Review from the Timepoint Party by Lyon Beckers

The Timepoint Ensemble keeps performing, so I keep leaving the house to go see them, and writing is a dying industry, so I might as well get more involved in it by doing another Timepoint review. This time around, it’s for the Timepoint Party, a joint gig with members of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra that was hosted in the basement of Commonwealth.

The casual environment of the venue was nice. Performers were not separated from the audience by a stage, instead playing directly on the floor. The audience moved around freely, some conversing, listening, and ordering drinks from the bar. It really put into the question the necessity of the usual pretensions of a classical music performance, where the audience sits in somber silence while the ensemble performs. You might still go to a performance by the CPO with someone, but it’s still a relatively asocial experience compared to a set in a bar, where you won’t get frowns and glares for making a comment about the music to your friend.

Timepoint performed a set of impressively complex music, giving justice to their name, executing constantly shifting rhythmic motives and time signatures, mostly featuring works by Ted Hearne. The evening began with 23 by Hearne, and Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich. Both pieces pull you in and out of a dream-like state, developing subtly through repetition. Maybe it was the beer, or maybe it was the hypnotic quality of minimalism, but the first half of the concert definitely left me with a nice light buzz.

In-between halves, members of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra formed a quartet and took the stage (so to speak) to perform some harmonic and temporal twists on some tunes by Ornette Coleman, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and something they apparently made up on the spot. As the night wore on, more and more people began to trickle in from upstairs, which was actually pretty nice because I think most of the newcomers were at least curious enough about the music to still give it a listen. You can do some pretty crazy things with jazz tunes, but ultimately I think the average listener is still going to be able to make out a general song structure and still be able to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, when the concert resumed with a combined ensemble of CJO members and Timepoint, the crowd had grown far too large and loud to enjoy the concert from where I was sitting, so I had to move closer. Ironically, the venue served as a cruel reminder as to why we can’t have nice things, and made me reflect once more on the pretentious conventions of a classical music performance as I struggled to hear much even from my new position directly in front of the band.

The idea of taking a more casual approach to live music performances isn’t something I think should be discarded because of one bad experience; I’m sure a happy medium can be achieved. In a similar venue, a concert attended mostly by people who were actually there to hear the music would have done well, but I think as more of the general public came down, it was harder to manage. Who knows, maybe with more amplification, ensembles could just play over the noise and subject a rowdy crowd to music they wouldn’t have otherwise listened to, potentially developing a new interest.

But let’s be real, most people just go out looking to fuck.

Review from Sound of Silence by Jonathan Gresl

Timepoint Ensemble: Sound of Silence

October 22, 2016 @ Calgary Public Library Central branch Dutton Theatre

The Timepoint Ensemble has already shown ambition in short life by bringing their music everywhere they can, including, bars, art galleries, and schools, in addition to the more usual classical music haunts. After playing the Mount Royal Conservatory last month, the enterprising group shows up downtown for a show combining music and film.

            Any show at the current iteration of the CPL was not going to be big on glamour, and this was no exception. The rudimentary lighting made the opening and ending of show less then slick, a situation slightly exacerbated by the choice of throwing the crowd into the action without any commentary or introduction to the experience. There wasn’t even a moment to introduce the performers in this expanded version of the ensemble, which included several busy Calgary freelances.

            However, the experienced music lovers in the crowd (I overheard complaints in the lobby about the delay in the Land’s End Ensemble season) probably didn’t care about any of that. They were here to experience some interesting new out of the way music, and the crackerjack players of Timepoint didn’t disappoint.

            The audience was treated to three very different experiences in this hour long show. The first was Cypriot/Dutch composer Yannis Kyriakides’s work The Arrest. To call this a ‘film’ is a bit of a stretch, as it consists entirely of white text on a black screen. Kyriakides, who has an interest in combining electronic and acoustic sounds in his work, has created a dozen of these multimedia experiences, and this one is surprisingly gripping. The ensemble, augmented by electronics, and sound effects (like a dog barking) doesn’t always mark every new sentence, but it does comment on the action at key points. (The performance had to be carefully synced to the film, which for the most part, worked precisely.) The story, a somewhat fantastical rendition of someone who is seemingly about to be arrested by a tyrannical regime, took some concentration on the part of the audience to follow. The bit that connected the word “copulate” and “cop” really took the many by surprise. It is an example of the intense wordplay of the author, experimental French writer of the 60s & 70s, George Perec. (He once infamously wrote a whole novel without the letter e.)

            The second work was easiest to swallow, but even this was not too sugary. The Gift, a film festival darling, is easy to like, with its faux simple drawing style of its protagonists and its story about love found, and lost.  The gift refers to giving love to another, represented here by a blue dot taken out of the chest of the man. Despite a funny breakup, and the later despair, we still have a happy ending. The music continues through the credits for a reason, however, and the viola joke at the conclusion announces things might not be as harmonious as they seem.

            The last piece, was the longest and most interesting of the three. Presented in three short episodes, Odboy and Erordog is a phantasmagoria of childlike hand drawn characters, old computer text, and scrolling gameplay that feels like an old black and white film being beamed down to an analog antenna from outer space. Anyone who appreciates the aesthetics of 1980s video games, either green screen glowing text based ones, or early scrolling based adventure games will be immediately attracted to this, and Marcus Fjelleström has emphasized the dark, brooding mood by his minimalist black and white presentation. Our heroes undertake quests to do certain actions by a mysterious figure, much as in this early games, and these episodes play like a meditation on childhood fantasies and nightmares, The sequence where Erordog rides a balloon into space is probably the most traditional sort of music in the show, giving the evening’s final moments an almost Danny Elfman / Tim Burton sort of vibe.

            It is not really a criticism to suggest that a performance of the music without the visual element probably wouldn’t hold too much interest, all three composers specifically thought about how to connect their music with the visuals, and all have form working with combining electronic and acoustic musical materials.

            If you were really paying attention to the musical performances, you noticed that they were very good. Occasionally, especially during The Arrest I felt a little lag between the action on screen and the music coming from the ensemble. The trickier problem, at least to my ears, was the question of balance. In the first work, the electronic portion of the music, coupled with an often very busy (but expertly played) marimba part, meant the other instruments were at a disadvantage, especially the violin and bass.  I also found the high level of the sound during the final work to be a bit much, especially since much of it was static or bursts of white noise (accompanied on screen by flickers and distortions on screen, to give a kind of old-time “analog transmission” effect.)

            Overall, this performance was an intriguing (if short) multimedia experience. I would not be surprised if this sort of performance became a regular part of Timepoint’s future seasons.


Review from Sound of Silence by Lyon Beckers

Nothing gets me out of the house quite like a new music concert, and I can back this up with statistics because Timepoint Ensemble’s Sound of Silence is actually the only thing I’ve managed to drag myself out of the house for in months. And I didn’t even wind up regretting it!     

Sound of Silence featured an eclectic performance of sound and film where each piece was uniquely varied. The first piece, The Arrest by Yannis Kryiakides featured a purely typographical animation of a text written by George Perec, where he describes a tense dream about evading the police. The music as performed by the Timepoint Ensemble provided an engaging experience as the narrator describes his predicament through flashing text, blending drama with tongue-in-cheek humor (sparking at least one laughing outburst from the audience) all while the ensemble expresses the emotional affect. 

Up next was The Gift, a film by Julio Pot and scored by Gabriel Mălăncioiu, presenting an animation in a more conventional sense, with a narrative guided by silent characters in a cartoon. Illustrator’s pen and composer’s quill become one as lines are drawn to the tune of lilting melodic phrases. Make no mistake, the instrumentalists do not provide a tune to serve as background music to a narrative, but become actors in the presentation of the action, moving synchronously with the characters and scenes (though not literally). 

Finally, the evening ends with Oddboy and Errdog by Marcus Fjellström, an eerie little film which combines both animation approaches, blending typography with character animation. The narrative is driven like a video game, with the protagonists’ objectives laid out beforehand, most action played out like in a side-scrolling game, and dialogue presented in animated text. The introduction even makes a nod to Castlevania 2, referencing the phrase “What a horrible night to have a curse”, stating “what a horrible night to hear a knock on the door”, before also presenting a laid out map of the hospital the protagonists would be traveling through, just like a mansion a player might travel through in Castlevania (again, I don’t get out much). The music is also approached much like the sound design in a video game, where electronics provide diegetic sound such as the ambient noises of the hospital (and the aforementioned knock on the door), while the instrumentalists provide the non-diegetic sound, such as background music.

The Timepoint Ensemble’s commitment to the medium of silent film is apparent in the way they programmed this concert, demonstrating the different ways artists can approach the art-form, and illuminating newcomers like me that there’s more to it than just Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. The Sound of Silence was programmed cleverly and executed fantastically.
Also I bought some cool buttons while I was there. So that was cool.


Review from Popping Pills. By Alysha Bulmer

Nearly two weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to an evening of music with
Timepoint Ensemble. Neither of us had experienced an entire evening of contemporary
music and Popping Pills certainly could not have been a brighter introduction. We
thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and thought the stage at Commonwealth was a perfect fit
for the performance. Advanced techniques combined with compositional creativity
made for some very interesting and entertaining music. Truly, nobody would have been
able to tell if there were a missed note or forgotten rest as all of the music seemed to
follow a stream-of- consciousness form of composition. My 2 favorite pieces were
“Respiration” and “Le Fusain Fuit la Gomme”. Read on to share our musical experience
with Timepoint Ensemble!

I likened “Grimace” by Lionel Ginoux to Ian Clark’s “Icicles” as it’s the closest piece I
can relate it to with the alternate and open fingerings. It called for percussive tonguing
and the sounds from Holly’s mouth were like a bottle being opened. “B-SH- K”. With
brief moments of clarity in an ever changing meter, the sheet music was spread over 3
music stands and withstood the power of her air. The coins falling into the tip jar
surrounding the bar sounded as if they belonged in the music.

“Solecism” by Pierre-Henri Wicomb sounded futuristic and reminded me of the
soundtrack to Blade Runner. Mat’s mismatched shoelaces fit the dystopia as he bent
notes in and out of tune, and in and out of creative reality. It was hard to follow, but
there must have been some direction as he was keeping time with the electronic
soundtrack. There were no limits to manipulation in air and technique. This piece was
challenging in the sense that it stretched my understanding of performance proficiency
and good practice. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite.

“The Future of a Curve” by Laurie Radford featured a synthesizer ostinato and more
alternate fingerings for the saxophone. A pulse was created; texture and depth were
built by the harmonics and synthesizer’s string-like effect. Ascending and pulsing, the
curve reached its arch, and then in a distorted flutter tongue; descended. Tumbling
down over and past the axis, the saxophone recovers and eventually the electronic
music adds a clarinet to the strings and the pulse of the piece returns. The baritone’s
range is featured, and the circular motion can be felt in breath and direction.

My very favorite piece was “Respiration” by Andy Costello. It included the whole
ensemble and showcased wind players’ (am I alone in this?) contempt for pianists.
Even before the players started huffing and puffing, I was already thinking “curse the
pianist” and when the other players began speaking breathily “the pianist breaths
whenever he wants” I knew that my feelings were on track! My hatred for all of the
instruments capable of breathing mostly whenever they’d like grew when I saw
Nathaniel checking his nails, sitting back, relaxing... Each instrument takes a turn
showing the exaggerated athleticism to their instrument; sustaining notes, counting,
watching their neighbour etc until the piano has had enough and shouts, “Shut up!
Everyone just shut up!” only for the winds to return to the same huffing and puffing.

“Locus” by Paul Newland was memorable. I heard many people in the audience liken
the title to locusts of the biblical variety, where in fact a locus is a point in time or an
object in place. Was the locus the water bottle in the saxophone? Or was it the bee –
the humming coming from the flute? Towards the end, I was looking around trying to
locate the source of a whistle. I finally figured out that JiaJia was whistling into the flute!
Ironically, Nathaniel looked bored throughout this piece, but glared defensively when a
coin dropped into the tip jar too loudly – pianists are fierce friends indeed.

“Le Fusain Fuit la Gomme” by Marie-Helene Fournier. Bryan, my husband, made an
interesting observation: the piece was written in 1999 and reminded me of the frantic
anxiety surrounding Y2K. Similarly, this piece could be used to illustrate Je suis
Charlie tragedy in France. The listener may observe the shaky line drawn over the
page. The sound gradually gains confidence and an almost lyrical progression emerges
showing the range of the baritone, but doesn’t last because the eraser follows with an
urgent, monotonous rhythm like a dirge. I might be wrong, but I’m fairly certain circle
breathing or another amazing technique that carried the sound longer than Holly’s
visible breathe. The rhythm builds urgency until the eraser catches up to the pencil.
Overblown harmonics sounds like a train and the eraser must have caught up! Is it the
end of the pencil! No! The pencil will fight and indeed the piece repeats! Then a
relaxed embouchure creates a whoosh of air that sounds like the blowing of the eraser
pieces from the paper. The rhythm returns softly and the piece ends. There were other
impressive techniques that I can only describe as “smacks on the mouthpiece”, but I
loved this one for the story I could follow.

The horn piece “Not I” by Arthur Kampela is sure to cause a seizure and should come
with a warning. I knew to expect a light, but did not think it would angled towards the
audience. It begins with buzzing into the mouthpiece and that’s all I can say about how
to describe this piece because save for high school band, I haven’t heard anything like
it. The disjunct and confusing recitation smattered throughout the piece could never
keep up with the light. This piece is an all encompassing experience and I was certainly
uncomfortable. Well done.

In each piece, Timepoint Ensemble’s commitment to their personal performance,
practice and the players’ commitment to their instruments was unequivocally evident.
Each piece held its own dramatic tension that each performer conveyed expertly to the
audience. We should be a grateful audience to the musicians who put themselves in a
place of creative vulnerability in order for us to have these experiences. Well done!