Musical adventures at a great price

After eight years of musical experimentation and performance, Kingston’s Tone Deaf Festival is bigger than ever

The Tone Deaf Festival has hosted many musicans and noise artists over the past eight years.
Image supplied by: Supplied
The Tone Deaf Festival has hosted many musicans and noise artists over the past eight years.

In a world where it sometimes feels like Disney pop stars reign supreme, it seems a miracle that a music festival like Tone Deaf has survived in Kingston. “We have no intention of stopping,” said Matt Rogalsky, co-curator of Tone Deaf and professor in the music department at Queen’s. “It’s a worthwhile exercise. I think people would miss it if it went away.” Tone Deaf, a festival committed to adventurous sound performance, didn’t always rest in Rogalsky’s trustworthy hands.

“I’m not the founder of the festival, but I’ve been co-running it for the past five or six years,” he said. “Craig Leonard is a Canadian sound artist and he started this project off and he’s now teaching at NASCAD [Nova Scotia College of Art and Design].”

Halifax-born Leonard recently showcased his solo-work at Modern-Fuel Art Gallery, an artistic space where festival co-director Michael Davidge works as artistic director.

“We kind of function as curators because it comes out of the Modern-Fuel tradition, which has been the umbrella organization helping to create this festival,” he said. “We’ve made decision about who to invite and we’ve done the majority of the planning but when it comes to putting on the shows we rely heavily on volunteers.”

Community involvement and input have been vital in past years’ successes. This year the festival is incorporating more of an international program and expanding its local limitations.

“This year we are focusing on the work of one individual. Usually every year we’ve had three to four performances and it’s usually very mixed,” Rogalsky said. “We’re focusing mainly on the work of Alvin Lucier. Ben Manley and Nicolas Collins are both performing this year and were both students of Alvin Lucier, they both situate his in a younger generations performance practice.

“I would say for a town the size of Kingston it provides a venue for a focused look at contemporary music and noise art that isn’t available throughout the year,” he said.

Rogalsky attributes the festival’s longevity and success to various factors.

“It’s a testament to the enthusiasm of the organizer and the assumption that there is an audience out there,” he said with a laugh. I’m sure if it wasn’t me and Michael that there would be a number of people who would step in and fill the gap.”

This year, student ticket prices are at an all-time-low. A festival pass for all three concerts goes for $12.

“We receive funding from different places every year, but this year we have a lot of influence from Queen’s and we applied for substantial funding to bring Alvin Lucier,” Rogalsky said. “We do not want to lose money on this but it’s not our primary objective and would prefer to have a lot of people come out. We wanted to make it affordable for students and I hope that will encourage people.”

Rogalsky remains realistic amid the various successes of the festival.

“Alvin Lucier isn’t exactly a household name, the ticket prices might bring people out that might be interested but turned off by high prices.” When it comes to Lucier, Rogalsky can’t help but gush.

“It’s just so special to have Alvin here. He’s one of the remaining pioneers of mid-to-late 20th century music, he’s a unique voice and a bit of legend and we’re lucky to have him here.”

Tone Deaf 8 runs today to Sunday with various events. Check out the Journal’s guide to the festival for all exciting tidbits and details.

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