Throw a room full of musicians and composers together, and see what music they can create: this is the idea behind the Waterloo Region Contemporary Music Sessions (WRCMS). A week-long camp of sorts, the annual gathering is an opportunity for participants to stretch their musical muscles and collaborate.
A record of this year’s creations has now been released. Richly layered and cinematic, the album is not intended for casual listening. It demands your full attention.
One too many times I was lulled by a long sweeping cello note or dainty piano melody, then jarred into sharp attention by sudden chaos.
The album opens with a track titled “I Saw The Land Break in Half,” full of echoes and faintly squealing violins that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie.
I couldn’t help trying to piece together a narrative thread as I listened. The whole album is full of suspense and dissonance.
“When He First Appears” is a tune that starts out with clean harp notes, then descends into madness. Chopped up clips from Donald Trump speeches get progressively intermingled with a wailing soprano, animal noises and crying, as percussion becomes more and more frantic.
In other songs, we hear a cello made to sound like rusty hinges, or tap-tapping to simulate a scurrying insect.
“New Voltage,” with its percussion of tiny hammers, evokes a twisted, alternate-reality version of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves.
Sit back and bask in the uncertainty of these contemporary classical experiments, and I guarantee you’ll come away unsettled by the experience. But there’ll be a kernel of curiosity too. There’s an undeniable element of playfulness in this album, despite the dark overtones.
Could participating in these Sessions, making such wild, discomforting music with strangers, be … fun?