On a beautiful Sunday Ottawa afternoon, May 1, 2011, jwcurry produced the eighth in his breathtaking series of “Messagio Galore” performances, this time through the spring edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival. This edition performed a series of quartets, trios and duets (and one jwcurry solo) by himself, Christine McNair, Grant Wilkins and Alastair Larwill, with the additional voice of Sandra Ridley in two of their nineteen pieces. Somehow these performances, once more of a rarity, are becoming more frequent, with their previous only in January [see my report on such here], which might have accounted for the quieter audience of some twenty or thirty. Or perhaps it was a matter of the first day of May, middle of the afternoon, and sunny as all get out? jwcurry, in the “MESSAGIO GALORE TAKE VIII” program, distributed at the event, describes the hour and fifteen minute performance:
take VIII follows relatively directly after take VII (at City Hall Art Gallery, january 23), utilizing the same core quartet that has been working together for a year now. it continues to develop repertoire material while adding new works to the available pool. works in this take are repeated for one or more of 3 reasons: further development of a piece, amplification's offer of different levels of play, or we fucked it up the last time. if take VII's primary contrasts were of durations, take VIII can be said to be a tentative toying with varying kinds of amplitudes.
“Amplification,” curry highlights, since this version of Messagio Galore, performed in the Mayfair Theatre, is the first of these performances using microphones. As the festival website proclaims:
MESSAGIO GALORE take VIII queries sound contrasts & comparisons through provocations posited by take VII in january at City Hall. for those who missed take VII, familiarity will not be required for yr ear experience. for those who did attend, familiarity will be required for yr ear experience. either way, an extended audio environment of clashing harmonic climates in locations near literature & music or somewhere in between.
jwcurry's program gives a slightly different detail:
MESSAGIO GALORE is an organically thetic examination of the possibilities inherent in the wide range of activities that occur between literature & music (with interpenetrations to each) commonly called “sound poetry”. it approaches the genre as “inclusive” & investigates issues of writing/composing/scoring, transcription, arrangement, reading, rehearsal, group dynamics, intermultiphrenia & &.
Imagine, these practices working through for a year, sometimes twice a week, and, coming up to performances, far more frequent. On her blog on April 28, 2011, Messagio performer Christine McNair alluded to the months of practice:
For fun, thought I’d list off some of the stuff that I’ve been watching or listening to over the past year or so when I’m not practicing at john’s house. We started practices for Messagio Take VII, in April 2010, perhaps? Even when we’re not practicing: we’re practicing.
Lots of Mary Margaret O’Hara. I like how she tosses her voice around and chirps and I have tried to flourish some of that.
“Don’t Be Afraid” Mary Margaret O’Hara
Bulgarian singing. John turned me on to this. I’ve bought a few albums and he played me a tape accompanying the Musicworks magazine (#44) featuring bpNichol/Schwitters and Bulgarian singing. He introduced me this form of singing as a way of trying to get me to sing certain pieces with a more open throat. Particularly the flourish that I had to do in “Mescal Rite”. My first exposure was when he played me Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. The ninth song on the album, “Sableyalo Mi Agontze”, isn’t online but it’s my favourite. Tears my guts out and I nearly always cry when I hear it. I subsequently wandered through the youtubeisms and through other online videos and into other regional varieties of the same.
“Malka Moma” Mystere de Voix Bulgares“Lale li si Zumbiul li si” Galina Durmushliiska“Not Sure, Шопска Китка ” Singers not attributed in English“Title not Listed” Mystere de Voix Bulgares“Zaidi Zaidi jasno slance” Iva Davidova
Random assortment of things. Inuit singing when I was playing with running overtones and undertones and minimidtones, mainly within the privacy of my own home, to the concern of my furniture. The original Robert Ashley piece that was the basis for what we’ve tried with “She Was a Visitor” in the previous take. Four Horsemen.
Inuit Throat Singers, Ottawa 2008Inuit Throat Singing, Aryaut and Aniksak“She Was a Visitor” Robert AshleyFrom “Poetry in Motion” Four Horsemen
I'm intrigued by the deliberate repetitions from earlier performances, with this group performing nineteen different pieces, many of which have been performed previously, and those of us who have followed these performances are certainly noticing the repetitions, the alternates. Nineteen pieces, most of which have been performed in either TAKE VII or even TAKE VI, with a few new ones thrown in the mix, composed by Mothers of Invention/Frank Zappa, dom sylvester houedard, d.a.levy, bill bissett, Steve McCaffery, Alastair Larwill, jwcurry, Gerry Shikatani, Franz Mon, ernst jandl and Richard Truhlar, and a number of by the late Toronto poet bpNichol. One of the Nichol pieces (there are more than a few here) is a fragment of The Martyrology: “Hour 3 1:35 p.m. To 2:35 p.m.” from The Martyrology Book 6 Books (1987) and, as curry writes in the program: “a straightforward narrative poem built on homophonic hinges, this had been included in MESSAGIO GALORE take VI (Ottawa, City Hall Art Gallery, 2009) but suffered abandonment due to the loss of its final page. rectified for the record. reader: curry.” Imagine: once a piece is performed to his/their liking, it's almost abandoned, focusing instead on a further performance to redo the pieces that didn't quite live up to standards, leaving the pieces that worked just right as temporal moments, there for a moment and then completely slipping away. We might not hear it again. As John Newlove, late neighbour of myself and jwcurry, once wrote, “the arrangement is all.”
2. anacyclic poem with two shouts DHARMATHOUGHTS STUPAWARDS, dom sylvester houedard (England, 1966); source: KROKLOK #1 (ed. dom sylvester houedard, London, England, Writers Forum, 1971). “for the artists protest committee for their call from losangeles for a tower against the war” (dsh in KROKLOK), an anagrammatical poem in 3 vowels & 4 consonants. duo arrangement by curry (2010) fusing a pair of arrangements by Nicholas Power/Rob Read & Carmel Purkis/Sandra Ridley (both 2008). readers: curry, McNair
What really comes out of these performances is the strong choral arrangement by curry, and the wonderful blending of voices, especially throughout the old theatre building (originally opened in 1932, and long existing as Ottawa's oldest active movie theatre), allowing the sound to bounce and ambient, echo throughout the entire room. With the repetition of works, the reworking of previously performed pieces, TAKE VIII highlit the performance as a more overt extension of the previous, and, as curry suggested, a series of alternates, reconsiderations and corrections. Given that this particular quartet (with or without others) have been working together for some time, even performing publicly more than a couple of times, it becomes interesting to watch the individual performances react and interact with what they have already done. It makes one wonder how long this particular quartet, held together far longer than previous incarnations of any of jwcurry's larger sound groups, might hold together in this form?
As Pearl Pirie wrote of the previous performance on her own blog, “The Messagio is the Message” (February 3, 2011):
This last performance was about 2 hours before about 5 dozen or so who attended. It is a very hard thing to describe, even for sound poetry.
Voices wove in and out of each other to the points where it became sound rather than individuals. Sometimes there are words, sometimes a range of sounds the voicebox or body can make. It would misconstrue to call it beatboxing because it is not so metrical as that. Sometimes it feels like choral singing but it is using varied emotional expression of tone not melody. Some of it was group improv, some rehearsed to the fraction of a second. Some was material scored to be sound poetry and some was interpretation of visual texts. People fell in for some pieces or stepped out of as instruments in an orchestra might in different arrangements for different amount of richness of voices.
People moved from piece to piece without introductions as one might through a classical music program. Programs listed all the pieces that were to be done. It was rather a gallery of sound with some being serious, others humorous. Some with cacophony, some with swells of harmony and resonance.
At points the audience seemed to fall as if into a group meditation where there was not an extraneous move, cough, shift or glance around, completely inside the sounds for extended minutes. It was a rare sort of transport to see performers own a room like that.
Some of the highlights to MESSAGIO GALORE TAKE VIII included bill bissett's “please,” new on their repertoire, a quite lovely choral arrangement by jwcurry for four voices “arranged as a rondelay by curry (2009), in part to help dispel a formed notion that bissett's sound work defies rendition by others, despite their rhythmic relentlessness.” Another new piece as highlight was Gerry Shikatani's “Pike-Fishing North Milne Lake,” described as a “textured gridtext as aquatic (semi)pastorale” and a vocal equivalent of the Atlantic awash and closing in.
Of the pieces they've performed before, “Artikulations,” by Franz Mon, worked to perform what McNair refers to as her “creepy breathing,” a breath-take that lays down the foundation for the remaining three, laying down vocal track overtop what she spreads down like wildfire. The amplification also made it more difficult to distinguish individual voices in their final piece, “GLASS ON THE BEACH,” another repeat, and perfect choice for an ending, a piece that already allows for a bleed and deliberate blend, including some spectacular vocal effects, where the sounds interplay and resonate into each other. Adapted by curry from a three voice work to a five voice work (with the additional voice provided by Sandra Ridley), Richard Truhlar's piece was originally performed by Owen Sound, now brought out into the most beautiful choral blend through jwcurry and the Messagio troupe, floating through the Mayfair Theatre soundsystem, and individual voices difficult to distinguish enough before, bleeding in and out of each other, clearly impossible now.
There is an element to what curry has been doing through these MESSAGIO GALORE performances that has come to include some dozen writers in and around Ottawa over the past decade, making this his most inclusive, complex, public and (dare I say it) most accessible project so far, one that even includes educating local audiences to the complexities of sound poetry. What other writers festival in Canada would allow such a grouping of sound poetry to perform (there are some that forget that jwcurry actually performed at the first edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival as well, back in 1997)? Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be audience can only hope that the project continues, and continues to adapt, responding to the performers' skills and requirements, responding to its own previous performances, and simply, what other options there are.