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Sound Symposium: the reigning king of weird

Monday’s Sound Symposium concert featured the world premiere of Doron Sadja’s work “Building Blocks of Losing One’s Self Oneself.”
Monday’s Sound Symposium concert featured the world premiere of Doron Sadja’s work “Building Blocks of Losing One’s Self Oneself.” - Contributed

The Sound Symposium — a biennial event at which I struggle with pegging myself as either a music snob or an uncultured swine. I like weird, but the Sound Symposium is the reigning king of weird events in St. John’s. Could it be too weird for a weirdo like me?

Though I’m a vocal hater of the Harbour Symphony, I still wanted to see what the Symposium had on its 2018 roster, which crams a slew of performances, workshops, storytelling, lectures, and more into just 10 days.

The Monday concert at the LSPU Hall attracted me, my interest piqued by the descriptions of “musical compositions for bicycles” and a “multilayered instrument performance creation with traditional wool-making tools.”

Though the explanation had been laid out for me, I still had no idea what to expect, and I think that’s what the Sound Symposium wants.

An “amuse bouche” from Hildegard Westerkamp started us off with a pre-recorded piece aiming to “explore water in its sonic, musical shapes.”

Dripping, swelling, swooshing, clinking and twinkling, the LSPU Hall seemed enveloped in water, the occasional bird noise or child’s laugh interrupting my growing urge to urinate.

At its lightest points, Westerkamp’s piece was a soundscape of a family day at the beach. At its darkest, it was washing dishes in a cave filled with demons.

Payton MacDonald’s “Sonic Divide” was next, which topped the charts for weird, as he combined his very different interests of ultra-long-distance mountain biking and music.

Though I struggled to appreciate his performance musically, I could dig MacDonald’s contribution from an art-performance aspect, as he drummed on logs and various parts of a bicycle, accentuated with “vocal percussion.”

He performed a selection of compositions originally performed while MacDonald traversed the 2,500-mile Continental Divide on bicycle, performing to nature and animals along the way.

Next was “Rokkur,” the experimental sound project revolving around knitting.
Sarah Albu and Reuben Fenemore, the visiting artists, collaborated with local knitters from Cast On/Cast Off Knitters and Spinners, weaving an interesting “tapestry of sonic texture” with their crafting tools.

The group recalled fond memories of familial knitting traditions, the sound performance peppered with anecdotes from the analog hobbyists, presented over a subtle clarinet performance by Fenemore.

Clearly having fun with this performance, “Rokkur” also included traditional wool-working processing demonstrations, and an audience participation piece, which left the crowd smiling.

The event finished with the world premiere of Doron Sadja’s “Building Blocks of Losing One’s Self Oneself,” a “multi-sensory experience” of “space, light and sound.”

Sheltering myself from the blinding lights, I went on an aural expedition in the dark. My first stop: the inside of an air pump, followed by crashing into an orchestra pit, before being launched through a fax machine. The final stop was a wind chime factory explosion. By the time the siren sounds started, I had been pronounced dead at the scene.

The 2018 Sound Symposium runs until Sunday.

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