Today is Going to Be Awesome

Hurston Quote by Lisa Congdon
Hurston Quote by Lisa Congdon


This has been kind of a strange week (the thesis is circling a topic and it feels like we are in some kind of endless winter), but one of the constant bright lights is the design and illustration work of Lisa Congdon. I have two of her prints waiting for me at home, and I am hoping that the hand lettered quote above gets released as a print of it’s own. Her blog is one of the best things on the internet and prints can be found here.


Around here we call him “The Kid”

During the whole Gridlock process there have been many highlights:

Douglas Wadle doing his best impersonation of a Baptist Preacher in “Insomnambulations: Preachin’ Aphasia” and Matt Barbier tackling some of the toughest trombone rep in the world.

Vinny Golia reuniting with Dylan van der Schyff and Clyde Reed and picking right up where they left off almost 20 years ago.

Kathy Carbone teaching an interdisciplinary Master Class on Improvisation at my alma mater Simon Fraser University.

Andrew Tholl playing “Koan” by James Tenney in Vancouver for the first time since he passed away four years ago.

These were all great moments and each of them represents what is at the core of Atrux (community, collaboration, education and great performances) but I think my personal highlight of this entire crazy endeavor came during the last show of the series.

Joshua Van Tassel (otherwise known as the drummer in our “Band of Awesome”) had gigs scheduled in Toronto and had to miss the second of two shows at The Libra Room. With Clinton, Graham and Josh Charney set to perform as a trio we weren’t too concerned about a small line-up change.

However, we hadn’t anticipated how quickly word gets around in this town.

Apparently the crowd at the Libra Room liked Mr. Van Tassel as much as we do and spread the word that the whole band would be back for another night and a second show.  The surprising thing about this is people actually came out to see them! (This is no small feat for a show in Vancouver).  Luckily our audience (like most Canadian crowds) was understanding about the line-up change.

One of the audiences members though, did have us feeling a bit guilty about sending Mr. Van Tassel back to Toronto.  Jonathan (a 16 year old high school student from London, Ontario) showed up eager to find out if the “Band of Awesome” lived up to the hype.  A drummer in his high school jazz band, Jonathan (or “The Kid” as he was quickly and unoriginality nicknamed) planned his whole Vancouver trip around visiting family and watching jazz.  Clinton and Co made up for him missing Mr. Van Tassel by calling him up onstage to sit in with the band.  The Kid was a hit with the crowd and a great reminder to all of us that music can be just as fun now as it was when we were just starting out.

The lasting image of Gridlock 4.0 for me is a simple swing tune that saw a community expand, new relationships solidified, a drummer for Atrux in London, ON and a great story for The Kid of that night at a jazz club in Vancouver when he got to sit in with the band.

I have a feeling this will always be one of my favourite Atrux stories and I’m looking forward to the next time Jonathan gets to play a show with us.

For more photos of “The Kid” check us out on Flickr

Gridlock 4.0: It’s all over now.

It’s been an eventful week for Atrux.

The final shows of the Gridlock series were last weekend and in addition to having a house full of musicians and playing tour guide around Vancouver, I got to hang out with some of my favourite people in the world. Clinton Patterson, Joshua Van Tassel, Graham Chapman and Josh Charney made up our “Band of Awesome” and as you will hear from the recordings that title is well deserved.

On top of being fantastic musicians, they are all great guys, who had as warm a welcome for the city that Atrux calls home, as Vancouver did for them.

We also “found” a great new venue, which if you’ve been following the progress of the whole Gridlock series, is not an easy thing to do in Vancouver. The Greedy Pig on Cordova occasionally has live music and were generous enough to book us a show on really short notice. Killer Bourbon selection, great staff and an appreciative audience. Atrux will definitely be putting on shows here.

Another great thing about the Gridlock artists is the level of trust that exists between all of us: I didn’t hear an entire program before any of the shows, but all the music was been strong and original. This week was no exception, as the material Clinton wrote specifically for Vancouver really brings the noise. It’s almost equal parts jazz and hip hop and blues and soul and everyone (from my parents, to random people on the street) was into it.

We’re working on the recordings and have high hopes for the forthcoming release, but for now here’s some photos and video of the Band of Awesome’s time in Vancouver:

Clinton Patterson, Joshua Van Tassel, Graham Chapman and Josh Charney live at the Libra Room, Vancouver, BC.
Clinton Patterson, Joshau Van Tassel and Russell Scholberg play Guilt and Company
Joshua Van Tassel and Clinton Patterson recording a new track, Live in the Living Room

Check out Atrux on Flickr or Atrux on YouTube for more photos and video of Gridlock 4.0.

Stina on Clinton

Clinton is from Georgia.

I don’t necessarily think that’s the most important thing to talk about, but it was the first thing that I learned about him.

I had just arrived in California and he was one of the first people I met. Prior to our first conversation the only time I’d heard a southern accent was on TV. To say I was terrified would have been an understatement; I couldn’t understand anything he was saying and kept having to ask him to repeat himself. Finally I just resorted to guessing, rather than asking. I’m sure this lead to some interesting answers and he probably thought this Canadian was a little bit crazy. I spent most of the night hoping that I wouldn’t be guessing at answers for the next two years and realizing that TV really doesn’t give southerners enough credit. I had no idea how prominent a feature in my life that accent would become.

I got to spend a lot of time listening to Clinton play while we were both at CalArts. We’d wander the hallways and Clinton would improvise and I would just listen and try to figure out what made his music so compelling. I never figured it out, but I think it might have something to do with how honest and genuine a performer he is. I was surprised, years later, to find out how many of those early improvisations became tracks on his first record.

The jazz program was probably the highlight of my time at CalArts, and though the school was pretty open, my friendship with Clinton meant that I got to listen to a lot of jam sessions. The thing that stands out most about Clinton was how versatile a musician he was, even back then. Whether it was a trio playing straight ahead swing, a large ensemble free jazz experiment or a Rhodes driven party band, his musicality always stood out. Our first year, he started playing piano and suddenly it was like this whole new musical world opened up. He started playing a lot more Latin music (along with forming a band with one of the greatest names ever: “The Point Bonita Gentlemen of Leisure”) and funk, reminding me that one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was the Fender Rhodes. He was a pretty intimidating musician to hang around with then (I remember one particularly embarrassing jam session where I suddenly forgot how to count) and he just keeps on getting better and taking more chances musically and really growing as an artist. He does all of this while maintaining what I at first thought was a stereotypical southern charm. I later learned this was something completely genuine. There’s no ego and no swagger with Clinton, just a really huge smile. He’s a great reminder that music can be many things and that it’s okay for (at least) one of them to be fun.

He called me recently and told me that he bought an electric guitar. I jokingly mentioned something about rock stardom, to which Clinton responded, “That’s the idea”. The music that he’s working on now has definitely evolved, but in a lot of ways it still has that same feel as those first hallway improvisations; extended chords and surprising rhythm, and this voice that is somehow both foreign and familiar.

He’s working on a new record with a bunch of great people in LA and I can’t wait to share this one. I have a feeling it’s going to be fantastic. When I approached him about possibly coming up here and doing a show, he jumped at the chance. He calls me with Vancouver updates to make sure I know he’s been rehearsing and wants to play as many shows as possible, meet some local musicians (he’ll be teaming up with drummer Joshua Van Tassel from Toronto and is also bringing up some friends from LA) and check out the VanCity hangout.  We’ll also be recording an EP while he’s here, which may end up being the first release from Atrux Records.

I’d like to say that all artists are this easy to work with; maybe it’s something they put in the water down south.

From 2007’s “From a Dream” Hip

He’s A RockStar

Andrew Tholl should be a rockstar.

Actually, honestly, he kind of already is.

I first met Andrew in my second year at CalArts when he was literally introduced to me as “The New Violinist”. I perked up instantly (violinists were hard to come by at CalArts) and he had that clean-cut (he hadn’t started growing out “the hair” yet), glasses wearing, “serious musician” look (I later realized that he was most likely just cranky because he hadn’t yet had a coffee) that was somehow both intimidating and intriguing at exactly the same time. I was always looking for new performers, so Andrew was an exciting new possibility, and I started thinking about how I could use him in a few pieces I had written the year before.

Then I heard him play. It was the first concert of the year for the Formalist Quartet (of which Andrew is a founding member) and they did something by Shostakovich, one of the quartets that I can’t remember now, and watching them I realized that Andrew was a player. Not in the traditional classical sense (though he has technique and tone to spare). He was just such a dynamic presence on stage and brought this vibrant energy to the music: I couldn’t look away.

I quickly realized that Andrew was able to take anything and make it sound like it was his. He played his version of Shostakovich and made me believe it. When he started performing his own music towards the end of that year, he brought to it all the things that make him such a great performer. Things like energy, creativity, individualism and a physicality that redefines many traditional ideas around performance practice.

One of the things I love the most about Andrew as a performer/composer is that he has really been able to merge the two facets of his musical identity. That energetic performer is the same composer who reminds his musicians that music is physical: Your performance is a physical act.

As a composer you sometimes forget about certain physical properties of the musicians you write for, like that common rookie mistake of forgetting to leave room to breathe. Andrew takes that that idea a little bit further and finds a way to let musicians really play with everything they have, and he does it in a way that doesn’t force them to work outside of their training. He is the kind of composer that makes his performers better. This is what makes him the kind of performer that every composer wants to work with.

I have been writing Andrew a piece for 3 years. Mainly because I can’t just write him any piece: it needs to be his piece. When you have a musician that can give you an actual performance, it changes everything. Andrew is that kind of musician and composer.

He’s Atrux’s resident rock star and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew rocks out in VanCity as part of Gridlock 3.0

K – V

Vinny Golia needs no introduction.

He’s played in Vancouver numerous times and has recorded with a lot of local talent (Check his label 9 winds for releases).

Kathy Carbone might not be as recognizable to Vancouver.

I met Kathy my first year at CalArts and I was lucky enough to work with her in a variety of capacities while I was there. Kathy is many things: dancer, improviser, teacher, collaborator and researcher.  She is also a great reminder of how important art can be to communities, how important art can be to history, and how art can provide a place for discussion about issues that defy explanation.

Kathy is the founding librarian for the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Centre (IGSC) Library in Kigali, Rwanda.  She has spent portions of the last three summers there, researching and establishing the library that will celebrate its “Grand Opening” this July.  The library follows the mission of the IGSC:  to testify, to study genocide through rigorous cross-disciplinary scholarship, and to understand various mechanisms and structures of violence, with the goal of preventing genocide and mass violence.

We make art for a variety of reasons, and we justify that art for more reasons still.  This library project seems to both confirm and render obsolete many of these reasons.  We talk about making art to define or understand or comment on culture, but the idea of making art that will need to both rebuild a traumatized culture, and stand as a historic document is almost impossible to comprehend.  It just reinforces the connection between art, research, history and documentation, things that we often forget as art is dismissed as merely entertainment instead of being considered something essential.  I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to live in, and through, what happened in Rwanda, let alone make art in the aftermath. Thankfully artists like Kathy have stepped up to make sure that people are able to talk and examine and make art about one of the most unfathomable events in recent history.

The passion that Kathy has for research and for the preservation of art and information is quickly apparent when you meet her.  We worked together on a research project my second year at CalArts, and she proved to be as relentless when looking for information on the Canadian cultural economy as she was about locating rare complexist scores.  She was always available to talk about art (of any form) and that kind of attitude, one that isn’t afraid to address difficult topics about why and how we make art and how it can be integrated into our communities, is one of the principle ideas behind Atrux.

A bit more from Kathy about the IGSC Library: The library was one of the first libraries open to the public in Rwanda post-genocide and the first in the world whose collection is concentrated on the Tutsi genocide. The library’s collection is interdisciplinary in its approach and includes books, journals, DVDs and electronic resources in subject areas such as history, sociology, drama, literature, linguistics, theology, philosophy, poetry, painting, education, social ethics, peace-building, conflict resolution and cultural studies. The library encourages and facilitates interdisciplinary research.  The library is also a place where survivors can share and record their testimony, where writers and artists can share and store their work, and where scholars can research and share their ideas. In this way it is also a social and community center, a place where people come together on levels and in ways that they might not in other areas of life.

The IGSC Library collects and makes freely accessible materials about, from and artistic responses to the Tutsi genocide and genocide studies in general; enables the present and future generations to remember and honor the victims; helps us to know what happened in the past in order to prevent and resist future genocides and to create a culture of respect for human rights. The IGSC Library exists because of the generosity of others – everything in the library has been donated.

To make a donation please contact Kathy Carbone at

Mr. Wadle

I always feel like I should refer to Douglas as “Mr. Wadle”, for no reason other than to show respect for someone I have learned so much from. I met Douglas on my first trip to CalArts at one of those “new student” events where the school is trying really hard to ensure that you take them up on their offer of admission, and all the students are trying to figure out how to talk about what they do. When I was introduced to Douglas, I was certain he was a professor (specifically in the theory department) and after 10 minutes of conversation, I knew that he would be. I could barely follow anything that he was talking about (I think it had something to do with ethnomusicology and southern blues and Chicago), but I was pretty sure I was talking to a genius. I realized that if I could convince Douglas to spend a part of the next two years talking to me about music, then my time at CalArts would be worth it. Luckily, it didn’t take much to get Douglas to talk about art and (like I’d anticipated) it was one of the highlights of my time there.

One of the greatest things about Douglas is that he manages to merge so many different and seemingly diverse interests (philosophy, tuning, visual perception, painting, performance, and a multitude of others) into music that always sounds so cohesive and organic, regardless of the process (whether it’s an interpretive visual score based on modal logic notation, or a tuning piece based on sets of rigorous mathematical equations) that goes into making it. Nothing ever sounds like an exercise or a “study” and he is always able to find the piece within the system, or structure the system so that it gives him a piece (I still haven’t quite figured out which of the two it is). This is the thing that I took from Douglas, the idea of holding onto the piece and making sure that it was pulled through whatever system or process that was being used.

Douglas is also the hardest working composer I’ve ever met. There are no shortcuts in his music, and it shows. He writes a lot by hand. I believe this is both an offshoot of practical necessity (notation programs just haven’t caught up with him yet) and a kind of old school romanticism (he would, most likely, completely disown this statement, but I have always found there to be something romantic, in the best way, about how he writes music). The first time I saw one of his pieces it was a jolting reminder that music is an art form. That might seem strange, but it makes sense to me: computer representations of figures that are personal (Douglas writes rests like no one else) and music that is proof read with midi, are so far from what we hear that it makes sense that we would look for something better, something more personal, something that maintains the same characteristics we want so desperately to capture aurally. I am definitely putting my own spin on this, but seeing that first manuscript was a huge turning point for me, and was concrete evidence that Douglas was working on a whole other level.

So after I’d looked at his scores and heard his music, I saw Douglas perform. I should have expected him to surprise me. He played this piece (“Insomnambulations: Preachin’ Aphasia”) and when I say he played it, I mean with everything. This piece had extended techniques to spare, and characters and great sounds and story and presence. He was captivating and had the entire audience with him for every note (this characteristic is common with all the Gridlock artists) and he was fearless.

That kind of musician is rare.

When I first started planning the series, this was the piece I heard in my head as I thought about things like venue and dates and budgets.

I talk a lot about Atrux starting points, and maybe I have to go as far back as this piece. I have been dropping Douglas subtle hints that I would love to see this on the program.  It looks like he picked up on them.

This piece (and this performer) is something I’m so excited to share with Vancouver.

Listen to a sample of Insomnambulations Preachin’ Aphasia

Douglas and ,, duo take over Vivo for Gridlock 1.0

Number 1

Janet is our number one.

When you start on a project like this, there are certain milestones and markers you find yourself looking forward to and contemplating:  The first confirmed performer, the first signed contract (for anything!), the first poster, the series name, the logo and the first ticket.

The tickets are particularly important for us.

And that’s for a lot of obvious reasons, but also because while our home base is in Vancouver, right now Atrux is kind of spread out.  We’re in Calgary and Japan and LA and Toronto. But beyond that, while we’ve known each other for years, hanging out over coffee and hanging out over budgets and potential concert programs is a bit different.  So I decided we needed a project to do together, something that might seem a bit crazy, possibly irrelevant, but integral none the less.  And well, there was one obvious choice:

Tickets.  400 of them to be exact.  Hand printed (or written) by each member of the A-Team and our “extended family”.

Actually, maybe the term ‘ticket’ isn’t right. Maybe it’s more like an invitation.  These hand written declarations bold enough to say; I want to see you.  In March, April, June and July.

Perhaps it’s naïve to think that the more time we put into making these tickets, the more we have invested in each one, the more we’ll be focused on making sure that they end up in the right hands.  Nadim and I did the first tickets over brunch at Bons, and I remember him musing out loud over whom they would end up with.

Because as much as we are looking for an audience, we’re also looking for participants; people who want to listen and ask questions and quiz Douglas on his tuning ratios and hang out after the last notes have faded and talk about how we can get better.

That’s a lot of expectations on both sides.  So perhaps it’s understandable that there was a lot of pressure on that first pair of tickets, on who was going to be our number one.

Then I met Janet.

It was on a random sunny February Sunday, outside the CBC, waiting in line for a chance to take in a recording session of the Current.  She had seen “The Blue Dragon” a couple of nights before and we started talking about art and Vancouver, and I inevitably started talking about Atrux and the shows. And then she asked me how she could get tickets.

Though I had visions of going for coffee with Anna Maria Tremonti and casually brining up the concert series, wondering aloud if she may have a CBC colleague that would like a ticket, listening to Janet talk about VanCity and her daughter and her experiences with art, it was quickly obvious that if I was handing out invitations to a party…

Well, she was someone I wanted at mine.

So Janet is our first ticketholder, first almost audience member and giant to-do list item crossed off.   She is also a great reminder that you can find the right answers anywhere and the decision to spend a day hanging out at the CBC is always a good one.

So March 26th, I’m hoping I can continue my conversation with Janet, only this time we’ll get a chance to talk about Atrux and Gridlock and stage setups and atmosphere and program order and audience interaction.  And maybe we’ll do it over a beer instead of CBC coffee.

Now about the other 99…