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.

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

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…

ātra + lūx


From the Latin for Light and Dark Atrux embraces contradictions:

Art + Economics

Sustainability + Mass Production

Community + Remote Collaboration

We want to get people talking about art:  Asking the difficult questions with whatever vocabulary they have, building a framework for dialogue between audience and performer.

We believe in art that is supported by communities and is made to scale.

There are other things, some vital (pairing shows with workshops), some not so much (our favourite brunch spot is Havana).

We’ll get to the formal introductions later, but for now we’re glad you’re here.