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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'