He’s A RockStar

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Andrew Tholl should be a rockstar.

Actually, honestly, he kind of already is.

I first met Andrew in my second year at CalArts when he was literally introduced to me as “The New Violinist”. I perked up instantly (violinists were hard to come by at CalArts) and he had that clean-cut (he hadn’t started growing out “the hair” yet), glasses wearing, “serious musician” look (I later realized that he was most likely just cranky because he hadn’t yet had a coffee) that was somehow both intimidating and intriguing at exactly the same time. I was always looking for new performers, so Andrew was an exciting new possibility, and I started thinking about how I could use him in a few pieces I had written the year before.

Then I heard him play. It was the first concert of the year for the Formalist Quartet (of which Andrew is a founding member) and they did something by Shostakovich, one of the quartets that I can’t remember now, and watching them I realized that Andrew was a player. Not in the traditional classical sense (though he has technique and tone to spare). He was just such a dynamic presence on stage and brought this vibrant energy to the music: I couldn’t look away.

I quickly realized that Andrew was able to take anything and make it sound like it was his. He played his version of Shostakovich and made me believe it. When he started performing his own music towards the end of that year, he brought to it all the things that make him such a great performer. Things like energy, creativity, individualism and a physicality that redefines many traditional ideas around performance practice.

One of the things I love the most about Andrew as a performer/composer is that he has really been able to merge the two facets of his musical identity. That energetic performer is the same composer who reminds his musicians that music is physical: Your performance is a physical act.

As a composer you sometimes forget about certain physical properties of the musicians you write for, like that common rookie mistake of forgetting to leave room to breathe. Andrew takes that that idea a little bit further and finds a way to let musicians really play with everything they have, and he does it in a way that doesn’t force them to work outside of their training. He is the kind of composer that makes his performers better. This is what makes him the kind of performer that every composer wants to work with.

I have been writing Andrew a piece for 3 years. Mainly because I can’t just write him any piece: it needs to be his piece. When you have a musician that can give you an actual performance, it changes everything. Andrew is that kind of musician and composer.

He’s Atrux’s resident rock star and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew rocks out in VanCity as part of Gridlock 3.0

K – V

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Vinny Golia needs no introduction.

He’s played in Vancouver numerous times and has recorded with a lot of local talent (Check his label 9 winds for releases).

Kathy Carbone might not be as recognizable to Vancouver.

I met Kathy my first year at CalArts and I was lucky enough to work with her in a variety of capacities while I was there. Kathy is many things: dancer, improviser, teacher, collaborator and researcher.  She is also a great reminder of how important art can be to communities, how important art can be to history, and how art can provide a place for discussion about issues that defy explanation.

Kathy is the founding librarian for the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Centre (IGSC) Library in Kigali, Rwanda.  She has spent portions of the last three summers there, researching and establishing the library that will celebrate its “Grand Opening” this July.  The library follows the mission of the IGSC:  to testify, to study genocide through rigorous cross-disciplinary scholarship, and to understand various mechanisms and structures of violence, with the goal of preventing genocide and mass violence.

We make art for a variety of reasons, and we justify that art for more reasons still.  This library project seems to both confirm and render obsolete many of these reasons.  We talk about making art to define or understand or comment on culture, but the idea of making art that will need to both rebuild a traumatized culture, and stand as a historic document is almost impossible to comprehend.  It just reinforces the connection between art, research, history and documentation, things that we often forget as art is dismissed as merely entertainment instead of being considered something essential.  I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to live in, and through, what happened in Rwanda, let alone make art in the aftermath. Thankfully artists like Kathy have stepped up to make sure that people are able to talk and examine and make art about one of the most unfathomable events in recent history.

The passion that Kathy has for research and for the preservation of art and information is quickly apparent when you meet her.  We worked together on a research project my second year at CalArts, and she proved to be as relentless when looking for information on the Canadian cultural economy as she was about locating rare complexist scores.  She was always available to talk about art (of any form) and that kind of attitude, one that isn’t afraid to address difficult topics about why and how we make art and how it can be integrated into our communities, is one of the principle ideas behind Atrux.

A bit more from Kathy about the IGSC Library: The library was one of the first libraries open to the public in Rwanda post-genocide and the first in the world whose collection is concentrated on the Tutsi genocide. The library’s collection is interdisciplinary in its approach and includes books, journals, DVDs and electronic resources in subject areas such as history, sociology, drama, literature, linguistics, theology, philosophy, poetry, painting, education, social ethics, peace-building, conflict resolution and cultural studies. The library encourages and facilitates interdisciplinary research.  The library is also a place where survivors can share and record their testimony, where writers and artists can share and store their work, and where scholars can research and share their ideas. In this way it is also a social and community center, a place where people come together on levels and in ways that they might not in other areas of life.

The IGSC Library collects and makes freely accessible materials about, from and artistic responses to the Tutsi genocide and genocide studies in general; enables the present and future generations to remember and honor the victims; helps us to know what happened in the past in order to prevent and resist future genocides and to create a culture of respect for human rights. The IGSC Library exists because of the generosity of others – everything in the library has been donated.

To make a donation please contact Kathy Carbone at kcarbone@calarts.edu

Stina on J

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Jahangir is our Chairman. He is also one of my best friends, and has been off and on since our first day of high school.  Over the years I’ve shared a lot of crazy ideas with him, but when I first started thinking about Atrux, it was obvious that he was going to be a part of it somehow, regardless of how much convincing I needed to do.  It shouldn’t have surprised me that he was in from that first conversation, no convincing required.  He has scouted venues and looked at website templates, listened to me ramble about sustainability and publication ideas, hand written concert tickets, debated the name of the series and chosen logos.  He does all this with the same enthusiasm he brought to all the music projects we worked on in high school.

While his official title is our Chairman of the Board (which means he will get a Sinatra CD for every Christmas in the foreseeable future) J is also our “voice of reason”.  Since I have an unfortunate tendency of dreaming a little too big, it’s nice to know he’s watching my back to make sure that things don’t get out of hand (like expanding the first concert series to 10 shows).  He also brings a unique perspective to this whole endeavour.  A perspective that is informed by degrees in biochemistry, work on water policy in Pakistan, extensive travel in Africa and now law school in Calgary.  Through all of this he’s managed to maintain an interest in the connection between community, sustainability, art, culture and the importance of ensuring meaningful dialogue around this is occurring continuously.

We took a road trip to Calgary this summer (to move J into law school) and one of the highlights of the trip for me (aside from walking on the Columbia Icefields) was just driving, with Joe Purdy playing, talking about ways the concert series could be extended to enhance community building opportunities between Vancouver and LA, and the possibilities for future collaborations and the always exciting “next project”.  We talked a lot about audience experience and trying to structure Gridlock to encourage critical feedback and audience interaction with the artists in ways that aren’t intimidating.

Jahangir is the kind of audience member that Atrux wants:  curious and interested and not afraid to admit when he either doesn’t like or doesn’t understand something.

He is flying in for Gridlock 1.0 in March and is looking forward to meeting Douglas and talking about ideas around interpretive notation, logic and performance (I think this interest in systems is the lawyer in him coming through).  He’s also excited about being involved in the structure and production of the series itself, and for a chance to connect with the ever-expanding network of Atrux.

Melon Head

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I met Paul and Cindy Douglas (heads of Melon) at a house party in Halifax a couple of summers ago and I think if I had to pick a start date for the Atrux time line, that would probably be the one.  I don’t remember much about the conversation except that it centered around this idea that I had for a percussion piece that needs a custom made conga.  It was one of those napkin-sketch moments where you are talking really fast with your hands and ideas that might seem pretty crazy in the morning are merely a couple of design drawings away.

It should go without saying that ideas for that conga are still in the “conceptual” phase but that conversation stuck with me.   They didn’t know my work and they didn’t know me, but they listened  and talked about collaboration.  It got me thinking about how people can work together and about how communities are built.  At that point I had been in Nova Scotia for almost a year and opportunities to talk about art had been few and far between and that conversation was a really great reminder that art still existed and that crazy ideas are a great place to start.

At the end of night I had a business card and was thinking about projects we could work on together and just thinking about art again.  Atrux took me a while to figure out, but it really all started in a kitchen in Nova Scotia, over a couple pints of Keith’s.

www.melon.bz

Mr. Wadle

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I always feel like I should refer to Douglas as “Mr. Wadle”, for no reason other than to show respect for someone I have learned so much from. I met Douglas on my first trip to CalArts at one of those “new student” events where the school is trying really hard to ensure that you take them up on their offer of admission, and all the students are trying to figure out how to talk about what they do. When I was introduced to Douglas, I was certain he was a professor (specifically in the theory department) and after 10 minutes of conversation, I knew that he would be. I could barely follow anything that he was talking about (I think it had something to do with ethnomusicology and southern blues and Chicago), but I was pretty sure I was talking to a genius. I realized that if I could convince Douglas to spend a part of the next two years talking to me about music, then my time at CalArts would be worth it. Luckily, it didn’t take much to get Douglas to talk about art and (like I’d anticipated) it was one of the highlights of my time there.

One of the greatest things about Douglas is that he manages to merge so many different and seemingly diverse interests (philosophy, tuning, visual perception, painting, performance, and a multitude of others) into music that always sounds so cohesive and organic, regardless of the process (whether it’s an interpretive visual score based on modal logic notation, or a tuning piece based on sets of rigorous mathematical equations) that goes into making it. Nothing ever sounds like an exercise or a “study” and he is always able to find the piece within the system, or structure the system so that it gives him a piece (I still haven’t quite figured out which of the two it is). This is the thing that I took from Douglas, the idea of holding onto the piece and making sure that it was pulled through whatever system or process that was being used.

Douglas is also the hardest working composer I’ve ever met. There are no shortcuts in his music, and it shows. He writes a lot by hand. I believe this is both an offshoot of practical necessity (notation programs just haven’t caught up with him yet) and a kind of old school romanticism (he would, most likely, completely disown this statement, but I have always found there to be something romantic, in the best way, about how he writes music). The first time I saw one of his pieces it was a jolting reminder that music is an art form. That might seem strange, but it makes sense to me: computer representations of figures that are personal (Douglas writes rests like no one else) and music that is proof read with midi, are so far from what we hear that it makes sense that we would look for something better, something more personal, something that maintains the same characteristics we want so desperately to capture aurally. I am definitely putting my own spin on this, but seeing that first manuscript was a huge turning point for me, and was concrete evidence that Douglas was working on a whole other level.

So after I’d looked at his scores and heard his music, I saw Douglas perform. I should have expected him to surprise me. He played this piece (“Insomnambulations: Preachin’ Aphasia”) and when I say he played it, I mean with everything. This piece had extended techniques to spare, and characters and great sounds and story and presence. He was captivating and had the entire audience with him for every note (this characteristic is common with all the Gridlock artists) and he was fearless.

That kind of musician is rare.

When I first started planning the series, this was the piece I heard in my head as I thought about things like venue and dates and budgets.

I talk a lot about Atrux starting points, and maybe I have to go as far back as this piece. I have been dropping Douglas subtle hints that I would love to see this on the program.  It looks like he picked up on them.

This piece (and this performer) is something I’m so excited to share with Vancouver.

Listen to a sample of Insomnambulations Preachin’ Aphasia

Douglas and ,, duo take over Vivo for Gridlock 1.0

Douglas on Douglas

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TRADITION AND EXPERIMENT

Douglas C. Wadle (2007)

The object of reasoning is to find out, from the consideration of what we already know, something else which we do not know.

-Charles Sanders Peirce
“The Fixation of Belief” (1877)

I understand “tradition” as the set of tools, passed on to us by our predecessors and mentors, by which we situate ourselves in our world.  As such, tradition allows us to make judgments concerning our environment.  From these judgments, we determine which actions are needed; and tradition provides us, again, with the means of executing these actions.  Removing (elements of) tradition removes the ability to make such judgments and, therefore, the ability to take action, making the world and our work within it utterly and absolutely inscrutable – not even indicating what kind of things they are.  Every break with tradition, as an action, must be undertaken from some judgment, judgments being determined by tradition.  How, then, is it to effect a turning away from tradition?  The answer, I believe, lies in the complexity of tradition (necessary if we are to deal with a complex environment and, perhaps, a precondition of perceiving a complex environment) and the intersection of multiple traditions within a single mind.  This complexity allows some particular aspect of the tradition to be thrown into relief by the operation of other aspects of that tradition (or collections of traditions available to the mind undertaking this task).  By thwarting expectations in this aspect, the inadequacy of the presently available judgments are recognized and an action is called for that will, proceeding from that which remains in tact of the tradition, enlarge the set of tools possessed by the individual through tradition so that a judgment may be made.  The calculated arrangement of circumstances that require just such an action will be called an “experiment.”

Experiments result in a judgment of what, exactly?  Judgments are directed at some perception of the world: an object or a situation – just the sorts of things artists create.  Judgments arising from experiment deal with those perceptions that are not successfully integrated into one’s existing traditions(s), including certain artistic creations.  Here I must venture a brief description of such artistic creations in terms that will allow us to understand the operation of this experimental process.  I use the term “art object” to refer to a perceptual impetus, containing elements ordered according to the rules of some tradition that treats those elements as meaningful signs.  The art object gains its identity, as object, through a larger ordering principle that binds the signs into a whole, the relations of these elements to the whole being of sufficient complexity to invite a multitude of interpretations. The sum of these interpretations are understood to constitute the “work,” making the work an open process rather than a closed fact.  This process, as a process of interpretation and interpretation of interpretations, takes the form of a dialogue.  I have the experience reading Stein or Joyce that I cannot predict the ending of the sentence, the meaning towards which it is driving, and so I must focus my attention instead on each word.  The same is true of listening to the music of Cage.  The logics of musical construction, as developed over hundreds of years in Europe, are inoperable, directing our attention to each individual sound.  Upon repeated listening, one develops a strategy, a personal tradition of listening, by which to make judgments of such art objects, thereby allowing interpretations.  Our attention is once again diverted from the individual sounds (elements) to a new, though idiosyncratic, conception of musical order.  It is precisely this movement, from the arrangement and subsequent apprehension of elements, about which one is unable to formulate judgments due to the absence of an adequate tradition by which to integrate these elements, to the formation of a personal and adequate means of judging and, subsequently, interpreting the same, that I identify as constituting the experimental area of the arts.

Experimental activity allows the work (as dialogue) to continue forward, to spur on future art objects, interpretations, and utterances.  With the establishment of new, personal means of understanding works, we have furnished ourselves with a new basis for new actions that may either recapitulate this new understanding (turning it into a tradition) or else, continuing forward, may question it, focusing on elements still unconsidered (suggesting further experiments).  I pursue, as a matter of experimental pride, the latter course.  This presents obvious problems.  As such work is dependent upon my challenging of my own preconceptions and requires that audiences do the same of their own preconceptions, and as this process is cumulative, each person moves into an increasingly specialized, though increasingly refined thought world.  The more specialized the thought world, the more difficult it becomes to bridge that world with other worlds.  To avoid heremeticism, we must then seek out communities in which we can engage in discourse around our thought worlds, finding the common points from which these thought worlds diverge.  How far from the prevailing attitudes of those working in our chosen media we situate this common point will determine how large or small this community will be in reference to those using this or that medium.  The art objects created, whether in fixed form or fleeting performance, must be let go of, must be allowed to operate in others’ thought worlds, even those outside of one’s community or communities of dialogue.  Art objects might be constructed with this in mind, that any interpretation adds something to the existing discourse (tradition) into which the art object is introduced, and it is the expansion of this discourse (experiment) that gives to the art object its identity as a work; and so the conscious introduction of uncertainty in some area, making the work an experiment begun with the ambiguous art object, becomes fruitful.

The ambiguities in the code that any stepping outside of traditional practice engenders are akin to the deciphering of Joyce, Stein, or Cage.  Tradition does not supply one with the necessary tools to make sense of the object with which one is confronted.  To make sense of the thing, then, is to formulate a strategy for reading those elements (as signs) that are present. Often these may be traditional signs in non-traditional contexts, or they may be the signs of some other system of signification, or they may be newly invented.  I am particularly interested in the first two of these possibilities as they allow attention to be directed towards the judgments available within the tradition(s) from which the signs are taken.  Such uses of signs require the generation of new meanings because of their unusual circumstances.  The act of interpretation becomes self-consciously a task of interpretation, the role of the receiver becomes the role of a partaker in the constitution of the work (as dialogue).  The claim of the art object to any absolute meaning is given up.  Rather, it becomes an object of intellectual engagement conducted through the studied manipulation of the signs contained therein.

From Notations21 (Mark Batty Publisher, 2009)

Number 1

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Janet is our number one.

When you start on a project like this, there are certain milestones and markers you find yourself looking forward to and contemplating:  The first confirmed performer, the first signed contract (for anything!), the first poster, the series name, the logo and the first ticket.

The tickets are particularly important for us.

And that’s for a lot of obvious reasons, but also because while our home base is in Vancouver, right now Atrux is kind of spread out.  We’re in Calgary and Japan and LA and Toronto. But beyond that, while we’ve known each other for years, hanging out over coffee and hanging out over budgets and potential concert programs is a bit different.  So I decided we needed a project to do together, something that might seem a bit crazy, possibly irrelevant, but integral none the less.  And well, there was one obvious choice:

Tickets.  400 of them to be exact.  Hand printed (or written) by each member of the A-Team and our “extended family”.

Actually, maybe the term ‘ticket’ isn’t right. Maybe it’s more like an invitation.  These hand written declarations bold enough to say; I want to see you.  In March, April, June and July.

Perhaps it’s naïve to think that the more time we put into making these tickets, the more we have invested in each one, the more we’ll be focused on making sure that they end up in the right hands.  Nadim and I did the first tickets over brunch at Bons, and I remember him musing out loud over whom they would end up with.

Because as much as we are looking for an audience, we’re also looking for participants; people who want to listen and ask questions and quiz Douglas on his tuning ratios and hang out after the last notes have faded and talk about how we can get better.

That’s a lot of expectations on both sides.  So perhaps it’s understandable that there was a lot of pressure on that first pair of tickets, on who was going to be our number one.

Then I met Janet.

It was on a random sunny February Sunday, outside the CBC, waiting in line for a chance to take in a recording session of the Current.  She had seen “The Blue Dragon” a couple of nights before and we started talking about art and Vancouver, and I inevitably started talking about Atrux and the shows. And then she asked me how she could get tickets.

Though I had visions of going for coffee with Anna Maria Tremonti and casually brining up the concert series, wondering aloud if she may have a CBC colleague that would like a ticket, listening to Janet talk about VanCity and her daughter and her experiences with art, it was quickly obvious that if I was handing out invitations to a party…

Well, she was someone I wanted at mine.

So Janet is our first ticketholder, first almost audience member and giant to-do list item crossed off.   She is also a great reminder that you can find the right answers anywhere and the decision to spend a day hanging out at the CBC is always a good one.

So March 26th, I’m hoping I can continue my conversation with Janet, only this time we’ll get a chance to talk about Atrux and Gridlock and stage setups and atmosphere and program order and audience interaction.  And maybe we’ll do it over a beer instead of CBC coffee.

Now about the other 99…

ātra + lūx

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Atrux

From the Latin for Light and Dark Atrux embraces contradictions:

Art + Economics

Sustainability + Mass Production

Community + Remote Collaboration

We want to get people talking about art:  Asking the difficult questions with whatever vocabulary they have, building a framework for dialogue between audience and performer.

We believe in art that is supported by communities and is made to scale.

There are other things, some vital (pairing shows with workshops), some not so much (our favourite brunch spot is Havana).

We’ll get to the formal introductions later, but for now we’re glad you’re here.