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What would you give back in a minute?

The Banff Centre recently started curating Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns of alumni and artists of the Centre. Aaron Rosenberg, a composer from Massachusetts, managed to fundraise $3,579 to fund a 70-day stint here for the Banff Musicians in Residence program, during which time he aims to compose ‘Ascent’, a trio for piano, cello and violin. To meet his Kickstarter fundraising goal, Rosenberg offered a special incentive to prospective donors. I spoke to him about the fundraising process.

Aaron Rosenberg in the midst of composing a trio for piano, cello and violin

Aaron Rosenberg in the midst of composing a trio for piano, cello and violin

“What’s unique about my project is the rewards that I’m offering people. I’m writing short piano character pieces, about 1-2 minutes long, in homage to those who donated $50 or more to my campaign,” he said.

Drawing inspiration from the 19th century classical composers, primarily Chopin and his prelude pieces, Rosenberg will embark on creating 11 romantic short piano pieces once his residency here is finished. “I think it will be really fun, especially writing pieces for the people I know.”

For some people the compositions will be a minute-long piece, for others it will be two minutes. “I feel like it’s really something I can give back to them but it’s also something of an incentive for my next project when I’m finished here, which is to write a collection of piano character pieces. It would be an opus of mine, to write a collection of piano pieces based on certain people or their ideas.”

“The compositions are really portraits of the people who are giving me money. If I don’t know the people then they get to decide what I write about, the subject matter.”

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Buford Jones: “They bake the cake and I serve it”

Buford Jones is an award winning audio engineer from Texas. For the past 37 years he has been sound mixing live shows for some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry- David Bowie, Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Prince to name a few. He has also worked at the famous Abbey Road recording studios in London. He was at The Banff Centre recently as guest faculty for the Meyer Sound Workshop. I asked him about the tricks of the trade.

Sound mixer Buford Jones spent three days here for the Meyer Sound Workshop

What is the difference between being a studio sound mixer and a live sound mixer?

In the studio you’re in a controlled environment but on a live stage the acoustical environment is constantly changing. One day it can be very difficult to make things sound good and on another day it’s quite easy. That alone is a major challenge but it’s something you learn to cope with.

When some studio mixers go on the road they find it very disruptive not to have the sounds the way they are used to. The other thing with touring is that you only get one shot to get the sound right, but in the studio you rewind, go back and clean things up and keep cycling through it until we get it right. On the road it’s much more challenging. You get to do sound checks but on the road you’re lucky if you even get one sound check to prepare yourself for what’s going to happen in a live show.

David Bowie, Prince, Pink Floyd, Don Henley – you’ve worked with some big names. Who has been the most enjoyable artist to work with?

Linda Ronstadt. There are so many things I learned from that experience back in the 70’s. We first started working together in 1975 and through to 1980 when she toured. It was a step up for me and I was really learning a lot. I was still young and when I look back I think that’s where my whole career shaped itself.

How much time have you spent on the road?

After 37 solid years of touring I can think of only a three-month period not being on the road. For the first 10 years I think I was averaging nine months on the road, as things settled down it went down to maybe eight months and now I’d day I go on the road about three months of the year. It’s still enough travel enough to fill up five passports.

What keeps you going?

There’s something so special about doing a live show for 800 – 800,000 people; when all the elements come together it’s just priceless. You can’t describe it to family and friends you just have to be there. What keeps us driving is the inconsistency of it all because you’re always trying to get that amazing moment back. That’s the drive that keeps you going. I tried other areas of work but just keep coming back to the touring thing.

Can a live performance be greatly enhanced by the work of a sound engineer?

There’s some things that we can add to, to sweeten the cake, but I think when we overdo that we are taking away from the originality of it all. I remember in the mid 70’s I arrived in New York city and a cab driver asked me what I was doing in town and I told him I was in the live concert touring business, that I mix sound. And that I was mixing sound at that time for Linda Ronstadt. And he said, ‘ah,she bakes the cake and you serve it’. I’ve used that analogy ever since. In fact if I ever write a book that will be the name of it: ‘They Bake the Cake and I Serve It’.

Were there ever any major disasters during a live concert?

I don’t remember any show that didn’t come off on schedule but I do remember one show with David Bowie in France where the transformer ignited during the show and started a fireworks display. People in the audience just thought it was part of the show and started to cheer it on which was funny because it was actually a catastrophe.

What are the most important personal characteristics associated with being a live mixer?

A love for music is the number one. All the technical aspects are extremely important to understand and how to manipulate the equipment but it goes so way beyond that. I think that if you have a musical background it helps. I look at the musical console as an instrument. It’s your own way of playing a musical instrument. When you have that desire to play music and you collaborate with the artist you almost become like a band member. You have to understand musically what they are thinking and what they require. When you find that musical slot and you fit into it that’s when the true magic comes out.

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Andrew Nogal and the oboe solo

On his third Banff Centre residency this fall, musician Andrew Nogal brought two pieces to work on. Nogal is a Chicago-based oboist and English horn player, who plays with the contemporary Ensemble Dal Niente among other gigs, and teaches at Loyola University and the University of Chicago. But he came to Banff to give himself some time and space to get closer to perfection with Bach’s Sonata in G minor, and an obscure piece, Incisi for oboe, by contemporary Italian composer Franco Donatoni. “These are both highly contrasting, and also both highly demanding for different reasons,” he told me.

Oboist Andrew Nogal, in his Banff Centre music studio.

“The Bach is very long-winded and requires really great breath control. The Donatoni needs really exceptional finger technique and I thought The Banff Centre would be the perfect place to focus on those two pieces because they both require so much time and so much energy. I wanted to devote my whole self to them, rather than fitting them in between freelance work and teaching and the regular demands at home, and working as a professional musician.”

Nogal performed both during his residency, at a recital in the Bentley Chamber Music Studio.

My interest in modern music is not purely for the virtuosity. It’s for the dynamism of expression, and for the personality the composers pour into the music. I think that Donatoni’s solo oboe piece is filled with character and groove, and he uses a solo wind instrument in a really interesting way, in a way that draws a direct line to the listener. I appreciate contemporary music for the sheer diversity of it. The fact that there are pieces that are bombastic and wild and there are pieces that are fragile, vulnerable and delicate, living side by side in today’s music. I think that’s a really beautiful opportunity for artists to explore different forms of human expression. It isn’t the pure technicality of it, the compositional or academic aspect of it that fascinates me. It’s really the expressive side of music-making that I still think is beautiful.

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DJ Champion: “I like to start from chaos”

DJ Champion (left) with musicians in residence at The Club. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

DJ Champion (left) with musicians in residence at The Club. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

Multi-instrumentalist and electronic musician DJ Champion spent a week at The Banff Centre as a visiting artist with the Fall Music Residency, a mix of emerging and established artists from different musical backgrounds. We spent some time talking about chaos, and the process of creating new music.

I like to start from chaos, total chaos. When you strip down your ego to not take so much space, you’re able to interact with that sort of white noise. I like that chaotic aspect of beginning. When I’m trying to establish a concept (for a song), I just try to have a better articulation of my thoughts, and if I don’t do that, it doesn’t go anywhere. But if the concept is too strong, you put yourself in the position where you have to head toward something. Let’s say you ‘have to compose a song that is going to be a hit on the radio,’ that’s hard! You lose the music, you lose the momentum because that goal is in the future and to be creative you have to be in the moment.

DJ Champion: “J’aime bien commencer dans le chaos”

DJ Champion, le musicien multi-instrumentaliste de musique électronique vient tout juste de  terminer une semaine entant qu’artiste de faculté en visite dans la résidence de musique d’automne au Banff Centre. La résidence accueille des artistes émergents ou établis de tous genres musicaux. Nous avons passé une portion de notre entretien à parler du concept de chaos associé au processus créatif.

 J’aime bien commencer les choses dans le chaos. Le chaos total. Quand on est capable de se retirer de l’égo, nous pouvons accéder à ce genre de bruit de fond. J’aime cet aspect chaotique des débuts. Quand j’essaie d’établir un concept (pour une chanson), j’essaie d’avoir une meilleure articulation de mes pensées, et si je ne le fais pas au départ, ça ne va nulle part. Mais si le concept est trop puissant, ça nous mets dans une position ou nous devons avancer vers quelque chose. Disons par exemple : tu dois composer une chanson qui va être un « hit » à la radio. C’est difficile! Tu perds la musique, tu perds le « momentum » parce que le but est dans le futur et pour être créatif il faut rester dans le moment présent.

Translation by Amelie Goulet-Boucher

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Jens Lindemann: Finding Lougheed’s voice in music

Jens Lindemann doesn’t suffer from nerves. The established trumpet player has performed in every major concert venue in the world from the Philharmonics of New York, Los Angeles, London, and Berlin to Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and even on the Great Wall of China.

Jens Lindeman

Jens Lindemann performing ‘Legacy’ at the launch of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative.

But debuting the musical tribute he composed to his old family friend Peter Lougheed, at the launch of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative at the University of Alberta last month, Lindemann had butterflies in his stomach.

“I can’t remember the last time I got nervous, it just doesn’t happen anymore, but when I started playing the piece and heard (excerpts of) Peter’s voice, I got these chills of pure nervousness.”

Lindemann, who’s said that the trumpet is capable of being played “with the virtuosity of a violin, the tenderness of the human voice and the stylistic flexibility of the piano”, composed the signature piece, Legacy, in just six weeks. Being a close family friend of the Lougheeds, Lindemann was inspired by alpine scenery and his personal knowledge of Lougheed’s interests.

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Serena Ryder’s stage presence

Postponed by the late June flood, our rescheduled annual Performance in the Park concert got onstage on September 21, with opener Danny Michel and co-headliners Adam Cohen and Serena Ryder. Set up on our temporary stage, which we moved down to the Parks Canada administration grounds for the show, PiP has become one of the most popular concerts on our calendar.

Performance in the Park is produced as a partnership between The Banff Centre, Parks Canada, and Banff Lake Louise Tourism. All photos by Meghan Krauss.

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