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Dwellers on the threshold: Celebrating experimental sounds in Ottawa

By Paul Hockett on October 23, 2012

Excoriating and exhilarating highs; deep, sympathetically-vibrating lows; glitches, hums and fuzz; reverberations, reverberations, reverberations; unconventional song structures, complex time-signatures, drones, repetitive beats, looping beats, mathematical beats, lazy beats, 808 snare, snare, snare; circuit-bending, mind-melding, distortions in the space-time continuum; analogue electronics, laptops, tapes, guitar, cello, saxophone, weirding module, squeeze-box; beer, beer, smoked meat sandwich.*

* Some hastily formed impressions from the last two weeks at Experimental Music Wednesdays at Pressed Cafe.

It’s a good time to be in Ottawa if you want to turn an ear to something interesting.  Really interesting. Really, really interesting.  If you like pop, then this may not be your thing, otherwise there are at least two great music series which are well worth exploring.

Firstly, the aforementioned Experimental Music Wednesdays on, er, Wednesdays at Pressed Cafe – the place to be if you like your experimental music with an electronic flavour, although that’s not to say that regular instruments aren’t welcome.  The line-up has already included a stellar cello and electronics piece from Mark Molnar two weeks back, and with Linsey Wellman on the bill this week, this is also a great series for exciting cross-over contemporary instrumental work.  Straight-up, mashed-up and messed-up electronics was the feature last week, with a tremendously analogue set from Gary Franks and Alex Maltby, including a squeeze-box dressed as some kind of Cronenbergian organism, followed by synths, circuit-bending and VJing from the duo raas, who continued the Cronenberg theme (well, for me at least) with the production of sounds and visuals via the squeezing and caressing of what appeared to be a bunch of patched-together wires, and took the house down with reverberating 8-bit bass fuzz.  Beautiful.

Secondly, the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) music series, with leanings more towards the jazz and improv worlds and – typically but not always – less electronics. Usually twice monthly on a Sunday evening at Umi Café, you can check their website for full details.  IMOO have just celebrated their one-year anniversary, had the first IMOOfest (which took off at Club SAW a couple of weeks ago), and are enjoying a general feeling of well-being for the burgeoning experimental scene in Ottawa.  In fact, you might find many of the musicians from Experimental Wednesdays playing at IMOO, sometimes with similar work, sometimes with something totally different for a lazy Sunday.  And, to top it all, they often draw out-of-town acts, including international artists such as Norway’s Huntsville, just to prove that Ottawa is really starting to appear on the experimental music map.