‘Cello, Tone Deaf Festival!

A Journal staffer reviews an ‘adventurous’ music festival

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For the past two weeks, Kingston has opened its doors and ears to the eclectic sounds of the Tone Deaf Festival. 

Running from Nov. 20 to Dec. 2, Tone Deaf Festival features a range of exhibits and performances that explore the world of sound. 

Characterized as a festival for ‘adventurous sound’, I ventured out to get a taste of exactly what that meant.

Solo Cello + Voice/Music of The Environment

On Nov. 27, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre housed two separate acts for the festival: Hannah Brown, an electronic composer, and Anne Bourne, an experienced cellist. The artists — though vastly different on paper — came together to showcase the importance of environment in sound.

Brown began the show, playing different beats, like buzzes and chirps, around the room to create an immersive environment. 

She played three of her songs, each changing the mood of the room. All three had a constant hum that nonetheless ranged in volume and depth. She used mostly electronic beeps, chirps, and rhythms on top of the hum to create an ensemble of so many natural sounds that I felt as if I was standing in an electronic forest.

Bourne followed the electronic landscapes with an emphasis on listening. While her entire set was improvised, it was impossible to know due to the comprehensive and cohesive tunes she played. 

Bourne picked her cello so that the natural tune of the instrument thrummed through the room. As she played with her bow, she would pull her fingers up and down the string or strum similar to a guitar to create the music. 

Alongside the cello, she would sing long notes that echoed through the room. Audience members frequently leaned forward to be closer to the beautiful tones.

One of her songs was an improvisation accompanying one of Brown’s songs, a piece that was characterized as the collapse of a bee colony. Brown’s song buzzed with intensity as Bourne played seamlessly alongside.

Ultrasonic Sound Sculptures/Audio Automata

For the duration of the festival, the Modern Fuel Gallery in the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning was home to two art installations. 

In the nearly-empty main room, the first installation, called Sentier sonore: Scies a Tone Deaf, was set up featured chiming blades hanging from the ceiling.

As I passed through the room, the daunting appearance of the blades quickly faded in the background as I heard the calming chime sounds. The blades were hung all around the room, and ranged in size and distance from the ground. Some were held at knee-level, while others could be looked at from below. A mechanism connected to the sides tapped them like a gong, creating a song that ranged from extremely high to incredibly low notes.  

The second installation was set up in a separate, smaller space. Called Slight Perturbations, it sat on a shelf and played using cookie tins mounted high on the wall.

The installation itself was very small: three pieces of tin foil spun on diagonal rotating discs. As the foil moved, a mechanism would pick up the movement and play frequencies through the cookie tins. 

As I watched the foil rise and fall, what was initially whiny background noise transformed into an accompanying song.

Enveloping Drones and Danceable Tones

The most highly-attended event I went to was held on Nov. 29 at The Mansion, featuring three ‘synth-pop’ groups.

Konig’s performance was unique in its stage presence, however her music didn’t stand out to me alongside the other artists with its pop-y sound and electronic backdrop. Her performance alongside two ‘ghosts’ hidden under sheets who she interacted with throughout was under-whelming. 

Next, ambient artist Sarah Davachi took the stage. Her set was something I’d never experienced: the minimalistic hums created by the ambient drones grew in complexity through the progression of her set, as more drone sounds were added in. The different drones grew into and out of each other as the loud hums possessed the audience.

The final act of the night was the large electronic-pop band, Diana. The seven members of the group were all extremely talented, switching between instruments mid-song, while retaining a constant head-bop or toe-tap. 

In any other festival, their skill as a band would have stood out, but what made them more interesting — and more suited for the Tone Deaf festival — was an electronic twang they added to the sound of traditional instruments, such as the saxophone or drums. 

The shows I attended through Tone Deaf were completely different and unexpected compared to typical festivals. This is what makes the experience ‘adventurous’ and impressed me with a new understanding of what music can be. 

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