The shape of Open Waters

The Open Waters Festival returns for another slate of singular performances that take risks from all sides.

click to enlarge Flutist and “new music pioneer” Paolo Bortolussi is part of this year’s lineup. - SUBMITTED
Flutist and “new music pioneer” Paolo Bortolussi is part of this year’s lineup.

Open Waters Festival
Friday, January 5-Wednesday, January 10
various venues
$15-$25 (festival pass $60)

The tagline for this year's Open Waters, the annual music improvisation festival, is "never the same river twice." "That's Heraclitus," says artistic director Lukas Pearse of the paraphrase. "My favourite pre-Socratic philosopher."

Such is the nature of improvised music—it is made in the moment, of the moment, not to be heard again. It's not easy, and there's no single way to play it. "The essential thing is to try to make sure there are different approaches and different traditions of improvisations represented," says Pearse of the program, which is presented by the Upstream Music Association. "I want to have artists who are both using improvisation in a conscious way, something that is part of their creative form, and who also are usually for the most part committed to it and developing with it."

Open Waters features six days of 20 events across five venues, a mix of established and emerging, local and visiting. "I also do try to make sure there are some artists not from our area to provide global context," says Pearse.

Out-of-town guests include Jason Sharp and Adam Basanta from Montreal, who headline the Marquee on January 5. "Jason plays bass saxophone and modular synths and in this project they're using heart-rate monitors and EKGs to control the synthesizers while also playing the saxophone," says Pearse. "It's literally visceral music." Vancouver clarinetist François Houle hits the Dunn on Saturday, and there on Sunday will be Janice Jackson's collaboration with Etienne Rolin, from France, and Singapore's Dirk Stromberg.

Local representation comes from Pearse's project with Alan Syliboy, The Thundermakers (Saturday at the Dunn), soprano Maureen Batt at Dal's MacAloney Room on Saturday afternoon, To Dream of Silence (a co-presentation of Upstream Music and Sanctuary Concerts) at the Halifax Music Co-op on Tuesday and New Hermitage on Friday night at the Dunn. "I really want to celebrate younger artists taking the risks," says Pearse of the latter quartet, "and making good on their promising starts in the [Halifax Jazz Festival's] Creative Music Workshops."

Because of improvised music's range of included genres—jazz, electronic, folk, chamber, experimental—it's an art form that's diverse, open-minded and wide-reaching. "Improvised, exploratory music is something that happens all over the world," notes Pearse. "It's not just us over here being weird cause we're weird."

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