Play Recent

Escape This Desire

Les lumineuses Vêpres de la Vierge de Monteverdi, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, 20 August 2023

Antoine Saito for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

After their tremendous performance on the truncated stage at a reconfigured Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, conductor Eric Milnes shouted out to an enthusiastic audience, “Want some more?”

Everyone did. But I wonder if all the musicians wanted to give more. Or if the audience might have liked a moment to soak in the experience before the encore. Of course no one said no.

Nonetheless, Mr. Milnes is hardly the most scandalous maestro of Monteverdi in recent weeks. The acclaimed English conductor John Eliot Gardiner slapped a bass soloist in the face after he reportedly stepped in the wrong direction off the podium at a festival in La Côte-Saint-André, in the south of France. There were no serious injuries, only bruised egos. And a flurry of apologies. However, Gardiner, who is 80, has withdrawn from his remaining European tour dates, and this incident will doubtless shade the twilight of his career.

Who would have imagined that the void of Hollywood plot twists left by the tandem writers’ and actors’ strikes might be filled with the Baroque classical music world’s high melodrama?

Jake Bowen, No Rhyme or Reason, Atelier Galerie 2112, 24-28 August 2023

Jake Bowen photographed for NicheMTL

I hope I’m not telling tales out of school.

But the bright young artist Jake Bowen confessed to me at his recent vernissage that he was leaving Montreal to return to his native Toronto. Citing a number of valid reasons, chiefly among them language, rising costs, and the difficulty of making a living under the first two conditions, Bowen painted a picture of Montreal as a city that can seem especially cruel to sensitive types like him.

This was not the city I moved to.

Montreal was once a metropolitan magnet to aspiring artists. Cheap rent, a laissez-faire way of life, and diverse and expanding creative communities used to draw people like Bowen from Toronto and beyond.

Not anymore.

Inflated property values mean inflated rents, putting Montreal on par with other Canadian cities for affordability. And living and working as an Anglophone painter under an increasingly hostile Francophone government is no longer such a romantic sacrifice.

It’s a shame that we can’t retain Bowen and others like him who leave. He didn’t fail to make it here; Montreal failed to make it for him — and it is our loss.

They call it the brain drain. Still, that term has a double meaning: not only is Montreal being drained of our brains, but enduring the absurdity in Quebec’s minutiae of language-based political bureaucracy literally drains the brain.

Ensamble de Cámara Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos, La Sala Rossa, 15 August 2023

ECOEIN photographed for NicheMTL

Ten years ago, I travelled to Peru to participate in the sacred ritual ingestion of ayahuasca. Motivated by the romanticized stories of telepathy and time travel alluded to in correspondence between William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and published as The Yage Letters, I was certain that ayahuasca would somehow benefit me immensely. It would offer me profound insight into the human condition. It would open up my third eye. I’d be at one with the universe. Or whatever.

It didn’t do those things — and that’s not to say that it wasn’t worth doing. The trip alone was instructive. I gained new perspective on completely different ways of living. I reconsidered travel and tourism, labour and leisure. I awoke, ate, and slept in the jungle. My experience of time changed. But it didn’t take ayahuasca for that.

The psychedelic trip was only a fraction of the whole trip, broadly speaking. It may have facilitated learning, but the medicine itself didn’t teach me anything new.

Psychedelics are more akin to diagnostic tools, like a finely tuned machine that tests a car’s horsepower. It’s a close look under the hood. It doesn’t make the old clunker go any faster. It just gives a general indication of what shape it’s in — if you need wheel alignment, say. Or brakes, or shocks. But if your vehicle is running smoothly, there’s no need for diagnostics. And probably no need for psychedelics, either, if you already have a sense of perspective.

What Burroughs and Ginsberg didn’t say, perhaps what they never considered, is the simple age-old wisdom: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Lives of Documents — Photography as Project, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Until 3 March 2024


Notions of beauty have changed significantly during my lifetime. What we consider beautiful is not universal, much less timeless. And it’s a pity that beauty graces our senses unevenly — that is, what is beautiful to the touch is not necessarily beautiful to the eye, or the nose, or the ear.

A new hierarchy of beauty has emerged, though: the beauty of reality. It doesn’t matter how attractive a beautiful woman is in a photograph. The photograph isn’t the thing with the beauty; she is. Ugliness, out there in the real world, possesses more beauty than the prettiest pictures.

A happy medium exists when photographs of beautiful objects are themselves presented as a collection of beautiful objects. Let’s call it happy mediumicity.

Nennen, La Sotterenea, 31 July 2023

Buddhists believe that desire is the source of all suffering. If we could only somehow sublimate our constant cravings and yearnings for that which we yearn and crave, the theory goes, then those old familiar achy breaky feelings of unsatiated longing would subside and we’d attain enlightenment — Nirvana.

But Buddhism is dumb. Buddhist philosophy doesn’t want to admit that desire is the very essence of life, the primordial stuff of which it’s comprised. Desire is what makes things happen. It’s our most basic element, our most essential ingredient. If there were a cookbook for all that ever was and all that ever will be, every recipe would end with: “a dash of desire.”

When we cease to desire — things, people; to be loved, to love in turn — then the ride ends. The fire inside burns out and we might as well expire.

Desire is to humans as constant movement is to sharks. Cheat death: stay hungry.◼︎

Cover image: Bowen, Jake. Ball of Energy (2022), detail, 30×24″, acrylic, oil, and spray paint on canvas.

999 Words

The Real Thing: in conversation with No Hay Banda

“There is no band.”

I walk myself into this obligatorily cheeky response, I suppose, when I ask the three core members of No Hay Banda — the Montreal contemporary music collective / band / events organizer / community builder — if they are a band, or what.

Violinist Geneviève Liboiron, pianist Daniel Áñez, and percussionist Noam Bierstone operate under the mysterious Lynchian moniker as a contemporary classical power trio that’s more art than any one facet of it. As the name suggests, they keep their operations deliberately vague.

“There are fine lines all over the place,” Áñez tells me at the group’s rehearsal studio near the D’Iberville metro, which also functions as an artist’s residence for travelling musicians. “What is contemporary? What is experimental? What is musical theatre? What is electronic? We have not yet put lines, but we’re inside those genres.”

No Hay Banda began in 2016 as a concert series held at La Sala Rossa, the landmark Plateau neighbourhood venue that serves as the collective’s exhibition space, and lends the proceedings its red-curtain vibe.

Since, the cooperative has dabbled in expanded performance; founded a record label called No Hay Discos, upon which they released their own impressive double-album debut; and are now producing a two-night show at the Chapelle de La Cité-des-Hospitalières, the historic chapel attached to Hôtel-Dieu, premiering an opera entitled Body Without Organs (With Organ) by the acclaimed Japanese experimental vocalist Tomomi Adachi. “He’s incredible,” Liboiron says.

Throughout the pandemic, No Hay Banda, along with vocalist Sarah Albu and guitarist An Laurence, recorded a serial opera by Adachi called 51 Short Pieces for Soprano, Violin, and Guitar, releasing one video daily online.

“Some of them are like five seconds,” Liboiron says, “super theatrical, super short, one or two notes.” The project carried the trio through the depths of quarantine, and also forged an enduring relationship with Adachi that brings him to Montreal for a 10-day residency and various performances affiliated with the Suoni per il popolo festival.

“Adachi asked us if he could write us his second opera,” says Bierstone. “So it’s a semi AI-created opera. A lot of the text is AI-generated, but I don’t think any of the music is.”

“How would we know?” jests Áñez.

Each of the two performances features different local openers, encouraging audiences to return for round two. On June 16th, the harpist Sarah Pagé plays an electronically manipulated Koto against percussionist Patrick Graham. On June 17th, the duo of Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau celebrate the release of their new album, The Garden of a Former House Turned Museum, on the No Hay Discos imprint.

“We’re super happy to have them in our label,” Áñez says. “All of our shows have two artists, two sets. Like a local set and an international set. No Hay Banda has ambitions to be a place of exchange that has eyes inside and also has eyes outside.”

The trio often talk in nebulous ambiguities like this, and it reminds me of the way the niche American filmmaker David Lynch discusses his work — obliquely and in metaphors. “We love David Lynch,” says Liboiron.

The name No Hay Banda is borrowed from the striking scene in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in which the protagonists attend a surreal theatrical performance that is one part Vaudeville, one part acid trip.

“We started all the concerts with that scene from the movie,” Liboiron explains. “People are just having drinks, listening to the music, and when this would start, it was the cue that the show was about to begin. And also we are producers that are sometimes playing. So in all the dimensions of the scene, David Lynch was matching our aesthetic, we felt.”

“It’s come up more,” adds Bierstone, “in situations we didn’t expect. Like this Adachi piece: there is a lot of lip syncing and faking and playing with the public’s perception. We don’t pick pieces because they are very David Lynch, but it just happens.”

Áñez elaborates: “We also found somewhat of a manifesto in this idea. Because the text says, ‘There is no band, il n’y a pas un orchestre, it’s all a tape recording.’ And then there’s all these performers on stage in that scene in the movie where they’re faking that they’re playing and then they show that they’re not playing. It’s all part of that concept of alternative performance that we try to bring into our concert series. We are not blinded by it. Like, sometimes we have concerts where there is just a pianist playing the piano. But there’s this idea of a new way of playing and presenting yourself.”

No Hay Banda is insistently blazing fresh tracks in the Montreal contemporary experimental music scene, and slowly, steadily creating a new constellation of affiliates.

“I would say it’s been very hard since the pandemic to bring the public back to the halls,” Liboiron concedes. “Even before, it’s always been really hard for doing contemporary experimental music, to have a huge public. But we know there are a lot of people in Montreal and around that would love to see these shows. It would be really nice to meet all of them.”

“We’re pursuing this artistic path of alternative performance, so we touch the public that goes to experimental theatre. And we touch the public that goes to experimental dance. The shows that No Hay Banda puts together rejoin this wider public that is interested in fucked-up-edness,” says Áñez.

In that specificity, something universal emerges out of No Hay Banda’s creative project, which is augmented by their perplexing air of obscurity. Like a David Lynch movie, there are no simple explanations for what these or any artists do, no Hollywood endings that wrap up the plot.

“Leaving things open and vague allows us to develop in ways we would have been too restricted to had we said we were just a concert series,” Bierstone says.

What to expect from their Adachi collaboration?

“It’s hard to know,” teases Liboiron, “what it is going to be.”◼︎

Tomomi Adachi & No Hay Banda perform 16 & 17 June 2023 at Chapelle de La Cité-des-Hospitalières.

Cover image: Noam Bierstone photographed by Robert Del Tredici.