Toronto’s 40-year-old centre for creative music returns to former HQ
Words and photo by Tom Beedham
The Music Gallery is taking a field trip. Heading west of its current base at St. George the Martyr Church on John Street, on March 19, the Toronto centre for promoting and presenting innovation and experimentation in all forms of music joins Long Winter to co-curate its final flagship event of its 2015/’16 season at the Great Hall. That also means going home.
Founded in 1976, the Music Gallery spent much of its second decade at the Great Hall, operating out of the space now serving as the venue’s Black Box theatre from 1984 to 1991. Currently celebrating its 40-year anniversary, the MG has spent much its ongoing programming season looking back on its history through examining the many roles it has played over the years, partly in an effort to tease out a strategy for its next decade.
“Much energy has been spent discussing how best to use what I call our ‘institutional privilege’ of having public funding and an established presence in Toronto,” says MG Artistic Director David Dacks. “How do we make this work for contemporary artists? How can we define and thrive in the current musical scene for experimentation (of which Long Winter is a major presence!)? And, as always, how can ‘Toronto's Centre for Creative Music’ look and feel like Toronto’s extreme diversity in every sense?”
For Dacks, answering these questions often involves partnering with other presenting bodies and taking events off-site to connect with new communities and share resources.
“Often these spaces have their own built-in crowds so it’s good to go where they are,” says Dacks. “Long Winter, like our programming at Harbourfront or AGO First Thursdays, is more about participating in something really big of which we are acting supportively, not in an organizational capacity. Sometimes you make things happen, sometimes you want to support other things that are happening.”
In line with the Music Gallery’s current MO, for its collaboration with Long Winter, Dacks has assembled a lineup of acts that’s also a quick survey of the many generations that have been touched by the MG over its four decades. That means Allison Cameron, Germaine Liu and Nicole Rampersaud’s noise improv vehicle c_RL, Ed Hanley and Jonathan Adjemian’s tabla and electronics project, Phrase Velocity, and Toronto’s longest-running free-improv orchestra, CCMC, will all appear at LW on March 19, but it’s a particularly significant event for the latter.
Original CCMC members Peter Anson and Al Mattes founded the venue in 1976 as a multi-purpose space that musicians could access to play, record, and learn about improvised music (amongst other things), then going on to serve as artistic directors at its original location at 30 St. Patrick St. and through its early years at the Great Hall until leaving in 1987 (Mattes left in 1980), often performing there with the CCMC on Tuesdays. But the CCMC are still a part of the Music Gallery’s legal, incorporated name (in a pre-recorded clip presented at a panel discussion between past and present MG artistic directors at the MG’s 10th annual X Avant festival this past October, Mattes revealed the CCMC attached their name to the gallery so they could apply for Canada Council grant money as the “Canadian Creative Music Collective Music Gallery”), and they still check in to play a gig here and there.
The only remaining original member in the group’s current lineup is Michael Snow, but on March 19, they’ll perform with a special expanded lineup encompassing what Dacks promises to be “pretty much the complete surviving past and present incarnation of the band” – the Long Winter event will see current CCMC members Paul Dutton, John Kamevaar, John Oswald, and Snow play alongside original members Anson, Mattes, Nobuo Kubota, and Casey Sokol.
According to Dacks, this was all in the works for X Avant, but when schedules prevented that from happening and the opportunity to co-curate Long Winter presented itself, the conversation got picked up again.
“They were the first group I thought of when curating our portion of the show,” Dacks reflects. “Not sure when they all got together previously, but this is pretty historic.”
It’s a full blown homecoming, for sure, but as Dacks points out, the scale will be dramatically removed from the weekly sets the group played throughout the MG’s time in the space from the mid-’80s through the early ’90s.
“I don't think CCMC have any idea what to expect! I've told them to expect a less sedate environment than the MG – and remember, they played the Great Hall on Tuesday nights for years to like five people in the audience – so I guess they'll have to improvise! But they're really looking forward to this, as am I.”
The Music Gallery co-presents CCMC, c_RL, and Phrase Velocity at Long Winter March 19 at the Great Hall. Brief Q&A with Music Gallery Artistic Director David Dacks below:
Long Winter: What are some of the questions you’ve been thinking about as you’ve been exploring the MG’s legacy this season?
David Dacks: We've been examining both the continuous history of the MG as well as specific topics. Our narrative doesn't exist in one place, there are gaps that we've tried to fill in with the Artistic Directors Panel during X Avant and a timeline that is accompanying our soon-to-be public strategic plan, some of which was formulated during our Town Hall event during the festival too. Our strategic plan will cover the next several years and history/legacy will be a key part of if – examining our past to derive ideas for the future. We've examined our connection with Musicworks Magazine, remounted premieres and commissioned works, booked prominent artists from our history (CCMC, Lori Freedman, Trichy Sankaran) scanned and made public many of our archives and our season finale will be a live remix of our archives and reputation (to some extent). But we always look forward too and much energy has been spent discussing how best to use what I call our “institutional privilege" of having public funding and an established presence in Toronto. How do we make this work for contemporary artists? How can we define and thrive in the current musical scene for experimentation (of which Long Winter is a major presence!)? And, as always, how can "Toronto's Centre for creative music" look and feel like Toronto's extreme diversity in every sense?
How does this event fit in with other MG collaborations like the Departures series? Can you talk about the role off-site events play in what the MG does?
We collaborate quite a bit with organizations large and small and when we go off site from the church we're looking to take advantage of situations which have a different feeling than our church. So putting on a show at Ratio or the Jam Factory which allows for beer drinking during shows, feels a lot different. Often these spaces have their own built-in crowds so it’s good to go where they are. Plus, eventually we will move from the Church as we have moved 3 other times in the past so it's best not to have our identity totally bound up in one building. LW, like our programming at Harbourfront or AGO First Thursdays, is more about participating in something really big of which we are acting supportively, not in an organizational capacity. Sometimes you make things happen, sometimes you want to support other things that are happening.
The CCMC’s lineup has obviously changed a lot over the course of its existence. Any idea how they feel about returning to the CCMC and playing for the LW crowd? How do YOU feel about it?
I don't think CCMC have any idea what to expect! I've told them to expect a less sedate environment than the MG – and remember, they played the Great Hall on Tuesday nights for years to like five people in the audience – so I guess they'll have to improvise! But they're really looking forward to this, as am I. They were the first group I thought of when curating our portion of the show. We tried to get this expanded lineup together for the X Avant fest so it was great to have another (successful) [opportunity] to do so. The players will be pretty much the complete surviving past and present incarnation of the band: Peter Anson, Al Mattes (original Artistic Directors of the MG), Michael Snow, Nobuo Kubota, John Oswald, Paul Dutton, John Kamevaar and Casey Sokol. Not sure when they all got together previously but this is pretty historic.