• Sarah Kwok

Nocturnal: Emergent Behaviour - may 16

Tempest Flute Ensemble

The Tempest Flute Ensemble presents Nocturnal: Emergent Behaviour at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on May 16. Read more about it below in my conversation with Mark McGregor where we discuss the meeting of science and art, finding connections between music and our surroundings, and our mutual love of Japanese pancakes.

Tell me about the upcoming show

So a few years ago I did a solo flute show at the Beaty Museum and I had pieces by various composers. Each piece was a reflection on one of the museum’s permanent collections (things like insects, mammals, and fossils). It ended up being a fun concert and the people at the Beaty Museum were really keen on collaborating again. We decided that we would have my flute ensemble, Tempest Flute Ensemble, come in and do a show and asked Canadian composers to each write a piece that was inspired by either the permanent collections or the visiting exhibits in the museum. Two of the pieces are special commissions - Anna Höstman, a Victoria-based composer, has written a new piece called skins dissolving and Emilie LeBel, who is originally from Toronto and is presently teaching in Edmonton, has written a piece called the tendency to pattern. We are combining those pieces with two pre-existing works, one by Jordan Nobles called Emergent Behaviour, which is about the flight patterns of starlings, and a piece called Into Sections by James O’Callaghan which is about insects and has an electronics aspect to it. Véronique Lacroix, the artistic director of Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM+), is going to be coming out and conducting us and I think it will be a lot of fun. I love projects that in some way respond to the environment around us, so I think it’s a nice way of combining science and art.

Mark McGregor performing at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum

How do you think having the performance inside the Beaty Biodiversity Museum will change the concert experience for the audience?

I think it makes it possible to have even more meaningful connections between the music and the subject matter and the thematic material when you are situated in a place that’s absolutely dedicated to biodiversity. For example, Anna Höstman’s piece is a reflection on one of the visiting exhibits, Skin & Bones, and I think it will be really cool to be in the museum, to be able to see the exhibit and hear how a composer has interpreted that exhibit through sound.

Are those interpretations fairly literal? I’m thinking of something along the lines of Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre, where the strings play col legno (a technique where the string is hit with the wood of the bow) to depict the rattling of skeletons.

I think people approach it all differently. For Anna Höstman’s piece, she has us all playing multi-phonics, which is an effect on the flute where you produce two or more sounds simultaneously. With this she’s created a beautiful translucent texture in the ensemble that, for me, feels like the translucent-ness of skin. Her approach is a lot more abstract, more about the feelings evoked by the exhibit rather than a literal rendition. In the case of James O’Callaghan, he wanted to explore insect noises that were native to both BC, where he’s originally from, and in Quebec, where he presently lives, and the recording incorporates real insect sounds. When combined with a lot of extended techniques and a lot of percussive noises made by the flute ensemble, it’s like an insect world but amplified, more over-the-top. For Jordan Nobles’ piece, which I mentioned is about the flight pattern of starlings – you know when you see the videos of all those birds swooping together like a giant cloud, all moving as a singular organism? Jordan’s piece literally does that. There’s no official leader in the ensemble, the flute ensemble is almost self-governed. With all the lines we sort of follow one another and it’s a really beautiful depiction of those flight patterns in sound.

Can you talk more about the flute ensemble?

There will be eight of us plus cello, and for Jordan’s piece we’re working with our students and community players so there will be 18 flute players for that. The ensemble was a way of addressing the fact that there are a lot of good flute players out there, and we spend a lot of our time being quite solitary and competitive. This is a way of creating meaningful work that also brings us together. Whenever we do these things I’m always really excited because we don’t often get to work together in large groups like this in the same way that string players do. It’s a more egalitarian environment, and the projects that we work on tend to be very specific and they explore Canadian music. I find we end up relating to each other differently, we’ve always gotten along but it’s a nice way of bringing us together and making those relationships even tighter.

Tempest Flute Ensemble was founded in 2005 and it was a project of mine and Jordan Nobles. I wanted to create a flute ensemble that focused on contemporary music, commissioning new music and developing Canadian music for multiple flutes. We’ve done a lot of off-the-wall performances, and a lot of spatial events where we’re spread out in the atrium of a particular place. The idea is to surround people with music – having people come in unaware of what’s going on and all of a sudden they’re surrounded by 10-15 flute players, playing a Canadian piece that was written for that space. Out of that we ended up making contact with Véronique Lacroix, because as part of ECM+ she also runs a professional flute ensemble that plays contemporary music, so we started teaming up with her. We’ll do one show in Vancouver and then we’ll repeat the show in Montreal with her ensemble, and it’s a way of sharing repertoire and building community across the country. There’s usually a show every two years, but this one is special because it’s just happening in Vancouver and we’re working with composers that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time.

What do you think your audience members will leave with?

I don’t think a lot of people have been to the Beaty Museum because it’s on the UBC campus, it’s a little far removed from the rest of the city. It’s an extremely beautiful space, and the design of it is really interesting, they have this enormous whale skeleton hanging in the atrium. It’s such a striking thing to see, and I love this idea that we’re going to be presenting music that has a direct connection to that space and that environment. And I love the idea of people’s relationship with contemporary music being enriched by the environment around it, and also having people reconnect in a more meaningful way with their environment through music.

It sounds like it will be a memorable experience. Ok, one last question - tell me about a really good meal that you had recently, I feel like you enjoy good food.

I do. A meal that I’ve had, or a meal that I’ve made?

Either – or both!

Recently I’ve started making a Japanese savoury pancake called okonomiyaki. I’m half Japanese, but ironically I never learned how to make it from my mother or my family, it was my friend Jocelyn Morlock, a Ukrainian-Canadian, who taught me how to make it. It’s a savoury pancake made out of cabbage and carrots and you put Japanese mayonnaise and furikake and all these other condiments – it’s a really good vehicle for sauce and spices.

One of my favourite meals that I had in Japan was when we had okonomiyaki, we sat at the grill and they made right it front of us.

Where were you?

In Tokyo.

So apparently Hiroshima is famous for their okonomiyaki and I didn’t know this at the time, a friend and I just stumbled into an okonomiyaki place. We didn’t even know what it was, we just pointed at it and were like “We want that, whatever it is” and I literally wept while I was eating it, I couldn’t believe how good it was. It was one of those perfect meals. I love okonomiyaki. So if someone comes into town and I want to impress them, I can’t actually cook very well but that’s one of the few things that I can make quite well.

And a meal that I’ve had recently that I didn’t make was at Marutama Ramen on Bidwell Street. It’s chicken broth ramen, it is so good. It’s a little too decadent, it’s more like gravy than broth. The other one that’s really good is Jinya – they have a ramen called Sprouting Up, it’s got Brussels sprouts in it. I went to the one in Toronto and I remember sitting there thinking that it was so bizarre that it had Brussels sprouts, but I was going to try it because they wouldn’t do it unless it was good. And it was amazing, they have these barbecued Brussel sprouts in it, it’s so good.

Do you know what else is going to be good? This concert. Get yourself to this concert - this is probably your only chance ever to experience18 flutes imitate skin, insects, and birds while sitting beneath a blue whale skeleton. And maybe you can convince Mark to make you some okonomiyaki (and if you do, invite me over too!)

Nocturnal: Emergent Behaviour at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Thursday May 16 at 7pm, admission by donation.

Event information: http://beatymuseum.ubc.ca/events/event/nocturnal-emergent-behaviour/

Tempest Flute Ensemble: https://tempestflutes.com/

Mark McGregor: https://marktakeshimcgregor.com/

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