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Tone Deaf sculpts sound with‘noisicians’ from Kingston and afar

The Gertrudes (pictured above) will be performing at the seventh installment of the Tone Deaf sound performance festival
The Gertrudes (pictured above) will be performing at the seventh installment of the Tone Deaf sound performance festival
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Supplied Photo by Jeff Barbeau

If you’ve ever found yourself tapping your feet to a turn signal, banging on some pots and pans or dancing to the bells of a nearby wind chime, you, my unsuspecting friend, have been touched by the sound revolution. Now entering its seventh year, Kingston’s Tone Deaf Festival assembles a diverse gathering of experimental composer-performers, sound artists and “noisicians” who will collectively break down and expand your notions of what music really is and what it has the potential to become.

Matt Rogalsky, a professor in the faculty of music at Queen’s, is an accomplished sound artist and musicologist who, along with Michael Davidge, acts as co-curator for this year’s festivities. Rogalsky has been a steadfast supporter of sound manipulation, despite its reputation as a lesser known genre.

“For a very long time, I’ve been interested in sound and working with it in conventional and not so conventional ways,” he said. “I see it as a physical medium that you can mould and sculpt. I think of it more as ‘sound art’—it’s more involved than what you get at a usual concert.”

Tone Deaf was founded seven years ago by Craig Leonard, a Queen’s student with a broad interest in music and sound endeavours. After Leonard graduated, Rogalsky took up the effort and has established cohesive themes for each installment.

“We usually try to have an annual theme that doesn’t have to be too heavy or deep,” he said. “It’s just nice to have a framework.”

In its seventh instalment, audiences can expect a focus on independent labels, Rogalsky said.

“There is a particular focus on smaller labels and their role in distributing these diverse types of music,” he said. “We were very interested in the artists that we chose to participate. With Tim Hecker [a participating, small-label artist], I’ve known him for a very long time and he has a portfolio of really interesting music. It will be less like a concert, and with more room for movement.” Smaller labels that particularly aroused Rogalsky and Davidge’s enthusiasm include Alien8 Recordings of Montreal, the Toronto-based Rat-Drifting and even a selection of home-grown talent, Apple Crisp Records. As with any artistic endeavour, the creator holds some hope that a message will disseminate throughout its audience.

“The idea is to not only challenge the artists but the audiences as well. If people learn a bit about the labels and what is out there, then that’s great,” Rogalsky said. Even The Gertrudes, the folk-ambient, Kingston-based band for which Rogalsky contributes guitbox and vocals, will be expected to test their own artistic limits. The piece in question, an early minimalist Terry Riley composition from 1968 that is outside The Gertrudes’ normal set list, seems to draw tangible enthusiasm from Rogalsky as he describes its complex, layered melody.

“It can be really challenging to play outside of your comfort zone,” he said.

Also on the itinerary for this week is an exhibit hosted by the Modern Fuel Gallery in downtown Kingston. The juxtaposition of pounding reverberations and an austere white studio make for an eerie atmosphere, while an interactive installation involving listening to the remains of (literally) torched records leaves you with an enlightened sense of musical quality as well as an inexplicable urge to go home and hug all your CDs.

With the intent of enjoyment and broadening horizons clear in mind, Tone Deaf will challenge and—hopefully for its creators—inspire listeners with its own brand of pleasant dissonance. “I always appreciate coming away from a concert with good or new ideas that make me think about sound in a different way,” Rogalsky said. “With this kind of music, you just have to suspend your disbelief.”

Tone Deaf concerts kick off tonight at Time to Laugh Comedy Club. See modernfuel.org for more details.

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