'Split Mask' sound rehearsal with Christian Christian

Christian Christian (who is not particularly religious, Christian or otherwise) is a Toronto poet and musician. He keeps a fairly detailed blog at Facebook and I recently connected him to KJ Mullins of newz4u.net to re-post his poetry and music event reviews, which are detailed, clear and honest. Do take a look - no-one else is writing about poetry and music this way in Toronto. The Arts section of newz4u is developing, under KJ's care, into one of the best sites to discover what's happening and has been happening in this city. KJ lucked out with a writer who is doing exactly what she had wished for but didn't have time herself to do - detailed critical reviews of the vibrant poetry scene in Toronto.

Christian visited earlier this week and included the afternoon in one of his posts. A collaboration and a behind-the-scenes peek.

     I recently, in answering a general online call from Brenda Clews for critical suggestions on how to improve her performance piece, “Split Mask”, offered her the idea that certain types of non-musical background sounds might enhance the spoken piece. She responded that I was on to do it if I was into it, so we made several arrangements to get together to experiment in front of the video camera, all of which fell through because of cloudy weather. Finally we had a solid date on Monday at noon, so at 11:30 I packed up two guitars, a rain stick and a bag full of small noisy things and carried them on my bike to Brenda’s place.
     It’s always interesting for me to visit other people’s homes, because I so rarely get invited to do so. It also seemed very appropriate in this case, considering the theme of the project, that I step behind the mask of Brenda’s public life and visit the side that touches her face. She shares her home with an old, friendly dog, and a curious but cautious, playful cat. I think though that the three of them sub-let the place from Brenda’s artwork, which occupies over half of what I could see of the apartment. Her paintings and other creations are everywhere, so even when she’s not in the room, the space is bursting with Brenda.
     Brenda suggested that we have lunch first, so she sent me out to a local Lebanese place called Ghazi, near the Bloor Docs Cinema. At first I didn’t think it was open. The glass door was shut and I didn’t see a handle. Finally I realized that I had to push a button to open it. There were three women in headscarves cooking and serving behind the counter in the tiny take out place with no tables. One had her plain scarf loosely draped over her head, another held hers on with a baseball cap and the third had her colourful striped scarf tied in a stylish knot at the side.
     Back at Brenda’s, she made us coffee to go with lunch. Finally I meet someone else who can make a good strong cup of coffee at home.
     We decided not to shoot a video, but Brenda recorded my efforts to put sounds behind her creation. On the first run through I tried my rain stick, my Baoding balls, maracas, various sounds made by scraping the wound strings of my Epi guitar, and the crumbling and ripping of aluminum foil. All of the sounds showed promise as we listened to the playback, and the hearing gave me a better idea as to where and when to use each sound. The second try was much better and we both particularly liked the effect of ripping the foil. We only did one more run through to which we added Brenda’s small, out of tune harp. I would say that our second try worked best but the sound of the harp is definitely a keeper, I think particularly because of the out of tuneness of it. Its dissonance added a mournful yet etheric quality to the opening of the performance piece.
    When I say we did three rehearsals I should add that there was a lot of talking in between. The fact is that we probably only spent half an hour all together on the piece and about five hours chatting. This too was probably necessary in order to help us feel comfortable with working together for the first time.

I've included that rehearsal here so you can hear it if you wish. Christian and I will be performing 'Split Mask' at The CATWEASAL Club Friday evening, Aug. 29th: Catweazle is a night of intimate performances, musical and otherwise. There is no microphone, no PA system. Everyone piles together at the front for an up-close, participatory experience of artistic sharing and community building.

The 2nd recording Christian and I did of 'Split Mask,' which is closest to what we will do during our collaborative performance (me in my mask; he with an array of instruments and sound-making paraphernalia).


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