Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Preview: INTERsection 2012

INTERsection: New Music Marathon and Musicircus in the Marketplace

Saturday, September 1, 2-10pm, Yonge-Dundas Square

"New Music" as a category doesn't lend itself to easy marketability. The name is a catch-all for a wide variety of sounds, and when you try to explain it, you'll usually hit some wall to make people's eyes glaze over. "Like classical music, but not written by dead people" turns off people who will begrudgingly listen to highbrow music if it's by a name-brand, canon-approved composer. Toss in an "avant-garde" and you'll lose even more folks who will assume this is tricky, eggheaded music that can only be appreciated by academic music theorists.

Challenging all of these assumptions, Toronto's own Contact Contemporary Music is leading a united front of local New Music purveyors for the wilfully populist INTERsection festival, where once again, the September long weekend brings a full day of diverse sounds to Yonge-Dundas Square.

Now in its third year (it was originally known as the New Music Marathon), INTERsection is free and runs from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 1. It's a great chance to experiment with some new sounds on your own terms, whether you just want to drop by and get a quick taste or settle in and really let the vibe wash over you. Not everything is easy and "user friendly", musically speaking, but there's a lot of disjunctive weirdness in pop music today, so a lot of this isn't completely beyond the pale.

And in terms of social/musical alchemy, something kinda awesome happens when you put something unfamiliar at these busy crossroads — a few people are going to pause and take notice, and slowly a strange coalition of shoppers, mendicants and musos builds up. At a few points during the day, it's discordantly delightful to hear something truly off the hook in the ad-bath well of commercialism.

In that regard, noise fans will want to show up early to check out a set from Roman Pilates. Kevin Crump makes noise music the old fashioned way — by banging metallic things together, loudly and repeatedly. Add an undercurrent of harsh drones and you can expect to hear something gloriously abrasive taking over the Square for a brief moment.

Otherwise, the Main Stage performers will mostly veer towards something a bit more conventionally "musical". The day's biggest guests are undoubtedly NYC's Bang On a Can All-Stars, who have been bringing New Music (and marathon-length concerts) to the masses for over twenty years. Not only will the full collective ensemble be playing a headlining set, but there will be a series of solo sets from its members as well — I'm especially looking forward to hearing Mark Stewart's rendition of "Electric Counterpoint" by Steve Reich echoing across the square.

Contact (who dazzled last year with their rendition of Fripp + Eno's "Evening Star") look to have some more cool stuff up their sleeves: "Gamelan Grunge" sounds titled to hook me in and they'll also be tackling the proto-prog repetitions of Philip Glass' "Two Pages".

Minimalism always gets a good showing at these events, and my expectations are sky-high with Bang On a Can and Contact members joining together for a performance of the best-in-genre "In C", by Terry Riley. A dazzling piece, the score gives the performers 53 short fragments of music, and they progress through them at their own pace, taking care not to get too far ahead of behind the musicians around them. This creates miniature eddies with different parts playing off each other, a hypnotic frisson of sounds falling in and out of sync. Not to be missed.

Besides all that, I'm sure some of the best stuff will be the material and performers I don't know anything about. I'm not familiar with Edges, for example, but I'm looking forward to their performance of Ann Southam's "Networks"

And meanwhile, there will be lots more going on between sets on the main stage. In honour of John Cage's 100th birthday, TorQ Percussion is holding something billed as a Musicircus, promising "performers scattered throughout and moving through the audience" besides some Cage-inspired works on a second stage.

If that's not enough, there's also more the following night, when Contact and Bang on a Can re-join forces for a gig at the Music Gallery billed as "Ambient2", presenting live arrangements of two of Brian Eno's most famous albums. Music for Airports gets more attention, and BoaC have recorded their arrangement to much acclaim, but I'm particularly stoked to bliss out while Contact tackles an extended arrangement of Discreet Music's title track in a promised "multi-media presentation".

This one isn't free, but promises to be worth a $25 ticket. (Or, given we're on the cusp of the new Music Gallery season, it'd be a perfect time to get a membership and save yourself five bucks.)

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