On the first day of 2011, Lisa Lipton picked up a pair of drumsticks. Things haven't been the same for her since, with the instrument now inextricable from her daily routine, her imagination and her fashion sense. "When I said I was going to embody the drummer, at first it was kind of a joke, gonna wear all black and leopard print," Lipton says, laughing. "And then I ended up absorbing that literally into my wardrobe."
Learning to play the drums is one element in her project BLAST BEATS, which investigates the history and spirituality of the instrument, while asking questions like: what does it mean to be a drummer, to be a drummer who is female, to have mentors? Lipton began by teaching herself to pound out paradiddles on an electronic kit, practicing for four hours almost every day, and powering through the gradual, often maddening process of mastering a new skill. "I'm often fuelled by frustration," she says. "I thrive off challenge."
Lipton, a multidisciplinary artist who studied at NSCAD and the University of Windsor, has been extraordinarily productive over the past few years, hosting a number of boundary-dissolving, performance-based works that bring together her diverse interests, from dance and music to costume and knitted sculpture, video and paint. Last year, she exhibited a multimedia selection of works in stop @ forever at the AGNS. This spring and summer, she brought her Window Ballet performance to Point Pleasant Park and Charlottetown. BLAST BEATS, named after a fast metal drumming technique, is based not only around Lipton's daily practice, but research that's taken her understanding beyond what it means to be a drummer in a rock band. "Most of the research has come through conversation," she says.
As the artist-in-residence at Point Pleasant Park's Gatekeeper's Lodge from January to March 2012, Lipton invited members of the public to join her for weekly double drumming sessions. "Everyone who sits behind the kit, when they leave, has this really enlivened sense of spirit, has something to say and is given the opportunity to say it loud if they want to, which I think is probably essential," Lipton says. She has also spoken to First Nations groups around Windsor, Ontario and interviewed drummers throughout Canada. Lipton is interested in the struggles that go hand in hand with drumming: not just the struggle of learning, but of finding a space to play. She has managed to carve out a number of these spaces, taking BLAST BEATS to the Banff Centre for the Arts, an artist-run community centre in Yellowknife, and a garage with "Love the Beat" spray-painted on the wall in PEI. "It's about environmental space and mental place," Lipton says, "and I notice that every place I drum, there's a different quality that comes out."
BLAST BEATS: Phase Two culminates during Nocturne, with a one-hour performance at 9pm in the courtyard of the AGNS. "Because I developed this ritual and am interested in ritual, the idea was to facilitate a fictitious kind of ceremony held between drummers, what that would look like, what are the visuals that could be related to it," Lipton says. At the centre of the project is a composition played and collaborated on by five local drummers: Lipton, Nancy Urich, Dave Ewenson, Lindsay Dobbin and Darcy Fraser. A cast of other friends and collaborators are on board to flesh out what Lipton intriguingly bills as "the chaos." She prefers not to reveal specifics until show time, but viewers can expect to be swept up in a noisy world of classic rock, where Lipton's ideas are brought to life within---and with the help of---a community and where drumming is rhythm, heartbeat and pulse. Motorcycles, beadwork and fringed gloves will all play a role. "It's all hanging in my room right now," she says, "all that black leather!"
Impermanence is a recurring theme in Lipton's work, and BLAST BEATS: Phase Two is a fleeting, one-time-only experience. Next, Lipton will be taking the project on an American road trip, planning to connect with more drummers through social networks. There is already interest across the border, including publicity from Brooklyn-based Tom Tom Magazine.
Lipton feels she still has much to learn and discover, but has recently become comfortable with finally calling herself a drummer. "I always question what it means to call yourself something," she says. "I think, for myself, the idea of becoming has to do with when you've earned it."
BLAST BEATS: Phase Two, Nocturne Zone 1, Saturday, October 13, 9-10pm, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia courtyard, 1723 Hollis Street