Open your mind at Open Ears

Tim Grier and I caught up with Gregory Oh – the artistic director from Open Ears. We had a wee chat with him about the upcoming festival.  Here’s a bit of a video. As for the written content of this blog post, I do think Oh describes the experience of the festival best in his own words.

“I think we walk around on any given day and we’re not even aware of the sounds we hear. We hear sounds of construction and cars and we learn to tune things out …we learn to almost stop listening, because there’s so much happening in the world, and if you try to listen to everything you become oversaturated.

“But the danger there is that you close off your world to some very beautiful things, like church bells, or the sound of nature… I gotta say I love the sound of traffic and of people bustling around and of random conversations in the street.

“I think Open Ears is about always keeping yourself open to new experiences, always learning, always creating and …the world is an amazing place and you can just find things if you’ll just open up your ears….”

Music Building Bridges – Joel Maripil at Kultrun

An award nominated Best International Indigenous Artist of 2013 by the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Award will be joining us at Kultrun next week. Joel Maripil will be one of the highlighted international artists featured in the programming.

Joel Maripil“Here, put this in your CD player.” In went the CD and the car full of people went silent. The music confronted us – traditional sounds and voices blending with modernity. It was sounds of history meeting a contemporary context. The voice of Maripil played in the surround sound, bringing those sat in the car into a space where we could hear a natural prose blend beautifully with the poetic.

As the music continued to wrap around the car, with each track unified but very different from the previous, the minimalism of the music constructed an intensity in the listening. The deliberation of play, the ritual of sound, and the experience of a language I had never previously heard presented an intrigue. The cross-cultural language of sound and music created a dialog despite languages, and built a bridge of understanding over the thousands of kilometers between Maripil’s home and my experience of him here.

We sat and listened. I knew that this experience, as it is with almost all music, could not possibly compare seeing a live performance. Each sound, the voice, and the texture of his creation built a desire to be in a space. His love of his language and people is instilled in the consolidation of tradition with the now, comfort in culture, and an outreach to his people within this music.

This music has a purpose. The sounds exist to be heard.

Maripil’s contribution to Kultrun Festival range from a performance, to a workshop, to a symposium. The music itself was enough to draw me to the performance and workshop. The symposium will add the voice of this elder into the space of a symposium.

Maripil comes to this festival from WallMapu, First Nation in Chile. He is a Mapuche, and a cultural elder for the Kechukawin community (a Werken).

Maripil’s performances in Kitchener during Kultrun Festival this week are:

Thursday November 14th at 2pm
The Courtyard, 141 Whitney Place, Kitchener

Concert Series
Saturday November 16th at noon
Queen St. Commons Cafe
43 Queen St. South, Kitchener

Saturday November 16th at 6pm
The Conrad Centre for Performing Arts
36 King St. West, Kitchener

Sunday November 17th 2pm
The Walper
20 Queen St. South, Kitchener

The Day the Music Died

Warning: Seriously upset pint-in-hand writing ahead…

This is not structured. This is not a post essay. This is not a deep, well researched post contemplating my navel. This is straight from the poet-soul artist gut. And this is part of a larger reason why leaving downtown Kitchener wasn’t sad move for me. The things that meant something downtown are all disappearing.

Something seemed fishy. I mean, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but when I read the piece about Kevin Doyle from the Boathouse in Victoria Park locking out his staff and patrons, something just didn’t add up.

Let’s talk first about Kevin and the Boathouse

This is a man that didn’t just give his artists a fee, but often most, or all of the door as well. From charging 5 a pint, and 7 for a glass of imported wine, Kevin also gave appropriate remuneration for artists. Maybe that is just me, as an artist, thinking that those who work to entertain you and succeed enough to grace a stage regularly should be compensated appropriately.

Kevin gave everyone a chance. The open mic nights often presented amazing emerging artists and gave them the ability to test new material, but also allowed the wannabe to feel like a star for five minutes. Diversity was the name of the game, and no one vetted the list. You got the raw offering of the community, as they were… and let the audience decide merit with their applause.

The Boathouse was the legendary home of several artists. The features in this venue ranged from Mel Brown to Julian Fauth to Lucas StaggMiss Angel and the Homewreckers, Paul MacLeodBig Rude JakeLynn JacksonBusted Flat Records, – just to mention a few, and the countless headliners over the years. The Boathouse was the Waterloo Region home of music. Legends were born here on the rough honky tonk piano and crackling amps. Legends returned and loaned support with every shift and change in appetite. The performers where as dedicated as the audience. The change in times and trends were reflected, but the tradition of excellence was upheld.

And did I mention remuneration? Let’s go back to that for a minute: Waterloo Region is a horrible place to practice as an artist. You perform/play/paint for exposure here. But who are we exposing ourselves to in this city that is near devoid of real arts culture? Is there some brilliant critic, or talent scout lurking in the audience? Not bloody likely. Exposure here is like being naked in the north: you can die of exposure. Several have. The successful leave.

And yet, this city doesn’t see the plethora of artists who leave every year because there is no possibility of a career here. But somehow those artists remember that something was here, and come back for the festivals. There is no benefit in our postal codes.There is no benefit to a Waterloo Region address.

You want to talk about talent retention? Detroit at least hits the world’s stage with the Heidelberg project, Theatre Bizarre and the brilliant music scene that keeps bubbling up and challenging the world’s sensibility. Hamilton has an arts crawl that attracts the tens of thousands. Windsor maintains a vibrant scene. We have great festivals, but nothing supported that would have the possibility of reflecting in art what we claim in innovation… which is oddly generated by creativity. Man.. what a mindfuck.

It isn’t that we don’t have great art here, it’s just you don’t know about it. It’s not celebrated, supported, written about – it’s treated like a fart in the night. Even if it’s a loud bang, we are kept darkly asleep through all the noise.

And just when you would get the chance to hear about it, it leaves. I watch with every passing year as the newest and most amazing thing gets neglected, or at worst, scorned for their innovation.

Kevin gave the possibility of great art a chance to thrive

In the performance and music genre, Kevin had everything from burlesque to spoken word, and big band to bluegrass. Kevin allowed culture to thrive without imposition of elite standards, but supporting what his audience and the community sensibility would support. He would take risks on the unlikely. He allowed the gamble.

Kevin has great judgement in music, but he allowed his community to set standards as well. There was no elite standard. There was just good music. And community.

So then I really wasn’t surprised when I read the piece in The Record by Terry Pender talking about absolute neglect and culturally cleansing gentrification. But still… ugh… punch in the gut. What utter contempt.

Now how about the Boathouse culture

I walked home from Laurier to my Queen and Courtland home for 4 years down Park St.

Victoria park is a daunting space. With a legacy of hate crimes and skin head swarmings extending to everyone in the buildings around the park receiving phone calls from government institutions surveying about perceived safety in a neighbourhood of high diversity, and a past of extremely violent crimes – – The Boathouse was a sure place where anyone could stop in. It was halfway through the emptiness of a night time darkness. You could enter for a moment of safety, a free phone call, or even a teddy bear of an operator who would pull out all of his most scary tones and bigness of self to appear more intimidating.

The Boathouse, and mostly Kevin’s Boathouse, was safe. From unwelcome advances on women patrons being dealt with by the owner himself, to a late night place with an affable take-no-shit staff who would form a perceived barricade between danger and person, and yet never making you feel the victim.  (I am not the only only one who felt this way…)

Disclaimer> Let’s make something perfectly clear. I have never been a damsel in distress or a shrinking violet – but Kevin would sense trouble and make it clear that distressing people is not ok in his place. Even in my most justice-seeking books, this was great. How often does an owner/operator truly try to make a venue woman-safe? How many pubs can a young woman walk into and sit by herself at the bar just to listen to music and almost never be subjected to harassment in some form or another? 

How can you talk about the loss of all these most important things in an aspect of city culture? How can you talk about how you feel deceived and yet not surprised by a community that would rather give money to people who talk about art then make art?

Culture doesn’t grow out of back door corporate meetings

Instead, it is much like how babies are born. Art is messy. Art explodes into the world screaming and crying. It grows through rebellion and anger. And it finishes in a beautiful blossom that enriches and feeds all of our better sensibilities.

If you want art clean, you get Bieber. You get N-Sync, NKOTB, One Direction and every other band that amounts to nothing but background sound on CHYM FM that is trend today and out like dirty underwear in a year. You get the most boring, and cleansed (gentrified) product you can think of with production enough to makes sure not a single middle class head is turned or disturbed.

Fuck. That isn’t art, that is status quo. That is the lack of innovation, the lack of critical matter, the lack of anything that begs questions and forces you to pause. That is bland. That is boring. That is life devoid of meaning. That is reification and no challenge ever. That is the absence of thought. It’s owning an Ikea shelf and thinking yourself special for it.

Birth is never clean. If you want clean, get your Starbucks and never leave your television happy endings, and be surprised when your relationships and job supernovas around your blindness. Life is about the mess. And art is about the connection to that mess, and being able to see ways through it. Art is the lens we use to see our meagre existence and project it as something more important than just planetary noise. It is the relief, the dialog, the word writ and unwrit. It is the ease from turmoil and the expression thereof all at once. It is the agreement and contradiction. It is the discussion. It is the conclusion. And in the end when we are all dead and gone, it is ARTefact – the only remaining feature of anything about who we are is left in our art and in our waste. Welcome to why art is important to life for sentient tool-building beings. Without it, the only immortal echo we produce is waste.

So… If you want art, it is the Boathouses with Doyles. It is melting clocks without watches to tell you different. It’s about dust bowl faces playing blues. It’s about being there, being present at the transitions in our crazy world and saying SOMETHING. 

Art is the moment when you need that chance after your partner leaves you and your wealthy tech company lays you off with half its workforce in a year. It’s the chance. The hope. The birth.

Keep your hand-sanitised world to yourself… just please… give me back my art.

(I know I am railing against an unstoppable force. I am not naive. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to mourn the good things when they are killed.)

(Now I need to swallow my own fear as an artist in this blasted region and hit <send>)