The only day I really explored POP Montreal was Saturday. Taking a cue from festivals like Canadian Music Week, North by Northeast, and a Montreal visit from the Future of Music Coalition a couple of years back, there was a Symposium element to this year's festival. I unfortunately missed the international festival panel, and Andy Williams' two-hour interview with Irma Thomas earlier in the week.
The day began with the Film Score as Genre panel, featuring filmmakers Jem Cohen (Instrument) and Matt Silver (Who is KK Downey?), Mirror film critic Mark Slutsky, former McGill professor Jamshed Turell and Alicen Schneider from NBC Music Services. I was hoping for some shop-talk discussion about what makes the best film scores work, and why, and how filmmakers and composers interact. For the most part it was a more philosophical discussion of the role of music in film, and the requisite discussion of whether licensing one's music to film, television, or advertisements constitutes "selling out." Cohen stated that in his view, films should be able to function without music, and too often, there's more music than necessary in a film. That started a discussion of great films without music (or with very little music). I would have preferred to discuss what makes film music effective.
Following that was a history lesson with doo-wop masters the Persuasions, led by Nomadic Massive's Butta Beats. The elder statesmen of the Persuasions treated the crowd to snippets of various songs, all of them in fine voice, with Butta beatboxing to fine effect and the delight of the group. I missed their show at the Portuguese Association that night, which was stellar by all accounts. I'm glad I got a taste in the afternoon.
While waiting for the Improvising and Community panel to get started, I checked out a roundtable called the Herstory of Hip Hop, featuring reggae pioneer Sister Nancy with young guns Eternia and Tali (also of Nomadic Massive). Sister Nancy didn't seem very talkative, sticking to curt answers, and attempts to really get some cross-panel discussion seemed to flounder, everyone deferring to the woman who paved the way for all female MCs (DJ in Jamaican parlance).
The Improvising and Community panel featured some of the usual suspects: the always intriguing Matana, McGill's Eric Lewis, painter/drummer John Heward, Suoni's Peter Burton, and a couple of new faces to me in percussionist/electronics manipulator Lisa Gamble, and cellist and moderator Mark Molnar. The usual topics of dealing with the jazz tradition, ego in improvising, the role and treatment of the audience, etc arose, but I always find such panels make me re-evaluate my stance on the music. I'll deal with that in another post.
Having missed his last large ensemble outing at this year's Suoni, I checked out Sam Shalabi's POP-commissioned suite, Symbols of Egyptian Light Spectrum at the Masonic Temple. Performed by a very large ensemble with reeds, strings, keyboards, two bassists, multiple percussionists, and a cast of 6 singers, led by Shalabi's oud and laptop, the hour-long piece melded North African motifs with slamming rock drums, brilliant free exchanges featuring baritone saxophonist Jason Sharp and violinist Josh Zubot among others, a litany of vocal techniques from operatic caterwauling to tender folk singing (courtesy of our own redheaded siren, Katie Moore), and the computerized robot voice spewing dirty pillow talk. An epic piece, to be sure, and while it took me a while to get into it, Shalabi and friends won me over in the end. In the dark room on the top floor of the temple, with low-lit Masonic artifacts adoring the room, the piece took on Easily one of the best concerts of the year.