FLOURISH FEST: DAY 3 PT 1 – AVOCADOS, MERMAIDS, AND HARDWOOD SOUNDPADS

When I wake Saturday morning, the power has gone out. Outside, Fredericton is blustery and grim, threatening rain, and smoke hangs over the neighbourhood of the Charlotte Street Arts Center from a nearby construction fire; as I turn onto Charlotte street, firefighters are still extinguishing the gutted, half-finished apartment building.

Thankfully, the CSAC has power, and is warm, dry, and well-lit. I make my way to Connexion Artist-Run Center’s office and gallery, where Indigo Poirier of Wangled Teb is setting up a workshop on Ableton Live. Suspended in the middle of the room is an exhibit of miniature-scale couture creations titled Weight of Power, by local fashion designer Tracy Austin: lush, dark, gowns ornamented with petals, thorns, and branches. Workshop attendees are seated in a row of chairs beneath the exhibit, making it seem like they are haunted by a brace of regal fairies floating in midair.

With their computer screen projected on the wall, Indigo begins demonstrating various Ableton functions and plugins that they use while performing. While most of the technical details go over my head, it is fascinating getting to watch Indigo reveal the workings of several of their Wangled Teb sets, including one or two pieces I have previously seen in performance. Most of the workshop participants are other Flourish performers, including the duo behind VERSA Visuals, and folk singer Kylie Fox. The workshop feels collaborative and open, and Indigo takes various questions and suggestions from the attendees, showing them how to create particular effects they request, demonstrating how to map tracks and effects onto electronic consoles, and explaining how to free up processing speed for more complicated pieces.

For the second half of the workshop, Indigo invites the participants to bring out their own computers and instruments to experiment with Ableton. Though part of me wants to stay and listen, when the group breaks for coffee, I thank Indigo, and make my way downtown.

It is stormy and raining by the time I reach Bellwether, a local vintage and art consignment shop. Inside,  Erin Muir and Corey Bonnevie of Wrote have begun playing. Muir’s soft soprano voice and muted, finger picked guitar ballads are accompanied by the sound of clothes hangers faintly clicking as people search through racks of clothing from Flourish pop-up Ok My Dear Vintage. Seated on a vintage wood-and-floral-velvet bench, with her boots neatly removed and tucked behind her, Muir sings about watching houseplants wither, and lupin-planting as grief work. Surrounded by local artwork and macrame plant hangers, Wrote’s music feels at home in the small, intimate setting of Bellwether, each song’s soft, organic tones a refuge from the rain.

The next performer is Kylie Fox, arriving from the Ableton workshop. Her set begins with a cover of Joni MItchell’s “Case of you,” executed so tenderly that I am convinced the song was written precisely for her voice. Backed by acoustic guitar, Fox’s voice is bold and ethereal, with an almost operatic vibrato at its peaks and sweet, delicate tones when she sings softly. Her down to earth humour runs through the storytelling between songs, as well as in the songs themselves. Fox’s song “Avocado” is dedicated to a friend who, while pregnant, discovered one week that her baby was the size of an avocado. “People ask if it was planned and you say– bitch –under your breath,” sings Fox, peppering what could easily have been a sentimental topic with enough sarcasm, reality, and empathy to make it unmistakably genuine.

While heading back to the CSAC, I am caught in a sudden downpour, and end up taking shelter from the rain in the newly opened library of NBCCD, Fredericton’s local craft college. This weekend, the library is hosting Flourish’s annual zine and craft fair. Local and visiting artists are set up to sell their wares: comics and postcards by Patrick Allaby and Laura K. Watson, zines by Al Cusack and Olivia Thompson, hand-sewn scrunchies by Sackville-based designer Jeska Grue, issues of Fredericton-based literary Qwerty Magazine, and more.

Even as I am delighted by the art on display, something begins to nag at me: I am the only brown person in the room. I can’t say this is unusual in the Maritimes, and I’m generally desensitized to being the only person of colour around, but for whatever reason, the presence of several white people with waist-length dreads at the zine fair makes me suddenly hyper-aware of the room’s overwhelming whiteness. It’s hardly shocking, but at the same time, it is. Saying anything about this feels like a risk. I could too easily become a villain, the stereotypical angry brown femme meant to be laughed at and dismissed. I know any anger or discomfort I feel is loneliness, the reminder of how isolated I am from communities that understand this feeling, too.

Scanning my festival program, I realize there are only two visible people of colour among the hundred or so performers featured all weekend. One of the two, Wabanaki fashion designer Mariah Sockabasin, is scheduled to showcase some of her designs at the same time as the event I was headed to before being interrupted by the rain–an open jam session for women, trans, two-spirit, and non-binary youth hosted by Girls+ Rock Camp at the CSAC.

Being torn between the two events is a visceral reminder of the way in which QTBIPOC are made to choose between our communities, forced to abandon our ethnic communities to feel included for our genders or sexualities, or forced to closet ourselves in order to belong with our racialized kin. Even on such a small scale–me, alone, with all my privilege to choose between attending one amazing art event or another–it hurts to defer part of your identity.

I arrive rain-soaked and out of breath at the Girls+ Rock Camp session. Members of various bands performing at Flourish, including Motherhood’s Penelope Stevens, songwriter Jane Blanchard, and Indigo Poirier are guiding about a dozen young people as they play on several drum kits, keyboards, synth tables, and guitars scattered around the CSAC auditorium. A constant groove emerges from the various rhythm stations, and a song begins to take shape as I watch. Two young girls wearing pastel hijabs join Indigo at the mic, and sing about everyone becoming mermaids. Other kids around the room chime in gradually, singing and laughing along, swapping instruments and making new friends.

After stopping to warm up with a coffee from Milda’s Pizza and More, I make my way back through the rain to Gallery 78, a historic, turreted house on the South bank of the Wolastoq river. Featuring several exhibits by local artists, today, the gallery’s main room hosts a pop-up installation by classical/songwriting duo Pallmer and Montreal-based electronic artist Charles Harding.

On the floor, Harding has taped off a large square with arrows pointing through it, accompanied by the words “Step Study.” Pallmer cellist Emily Kennedy and violist Mark Kleyn are set up at opposite corners of the square, and play from scored composed by Harding: though the scores contain standard lines of musical notation, between each line, there are sections denoted by colourful, abstract blobs and waves. The performance begins with Pallmer playing an airy, minimalistic duet, but the twist is revealed when Harding walks through the outlined square, and invites the audience to do the same. As soon as anyone walks into the square in the center of the room, Pallmer’s playing becomes a musical interpretation mimicking the person’s steps.

Tiptoeing through the square incurs soft, plucked harmonics. Stomping results in loud, heavy chords. When three women dance into the square together, holding hands and spinning, the music becomes a raucous waltz that follows their every movement. Pallmer’s improvisations echo the speed, weight, and feel of the audience’s interventions as people become bolder and begin to experiment: one man removes his shoes and slides across the floor; a Flourish volunteer gets down on the floor and log-rolls through the square; some people try squeaking their rain-wet shoes against the hardwood to test the effect; and at one point, people try throwing coats and keys into the ring, incurring a variety of sustained harmonics and chords.

Throughout the performance, the art gallery becomes a dance floor and soundpad, where the audience is invited to collaborate in the music, using their bodies as instruments. Step Study is an invitation to play along with the performers, not just in the musical sense, but in the childlike, imaginative realm. As the piece comes to a close, the final audience intervention that modifies the score is when Erin Goodine (of Fredericton band Terre Wa) pulls up a corner of the tape delineating the square soundpad, breaking the barrier between the scored and improvised music for a moment before gently putting it back. After enthusiastic applause, Harding explains that his goal is to make performance interactive. The performances of his piece at Flourish are also data-gathering expeditions, as Harding intends to compose a future piece based on the step and sound patterns recorded during the festival. As everyone leaves Gallery 78, we leave as co-conspirators and collaborators in this future composition.


Contribution by Rebecca Salazar (she/her)

Rebecca Salazar is the author of the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila’s Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther Press). Recent publications include poetry and non-fiction in Briarpatch, Minola Review, and The Puritan. Rebecca is currently a poetry editor for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines, and a PhD candidate at UNB.

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