Tag Archives: Sandro Perri

Ten-plus Cultural Experiences I’m Still Thinking About Now that 2011’s Done with Us

by Carl Wilson

 [With trademark untimeliness, Back to the World is presenting a series of belated, cross-genre, year-end lists, as we did last year, and again loosely on the model of Greil Marcus’s long-running Real Life Rock Top Ten. Margaux posted last week and Chris will post soon. Once again I’ve confined myself to topics I haven’t written about at length here before, or in my year-end chatter in the Slate Music Club (and accompanying Spotify playlist).]

1. Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (out, late 2010; read, early 2011)

 The Toronto-based writer, musician and scholar Marcus Boon’s generous intervention (that’s a full, free PDF) over one of the issues of our time (cf SOPA) seemed to echo everywhere – as far out as the viral reproduction of revolutionary courage through Arab countries, and the call-and-response of the “human microphone” of Occupy Wall Street and its own hashtag-breeding copycats.

What I found so moving, even given the book’s digressive wander through a potentially infinite subject (and the foolhardiness of trying to control infinitudes) was its restoration of copying’s many sensual and spiritual connotations in what has been much too abstract and legalistic a debate. The back-and-forth weave and warp of repetition and difference is a pervasive leitmotif of existence, and not just the human. Boon’s treatment is elusive, with no definitive answers, but that means it will reward repeated re-reading, never just a copy of the first time.

2. The sex scenes in Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce (March, 2011)

 

There was a lot of debate about what Haynes, one of my favourite American film directors, did in his HBO mini-series with the template of the 1940s melodrama starring, of course, Joan Crawford: Had he evacuated the original film’s queerness, its camp, and left only a portrait of a status-and-materialism-driven woman who brings ruin, reinstating the misogyny of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel? Yes and no. Yes, he was bringing back the sting of the novel’s more radical anti-capitalism. But he was also taking the mini-series’ extra time to push the viewer’s nose far deeper into the mortification (social death, social stiffening) Kate Winslet’s Mildred endures when all the guarantees of the social contract are pulled out from under her by economic-cycle brutality and masculine bad faith, and the contradictions she helplessly generates (chiefly in her daughter, almost earning Evan Rachel Wood’s scenery-masticating performance) in the course of trying to maintain vestiges of her expectations within that outcaste position.

But Haynes also grants Winslet’s Mildred a grace Crawford’s could never taste – full-blown, full-grown sensual gratification, in her leggy, languorous love scenes with Guy Pearce as aristocratic reprobate Monty Beragon, the real sex object of the piece. Granted, the plot ensures this is in many ways another trap, but between them the actors and Haynes refuse that old morality’s to overpower the commandments of skin and light on skin, the manifesto for being and perseverance that an intimate bodily encounter can’t utter but can proclaim. It enacts what camp once did but no longer can: victory within defeat, not just despite but also because of loss, in its unapologetic ensnarement with entropy and other ultimate unfairnesses, against which desire still demands, “Live all you can.”

By making that so vivid, and driven by the will of the “unrespectable” woman, Haynes discredited his own tragedy, asking why a male film figure like George Clooney or Clark Gable (whom Pearce’s Monty directly recalls) can give that same kind of vicarious pleasure and get at best lightly slapped, while Mildred Pierce has to be dragged through the shoals. In this, though the rest isn’t perfect, Haynes really made a melodrama to end all melodrama.

3. WTF with Marc Maron interviewing Bryan Cranston (June 10); Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad (all year)

 

If you measured by the number of hours spent on it in the year, you would conclude my most cherished art form is not music, literature, live performance or even TV, but the podcast. Check my iTunes: I’m currently subscribed to about 65, though the majority are really radio shows, not native to the pod. And the majority of those aren’t mwhusic but talk. Perhaps it’s that I live alone and am comforted by the chatter during cleaning, cooking, trying to go to sleep and other routines (I wish I were better with silence). But it’s also because non-broadcast radio lets people take liberties with talk – that most eternally human of media – that feel fresh and exciting without being consciously experimental and avant. There’s no better example, title down, than Marc Maron’s What the Fuck?! I came to it a little late, compelled by its backstory: A veteran, never breakout comedian who’s struggled with personal demons gets new career success and satisfaction by sitting down with people in his field in his garage and asking them frank, patient questions of craft, d but also how their own flaws and hauntings have affected their stories – empathetically sounding their barriers and/or divulging his admiring but frustrated puzzlement at how they surpass them.

The editions that draw hype tend to be confronting, sensational – a showdown with a hack, an uncomfortable discussion with a friend, a comedy writer confessing an attempted suicide. But I love the quieter talks he has with people about their growth. One of my favourites was with Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, and not just because he’s an actor whose work left me wide-eyed over the past several years (as it clearly did Maron). Cranston is at once enormously garrulous and open about his route to his ambitions (he tells stories with theatrical gusto) and humble (not showbiz humble, but humble) and grateful for the improbable fact that his journeyman dues-paying led to an artistic and career jackpot. I listened in early summer and have thought about it at least weekly since.

  

 Bryan Cranston, out of character … and in.

For several months, that was partly because a highlight of each week was the fourth season of Breaking Bad, the best drama on television since The Wire, even better if only because it had the previous show to go by (just as The Wire had The Sopranos). Unlike those two, it isn’t a big ensemble piece. Supporting players are super, but this is a show about two people, Cranston’s Walter White and his protégé (considering how terribly he’s protected, that’s exactly the wrong word): Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman. I have nothing original to add to the accolades: Beyond character and cinematic weave, what’s remarkable is its arc in which a good man becomes very far from good, at first for circumstantial reasons and then for deeply rooted ones, and the audience has to test how far our sympathies can extend, even as we vicariously participate in the rot.

The season finale is the obvious standout, featuring both one of the most ingenious murder scenes ever committed to film or video and an ending many viewers might find it hard to get past (and not just for its dangling plot threads). But three weeks earlier, there was an atypical episode, in which the focus shifted from Walter to Jesse for nearly the whole hour and forced the younger man to find unexpected strengths. It mattered because the question has become whether anyone in this saga will walk away alive with something like an intact soul, and there’s really only one hope left. Here we begin to see that a story that seemed to be about one person and his themes and issues might really be a story about someone and something else. As always: The story of the parents turns into the story of the children, which then turns out to be the story of their children, and the next, and so on. If it doesn’t, that’s when there’s real trouble. (Attention, anyone who compared Occupy Wall Street to Woodstock.)

4. The consolations of comedy: Party Down on Netflix, “Adults in Autumn” (Chris Locke, Kathleen Phillips, Nick Flanagan, 
Rebecca Kohler, 
Jon McCurley, 
Tom Henry
, Glenn Macaulay) at Double Double Land (November), Louis CK at the Sony Centre (October) and Louie, Maria Bamford at Comedy Bar (January), Parks & Recreation, Community, the Comedy Bang Bang podcast …

Along with having become a podcast nerd – and abetted by it – what really struck me in 2011 is that over the past several years I was becoming a comedy nerd. I’m now usually more enthusiastic to go see people say funny things than to hear a concert, or to listen to or watch comedy on my computer than to listen to music. I follow local comics, especially the way-underpublicized Kathleen Phillips, as avidly as I used to follow bands, even here in the greatest musickest citiest of them all-est. I am still puzzling. Perhaps it’s just that a change is as good as a rest, as they say: The comedy nodes in my brain may be less worn-down than the music nodes. Or perhaps there really is more fresh happening in comedy than in music (in Toronto specifically or in general?), or more likely that whatever was new a half-decade ago or more to true comedy nerds finally has become obvious and available to us rabble. (The fact that I still don’t love the Best Show on WFMU is the clinching evidence, right?)

Or as Woody Allen would say, maybe I just needed the eggs. A lot of us had a grim year.

And speaking of eggs, I agree completely with Margaux about the Louie duckling-in-Afghanistan episode.

5. Have Not Been the Same by Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider: reissue (June), panel (Soundscapes, Toronto, July) and CD (November)

Have I gotten this far without having to declare any conflicts of interest? No matter, plenty more to come.

Even in this supposedly retromanic age of eternal re-re-return, the bubbles of cultural history with local habitations but no names can easily pop away and leave only stains on the barroom floors. A decade ago, three Canadian music writers, one of them my friend Michael Barclay, tried to guard against that by writing a history of the Canadian music world (mostly indie division) from the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s, Have Not Been the Same: The Can-Rock Renaissance. It was a fairly thankless task in 2001, when those scenes were waninh, fractured and with little apparent trace, though since the book mentioned dozens upon dozens of people it sold well enough. Perceptively, though, they later realized the Canadian successes of recent years lent their subject renewed relevance – and that made it incomplete as history. So they undertook many more interviews, updated the individual stories and overall tale with a new introduction and conclusion and brought the book back this year. They held launch concerts and discussions – including a panel at Soundscapes record shop in Toronto with Julie Doiron (ex-Eric’s Trip, current-Julie Doiron), Don Pyle (ex-Shadowy Men, ex-Phono Comb, many more, current Trouble in the Camera Club) and Alison Outhit (ex-Rebecca West, ex-Halifax Pop Explosion, current FACTOR) that was one of the most worthwhile discussions of how musicians and music live and that life has changed I’ve experienced in ages, even (I think) without nostalgia.

Michael’s also curated a companion soundtrack, possibly the first of many, with more recent Can-Rockers playing gems from the book’s era. Which coverers and coverees you like best likely will depend on your own faves: For me, there’s something especially poignant about the Hidden Cameras coaxing out the gentleness of Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver,” or Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire) and Little Scream slipping into the steamy ether of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “When You Know Why You’re Happy.” Maps overlaid, outlines of one sunken continent shimmering around the contours of one newer-risen. Lenses, focusing other lenses, or a more vibrant blur.

6. Stand-In (1937) with Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart and Joan Blondell, on Turner Classic Movies (August 24)

Not at all new, of course, but new to me when I stumbled upon it on TV in the summer. It’s a bundle of this-but-that: A screwball, Hollywood-skewers-Hollywood comedy that bridges Bogart’s tough-guy and leading-man days, with Busby Berkeley star Joan Blondell (the excuse for its airing, in an evening featuring her) being cutesy-charming but also the brains of the outfit, Leslie Howard stiff and patrician-blinkered but then melting and gaining his senses, and the whole thing ending with a ridiculous/stirring Hollywood labour uprising that gives away its Depression-to-New Deal moment, hard to imagine in many other eras. Apparently the original was more radical still – censored were “a speech about the stifling of competition in the industry and the crushing of independent companies by the majors; and … a speech by Atterbury at the end, in which he says he is going to start a Senate investigation of the motion picture business.”

Here’s a link to the whole movie, as long as it lasts:

It probably stuck with me because the broadcast just preceded the #Occupy moment, but anything mainstream-American that talks explicitly of economic justice without patting itself on the back until its spine breaks (like recent supposed treatments of the financial crisis), frankly, is memorable on its own.

7. The Citizens’ Filibuster (July 28)

Another classic movie came to mind in Toronto a month earlier, on the night of July 28: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. We mentioned it and pictured it here at the time, but too briefly: The bizarre, nearly-24-hour session of citizen testimony – or, as it became known, the “citizens’ filibuster” – against Rob Ford’s attempt to slash budgets was, just as Torontoist says, one of the truly heroic moments of the year, here or anywhere: Our local mini-Newt’s attempt to force closure became the opposite, a populist force to pry the oyster of debate back open, which led to this month’s still-surprising turnabout, in which Ford’s agenda was, for the time being, trounced.

Culturally, whether you were at City Hall or following it on the simulcast and especially social media, it was incredible civic theatre, in which vivid characters (none more heart-tugging than the one below, but some others close) displayed the eloquence and, more significantly, the expertise of so-called ordinary people who normally aren’t even allowed to pick up the marbles in the political game. It’s a contrast to the ugly pro-death-penalty and anti-immigrant ovations of selected attendees at Republican primary debates, for instance. Don’t let those things kill your faith in humanity. The corpse of that faith is what the vultures feed upon.

8. DJs Debate Club at the Henhouse (March 6)

This entry’s a tad more self-indulgent: For the past few years, the Henhouse on Dundas West in Toronto has been the place that I and a few close friends have gone to get our cheap beers on and make like Jonathan Richman, except in a post-Will-Munro-polymorphic Third Place. Our hosts Katie Ritchie, Jenny Smyth and Vanessa Dunn made us more than welcome, and last spring invited me and pal Michael McManus (yes, the last of the Brunnen-G) to DJ one night under our Henhouse nickname, Debate Club (for our propensity to jawbone loudly about politics till closing time).

On the theme of #occupy-precursors that runs through this list, Michael decided we should intercut tracks of famous political speeches between tracks. It would have been a big hit if it had been six months later. Instead we eventually abandoned poor Mario Savio when cooler (but sweatier) heads prevailed and taught us girls just wanna have Robyn. I hadn’t DJ’d since the last time I supplied Wavelength with an iPod playlist, and had forgotten what a rush it is to play music very, very loud, like conjuring worlds, and sex, and astral projection. (Thanks also to Jacob Zimmer, Small Wooden Shoe and Dancemakers for letting me do it again at a fundraiser in December.)

The Henhouse has changed hands now, sadly for its denizens, end of an era. Ladies, you regularly made a room a festival and a roundup of strays into a small community, as best a bar can do. You’ll be missed, but I’m excited to see what you all do next.

9. Misha Glouberman’s Negotiation Class (winter/spring)

Along with assuming the role of author (along with our comrade Sheila Heti) of The Chairs are Where the People Go (about which I really recommend this Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, along with LARB in general), B2TW associate Misha embarked on another new venture this year: An experienced teacher of many forms of improvisation and facilitator of conferences and events, he began this year giving a class in negotiation and communication born of both his innate inclinations to and his concerted studies of  reason, compromise and low-bullshit ways for people to have difficult conversations.

I took the pilot-workshop version of it last winter, with mostly Misha’s friends in it, at a time that I was navigating some crucial personal and professional transitions; some parts worked out and some didn’t, but I’d been given new tools to break down what was happening and address it with, most of all, relative fearlessness. That’s what much of Misha’s work is about: how to cope with the fear that human exchange sparks, which causes us to act protectively in ways that read as irrational to the very people we want most to understand, and find productive alternatives. Generosity, he shows, is a more winning position – not #winning, but in the sense that there’s usually less substantial conflict than meets the eye. (The urge to win, itself, might be an evolutionary catch-22.) He’s teaching a short, intensive version of the course again next month at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

10. Quite Interesting (QI) with Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon, Jimmy Carr and Stephen Fry (Sept., 2007)

Back to humour again: This is from a few years ago but I first saw it because over Vietnamese dinner Misha brought up the BBC quiz/chat/comedy show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, so I spent an afternoon watching clips. And then I hit this, which (beginning at 0:22), makes me laugh helplessly and forgive Britain all its sins. I like to watch it any time I feel overwhelmed, with no straight lines to follow. Or maybe I’ll do it ritually every year, as a colonial amusement, the way northern Europeans watch Dinner for One.

PLUS

Melancholia, especially Charlotte Rampling as the archetypical Bad Mother, and Earth as the even more archetypical Bad Mother; Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes press conference for Melancholia; the BBC series Sherlock, the other BBC series The Hour, and the other (much less smart about Britain, class and war, but still absurdly entertaining) BBC series Downton Abbey; Christian Marclay’s The Clock at Paula Cooper and Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” at the Met (the two art shows I most regret missing) and “Alexander McQueen” (the song by Tomboyfriend); Ryan Trecartin’s “Any Ever” in Queens (the show I’m gladdest I didn’t miss); the Doug Loves Movies podcast and the (for me, unplayable) Leonard Maltin Game (throughout “Two Oceans 11”); the Slate Culture Gabfest (especially being on an episode, which was a thrill); The Ex with Brass Unbound at Lee’s Palace in May; two concert/tour movies about Canadian artists that I didn’t expect to like but that each made me cry, watching them in immediate sequence, Look at What the Light Did Now (Feist) and We’re the Weakerthans, We’re from Winnipeg (Weakerthans); the saving of Saint Mark’s Bookshop; the Smee jokes in Pat Thornton’s third 24-hour standup marathon at Comedy Bar; Tim Hecker’s pipe-organ concert at the Music Gallery; poems by Michael Robbins and D.A. Powell; John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene; Sandro Perri’s CD launch concerts at the Tranzac in November; Ty Segall at the Wrongbar in NXNE (June); Jeff Mangum at Trinity Saint Paul’s church in Toronto, Aug. 12; discovering this early-1980s scene from a Ron Mann art film featuring Jim Carroll and Jack Layton improbably together, both RIP, #occupymemory; as an epigraph to the year, these lines from “Hindsight,” by Richard Buckner: “Stricken as we stood/ Broken as we made/ Time for make-believe/ Stealing, when we should/ What we couldn’t give away.”

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Filed under books, carl wilson, chris randle, comedy, comics, events, lectures, literature, margaux williamson, movies, music, other, poetry, TV/video, visual art

Tea With Chris: Funny, But Not Hilarious

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: I’m still making my way through Matthias Wivel’s long Comics Journal piece about the chaos afflicting storied French independent publisher L’Association, and this is only the first of two parts.

Founded in 1990 by many of the country’s best young cartoonists as a home for work that existing houses refused to consider, L’Association was initially a non-profit collective, but the mainstream success of several members obliged Jean-Christophe Menu to become a paid editorial director. His growing influence over the entire line generated inescapable tension, culminating in a strike and a coup. The sort of thorough journalism that Wivel does here – as distinct from criticism or interviews – is all too unusual in comics, because no publication has the money for it.

Just look at what the cartoonist Lewis Trondheim told him: “Menu was the driving force in the creation of L’Association, along with us, but he also ended up a threat to its existence because of his lack of social intelligence and ineptness as a boss and as a manager, and because his alcoholism and paranoia got out of hand.” Also, it’s France, so people say “discourse” a lot.

Possibly the greatest tweet ever tweeted.

Speaking of brilliant inanities, here is a mesmerizing a capella version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s vaguely orientalist Oil Ocean Zone theme:

Margaux: Onto personal tragedy. I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking this week. I was a little distracted by how often she and her husband went out for dinner. I kept wanting to go out for dinner. It’s not as painful a book as I had been led to believe, mainly because her interest isn’t in having you to feel what she’s feeling. She is focused on trying to piece back together some kind of meaning after devastating loss – using a lifetime of literary and philosophical knowledge; that is not magical thinking but still real magic. She gets there. It made me want to read her new book Blue Nights.

Brain tumors are funny, but they’re not hilarious – says Samantha Kittle over at her brain tumor blog A Lie of the Mind.

Who needs stand-up mics, television and sanity when you’ve got the all-powerful internet? Welcome to The Maria Bamford Show. (thanks to Naomi Skwarna)

And a real-life tragedy of children losing their Halloween candy – from Jimmy Kimmel. It is awesome.

Carl: This is older but hardly anyone’s seen it: David Dacks outlines the contours of the special hybrid of folk, indie, improvised and electronic musics that emanate from Toronto’s Australia New Zealand Club, better known as the Tranzac – which he makes a convincing case is almost its own genre. The pinnacle of it might be Sandro Perri’s new Impossible Spaces album:

Margaux, other people have noticed Joan Didion going out to dinner and apparently she’s gotten a little defensive about it. Comes with bonus impassioned and not dumb debate in the comments.

And just to be a little snobby my own self, the candybox of culture I’m most excited about this week is that all three of Jean-Pierre Gorin’s most popular/significant film essays are coming out together on a disc by Criterion.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

C-C-Could Be: Sandro Perri and Impossible Spaces

by Chris Randle

Last week, I interviewed Toronto local hero Sandro Perri about his incredible, unclassifiable new album Impossible Spaces. You can read my thoughts about the LP itself over there, but the Toronto Standard was only able to run half of our long Q&A (even websites have word counts), so here’s all the other smart, insightful things Sandro said.

CR: I’m curious about your musical background – what kind of formal training do you have, if any?
Sandro Perri: The first thing was, I bought a snare drum when I was about…maybe 11, and I just played on that for a few months. Then I got an acoustic guitar and messed around on my own for two or three months, and then got a private teacher, and studied with him on and off for three years. So I guess that was between 12 and 15, maybe 16. During that time it was rock and classical guitar that I was studying. And then I took a break from that and sort of studied on my own for two years or so, and that was the most intense period, six hours a day, that kind of thing. Then I got a teacher for about six months just before applying to jazz school, who got me primed to learn more advanced scales and theory and harmony. I got accepted into school, and I was there for about a year and a half—

Which jazz school?
Humber College. I did one full year and one half-year, even though on the first day I wanted to leave [laughs]. It was very conservative as far as I could tell.

So they didn’t know who Ornette Coleman was?
The teachers would have, I guess. But few of the students were into that kind of thing. I managed to find the 4 or 5 who were, and we developed friendships and played together. But I got something out of it, I learned quite a bit, and equally important is that I learned what I didn’t want out of school, what I didn’t want to be involved in, which was studying to be a session musician or a straight jazz musician. I knew that I wasn’t really gonna cut it. So I think that was the extent of my actual schooling – the rest, I would just read books at home and practice rhythm exercises. I practiced a lot from this polyrhythm book for a few years. And then just listening. Listening was the main schooling, actually.

I didn’t realize until doing the research for this interview that you had made out-and-out dance music before, as Dot Wiggin and Continuous Dick. Impossible Spaces seems to return to that somewhat, or at least emphasize grooves more than Tiny Mirrors did – there are definitely moments that remind me of Arthur Russell. That wasn’t a question so much as a statement, I guess [both laugh].
I could treat it like a question.

Sure.
Well, okay. Dot Wiggin was actually a collaboration with a friend of mine, Todd Fox, who’s since passed. I guess he didn’t get me into making dance music, but I think that I became – I don’t know what to say about that. It was very special, that’s for sure. It was definitely an intense six months of music-making. And I learned something about simplicity from him, about space. I was probably trying to be too brainy about it before that. Trying to validate it as “music”. I still suffer from that a little. I don’t think I’ve fully found that thing you need to make great dance music.

The physicality?
The physicality and the simplicity. Structurally strong. That’s a key thing that I still am learning about, and I think all the dance music that I’ve made has just managed to not achieve that but offer enough of an interesting take that people have at least been curious about it. Whereas somebody like Arthur Russell definitely knew how to do those things, and he was a very sophisticated musician, in a more traditional sense. There’s nothing lacking in any of his dance music at all. In part, the desire to make dance music came as a reaction to being in jazz school, and yet, another part of me was still holding on to those things, which essentially prevented me from jumping right in. Just those mental traps you set up for yourself.

The other part was, making electronic music was a way of getting out of using my hands, having some sort of dexterity issue to grapple with. I spent years practicing and I had reached a bit of a stalemate. Making ‘beats’, on the other hand, was creative in an entirely different way. My brain needed a different kind of stimulation. It was much more about rhythm and overall construction than about knowledge of harmony. So it was a good way to relieve myself of some pressures that I felt, learning an instrument, becoming good at it. And I realized very quickly that making music is not about playing an instrument, it’s about overall composition, pacing and space and learning how to access some sort of feeling or idea and translating it into sound. Dance music is – I come and go, I’m into making it for a while and then I have a reaction to that, which is too much button pushing and not enough physical engagement. Not enough singing, not enough playing. There’s always a swing back and forth. So maybe I’ve come the closest to combining the two in this record.

That’s interesting, because in the beginning jazz music was dance music.
Yeah, totally.

And then they sort of bifurcated. I don’t want to create an academic/hedonistic dichotomy, but I think jazz now is much more in the realm of Anthony Braxton and Peter Brotzmann. More cerebral – I mean, it’s also very physical in a way, but – and dance music went in the direction of Larry Levan or Carl Craig.
Well, I think there are different ways of experiencing the physicality in music. You could still feel it, as you say, even if it’s Anthony Braxton or Peter Brotzmann. The best stuff, to me, is often very physical, and in a way, kind of simple. When it’s structurally strong and it offers you something to hang on to. But then, a lot of music that sounds like it’s barely holding on, like it’s just hanging there, can give me shivers as well. That’s physical too. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that jazz stopped being dance music, I think a problem is that too often there is a perceived difference between brain and body, and then you get people going to supposed extremes on either end. There’s terrible dance music, just all about the body without take anything else into consideration.

Or really terrible IDM.
Yeah, exactly. On either end of the spectrum, it’s just too much of one thing. It’s too separated from the rest of our experiences. So ideally the line between this stuff is blurred.

You’ve produced all of your solo albums yourself – the new LP was recorded at 6 Nassau in Kensington Market, if I remember correctly – but you also do production work for other musicians. Do the two roles differ at all?
Probably the big difference is that I’ll spend forever on my own records, just trying things out, experimenting with things, throwing things away after I’ve done them, redoing them. I can’t really do that with other people, because it’s their own time, their own budgets, their own threshold of pain [laughs]. That process of making a record can be quite draining and difficult. So that’s the big thing, I have to be more focused and get a sense of what the person I’m working with is comfortable with and what they want out of the situation and how far they’re willing to go with something. That’s actually a very good thing to learn. I like process a lot, I like working with other people a lot. Helping to understand what somebody’s else thing is, what they’re trying to say or what their vision is. To encourage them in ways that I think are useful and to discourage them in other ways, from all the things that come up when you’re involved in any sort of creative adventure: all the self-doubt, all of the wondering what other people will think about this, wondering what are we going to call this, what genre is this? When you hit upon moments that are uniquely themselves, there’s a moment of excitement and then there’s this backlash that often happens, where an artist can get nervous and have certain anxieties.

And do you feel that you have a strong Albini-like production style?
When you say “Albini-like,” do you mean similar to how he does things, or—

Not his specific style, but more that he’s known for an idiosyncratic one.
I don’t know that I’m experienced enough to know if I do that with people. I might not be the best person to ask. I think if you asked the last five people I’ve worked with—

You’d have to ask Owen Pallett or something.
Well, Owen and I have barely worked together. I recorded Owen for two afternoons just playing violin, and I was very hands-off. But I probably, maybe, might impose myself a little more than the average person in that capacity? But I try to make that work first and foremost with what the person is trying to do.

Did you improvise any arrangements with the other players again?
Not in the same way as Tiny Mirrors. Tiny Mirrors was very much about getting in a room and just playing the tunes and letting things happen. I definitely made suggestions and edited a ton on that record, but this one was more worked-out, and most of the improvising came after the fact when I did the overdubs, with the synth stuff – that was all trial and error.

I was also wondering how the lineup of guest musicians coalesced this time. There are people who return from Tiny MirrorsRyan Driver, for example – but newcomers as well, like Mike Smith on bass or Jeremy Strachan’s great sax cameo.
Just from knowing those guys. I’ve known them for years, even before [Tiny Mirrors]. Maybe the juiciest answer to that would be that I wanted something different from the way the playing came together on the last record. I wanted to move away from that kind of beautiful laziness that a lot of the players on Tiny Mirrors brought. Some of the playing on that last record, there’s – not a lack of commitment but a quality to it that always prefers not to say things, to imply things. There’s a lot of space where the listener can come to their own conclusions about what’s happening.

It’s kind of understated or suggestive.
Yeah. And I think there’s still a lot of that on this record, but there’s a little more of a push, and that was definitely a conscious decision. That often requires playing with different people.

That breathy panting in “Love & Light” is apparently the singer Zaki Ibrahim. Did you sample it from an existing song?
No, what happened was, there was this CBC-commissioned thing in 2007, where this show “Fuse” would get different artists to collaborate together.

Oh, is that the thing that Owen [Pallett] and Cadence Weapon covered “Paris 1919” for?
Oh, yeah, that might’ve been it. I haven’t actually heard that one. But yeah, they would get artists who’d never played together before to collaborate on something and do a live concert. What happened there was, they got seven people together to do this round-robin broken-telephone game, where everybody would write 27 words about the New Year, and the words would get passed around the circle to the next person, who would then start writing a song. Either inspired by those words or using those words. Then everybody’s song would get passed to the next person in the circle, who would work on the song or jump off of the song, write a new song based on their song. There were three or four steps. So “Love & Light” was my finished song – the last step in the stage. And Zaki was the person whose song was passed on to me. Basically, I sampled some breath sounds from her song, and the percussion bit, and I used her words as a jumping-off point to write the words for “Love & Light.” So we didn’t actually work on it together, but I ended up using elements of her thing. It was important to credit her in that song because I ended up using her words and some of her sounds as a base.

It’s intriguing because she’s not like your usual collaborators.
No, no, not at all. But that’s kind of an illusion too. The style is different but ultimately it means very little. She’s a great improvisor from what I could tell.

The sounds could come from a modern R&B song or something.
Yeah, which I like.

You recently travelled to Bruce Peninsula with John K. Samson [of the Weakerthans] and Christine Fellows for the National Parks Project. What was that like, composing in the wilderness with them?
It was great. It was very interesting because it became apparent almost immediately that being out there removed the need to create. I don’t know if that’s technically irony, but the whole point of going there to create in the wilderness was erased, for me anyway, as soon as we got there. It made it very evident that a big part of the impetus to create is living in the city… or maybe being away from nature, creates this need for your own natural space. So being in an actual natural space is…

I’m not outdoorsy, per se, but something definitely changes in my nervous system when I go out into the woods. It does for anybody, I think. So that was amazing, and I felt no pressure to create at all, and I ended up writing a song the fastest I’ve ever written one, in like ten minutes, just because I really wanted to go swimming [laughs]. And it was really good to hang out with John and Christine, because I didn’t know them, and they were really nice people. We had a great time. I learned a lot about creativity there. I cracked open the reasons why I want to create things. I find I’m always reminded of basic needs when you go out and you’re surrounded by nature and you don’t have any buildings around, you don’t have any concrete around—

Not to get all R. Murray Schafer or anything, but the change in acoustics alone must have affected—
Oh yeah. There was this one really exciting moment where we were in the water, trying to record the sound of this—you know when you’re doing your dishes, and some water gets into a metal bowl, and you hit it and it goes doink? It’s an amazing sound. And so we were trying to do this in the water, we were trying to record this sound in this bowl. I happened to have my nylon-string guitar with me, and I was holding it in a certain way, and the wind grazed the strings and excited the strings and these upper harmonics just all of a sudden came out of the guitar. It was this crazy, whistling-wind-chime sound that I’d never ever heard in my life. I didn’t know that wind on guitar strings could do that.

We all just kind of went “Oh my God” and recorded the sound of this guitar. It was really delicate, because I couldn’t move. If I moved a millimetre the sound would have stopped. I had to stay there holding this guitar. I think that ended up on the vinyl version of the album that they released. But that was a great moment, because we weren’t really doing anything.

The idea of just discovering this unheard sound is so…
Yeah, especially when you have nothing to do with it, because then it’s really a mystery.

Interpolation recurs throughout your music in general, Plays Polmo Polpo being the most obvious example. But the final track on Tiny Mirrors reinterprets the first one, and while “Changes” is hardly a cover of its famous namesake, you are winking at Bowie with those stuttered vocals, right?
Yeah, probably. Possibly. I think that it’s hard to pretend as if other music doesn’t play a part in the music that you make, films or books or whatever. I like the idea of talking about what you’re talking about, maybe, acknowledging the fact that you could be referencing things. To me “meta” is not a dirty word. There is value in understanding the context of listening, and referencing other things that you’ve heard in the past is an important element in understanding what you’re hearing now and how you’re taking it in.

“Wolfman” uses this symbol of semi-human monstrosity as a way to explore awkwardness and hesitation. How did those things become associated in your mind? It doesn’t seem like a horrific or violent situation, just one of…misunderstanding.
Yeah, I think you’re hitting on some of the things that are there, for sure. Anything that could be considered monstrous is really born out of very human experience. I mean, the whole idea, the whole myth of the wolfman is essentially a human who has not been able to fully embrace what it means to be a human being, in terms of vulnerabilities that one has to deal with.

I guess if you think about it in a scientific sense, the myth may have been fed by—I can’t remember its name, but you know that rare medical disorder where you’re covered in hair? I’ve seen that talked about as a hypothesis for what inspired werewolves. And that persists today—they’re not seen as monsters, but they definitely are gawked at and stigmatized.
I guess the whole thing with the idea of monsters is that there’s the unknown, which is of course terrifying, and then there’s the fact that you recognize something of yourself in the monster. That’s terrifying as well. There are a few other things in that tune. There’s an attempt at some levity, and there’s also a nod to the whole wolf thing that happened a bunch of years ago, [when] everybody had “wolf” in their band name but nobody ever explicitly talked about what that meant, what conditions that arose from. There’s a quote from that Will Oldham song [“Wolf Among Wolves”]—that song actually has a lot of quotes from other music, it probably has the most of what you were talking about with “Changes.” It’s loaded with quotations and licks from other songs, almost entirely.

Maybe more like Frankenstein than the Wolfman.
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. Another monster.

It reminds me of the Mountain Goats—John Darnielle’s band?
Oh, I’ve never actually heard that band. I know that you and Carl [Wilson] are big fans.

A lot of his songs touch on monstrous subjects, but in a nuanced or counterintuitive way. With “Wolfman” I was specifically thinking of a song called “How to Embrace a Swamp Creature,” which is about arriving at the apartment of somebody you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with.
Yeah, I don’t know them, but I should probably check it out. Lyrics are a hard thing for me. They’re very difficult to write, I find. I wish that was my forte, but—that was actually the first song where I made an attempt at a story format. That’s probably where some of the awkwardness comes from.

By the conclusion of Tiny Mirrors, with “Mirror Tree,” you left the floor to your collaborators—you don’t appear on it at all. There’s a sense of absence at the end of Impossible Spaces as well; you’re there, but Jordan Somers [a friend of Perri’s who died of complications from leukemia in 2008], who co-wrote the title track’s lyrics, is not. It’s very moving, if you know the backstory.
Well, thanks. That was the first time I had ever collaborated on lyrics with another person. It was definitely the level of trust between us that allowed it, because he hadn’t done that either. It was all in one session, an hour or so, and mostly we were just laughing, actually. We were coming up with really stupid things, funny things, and then some of what remained managed to flesh out the song nicely. We were quite close for a while. It was unavoidable that there would be a lot of elements in this record about dealing with Jordan’s death. A lot of it is the stuff that is just impossible to grasp. When somebody’s gone, so much is beyond your reach.

Was he already ill when you wrote the lyrics?
No, the lyrics actually – I started writing the lyrics a long time ago, probably 2005. They just kind of sat there for a couple of years, I didn’t do anything. Like anybody who writes or makes music, there’s a whole load of stuff that’s constantly being worked on or just sitting there waiting to be used. This song was one of them: we got together in 2007 and I brought that one out. He offered up a few things that he had in his notebook, that he had already written, and then we sort of meshed them together. He wasn’t sick then, but he got sick very shortly after we did that.

“How Will I?” was written for him, right?
In a way, yes. And the end of that song, the whole second section, is connected in some way to the act of facing death, mortality, what have you. Doing anything creative is really a way to prolong that, to stave off the awareness of mortality.

There’s that feeling of solidarity in the chorus: “Hand in my hand, shoulder to shoulder / Today it looks like love is bolder.”
That quite literally came about from standing over his grave with my partner and realizing that you can lose somebody very close to you, but it’s really important, in that moment especially, to remember who you do have in your life as well, to contextualize loss.

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