Trading Places: Un Échange

Elizabeth Millar, clarinetist and sound artist. | Photo by Elaine Louw Graham

On Nov. 9 at Western Front, clarinetist and sound artist Elizabeth Millar and oudist and guitarist Sam Shalabi will perform as part of the Trading Places: Un Échange residency program. The Montreal-based composers have each created a non-traditional graphic or text-based music score for the show and have invited a group of four musicians and an actor to engage in an interpretive, improvisational and collaborative performance.

The plan for this concert is to have two distinct sets of music, and Sam and I will each create a score for one of the sets,” says Millar, speaking of herself and her colleague who plays the Western guitar and the Asian and North African string instrument the oud. “We are interested to see what effect placing these two pieces side-by-side will have and what parallels can be drawn between them. However, these connections are not planned.”

Exploring the bounds of art and music

Millar says she has always sought to explore difficult-to-define artistic categories and spaces. Since she has a classical background in clarinet, it was a set of experimental performances on that instrument by artists such as David Krakauer and Lori Freedman, which helped her to more clearly envision the boundary-pushing potential of her instrument.

“I discovered [these clarinetists] whose sound was totally different and exciting. In my own music, I wanted to combine the sounds of the clarinet with additional textural sounds so I began adding small amplified instruments to my set-up, which I could control using a mixing console,” says Millar.

Since then, Millar’s experimental interest has taken a number of musical directions in the form of residencies, collaborative efforts and her two primary musical endeavours.

“This interest in amplification led to two projects, my clarinet and trumpet duo with Craig Pedersen, called Sound of the Mountain, and my solo project where I use the clarinet and instruments made from recycled electronic components, like DC motors and computer fans.”

But with the diversity of musical projects she has either led or had a guiding hand in, Millar says that most of it exists in the same musical space, even if it’s a very large, liminal, experimental space: at the intersection between music and sound art.

“I can see how these two terms, [music and sound art], mean different things for different people. In my practice these two categories are merged, like the middle of a Venn diagram. Right now, my work is concerned with structure and form, the textures of acoustic and electric sound. Perhaps these elements fit into both categories.”

Individual and shared experience

Another guiding line between much of Millar’s work is the spirit of improvisation and performing in the moment. Given the unconventional, interpretive nature of the music scores that the performers are set to read for this show, improvisation is inevitable.

“Working with text or graphic scores can be a good way to shape a piece that draws on the improvisation skills and approaches of a varied group of artists,” says Millar.

Following Millar’s artistic theme of liminal spaces and categories, the Trading Spaces performance is sure to explore how individual musical interpretation overlaps with shared musical experience, as each performer interweaves their own personal interpretations of the score with one another.

“I think it is important that the score makes space for each artist to do what it is they do within the context of the piece,” says Millar.

The theme of bringing together individual perspectives into a whole is highlighted even further by the transnational nature of this performance and residency. With both Shalabi and Millar being based in Montreal, they feel the value in being a part of an experimental community in the city’s art scene becomes even more apparent when you’re given the chance to share it on the other side of the nation.

“The ability to be part of a community – local, national and international – of experimental music feeds energy into my practice. I get a lot from seeing live performance and performing in various configurations,” says Millar. “The scope of the communities of experimental musicians across the globe, as well as their relatively small size, means that it is possible to connect on a personal level with many exceptional musicians. We are very lucky.”

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