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Arts and Culture Exhibit

Step back in time: Immersive VR experience recreates rave culture at Centre PHI

Experience the thrill, music, and underground atmosphere of 1980s illegal raves within the confines of virtual reality.

How did it feel to attend a rave with thousands of other people in the United Kingdom during the 1980s? Such a unique experience is unparalleled, but artist Darren Emerson has recreated its essence in his interactive VR experience In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats, which is currently open to the public at Centre PHI. 

In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is both a documentary and an immersive experience. The player embarks on an adventure that brings them back to 1989, when illegal raves were regularly organized throughout the country in uncanny locations, such as abandoned warehouses.  About 40 minutes long, the VR experience is both informative and entertaining. The player is provided a headset, headphones, and a sort of backpack that vibrates to the rhythm of the soundtrack.

The playroom is located on the second floor of the museum. Adorned with blacklights, the room is divided into six sections where players can move around during their experience. Once the headset and headphones are on, though, it is impossible to tell that there are other people in the room. It is an individual adventure and the VR setup makes the player feel cut off from reality completely. 

The graphics are breathtaking. At the beginning, the player sits in the car with ravers, watching the road roll by in the darkness of the night. Then, the player hangs out with these same ravers in a bedroom with walls covered in posters of 80s bands before getting sucked into the radio and surrounded by colors, vibrations and music. After visiting the police precinct and learning about the investigations that illegal raves led to at the time, the player enters a warehouse and experiences a rave in the fashion of 1989. Throughout these different scenes are scattered testimonials from important actors of the rave scene in the 80s. 
Interested? This VR experience is featured at Centre PHI from Feb. 7 to April 28. Centre PHI is known for the diversity and uniqueness of its exhibitions and displays. It showcases art pieces from underground artists and allows the public to experiment with all types of mediums and technology. Colored: The Unknown Life of Claudette Colvin is another VR experience currently featured that will be open to the public until April 28.

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Arts and Culture

PARADE: Embodying authenticity

Inspired by Dior’s intimate fashion shows of the 1950’s, Centre PHI hosts a celebration of inhibition.

A runway, but no models. A public that doesn’t know what to expect. A funny yet moving performance. Dancers in wedding gowns, rubber rings and underwear. A drag queen singing a cappella. Wigs, hats, high heels and bare chests. These were some of the ingredients to the recipe of PARADE.

Configuration of the space, Centre PHI, PARADE. Photo by Maya Ruel / The Concordian

PARADE, advertised as a playful and experimental performance by its creators, was hosted at Centre PHI on the night of Sept. 21. The public had been promised something unusual—a mash-up of dancing, singing, drag, fashion and much more. Yet nothing could have prepared the audience for the level of artistic freedom displayed on the runway.

“It’s a celebration,” explained Frederick Lalonde, producer of PARADE. “It’s about identity: without any shame or inhibition—who is your true self? We tried to answer that question through the artists’ performance.”

The idea of PARADE first came to creative initiator Carole Prieur during the pandemic. The project had been in the works for at least three years on the night of the performance. The inspiration for it came in part from Dior’s fashion shows in Paris in the 1950s, which often took place in apartments, and from the urge the pandemic created to reinvent oneself. It started out as a small project, likely to be presented in the privacy of an apartment, among friends only, but as it grew and brought more and more artists together, Prieur and Lalonde decided to take a different approach and made the show open to the public.

The public was driven to feel a whole range of emotions during the show: guest artist Klo Pelgag’s rendition of Voyage, Voyage had some people pulling out their handkerchiefs, while other segments made the public laugh out loud by their sheer provocation and absurdity. At times, the sexual tension on stage was so palpable that everyone seemed to be holding their breath. All masks fell—there was only authenticity in the showroom, on the part of performers and audience alike. For an hour, in this Old Montreal venue, anything was possible.

Chi Long performing at PARADE. Photo by Maya Ruel / The Concordian

The artists’ performances were vulnerable, open and fluid. The performers offered themselves wholeheartedly to the audience, inviting viewers  to abandon themselves in return. Since the show took place on a runway, the performers moved through the crowd, transforming the experience into something very personal through eye contact and physical proximity. Sometimes, a gown or a wig would even brush against a spectator’s leg.

The idea of a “celebration” evoked by the producer took on its full meaning when, at the end of the show, the dancers invited everyone in the room to come and dance with them on the runway. People of all ages, sexes, genders and ethnicities stood and crowded onto the dancefloor, swaying to the beat of the music, glued together, smiling, their heads full of art and freedom. It may well have been the most authentic and touching performance of the evening.

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Arts

PHI Centre Hosts Venice VR Expanded for the Second Year

This exhibition features nearly 40 top-of-the-line VR works

For the second year in a row, the PHI Centre is hosting Venice VR Expanded, an exhibition that features nearly 40 top-of-the-line VR works. Montrealers have the exclusive chance to visit this unique exhibition as the PHI Centre is currently the only cultural venue in Canada to ever showcase Venice VR Expanded.

The exhibition is open to the public from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19. Each ticket affords visitors the chance to spend two hours in the exhibition. UK-based curators Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac have worked hard this year to deliver innovative works that challenge previous conceptions of virtual reality environments. 

When I arrived at the PHI Centre early on a Tuesday morning, I made my way up to the fourth floor. Lingering behind a group of nine masked visitors, I waited to be seated, where I would be handed a VR headset and two remotes. Despite my weak stomach and history of unpleasant experiences with VR headsets, I was determined to enjoy this outing. Before I knew it, I was transported into several peculiar and beautiful worlds.

The first work that I decided to explore was a short film titled Caves by Director Carlos Isabel García. This 19-minute film invites viewers to follow three explorers deep into a network of tunnels that are, to say the least, anxiety-inducing. This work was absolutely thrilling and granted me a newfound respect for those who are brave enough to risk their lives in the name of exploration.

The next work I settled on was a short animated film titled Bing mei guei (The Sick Rose) by Tang Zhi-zhong and Huang Yun-hsien. The emotional 17-minute film follows a young girl who is hell-bent on bringing a magical rose to her mother, a woman who is a courageous front-line hospital worker amidst a raging pandemic. Though the film’s theme is gloomy at its core, and at times uncomfortably familiar, the secondary characters, namely a tribe of rats and a handful of demonic beings, make for a lively addition.

Finally, I decided to watch Micro Monsters by Elliot Graves. With many scenes involving larger-than-life bugs, I found myself overtaken with fascination rather than repulsion (as I was originally prepared for). Viewers are given a chance to take in every minute detail of these creatures, ones that they may normally pay no mind to. This documentary did not disappoint, and I ended up learning quite a few interesting facts. I now know that scorpions glow in the dark. 

Venice VR truly offers something for everyone, and I applaud the wide-ranging subjects that it covers. There are very few exhibitions that have managed to leave such a mark on me. 

Walking out onto Saint-Paul Street after the exhibition, I felt different. Not in a life-altering way, but I felt as though I had been presented with a special gift: the rare opportunity to briefly escape the boundaries of everyday life, where I was free to delve into the unknown, absorbing and appreciating it in 360-degree view.

One thing is certain: I will be returning next year to experience even more cutting-edge projects.

The PHI Centre is located at 315 Saint-Paul St. W.

 

Photo by Myriam Achard

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Arts

Parallel Lines considers what it means to be alone, together

How two Concordia alumni are expanding their practice virtually

In March, museums and galleries across the world closed their doors indefinitely. Instead, many have opted to display their collections online and offer free accessibility. The PHI centre, situated in Old Montreal, generally serves as a venue for interdisciplinarity in the arts, and aims to create a connection between art and the viewer.

Their newest exhibition, Parallel Lines, is a virtual artist residency aimed towards investigating the notion of what it means to be alone. Through the residency, 10 artists of various disciplines will produce a project as a means of expression and inquiry, employing their agency to expand both their practice and the PHI’s mandate of fostering connections through the process of making and experiencing art.

“What is interesting about the PHI’s mandate through this residency is [that it offers] a portal into the mental and creative process of artists from various media,” says Naghmeh Sharifi, an MFA graduate from Concordia’s Painting and Drawing program, and one of the 10 artists-in-residence. Through a multidisciplinary approach, her practice investigates the psychology of the body through the way it interacts with, and contextualizes itself within, the spaces it inhabits.

Sharifi’s project, which has yet to be named, expands on a project she had been working on prior to the residency, titled Là où tu ne pourras jamais aller (A place where you can never go). Consisting of a series of monochromatic paintings, the works focus on distortions of memory. Sharifi uses solely the color blue as a measure of distance; her point of departure includes found imagery, the artist’s own archives which explore notions of nostalgia, and the idea of remembering and reconfiguring memories.

“In the early days of the shutdown, I started experiencing a different form of nostalgia for a very immediate past, and I was not alone,” says Sharifi. “There were thousands of images surfacing on social media platforms taking on hashtags such as #pre-confinement and doing what nostalgia does best: idealizing that past.” She adds that she was initially intrigued by how these definitions of nostalgia were changing, but as time went on, she started identifying more and more with the spaces she had been confined to and the everyday objects she interacted with.

Dayna McLeod, a professor and PhD graduate from Concordia’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture, uses humour in her work by exploiting the body’s social and material conditions via performance-based practices. 

Similarly to Sharifi’s project, McLeod’s residency piece builds on an earlier project. Covid Sleep is a digital video installation composed of night-vision surveillance footage of the artist and her girlfriend sleeping. The footage will be taken over the course of the 60-day residency.

“I’ve always had sleep disturbances like nightmares, sleepwalking, and night terrors, but [I] didn’t realize their extent and frequency until I started these recordings,” said McLeod. “I anticipate the final version of this work will be a 30 to 60 minute digital video installation sound, as sometimes, I gasp, yell, talk, scream, and otherwise ask questions while asleep.”

Through Parallel Lines, the PHI continues to offer a glimpse into the artist’s creative process across a variety of media, and enables people to experience art in a new way. Viewers are invited to observe each artist’s process by entering their virtual studio and following along as artists upload new additions to their work every day.

“In the series I am working on, the process is as important as the finished result, so in that sense there is an overlapping of interests with what this virtual residency is offering to the general public. I think it is a very unique and privileged opportunity,” says Sharifi. “As an artist, I feel that seeing the finished piece in a gallery space can sometimes offer a partial experience of the work. [Sometimes] people go through an entire exhibition in less than a few minutes, hardly connecting with any work.”

As the current situation unfolds, and as institutions begin to assume responsibility for their lack of accessibility, the art world must continue to adjust to changing times.

“There are virtual exhibitions and even virtual gallery spaces being created. The art world is adapting to new ways of existing. It also means more agency and autonomy for artists [and] becoming less dependent upon physical spaces,” says Sharifi. “Connectivity means everything these days.”

To visit the artists’ virtual studios and for more information about Parallel Lines, visit empreintesvivantes.phi.ca/Parallel-Lines.

 

 

Categories
Arts

Nuit Blanche: Thoughts en lumiere, a rush into a green utopia

We didn’t do Nuit Blanche together, but we might as well have. Two arts writers vs Nuit Blanche. The apathy is real. We were slightly amused. And we’re still thinking too much about the colour green (and outer space?

Chloë Lalonde, Arts Editor, etc., The Concordian 

Nuit Blanche only really came onto my radar when I was in CEGEP, I guess some would consider that a late discovery. My best friend and I visited the Musee d’Art Contemporain (MAC) for one of their fantastic nocturnes. We had special drinks, I don’t remember much of the exhibition (it might have been David Altmejd) and exited the museum directly on Ste-Catherine Street. Little did we know of the wonderland that waited for us outside. Ah, a time when you didn’t have to book your slide/ferris wheel/zipline experience in advance… It was the best surprise.

Since then, Nuit Blanche has been lackluster, ridden with food anxiety, too much beer, long lines and the wrong activities (yeah, I’m talking about “wand-making” at Lockhart).

This year I decided I would spend my Saturday evening after a long day of teaching and laying out the arts and opinions sections of the paper, visiting as many galleries as I could manage with my sister. We met up quite early at the Belgo building (372 Ste-Catherine St. W.), before things were popping, and managed to pass by every gallery that was open, before stopping by the very crowded MAC, UQAM’s art gallery, a surprise performance we weren’t expecting and finishing off with Le Livart.

The Belgo is unassuming, if you didn’t already know it was home to 27 galleries, several artist studios, savvy startups and dance studios, it would be hard for you to find out. The exterior isn’t necessarily inviting, neither is the lobby and the adjacent cafe (I found a hair in my crepe and they gave me a free latte.)

It was my sister’s first time there and she had no expectations, but I didn’t want to disappoint. I did force her to cancel her unmade plans with her friends to hang out with me, after all. We rode the elevator up to the fifth floor (which is truly the sixth), and wove our way in and out of galleries uninterested until I started to notice a grand theme. Every gallery featured some kind of moon print. Drawings or lithographs, etchings, paintings––like craters on the moon––everything felt geographical, alluding to the earth and the landscape.

AMER, an artist from Montreal, paints with rust in their exhibition at Galerie Luz, using hydrogen, oxygen and carbon—what AMER considers among the essential elements for the appearance of life. Their work returns to the origin of the medium, with natural hues and industrial materials to reference ancient cave paintings and transmit modern messages over time.

Past a wall separating Galerie Luz in two, lived fibre works that felt entirely alien to AMER’s practice. White and fluffy, interrupted by copper threads and plastics, Mariela Borello’s tapestries connect to the body.

Later, at UQAM’s art gallery, the moon prints returned. Only this time they were in the forms of massive paper tapestries and sculptures disappearing into the floor. These rooms of earth and stone, on until March 21, compiled the incredibly similar practices of Michel Boulanger and Katja Davar.

Boulanger’s Girations, Rouler 1 was absolutely mesmerizing. A jeep-esque vehicle sinks and resurfaces, only to sink again, creating new landscapes with each dip. Davar’s drawings resonate on the same frequency. Each piece is like witnessing the plans for a new earth, land and soil.

The theme this year was “vert,” and events and exhibitions generally referenced the colour, sustainability and the environment throughout. Green is symbolic for many things, most notably, growth, whether natural/environmental, economic or personal, it’s said to be healing and inspire creativity.

Some works were all too literal; Le Livart had an exhibition up the whole month of February based solely on the colour green, and others were just flat out unrelated and overpopulated (collection exhibitions at the MAC).

Oh, and I can’t forget the performance we walked into on our way home, which was, arguably, my sister’s favourite part. Mourning of the Living Past, performed by Inflatable Deities, Canadian artists Jessica Mensch and Emily Pelstring, shook their futuristic “organic sparkly energy” all over UQAM’s Judith-Jasmin pavilion. It truly infected my 18-year-old sister. She danced along with them (behind the crowd) as I filmed her. She also changed her Instagram bio to “organic sparkly energy,” which I’m pretty sure is what the glittery duo chanted into their electronic amplifiers.


Sophia Arnold, Contributor for The Concordian and CUJAH Editor-in-Chief 

For the past five years, since I moved to Montreal, Nuit Blanche has been something to look forward to in the depths of your depressive episodes at the height of winter, mostly because the metro is open all night and the thought of riding public transit at 4 a.m. is overwhelming for a green-minded, uber-despising person. It gives a cosmopolitan New York vibe that Montreal aspires to everyday but can only afford to cave into twice a year (the other night being New Years Eve).

Nuit Blanche attracts all kinds of people: those who have kids and want to take them on the mini Ferris wheel at Place des Arts before retiring after “doing Nuit Blanche,” tourists who are just happy to be wherever they end up (admittedly, me the first two years…), and Montrealers who know where to be and will not give you the time of day if “you’re not from Montreal.”

My night started at Le Livart. I had been there a few times before but never on Nuit Blanche, although my partner had and was enamoured with the basement dance floor. The layout of the place reflects its roots as an old residential home, and still allows for artists-in-residence to use the upstairs rooms as studios. For Nuit Blanche, they had many artists exhibiting their works on the ground floor, and opened the upstairs, inviting you to speak with the gallery’s resident artists.

The exhibition went through all the various interpretations of this year’s theme, green, in all its facets. Livart expanded on the ideas presented in Vert, Histoire d’une couleur by Michel Pastoureau, who highlights green as a central colour in the role of art history. As you enter, Renaud Séguin’s green, ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style room welcomes you into a literal green space. Filled with found objects, from candy wrappers to paint colour samples, and some iconic references, like a picture of The Green Lady (@greenladyofbrooklyn), it’s like entering a commodity forest; our new image of green.

Other rooms in the gallery welcomed the interpretation of ‘green’ to be detourned headlights,  bricolage wreaths placed on the ground and large-scale photography. Due to the variety of mediums included, when you left Le Livart you were very aware what role the colour and ideology of green plays in contemporary art.

Next stop was Palais des Congrès, where we saw some of the works featured in this year’s Art Souterrain underground exhibitions, running until March 22. The piece we spent the most time with was the automated metro doors in sequence that opened as you walked through the hallway of them. It was an unexpected yet retrospectively predictable surprise seeing as the delapidated metro cars are the subject of many interactive installations throughout the city, highlighting the history and development of an iconic feature of Montreal daily life.

Next on the agenda; Phi Centre. I don’t really know where to begin with this one. As a self identifying ‘antenna,’ Phi Centre hosts a variety of events showcasing the latest tech developments, and this night was no exception. The show, Simulation/Acceleration, was built on the premise of human connectivity, digital capitalism and environmental degradation, exploring the topic with Virtual Reality (VR), augmented reality and a green screen interactive performance. DJ sets also took place throughout the night with visuals.

Life on the green screen was the highlight of the show. Mesmerized by the piercing gaze and dynamic movement of the performers in an array of outfits and positions, it was an ominous presence that rarely broke—apart from when viewers were invited to enter the green screen setup and the rare drunk guy did a peace sign. The screen showing the results of the green screen performance embodied the premise of the show, deconstructing the commonplace ideas of humans as apart from the environment and autonomous players in a hyperconnected world.

After a necessary food detour, we headed to Places des Arts, which was a short stop. Eying it through the crowds of people, we decided to skip it this year as it has an overdone, commercial vibe that we weren’t looking for (signified by the giant maple syrup cans).

Final stop: Eastern Bloc. The event aimed to create an urban oasis and safe space for freedom of expression and being, which it did through Allison Moore’s installation, The Enchanted Woods and various DJ sets with a dance floor in the usual exhibition space. Running until 4 a.m., it felt like a liberation from winter and greyness, taking you out of time and space to a utopic non-place—even though they ran out of drinks and you had to wait 30 minutes for the bathroom, which kind of brought you back down to earth.


All in all, it was an extensive, involved and jovial evening. But, we wish this programming was accessible at a substantial level throughout the year. In one evening, you go to four events before your corporeal limit is reached and you miss events that cannot be experienced again. In an ideal green utopia devoid of money, the metro would run 24 hours a day and every night would be an opportunity to engage with your local and international communities in such a monumental way, like the way you can on Nuit Blanche.

 

 

 

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Photos by Chloë Lalonde and Sophia Arnold.

Categories
Arts

Look, listen and now you’re hooked

Thoughts on the Fondation Phi’s current exhibitions

Listen and be amazed. These words from The Meaning of Style followed me home after seeing the Eva & Franco Mattes and Phil Collins’ exhibitions at the Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain. (No, not Genesis’ Phil Collins, this Phil Collins is an artist and filmmaker, and yes, they are both from England.)

The title of the video [The Meaning of Style] doesn’t seem to fit with the piece. The short, four minute and 50 second film “features a group of anti-fascist Malay skinheads who appear to transcend reality and representation, circulating between the imaginative and literal spaces of cinema,” according to Harvard’s Carpenter Center for Visual Arts.

the world won’t listen (2004-2007), Phil Collins. International tribute to The Smiths.

This specific information, about all of Collins’ shorts at Phi, isn’t as readily present, even in the exhibition’s programme. Instead, you’re left to wander from screen to screen and soundproof booth to soundproof booth wondering if Genesis’ Phil Collins had a secret filmmaking practice. It would make sense if he did, all the videos in the exhibition are about the relatability of music and creating various intimate installations to sit and listen.

Juxtaposed with Eva & Franco Mattes’ What Has Been Seen, the Collins’ exhibition becomes even more intriguing. According to the duo’s website, “the title refers to the “What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen” meme, an internet axiom which states that repulsive, disturbing, or horrific sights can never be erased from memory once they have been seen.”

Their work forces the viewer to change the way they approach, view and generally interact with, and on, the internet. Viewers are first confronted with a smashed old desktop computer looping videos you may or may not recognize from the early 2000s. Then, you’ll walk into an open, white room, entirely empty except for a large screen and an orange cable. The individuals on the screen look back at you in shock, and you’ll wonder if they can actually see you; if Eva and Franco Mattes installed a webcam and instructed people at the other end to react to your presence. I won’t ruin the surprise.

Then you’ll continue onwards, heading up Phi’s four floors, and maybe you’ll notice the Ceiling Cat, or then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll just climb up the stairs and be totally thrown off guard by the TV tents and the fuzzy red carpet. Are you supposed to lie down on the ground and actually watch these videos? Or appreciate them as a sculptural object? You can definitely hear them.

Your choice. Either way, you’ll be confused. All the different Phis (Fondation Phi, Centre Phi), Phil Collins, and now this?

The way objects occupy space will really change the way you interact with them, in art museums, online and out and about in the world. We go about our lives intrinsically knowing what is okay to sit on and what isn’t. The floor usually isn’t it, especially in galleries and museums. But I’m a big floor-sitting advocate. Eva & Franco Mattes appear to be too.

Follow their collection of personal photographs upstairs. You won’t be able to actually see the images, but they’re there, through the wires and under the floorboards.

Data surrounds us at every turn, but we rarely confront it physically. Eva & Franco Mattes’ maze forces us to but doesn’t privy you to their contents. They are personal photographs after all.

The last stop is entirely different. Finally, wall art, something normal. Except it’s not. Oh and there’s another cat. Turns out they’re taxidermied (yeah, the Ceiling Cat too), creepy.

This last piece forces you to sit on the floor and look up at the video.

Abuse Standard Violations depicts images and text leaked from the duo’s interviews with web content moderators. One of these things is not like the other? Which images are ‘clean?’ How should they be classified? To flag, or not to flag?

Content moderation is one of the most interesting, mundane and horrifying professions that exist in today’s internet-dependent world. What has been seen, the three videos that follow Abuse Standard Violations, truly cannot be unseen—the duo’s way of forcing you to connect to these works in the most uncomfortable way. They moderate your behaviour. (Unless you live by a strong politics of refusal, are no fun or have bad knees.)

The work forces you to confront a world you aren’t familiar with, a world of the matrix, the other side of our crystal clear, greasy and cracked screens, changing the way we relate to our physical surroundings and to each other.

Now is your last chance to visit both exhibitions at the Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain (451 and 465, Saint-Jean Street) until March 15. The gallery is open Wednesday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends. Admission is free.   

 

 

Photos by Chloë Lalonde.

Categories
Arts

Virtual reality meets fine art at Centre Phi

Cadavre exquis gives viewers the chance to explore the messages of modern artists

The entrance of Centre Phi is open and minimalist as you make your way to the ticket booth. Simplicity, high ceilings and white walls don’t surprise an avid art gallery visitor however, one must not let the simplistic interior fool you. This creative space is known for its eclectic programming and original content; it’s not your traditional art space. The mission statement declares Centre Phi as a creative hub for a range of artistic practices, not limited to art, cinema, music, design and technology.

What lies at the top of the stairs is an adventure that one would not have imagined to experience while gallery hopping on a typical Sunday afternoon. Marina Abramović, Olafur Eliasson, Laurie Anderson, Antony Gormley and Paul McCarthy, among others, have used virtual reality as a medium for expression in Cadavre exquis. Being completely immersed in the vision of six artists’ virtual reality creations has one’s mind spinning with curiosity from the moment the VR headset is put on you.

Marina Abramović’s creation was the first world that I stepped into. The visuals had me awestruck, and I found myself entirely immersed in the storyline of Rising.  Abramović standing before me, in all of her three-dimensional glory, begging for my help to change this planet’s climactic demise. Although a premise-based in a frightening reality, the graphics and sound effects were stunning.

The sound and movement involving waterfalls reflecting Eliasson’s Rainbow seemed out of a glorious dreamworld. Participants stayed moving amongst the dripping reflections longer than expected. The experience was meditative.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, McCarthy’s C.S.S.C. Coach Internship Stage Coach VR experiment Mary and Eve is a recipe for nightmares, although fascinating, bewildering ones. The shocking, confusing and profound message of this virtual reality experience is not for the faint of heart (or anyone under 16, for that matter). The piece is made up of 12 chapters, and you have the option to try all 12 – each nine-minute chapter becoming more confusing and difficult to withstand. I did not complete chapter 12.

Many of the other pieces were exciting and visually intriguing. Still, I struggled with the reality of the movements. Flying through space or making my (virtual) way through a dark chalk ridden abyss seemed to make my sensitive stomach turn. The reality of the experiences had me take the headset off early to avoid full-on motion sickness.

For anyone aching to try something new and extraordinary, experienced art-goers and less-inclined alike, this is an experience not to be missed. The aesthetics, concepts, technology and interactive nature of this show boast attractive draws for many.

 

Tickets can be purchased through the Centre Phi website until Jan. 19.

Categories
Music

Keeping it fresh with Kid Koala

Scratch DJ and music producer releases new album, Music to Draw to: Satellite

Making eccentric sounds on turntables for decades, Eric San — known by his artist name Kid Koala — is a renowned scratch DJ, music producer and graphic novelist. On Jan. 20, he released his new album, Music to Draw to: Satellite, alongside singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini. The album is nothing like his previous scratchy, high-energy sounds. Instead, San explores a harmonious and melodic side of mixing. His soft, dream-like ballads accompanied by Torrini’s delicate voice create the ideal soundtrack for productivity and creation. Kid Koala’s Satellite concert will take place at Montreal’s Centre Phi between Feb. 1 and 4. The shows will be live, interactive experiences where everyone in the audience can play along on turntables.

San began playing music at the age of four, and said he recalls his first live show—a piano recital—as if it happened yesterday. “I was so nervous it was crazy. It was the longest 90 seconds of my life,” said San. At only 12 years old, he discovered the scratch scene. “It was an instant personal interest in how the mechanics of that whole craft worked,” San said. The first time he heard something that blew his mind, he was at a record store. “I didn’t know what the person was using to make these sounds. I walked up to the clerk and he told me that they were doing this on turntables,” said San. Since then, he became fascinated and wanted to recreate such sounds.

“It was an epiphany, one that I haven’t grown out of since I was 12,” said San. With turntables, there wasn’t any sort of structure yet, he said. The DJs he would listen to were only about 10 years older than him. It was a young scene, he said. “The ethos which I still carry very close to my heart is that whatever you did on the turntables, you had to make it fresh,” said San. Keeping it fresh meant you had to have your own personality twisted into the music, even if you used other people’s records, he said. “It had to be your own style and, at the DJ battles, it was all about that. You had to come out and do something different, and I loved that,” said San.

In 1996, Kid Koala released his first mixtape, Scratchcratchratchatch. It was this tape that kickstarted his musical career. While San was studying at McGill University, he dropped off five of his mixtapes at Montreal’s record store, Taboo Inc. In one week, his tapes sold out so he brought more. “That started happening at all these different shops and I eventually got a record deal with Ninja Tunes thanks to this cassette,” said San.

Kid Koala signing autographs in his koala costume. Photo by Manuel García Melgar.

Kid Koala has been long experimenting with different types of scratching and sounds. His first 10 years of scratching were high energy, rhythm percussion and dance floor oriented. “I was trying to keep it very moving and noisy,” said San. From 1996 to 2006, San began touring with bands around the world. He’s toured with Radiohead, Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire and A Tribe Called Quest. “I had to figure out ways to blend my music, and it didn’t always require percussive scratching. It was more about doing what fits and helps the purpose of the song,” said San.

On his tours with Radiohead and Beastie Boys, San would watch how both groups performed. He said the way the artists played their instruments for certain types of songs would vary. “I remember taking notes all the time, trying to figure out what it was that made a specific part they played important and interesting to the song,” he said. That was when Kid Koala’s approach changed, as he started practicing his melody and harmony scratching. “I took a more classical approach after a while because I realised that one of the powerful devices of music is melody and harmony, and it can be a very emotive way of playing,” said San.

After touring the world, 250 cities per year of constant nightclubs and music festivals, San started thinking of doing different types of shows. He wanted to see if there was another utility for music other than making people dance. In 2003, he released his first graphic novel, Nufonia Must Fall, which came with a soundtrack CD. In 2009, he released his second book and soundtrack, Space Cadet. Later that year, San started hosting music event called “Music to Draw to.” The event’s first edition took place at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine in Montreal. “I have a few select records that I call ‘drawing albums’ that I can play on repeat and just lose track of time,” said San. According to San, the whole idea of this event was to keep the soundtrack at a level where people stay in a more meditative state that enables creativity. The event became a template for his new album, Music to Draw to: Satellite, where San experiments with ambient sounds.

Emiliana Torrini, an Icelandic singer, sang and wrote most songs on Music to Draw to: Satellite. “She flew in from Reykjavik to Montreal to work on this album with me. Her voice is the most comforting sound. She is one of my favourite singers,” said San. Torrini and San came up with a narrative story together that shaped the whole album. It started with an article Torrini had read about a wife signing up for a Mars mission trip, leaving Earth and her husband behind forever. “We started exploring this article in theory, what it meant metaphorically and it became the backbone narrative for these imaginary characters that we were going to create and write for the album,” said San.

The release of this album is far from the end of San’s journey, he said. He is still striving for more.“I don’t think I found my voice but it continues to be the tool that drives me along,” said San.

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