Presenter Abstracts & Bios

David Rothenberg

David Rothenberg by Sophia Kirchner

David Rothenberg,  photo credit:  Sophia Kirchner

Musician and philosopher David Rothenberg wrote Why Birds SingBug Music, Survival of the Beautiful and many other books, published in at least eleven languages. Thousand Mile Song concerns his efforts to make music live with whales.

He has more than twenty CDs out, including One Dark Night I Left My Silent House which came out on ECM, and most recently Berlin Bülbul and Cool Spring. He has performed or recorded with Pauline Oliveros, Peter Gabriel, Ray Phiri, Suzanne Vega, Scanner, Elliot Sharp, Iva Bittová, and the Karnataka College of Percussion.  Nightingales in Berlin is his latest book, CD, and film.  Rothenberg is Distinguished Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Nightingales in Berlin: Improvisation in the More-than-Human World

David Rothenberg will introduce his book/film/music project Nightingales in Berlin, which consists of five years performing live with the nightingales of Berlin and Helsinki and a rotating cast of interesting musicians from all over the world. It’s about learning the aesthetics of other species, finding nature in the city, and extending the sense of how different species can communicate through music spontaneously created at the edge of the natural and the human.

Jesse Stewart

Jesse Stewart, photo credit: Hasi Eldib

Jesse Stewart

Jesse Stewart is an award-winning composer, percussionist, instrument builder, and educator. He has performed and recorded with musical luminaries including Hamid Drake, William Parker, Joe McPhee, Pauline Oliveros, and many others. He has been widely commissioned as a composer and artist. A professor of music in Carleton University School for Studies in Art and Culture, he has published widely on subjects including jazz, improvisation, hip hop, experimental music, and music and social justice.

Different Drums: Unorthodox and Unusual Percussion Instruments

Percussionist Jesse Stewart will discuss and demonstrate a variety of rare and unusual musical instruments that he has collected over the past two decades. In addition to focusing on the instruments themselves, he will discuss his relationship with some of the instrument-builders who made these special instruments for him including Frederic Bousquet (France), who will be at Silence to deliver and demonstrate Stewart’s brand new “euphone”. The euphone being unveiled is the 50th Bousquet has designed, but only 10 musicians around the world are actually playing them, the others are inside museums, collections, etc.

Lee Blalock, photo credit : Sophia Barr Hayne

Lee Blalock

Lee Blalock is a Chicago based artist and educator presenting alternative and hyphenated states of being through technology-mediated processes. Inspired by imaginative futures and technology itself, the work is an exercise in body modification by way of amplified behavior or “change-of-state”. Lee also works under the moniker of L[3]^2, whose most recent live work embraces noise and fissure as a natural state of being for bodies immersed in information. Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Art and Technology Studies Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Instr/Augmented Bodies

A performative artist talk about hybrid bodies, modes of communication, and modified behaviors. 

Book Launch and Performance with Chris Tonelli and Douglas R. Ewart

chris-tonelli 2019

Chris Tonelli

Chris Tonelli

Dr. Chris Tonelli is a soundsinger and researcher working on histories of vocal and choral practice and reception. His book Voices Found: Free Jazz and Singing traces histories of vocal and choral improvisation that emerged from sound poetry, free jazz, and contemporary art music practices from the 1950s to the present. He is also the founder and leader of several improvising choirs he refers to as “Vocal Exploration” choirs. These choirs attempt to include anyone who wants to participate and any sounds those participants want to explore, creating voicescapes that frame all sounds and all people as valuable. He is Assistant Professor of Music at University of Groningen in The Netherlands and a Research Associate with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation. 

Book Launch – Voices Found: Free Jazz and Singing

Voices Found: Free Jazz and Singing is a new title in Routledge’s Transnational Studies in Jazz series and the culmination of Dr. Chris Tonelli’s postdoctoral work with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation. In this presentation, Chris will return to Guelph where the project began and share the histories he has uncovered and aspects of the theories of voice he has developed. A perfect tie-in to this year’s colloquium theme of Improvising InstrumentsVoices Found traces the ways vocalists have used their voice in unconventional ways throughout the history and pre-history of free jazz and theorizes the some of the social effects of those soundings. Covering the scat singing of artists like Leo Watson and Louis Armstrong, the sound poetry of the Ultralettrists and Jackson Mac Low, the early interdisciplinary free jazz work of Jeanne Lee and Yoko Ono, and the broad free jazz practices that followed via the work of figures like Maggie Nicols, Leon Thomas, Linda Sharrock, Paul Dutton, and many others, including the free jazz choral work of artists like Phil Minton and Christine Duncan, Voices Found pieces together a substantial portion of free jazz voice’s history and prehistory, emphasizing the ways free jazz spaces allowed vocalists to explore their voices in ways other musical spaces could not. Chris will discuss the ways unconventional improvised singing has disrupted a sonic/visual symbolic order that depends on the vocal performance of humanness and that excludes many human sounds from being coded as human. He will discuss how these exclusions relate to other practices of dehumanizing the human and the potential for improvised voice to help resist these reifications and exclusions.   

Douglas R. Ewart, photo credit : Tony Smith

Douglas R. Ewart

Douglas R. Ewart is a versatile composer, improviser, sculptor, and maker of masks and instruments. He is also an inspiring and enthusiastic educator and lecturer. Throughout his acclaimed 40-year career, Ewart has led projects in diverse media, weaving his many talents into a single sensibility that encourages and celebrates the wholeness of individuals in culturally active communities. Ewart was the 2015-16 Improviser-in-Residence for the International Insitute for Critical Studies in Improvisation in Guelph, where he mounted his large-scale community collaboration and improvisation, Crepuscule.


Book Launch: Douglas R. Ewart’s Crepuscule: Stories of Impact

For composer, improviser, and artistic visionary Douglas R. Ewart, “sounds and stories are crucial spiritual, emotional and intellectual foods that we must all partake of in order to thrive.” Douglas R. Ewart’s Crepuscule: Stories of Impact is a full colour celebration of the improvised community collaborations of Crepuscule Guelph, a large-scale community improvisation which took place in 2016.

Edited by Ajay Heble this catalogue features: essays and reflections by Michael Collins, Jeannette Hicks and Brian Lefrense, and Ed Sarath; an interview with Ewart by Ajay Heble; Ewart’s artist statement about the evolving energy that is Crepuscule; and throughout the pages are photographs from Crepuscule – Guelph – the culminating event of Ewart’s 2015-16 residency in Guelph’s Arboretum, and the subsequent participatory, multi-site, mixed-media exhibition Douglas R. Ewart’s Crepuscule at the Robert Langen Art Gallery at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Contextualizing Crepuscule within the traditions of experimental music, sculptural assemblage and performance art, this book highlights moments of connection and opens a space for dialogue about the role of improvisation in building and strengthening community.

Through the images, instruments, exhibitions, and book Douglas R. Ewart’s Crepuscule continues.

Finding the Groove: A Workshop on Hip-hop Turntablism and Improvisation

Niel Scobie & Alyssa Woods

An opportunity to delve into the history and practice of hip-hop turntablism. This workshop led by Niel Scobie (PhD Candidate, Western University) and Dr. Alyssa Woods (University of Guelph) explores the evolution of turntablism as an art form and its connection to jazz improvisation practices. Participants will also be introduced to basic turntable skills and have the opportunity to experiment with DJ techniques such as cueing, backspinning, and scratching.


Alyssa Woods

Alyssa Woods is a music theorist whose work intersects the areas of critical race theory, gendered representations, and religious discourse in hip-hop music and culture. She is Assistant Professor in the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph and holds a PhD in Music Theory and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan. Dr. Woods’s research involves interdisciplinary approaches to music-analytic and socio-cultural analysis with recent work focusing on the concept of mythmaking, genealogy, and succession in hip-hop. Her work has been published in a number of online journals as well as in numerous edited collections including: The Pop Palimpsest: Intertextuality in Recorded Popular Music (2018), The Ashgate Companion to Popular Music and Gender (2017), and The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter (2016), as well as a forthcoming chapter on religion in hip-hop to be included in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis. Dr. Woods is currently pursuing an interdisciplinary project interrogating the phenomenon of religious conversion in hip-hop and the impact of religious rhetoric on audience reception.

Neil Scobie

Neil Scobie

Niel Scobie played a foundational role in Vancouver’s hip-hop scene with over twenty years of experience as a DJ, radio show host, and producer during which time his music received nominations for “Rap Recording of the Year” at the Juno Awards (2003 and 2005). He is currently a PhD candidate in media studies at Western University, where his work explores the relationship between Toronto’s early hip-hop scene and Jamaican mobile DJ culture. He has presented his research at conferences for the Canadian University Music Society, the Royal Music Association (UK), and the American Musicological Society, as well as having been featured as a guest lecturer at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music and the University of Guelph’s School of Fine Art and Music, where he is the lead instructor of Applied Turntablism. Niel has published on hip-hop improvisation in the journal Critical Studies in Improvisation and has chapters on Canadian hip-hop in the forthcoming volumes The Spaces and Places of Canadian Popular Culture and Contemporary Musical Expressions in Canada: Ethnomusicological Perspectives. 

Artist Talk Back : Jen Shyu moderated by Chris Tonelli

Jen Shyu

Jen Shyu, photo credit: Steven Schreiber

Jen Shyu is an extraordinary composer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, and vocalist whose polymath talents are deftly synthesised in the ritualistic solo performance, Nine Doors. At the heart of the multi-faceted narrative is a wayang kulit shadow puppeteer’s daughter from Indonesia who, in the face of tragedy and trauma, is empowered through encounters with female legends from Timorese and Korean folklore, for instance. As she voyages through time and space to meet them, they offer her guidance, strength, and solace. Astonishingly, Shyu sings songs in eight languages, dances, and plays Taiwanese moon lute, Korean gayageum, piano, Japanese biwa, and Korean soribuk drum to tell this transformative, uplifting story. Peerless.

Artist Roundtable Talk Back : Susan Alcorn, Chick White, & Ben Grossman (moderator)

Susan Alcorn performing

Susan Alcorn, Photo credit:  David Lobato

Susan Alcorn

One of the world’s premiere exponents of her instrument, Susan Alcorn has taken the pedal steel guitar far beyond its traditional role in country music. Having first paid her dues in Texas country & western bands, she began to expand the vocabulary of her instrument through her study of jazz, 20th C. Classical, and world musics. She has been awarded, in 2016, “Best Other Instrument” at the International Critics Poll; in 2017, the Baker Artist Award; and in 2018, the Instant Award in Improvised Music. The Guardian writes, “As an improvisor and composer, Alcorn has proven to be visionary. Her pieces reveal the complexity of her instrument and her musical experience while never straying from a very direct, intense, and personal musical expression.”

Chik White performing mouth harp

chik white, photo credit: Heather Rappard

chik white

All the way from West Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia, chik white plays solo jaw harp with astoundingly visceral intensity, an energetic echo of his background as a member of East Coast punk, doom metal, and noise rock bands. Upon moving to the rural Nova Scotia coast in 2009, white acquired a collection of handmade jaw harps and began a regular ritual improvising on them in natural settings. Over time, this harp project morphed into experimental territory and has come to incorporate preparations, techniques, and performative elements that tease uncomfortable vocalisations from his mouth, throat, and lungs. Utterly unbelievable sounds.


Ben Grossman playing hte hurdi Gurdi

Ben Grossman

Ben Grossman

A pillar of Guelph’s musical community for many years, Ben Grossman is a composer-improviser who works as a multi-instrumentalist in a range of styles from Early Music to electroacoustic sound installation. His primary instrument, however, is the hurdy-gurdy (vielle-à-roue), a mechanical, crank-turned violin associated with various European popular music traditions during the Renaissance. While in those contexts the hurdy-gurdy is not a classically expressive instrument, in Grossman’s hands, through a range of technical extensions, it is transformed into a captivatingly mysterious sound generator, a rich palette of uncommon sounds that he shapes and moulds with remarkable artistry.

Eighth Street Orchestra CSA Noon Hour Concert

This raucous trad brass band has deep Guelph roots. Founded by saxophonist Gary Murphy, a long-time contributor to Guelph’s musical culture, the Eighth Street Orchestra at its core is a family affair, featuring Nolan Murphy on trombone and sousaphone and Kaelin Murphy on trumpet. The group has been a fixture on a busking circuit in Guelph, Toronto, and elsewhere, bringing the joyful sounds of New Orleans jazz to the street culture wherever they go. Upon moving to Toronto to study, Nolan and Kaelin took over leadership of the ESO, and now it represents a exciting younger generation of forward-thinking but tradition-minded jazz musicians in Southern Ontario.
The co-presented CSA Noon Hour Concert features members: Kaelin Murphy (trumpet), Taylor Maslin (clarinet), Nolan Murphy (trombone), Gary Murphy (Banjo), Tom Richards (sousaphone), Patricio Llovet (drums)