City Guides » Fall Arts Preview

Fall arts preview: October 2006

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Written by Sue Carter Flinn, Johnston Farrow, Sean Flinn, Carsten Knox, Lis van Berkel.

Halifax Pop Explosion

The fall in Halifax is synonymous with busting out scarves, wearing long sleeves and experiencing exciting concerts. The biggest annual alternative music festival in Halifax returns with another amazing line-up of rock, hip-hop, folk and experimental acts, set to hit stages across Metro this fall. The Halifax Pop Explosion celebrates its 12th edition from October 17 to 21.

“It’s the only festival in Halifax that focuses on new and youth-oriented music,” talent director Ben Pearlman says. “There’s no other festival in this community that does something like this on that scale. There’s such a large youth and student population in this city, which has allowed us to have such a strong music line-up.”

Started by local scenesters Peter Rowan and Greg Clark, in what many consider a golden age of Halifax indie rock, the Pop Explosion has featured some of most revered music acts during its time span since the early ’90s, including Stereolab, Sloan, Elliot Smith, Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire. Festival organizers plan to have more than 100 acts this year with bigger acts being k-os, The Weakerthans, Pony Up!, Memphis and Cadence Weapon.

Of course, the Pop Explosion remains true to local music. The festival offers several showcases for east coast artists to play in front of a plethora of execs who fly in from around the country and from the United States to be here. This year offers an especially strong contingent of local talent.

“It always depends on what’s going on in the city and I think it’s sort of a reflection of the strong level of the scene that’s going on right now,” Pearlman says. “And the extra shows that we’re doing mean more clubs and more nights, so that translates into more local bands. It’s also going to include some of the bigger local acts that haven’t played a lot here in the last few years, like Wintersleep and Joel Plaskett.” (JF)

October 17-21. Various locations around town. www.halifaxpopexplosion.com

Henri Faberge and the Adorables

Halifax catches Henri Faberge and the Adorables at the perfect moment. The gang of indie rockers is fresh from releasing their self-titled debut full-length, which they celebrated in front of 400 people during an all-day event in Toronto. The group followed that up with an appearance on MTV Live. They’ll hit Stage Nine on October 27, along with The Sweet Tenders.

“I think the energy of the band is incredible right now,” says Faberge, the songwriter in the band. “For us to do two events that we normally don’t do, it’s awesome.”

The Adorables started one-and-a-half-years ago. Since then, the group has had a revolving set of musicians gracing the band’s stages, with as many as 14 members playing on any given night. For the most part, there are always six members at every show. Bandmates also moonlight in several acclaimed Toronto-based bands such as The Bicycles, The Hidden Cameras and Final Fantasy. But Faberge refuses to be classified as part of the recent T-Dot indie-pop renaissance.

“Toronto being the best place in Canada right now for music is a total farce if you ask me,” he says. “That idea was started by a few bands that want to seem bigger than they actually are. I think Toronto is trying to figure out what it is. More bands are mingling more on an acquaintance level.”

As for his band, the sound recalls the indie tween-pop of Belle and Sebastian, a touch of the psychedelic sixties and The Flaming Lips. The Adorables’ live show is notorious for its debauchery and willingness to experiment. In one show, every member wore marching-band outfits before the concept was retired.

“I can’t do the band any justice when it comes to talking about our live show,” Faberge boasts. “However, it’s my birthday, so take our regular show and times that by a million, or a trillion. We’re going to set Halifax on fire, or blow up a big ship.” (JF)

October 27. Stage Nine, 1567 Grafton. www.myspace.com/hfab

Joel Plaskett and Symphony Nova Scotia at Rebecca Cohn

Not happy with simply being one of the most popular rock singers on the east coast, Joel Plaskett will bring a little melodrama into his life. Actually, Plaskett is completely happy with his career, but he’s looking forward to playing his signature acoustic guitar-based rock songs with Symphony Nova Scotia as part of their Maritime Pops program on October 20.

“I’m going to have to see if there is a way to bring the humour to it a bit,” said Plaskett from his Dartmouth home. “I like drama, but I guess I don’t do melodrama all that well. I want to do a few things that people wouldn’t expect.”

Plaskett follows Matt Mays and Gordie Sampson as Nova Scotia artists who have performed their material with Symphony Nova Scotia. The show itself presents a twist for the singer-songwriter as they must choose a selection of their tunes that work with an orchestra, without sounding like a bad Nickelback song.

“You don’t want to go into total Meatloaf territory.’” Plaskett concurs. “They asked me if I wanted to do it and it sounded like something I’d never done before and I’m always up for a challenge. And that’s what it is: It’s a challenge to see how some of these songs translate with the symphony.”

He’ll only get two rehearsals with the orchestra before the show, a total of four hours to make his material translate from arrangements charted by Heavy Blinkers mastermind Dave Christensen. A different sort of show for fans, there will be regular Plaskett songs, a few with his father and around seven to eight songs with the symphony backing him.

“I can’t get up there and say, ‘Gee, let’s jam,’” he says about the structured, sheet-reading format. “In a way, I have to reel myself in, because I’ll take a lot of liberties with my songs sometimes, stretch out verses and talk a little bit. But it’s not like I can be like, ‘And I’d like to introduce to you the player on trombone!’” (JF)

October 20. 8pm. $29-$45. Rebecca Cohn, 6101 University. 494-3820. www.joelplaskett.com www.symphonynovascotia.ca

DJ Olympics

Once a year, the underground resurfaces in one of the most anticipated events in Halifax. The DJ Olympics, AKA DJOs, are a yearly cultural event, bringing the best and brightest musicians and performers who spend most of their time perfecting their respective crafts in the company of friends, in their bedroom, or at smaller bar shows. From October 11 to 14, they’ll come together to compete for gold, silver and bronze medals and claim a spot as a local champion in front of hundreds of people.

“We have winners that are coming back from last year and we have others fired up since last year, trying to knock them off,” says DJO co-promoter Sammy Davis. “It’s something they look forward to.”

Categories in DJ competitions include house, techno, trance, breaks, drum and bass, and hip-hop. Other categories are for emcees, breakdancers and beatboxing. Some of the most acclaimed acts in Halifax music history got a boost to their careers from appearances at the DJOs, including Buck 65, Skratch Bastid and Sixtoo. This is the ninth year the event has taken place.

Each category features an elimination round before culminating in a final round before a packed Marquee Club crowd, in front of the largest audiences many of the competitors have ever played to. Many gold medals are up for grabs this year, but especially in the emcee category after the DJOs retired Phakt, who took top spot three years in a row.

“I think it’s been very successful because it’s a community-based event,” says co-promoter Chris Toms. “People don’t just come to check out the music, they come to check out the DJs they support. I also think it’s the fact that we’ve had great involvement with people who are part of the scenes. They want to be a part of it and when people get up on stage, it’s everyone cheering for everyone.” (JF)

October 11-14. Various locations around town.

Juan de Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars at Cunard Event Centre

This is a coup for all of Halifax’s musical community, both fans and players. The Afro-Cuban All Stars participated in the legendary Buena Vista Social Club album and sessions. Their 1997 album, A Toda Le Cuba Gusta, reportedly came out of that affiliation. Many listeners may also know and love the 1999 record, Distinto Diferente, with the cigar-chomping, chicly dressed old gentleman on the cover. Add to that the excellent albums that Juan de Marcos, a former drummer for another amazing Cuban group, Sierra Maestra, who leads the current All Stars lineup, and you know the quality’s going to be high.

The membership has fluctuated, as with any super-group. At various times the All Stars have had the likes of acoustic bass player Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, the late and lamented vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, who passed away last year, and another lost great, pianist Rubán González. Carrying on tradition, no matter the line-up, is important for music from around the world. The legacy of the music rises above the identity of the players. Go to the show to immerse and rejoice in mambo, cha cha, salsa, rumba, son montuno, timba, guajira, danzón, abakuá, and bolero—virtually all the major forms of Latin music that reside in that tiny island nation.

Jazz East organizers should be commended too, as they continue to make Halifax a home to excellent musicianship from various artistic and geographical points in Latin American tradition. At this past summer’s Atlantic Jazz Festival, Celso Machado and Aurelio Martinez played a memorable double bill.

The world continues to recognize and share music from countries big and, especially, small. Another example would be the Atlantic Film Festival’s screening of the movie about the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, a collective hailing from the West African nation we so often hear about only in terms of its strife. Thanks to Halifax’s jazz and film minds, this city continues to be part of this important exchange. (SF)

October 27. 8pm. $35-$40. Cunard Event Centre at Pier 23. 492-2225. www.jazzeast.com

Lani Maestro atDalhousie Art Gallery

There’s a certain note of smug certainty in subjectivity. Think about it: subjectivity is the sum of our perceptions, our versions of events, reality, people and things. We think we know, don’t we? Oh, but we don’t know. And, arguably, it’s good to be reminded that we don’t know.

Along comes an artist like Lani Maestro to deliver the message, “Stop being so smug and settled in your certainty, your absolutes.” Subjectivity, it seems, has turned into a kind of absolutism. The Dalhousie Art Gallery presents a series of new works by the internationally acclaimed Montreal artist called Sing Mother (Twilight Eats You), along with an earlier and noted work called “i want! i want! i want!” Using text rendered in watercolour, sound, projections and objects in her installations, Maestro questions the nature of language, drawing and the feminine. She’s written that her work explores “the crevices between sensuality/violence and that space of otherness/unknowing.”

Those are normally crevices—more like gaps—that we’re happy to leave unexplored. Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and shine a light down there. Language evolves and remains problematic. It can edify some while knocking down others. Language is an instrument, a blunt one or a tool of refinement and advancement. How and why we use language, like art, are questions Maestro provides answers to in this show. She applies the same rigorous questioning to drawing: Why draw? Why create art? Artists create interesting and beautiful things to look at, but they also engage with a meaning, sometimes the very meaning of their creative act.

In a perfect match, Montreal poet Erin Moure writes the catalogue text and will come to the Dalhousie Art Gallery for the opening, a night which promises to shake you up and awake—a very desirable thing as the winter approaches and we all get set to cocoon. (SF)

October 19-November 26, opening reception October 19 at 8pm. Free. Dalhousie Art Gallery, 6101 University. 494-2403. www.artgallery.dal.ca

Michael Waterman at Khyber Centre for the Arts

Guelph artist Michael Waterman premieres his sound installation Tracks at the Khyber this fall. When you walk into the Ballroom Gallery, your physical motion—your presence —triggers tracks one and two, followed by a series of mechanized actions which lead to tracks three and four playing. This is not a matter of a motion sensor triggering a sound, a two-step motion. It’s dynamic. Every step in the process causes different effects.

“When the Khyber Selection Committee first saw Waterman’s work, we were all taken by his ability to make his sound sculptures and collages come to life,” recalls Khyber director Jodi McLaughlin. “Although mechanical, they appear to be living, breathing organisms.”

Indeed, Waterman creates responsive machines and mechanized processes meant to bestow thoughtful, meditative states. Besides the abstracted sounds, there’s a great play of light on walls and other surfaces, as well as movement to consider and enjoy in Tracks. A self-contained installation, it will provide a dramatic and provocative presence in the gallery.

Waterman’s materials alone include small motors, Plexiglas, LED lights and PVC tubes, a baby monitor and more. He brings them all himself. “We fully expect the installation to be time-consuming, but well worth the effort,” McLaughlin says. “Our new programming director, Krista Davis, is already recruiting volunteers who have an interest in installing gallery exhibitions and sound componentry.”

The artist will come to Halifax for the installation process, according to McLaughlin, and will give lectures to select NSCAD classes. He’ll be meeting the many sound artists and experimental musicians in Halifax too, she says, as the Khyber is driven to bringing together communities around a common practice.

For anyone enchanted by machinery serving no purpose but to cause us to think and let our consciousness go a little—an important purpose—the Khyber will be a stop this fall. (SF)

October 23-November 24, opening reception October 23. Free. Khyber Centre for the Arts, 1588 Barrington. 422-9668. www.khyberarts.ns.ca

Pulse: Film & Painting After the Image at MSVU Gallery

Day-to-day life requires organization and categorization. We use these methods to get through complexities of life—to make life more convenient.

As often happens, people, objects, events and ideas break out of their boxes and confront us as new and strange. That’s OK. Don’t freak out. Breaking routine is good. You can have fun considering something out of its usual place.

This is the spirit underlying an upcoming show at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery. Pulse: Film and Painting After the Image brings together painters and filmmakers who share a similar artistic concern, despite our understanding of the differences in their media.

“Ideas that are shared among artists are adaptable to many different media,” MSVU gallery curator Ingrid Jenkner explains. “The premise of Pulse is that artists, such as painters and filmmakers, who explore the physical properties of their medium, frequently find themselves on aesthetic common ground.”

Experimental films and contemporary abstract paintings appear side by side in this exhibition. Viewers will see how the film frames and painted surfaces achieve the same thing: a distortion of what we see, and representations of our world. Put simply, the images mess with our minds, or the way our minds perceive and order the world around us into identifiable objects, patterns, stories. Thus the show becomes how we see the world. The world pulses with meaning. Are we sure that we’re getting it all down? Are we experiencing the world as fully as we could or should we so readily dismiss the visual culture around us as clutter?

The filmmakers (Christina Battle, Vincent Grenier, Emmanuel LeFrant, Rose Lowder and Fred Worden) and painters (Cora Cluett, Stephen Fisher, Nicole Collins, Angela Leach, Monica Tap and Shirley Wiitasalo) offer us the chance to slow down, take a longer look in this blink-of-an-eye world. The message is a good one: not so fast. (SF)

October 14-November 26. Opening reception October 15, 2-5pm. Free. Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Seton Academic Centre, 166 Bedford Highway. www.msvuart.ca

Canzine

The Halifax Pop Explosion Music Conference is more than about music. Canzine, the annual zine fair held in Toronto by the publication Broken Pencil, offers the first installment of Canzine East in conjunction with the Pop Explosion on October 21. The fair, held at Saint David’s Church Hall, includes a multitude of self-made publications, indie record label booths, opportunities to make an assortment of crafts, and chances to learn about various forms of independent media.

Broken Pencil is a pretty awesome indie culture magazine, so it’s nice to be working with those folks,” says Sarah Evans, Halifax Canzine coordinator. “I think they just heard good things about Halifax and wanted to be involved with what was happening.”

Metro Halifax is home to a thriving underground zine scene in which individual or groups of writers and/or artists produce homemade magazines, usually pamphlet-sized. Topics of zines run the gamut from comic book art to music and different types of literature. Indie publishers generally print a limited number of copies and sell them for a few dollars apiece.

“I think it’s somewhat of a confessional,” Evans, publisher of the zine Root, says of the practice. “It’s kind of putting yourself out there and either sharing stories of yourself or also sharing information you feel really passionate about. It’s a really accessible art form, I find. It’s something that’s pretty scrappy and fun and unprofessional.”

The zinefair has become one of the most popular events during the Pop Explosion. Band members come for information on how to further their career, attendees dabble in different topics such as independent filmmaking and screenprinting, and kids can make badges to wear. Strange Adventures and Eyelevel Gallery will also be selling their wares.

“I think it might be overwhelming, but it’s also exciting and inspiring,” Evans says. “I find when I teach zine workshops, people don’t know what to expect or what they are. The easiest way to explain something is to show people the huge array of things other people make.” (JF)

October 21. 1-7pm. $5 (includes latest copy of Broken Pencil). Saint David’s Church Hall, 1537 Brunswick. www.brokenpencil.com

John Terpstra

Hamilton poet and non-fiction writer John Terpstra reads from two books, the just-published collection of verse, Two or Three Guitars: Selected Poems and his memoir from last year, The Boys: Or Waiting for the Electrician’s Daughter, both published by Gaspereau Press.

The poems go back to his 1982 collection, Scrabbling for Repose. The poem of the same name appears in Two or Three Guitars. It turns out the poem is one of the seeds for The Boys, Terpstra’s groundbreaking memoir about his wife’s three extraordinary brothers —each had Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, but lived rich imaginative and spiritual lives. “That particular poem was one of the first things I wrote,” recalls Terpstra.

Terpstra’s sense of time and memory—how we record and process events, experiences and people over time—play a big role in his work. Before he writes, Terpstra remembers. That’s not to say he writes a linear narrative, or a report of past events.

“I couldn’t reconstruct it with what little I had from memory,” he says. It couldn’t be a straight narrative, he adds. “I didn’t have that kind of storytelling in me.” Plus he only knew the boys—Neil, Paul and Eric—for a short time. What he did retain from that brief relationship blossomed into a treatise on the nature of illness, family, the connection between mind, spirit and body, memory and story.

The written form, the style, of the book falls somewhere between poetry and prose.

“Prose is a utilitarian thing. It’s a way of looking at things,” Terpstra says.

In prose, he continues, you arrive at a conclusion or a resolution. In The Boys, “the conclusion is built in.” They lived a short, meaningful life before they died. Through his own contemplation, Terpstra finds and shares the wealth of meaning connected to those short lives. (SF)

October 19. 7pm. Free. Halifax Public Library, 7pm. 5381 Spring Garden.

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