Return of the deaf tones

This year marks the ninth annual incarnation of Tone Deaf, a festival celebrating the adventurous exploration of sound and broadening of musical palettes in Kingston

The Tone Deaf festival aims to blur the boundary between music and art while inspiring and challenging its array of attendees with provocative new work.
The Tone Deaf festival aims to blur the boundary between music and art while inspiring and challenging its array of attendees with provocative new work.
Credit: 
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Think adventurous sonic exploration. Think ambiguous loops and provocative fusion. Think breaking boundaries. Think Tone Deaf 2010.

Each year a group of committed artists and supporters in Kingston band together to organize the festival and curate participants from a local and national scale. Last year highlighted mid-to-late 20th century music pioneer Alvin Lucier and two of his previous students, Ben Manley and Nicolas Collins.

“Tone Deaf provides audiences with a rare opportunity to experience a range of innovative and adventurous creative sound performances,” Kristiana Clemens, CFRC operations support officer, told the Journal via email. “[It expands] our understanding of music and art by blurring the boundaries between the two.”

Though initially founded by Canadian sound artist and professor Craig Leanord, Matt Rogalsky has taken it under his wing over the past years in collaboration with others from various facets of Kingston’s artistic community.

“We’ve provided an alternative space for music that isn’t often or hasn’t often had a chance to be heard in Kingston,” Rogalsky said. “There’s evidence that Tone Deaf has had impact in Kingston just by looking at the range of concerts which are now being produced by CFRC, Modern Fuel and some of the bands that come through with Apple Crisp concert series, there seems to be a much broader appreciation for music of different kinds. I’d like Tone Deaf to take some of that credit.”

Beyond his role in the community as artist, performer, producer, engineer and professor, Rogalsky said he’s committed to continuing to push the Tone Deaf mandate despite the constant flow of new and exciting tunes through the Limestone city.

“That doesn’t mean that Tone Deaf’s job is done,” he said. “I think we’re still an important voice for unusual and experimental new music. We’re part of the yearly calendar now, people expect Tone Deaf to happen and they come out.”

Kicking off last Thursday night at Modern Fuel, the ninth anniversary of Tone Deaf brought with it a unique challenge—a lack of funding.

“Performers who had been approached to perform at Vapours contacted me to arrange shows in Kingston despite the lack of funding and Modern Fuel agreed to host,” Clemens said.

With their ear to the ground on the city’s independent artistic endeavors and a long-standing relationship with Tone Deaf, it’s no surprise that the folks at Modern Fuel stepped up to the plate.

“I’m a strong supporter of experimental music,” Modern Fuel Artistic Director Michael Davidge said. “We scrambled, re-adjusted and we did receive some money from the community foundation of Kingston to support the Vapours concert,” Davidge said. “The fact that we could all come together to produce this grassroots Tone Deaf is really quite exciting.”

The festival has evolved since its inception and as it gains more footing in the community, it’s organically becoming a separate entity from its previous partnerships.

“Tone Deaf is in a transitional stage, we’re trying to get it off the ground as an independent organization so that it’s no longer a part of Modern Fuel’s programming,” Davidge said. “The hope is that being independent, Tone Deaf can access more funding and grow.”

With the festival in capable hands, the organizers found ways to persevere and overcome the funding obstacle.

“Organizing a festival without money isn’t easy,” Clemens said. “As the curator for the Vapours series and the coordinator for the RadioActive Carnival, [a project presenting sound and radio-art events in Kingston], I found myself doing a lot of leg work for a festival that I had not previously been involved in organizing and that did not have many resources to offer … it was both fun and frustrating at times. But I think it all came together in the end.”

Past editions of Tone Deaf have brought artists from a national and international scale but this year Rogalsky said the focus is primarily local.

“Tone Deaf has always been a curatorial project,” he said. “It’s invitational and this year I think it’s almost entirely local and original artists, the organizational or curatorial team gets together and hashes it out, tries to figure out a few programs and concerts that will work.”

With performances earlier this week from artists Blake Macfarlane, Nicholas Fellion, Holzkopf, Freida Abtan, Marinko and Sealegs, attendees were enveloped in a uniquely unusual and captivating experience. This week also brought Open Frequency to Modern Fuel, the product of interdisciplinary studies students collaboratively combining their efforts in film, fine art, music and drama.

“It’s been a great opportunity to see how gallery shows work first hand,” Rebecca Whitaker, ArtSci ’11, told the Journal in an e-mail.

After an eight-week effort, the class’ work culminated into an alternative form of entertainment for attendees under the umbrella theme of ‘making the personal public.’

“All of the pieces relate to this theme in some way,” Whitaker said. “My piece is about secrets; some very scary ones, others not so threatening and the emotional responses that come with revealing these secrets … it’s rewarding to see how everyone’s unique ideas have built off of one another to make something powerful.”

The Artel will play host to local improvisational musicians Decomposing Pianos this weekend, as well as artists Shanna Sordahl and Zach Clark.

“Venues like the Artel, events like the monthly Noise Jam and performers and organizers like Matt Rogalsky and Decomposing Pianos have helped to support a nascent scene for new music here,” Clemens said.

With hopes of a fearless audience, Saturday brings The Kingston G3s playing Rhys Chatham’s guitar trio to The Mansion as well as an interactive piece, Hear in the Dark, to the Vogt Studio Theatre in Carruthers Hall.

“The objective is to create an immersive listening space,” Clemens said. “The audience is led to focus more fully on the sound, due to the lack of visual input. It can be a spooky, but also very transformative experience.”

One of the festival’s co-organizers and co-curators Chris Trimmer spoke to the importance of having a passionate drive behind the festival.

“Matt has done a really good job of being creative each year, having themes, inviting really great and notable artists to town,” he said. “I think that’s such a special and unique thing for Kingston, it’s not really happening anywhere else … it’s carved it’s own niche.”

The festival’s diversity, longevity and success may be attributed to several factors but organizers, participants and attendees alike agree on the importance of Kingston’s strong and burgeoning artistic base.

“In any city or community, even a small city like Kingston, there’s a core of people who are really interested in pushing boundaries as far as performance,” Rogalsky said. “Seeking a sort of sense of what music is, we’ve built on that core of people here … with the range of concerts you’re able to hear around the year in Kingston now it’s evidence that the community are not just satisfied by hearing the same thing all the time, it’s growing.”

Tone deaf artist in profile

1. Who are you?

I am Zach Clark.

2. What do you do?

I make sounds when it seems like the right thing to do and listen when it doesn’t.

3. How did you get involved in Tone Deaf 9?

I’m taking private electro-acoustic composition lessons with Matt Rogalsky and he asked me to perform this year.

4. What are you inspired by?

Anything that makes a sound really. Circumstances are important too. It depends what I’m working on though and what I’m listening to when I’m putting it together. For the piece I’m performing tomorrow, I was specifically inspired by gong yoga practitioners, a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the sound of the gong itself and a lucky convergence of myself, my gong and a cello bow in the same room one day.

5. What do you think Tone Deaf brings to the community?

The kind of sounds you don’t usually get to hear. I grew up in a fairly small town so coming to Kingston and finding out that there was a festival devoted to experimental music was huge for me. It’s a kind of music that can really inspire someone to do their own thing musically. If you can’t play any instrument you can still make cool music by smashing things together, talking into small objects, etc ... Tone Deaf demonstrates that marvelously.

6. Do you think experimental art and music is gaining momentum in Kingston?

It seems to be, though I’ve only been here a few years. Recently there’s been a new monthly concert series started by Mark Streeter devoted to noise and experimental art forms called the Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, so that’s a good sign.

7. What can people expect from the show on Friday?
A new appreciation for the gong. A lot of people think it’s a one-trick pony, you hit it and then an emperor enters the room followed by his harem, or something like that. Maybe someone will even come away from it with a resolve to buy themselves a gong. You’d be surprised at how cheap they can be.

Zach Clark performs as part of Tone Deaf 9 tonight with Decomposing Pianos and Shanna Sordahl at 7:30 p.m.

Traversing Tone Deaf 9

Friday Nov 5
The Artel
Decomposing Pianos with Shanna Sordahl and Zach Clark
Free
7:30 p.m.

Saturday Nov 6
The Mansion
Kingston G3s play Rhys Chatham’s Guitar
Trio
By donation
2:30 p.m.

Saturday Nov 6 and Sunday Nov 7
Vogt Studio Theatre Caruthers Hall
Hear in the Dark
By donation
7:30 p.m.

Until Nov 7
Modern Fuel
Open Frequency Sound Installation
Free

Need more sonic adventure? Keep an eye on modernfuel.org, cfrc.ca/blog and the-artel.ca to stay in the loop on upcoming experimental events like the Noise Jam on Nov 29, open to all at The Artel.

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