June 2008

Robin Minard and Jaap Blonk
part of SoundaXis '08
June 4, 2008 Isabel Bader Theatre Toronto
Defying Gravity’s Force-field
Report and photo
by Tom Sekowski
As I stepped inside Isabel Bader Theatre, I wondered quietly to myself, why the hell have I never been here before? I realize the theatre belongs to one of the University of Toronto’s colleges (which one, I’m not exactly sure), which could explain why so few cultural events occur there that are open to the public at large. The space itself is quite striking. Set up like any vital theatre space — with a proper stage, foyer, balconies and second floor surrounding the main audience placement in a U-shape. I walked in late, just as an introduction to the concert that followed was finishing up. Blonk and Minard were explaining the process that would occur over the next couple of hours. Nonetheless, the important part was the music itself rather than the intricacies of the process of musical structure. The audience present was here to witness a meeting of two illustrious minds.

Montreal native Robin Minard studied music composition and electro acoustic music at McGill, Conservatoire de Musique and in Paris at the Université de Paris. Presently, he’s heavily involved in sound installation and electro acoustic composition. In fact, one of his installations — Sounds on Paper — was presented at a gallery not too far away. The first piece presented was “The Book of Spaces”. Running at around the one-hour mark, the piece was a multi-track spatial facsimile of Minard’s imagination. Made up of eleven distinct parts, we witnessed Minard sit in front of his laptop in the midst of the audience, where he controlled the sounds that were thrown our way. One of those close-your-eyes pieces, the sounds ran the gamut from frogs attacking the audience from all directions, to water sounds, storm and gale force winds. One of my favourite moments, featured a ball being sifted in a wooden cup. Because the piece was presented in surround sound (five speakers were strategically placed to make the best spatial use of the room), the listener got the sense of the ball as it swirled left, right and behind. No matter where one turned, there was that ball being tossed around. The spatial aspect was evident throughout and musique concrète was the order of the day, especially during the two “Homage to Schaeffer” pieces. It’s a good thing the theatre was well equipped with top-of-the-line speakers. Without these, many of the subtleties of the piece would have been washed out or simply made indistinct.

Following a short break, Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk entered the stage. As someone who has a rich history in vocal music, leading and participating in bands such as Braaxtaal, Five Men Singing and Splinks, he has also collaborated with everyone from vocalist Maja Ratkje, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, punk maniacs The Ex and dozens of others. I’ve always found his style to be quite distinctive, though a few times that I’ve seen him live (most recently, a few years back with Five Men Singing), he struck me as someone who has a ton of humour to spare. This time around, he didn’t disappoint for a minute.
Jaap Blonk
Starting off with English translations of experimental Dutch texts, Blonk ran the gamut from revelatory to absolutely absurd. The twitching of his mouth and the weird shapes his cheeks took on said it all. This was a guy on a mission. At one point, he announced he would do his imitation of a be-bop band. Sure enough, he imitated every single one of the instruments in a jazz quintet — trumpet, sax, bass, percussion and even trombone. It was all so real, yet so much infused with a sense of irrational humour; one couldn’t help but laugh out loud. My favourite piece was his “Solo for Cheek Synthesizer”. As the vocalist announced, there’s one instrument that not many of us use past grade school stage. He was of course referring to the cheek. In popping his cheeks and making fart-like, chortling noises, Blonk was a furious train speeding down the tracks. There was no stopping his fury, or his innovative machinations. In going from funny to the purely absurd, he was making a true connection with the audience. The icing on the cake was the final piece, “Full Circle”. While Blonk made obtuse noises with his voice — guffaws, plops, screams, shronks — Minard was busy processing his partner’s vocal output. Before Blonk was finished a particular phrase, Minard would process it and throw it back to Blonk in the most perplexing fashion. As the minutes went by, Blonk found himself singing a duet with a version of himself from a few minutes ago.

In a nutshell, this was a superb performance, highlighting the spectral possibilities of both human vocal chords and one’s power of imagination.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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