Sonic Boom, but little bounce

Sonic Boom

A Vancouver Pro Musica presentation. At the Western Front on Saturday, April 12. No remaining performances

In an interview prior to the 2008 edition of Sonic Boom, Vancouver’s longest-running new-music festival, composer in residence Christopher Butterfield was musing on the state of contemporary music.

“There’s no such thing as a kind of common voice or a single set of principles any more,” he told the Straight, on the line from his Victoria office. “So you’re going to find works of all kinds, everything from noise to neo-Romanticism to you name it. And I think that’s exciting. It keeps things kind of bouncy.”

Judging by the compositions on offer on the four-day event’s third night, Butterfield was at least half right. The program ranged from a pastiche of 18th-century motifs to a jaunty tune called “Daisy” that could have been played by Scott Joplin’s band, circa 1899. Bounce, however, was lacking in these scores, save for the last.

It wasn’t the house band’s fault: the Nu:BC collective seemed fully committed to even the most flawed contributions, and worked wonders with the best. But on the whole the tone of these new works was pensive, questioning, and somewhat drab, with few bold statements and much grey dithering between the tonal approach and its atonal counterpart.

Given that one of the best aspects of Sonic Boom is that it provides listeners with a chance to fall in love with previously undiscovered talent, it was mildly disappointing that the best works were from relatively familiar faces: Redshift Music Society kingpin Jordan Nobles and Vancouver Pro Musica director André Cormier. Nobles’s Teleidoscope hewed to the program’s generally downbeat tone, but it was gorgeous. And Cormier’s “Diarbata II”, an excerpt from a longer piece entitled Nihil obstat, offered up a surreal combination of insectile droning, a sunny afternoon with a Weed Eater, and fake electric-guitar feedback. That might not sound promising on paper, but on Saturday it seemed genuinely wonderful and new.