oct. 1st, 2019 performance @ Track Could Bend N°55, available for download thru Splendid Industries' Bandcamp on Jan. 17th, 20/20.


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