Vancouver New Music fest gets mechanical

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      Is it strange to say that Mechanical Music, the 2016 edition of Vancouver New Music’s annual festival, offers something for everyone? After all, the event focuses on “a sonic universe in which mechanical and electro-mechanical movements and sounds are vital components of the artworks”; we realize that to some this might seem like a celebration of the outré and the obscure.

      The works themselves suggest otherwise, however. The most populist thing on offer is undoubtedly Lucas Abela’s Bass Balls (see story this page), which combines the nervy fun of playing pinball with the dank, low-frequency rumbling of a dark ambient soundtrack. But there are other options to intrigue the curious ear and the open mind, including Adam Basanta’s small movements, which, like Bass Balls, can be heard at the Orpheum Annex on the festival’s opening night (October 13). The Montreal-based Basanta works with the precision of a surgeon and the unfettered imagination of an assemblage artist in his computer-assisted manipulation of small sound sources, including speaker cones and various “kinetic objects”.

      Small movements by Montreal's Adam Basanta helps open the Mechanical Music festival.

      Another Quebec resident, electroacoustic composer Jocelyn Robert, will contribute a series of computer-guided improvisations to October 14’s program: the twist here is that in each, the performer will be fed a series of cues to respond to—and while they’re generated by what has already been played, they won’t necessarily make musical sense. Consider it a kind of sonic high-wire act, with the chance of failing or falling ever present.

      Closing night (October 15) offers an especially intriguing selection of music made for and by amplified loom, homemade beatboxes, and recombinant organs, but let’s flag Vancouver’s own Peter Hannan and Camille Hesketh. The veteran electronic musician and the poet will use text messaging and sound to portray the death of a relationship, with special attention paid to “the four most dreaded words in the English language”.

      Hint: the piece is called We need to talk. But just what does that mean?