This October, Canada’s longest-running experimental music festival returns to Winnipeg. That’s right. Winnipeg. Not Montreal, not Toronto, but here in the prairie city we all love to hate. For fourteen years, send + receive has been bringing internationally renowned musicians and artists to the city, offering listeners with the opportunity to hear something truly unique, perhaps challenging, and ultimately rewarding.
Previous performers at send + receive include Oren Ambarchi, Tim Hecker, Keith Rowe, Prefuse 73, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, and Aaron Dilloway.
The performances and installations at this year’s festival explore the concept of natural sound, with a wide array of artists utilizing decidedly non-traditional and even non-musical objects and sound sources to create their art. Year fourteen will feature an installation from UK field recording collagist (and BBC sound technician) Chris Watson, Vancouver noise artist the Rita, who in fact coined the term “harsh noise wall,” which has since expanded into it’s own genre, as well as Japanese artist Akio Suzuki, who was one of the first to refer to himself as a sound artist and has been creating experimental sounds since the 1970s. Winnipegger Angela Forget will also perform.
“It’s kind of tricky theme, it’s controversial in some ways because it opens up a lot of debate over what is and isn’t natural,” said send + receive Artistic Director Crys Cole, who has been the festival’s Director for the past five years.
To be sure, natural sound may be a controversial theme for those familiar with experimental music or sound art, but for the uninitiated, at least on paper, this year’s festival may sound particularly out-there, unapproachable and even intimidating. This is quite to the contrary, said Cole, who said that the performances will run the gamut from organic, acoustic sounds to sounds that are decidedly louder and harsher.
“I don’t think that this program is very difficult. I think it’s very listenable, but I love stripping away the expectations,” said Cole. “My big thing is to challenge what people’s expectations are, and to push them to be a bit surprised or think differently.”
International artistry aside, send + receive’s real significance is that for fourteen years a festival that exclusively features avante-garde, ambient and uncoventional sounds has persisted and thrived in Winnipeg. Winnipeggers are often to quick too look east or west — or anywhere else — with a sense of longing at the massive music scenes and diverse artistic communities.
Refreshingly, the opposite is true in the case of send + receive. At fourteen, it’s not only older than Montreal’s massive experimental festival Mutek, it’s also started to inspire other festivals in the prairies. Saskatoon’s Sounds Like… Festival just finished its second annual festival in July while Soundasaurus Festival of Multimedia Sound Arts happens this November in Calgary. While the programming of each festival is different than send + receive, the parallels are obvious. For a change, people in other cities are taking their cues from something happening here.
It’s inspiring to see Winnipeg as ground zero for a cultural trend instead of aping the tastemakers of Toronto or Montreal and flies in the face of Winnipeg’s unofficial slogan, “Nothing cool ever happens here.” Perhaps it’s our geographic and artistic isolation that works in send + receive’s favour.
“The more I travel and the more I go to festivals in other cities [the more I realize that] we do really good,” said Cole, mentioning that the festival’s numbers have reached the mid-hundreds. “I’ve been to shows in Berlin when you’re lucky if there’s twenty people there.”
“If you’re stubborn enough to keep doing things like this in this city, which I guess I appear to be, there is a pretty cool pay-off. It’s a pretty special thing, and the more experience I have in other places, the more I appreciate what we have here.”
To borrow a term directly from Cole, Winnipeg is a teenager of a city. We’re awkwardly stuck between small town and big city, where not quite nothing happens, but we don’t have size to stimulate a constant flow of touring bands and cutting edge culture. Don’t get me wrong, this can be really frustrating and disheartening. But while we as citizens often walk around with chips on our shoulders, try moving to Toronto and see how quickly the big-city, near-constant awesome-show apathy kicks in: “Nah, I don’t need to go see them, they were here like two months ago.” Our isolation can make us cynical and snotty, but it also makes us hungry — hungry to create and be immersed in something original, and send + receive is a perfect example of this.
“When something special happens here, people want to take advantage of it because we don’t get it all the time.”
In a city whose citizens are often quick to lash Winnipeg with scene angst and geographic loathing, send + receive is one of the unique islands of art that we have. And if our city has taught, and is still teaching, us anything, it’s that we need to love and support our cultural institutions now, because there is no telling where they will be tomorrow.
send + receive runs October 17 to 20. Visit www.sendandreceive.org for a full program and more information.
Curran Faris is a writer and musician living in Winnipeg.
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