Festival of new music goes way, way back

Festival of new music goes way, way back

Musician Courtney Brown will bring the past to the present by playing a replica dinosaur skull at New Music Edmonton's annual festival this month.

"I grew up singing," Brown told Taproot. "The thought of another creature, way back in the past, that was also a singer — I felt like this great sense of kinship with the creature."

Brown's inspiration to combine prehistory with modern sound stemmed from a chance stop at a dinosaur museum in New Mexico, which included an exhibit showcasing a Parasaurolophus's imagined sound.

"I started to think of that and how I could create kind of a more embodied or musical, physical reaction with the sound," she said. She went on to develop a work called Dinosaur Choir as a Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arts and Humanities at the University of Alberta.

Brown's June 16 performance with drone artist Ethan Bokma at CO*LAB will include animal calls, meditative tones, and a blend of her vocals with the sounds created by sending air through the helmeted skull of a Corythosaurus, a large hadrosaur that lived about 77 million years ago.

It's just one of many unusual sounds to expect at Now Hear This, a festival of new music running from June 9 to 18.

"This is music that is underground compared to underground music because it isn't music that has a lot of media attention," said Ian Crutchley, New Music Edmonton's artistic director.

Now Hear This showcases "sound-oriented artistic practices" in a wide range of genres, Crutchley said. "Whether you're talking about chamber music or an electronic installation or a highly amplified avant-rock trio, sound is really at the core of it."

The festival opens with a double bill featuring a recital by mezzo-soprano Michelle Lafferty and new chamber music and songs by composer Karen Shepherd. It closes with Shumaila Hemani and the Sufi Ensemble.

Such music is the opposite of mainstream, but it finds fertile ground here, Crutchley suggested.

"Edmonton is a city that's full of people that love experiences in the arts," he said. "I think this is a great chance for people who don't know about this kind of music very much, but they want to maybe try out some things."

Photo: Courtney Brown combines her passions for art and science by blowing through a replica dinosaur skull to make music with a voice from the past. (Sharif Razzaque)