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Nuit Blanche: Playing from dusk until sunrise

October 1, 2012

On Saturday, September 29, 2012, I had the privilege of taking part in a 12 hour show at the National Office of the Canadian Music Centre [CMC]. This was the inaugural presentation of the CMC’s new performance space that includes a grand piano. The event was called Earth’s Shadow and combined music, dance and lighting.

It was also the CMC’s contribution to Toronto’s 7th annual Nuit Blanche, an all night street art party, where a million people circulate among hundreds of installations and projects on view for those twelve hours only.

My role in the event was as both curator and performer/creator(the event was based on the visual art model, hence the need for a curator). I will reflect on my role a performer and creator, since this was the longest performance of my career.

To share musical part of the event I was joined by one of the finest improvising pianists in the world: John Kameel Farah. We organized the music so as to preserve ourselves: 1 hour guitar solo, 1 hour duo, 1 hour piano solo, 1 hour electroacoustic music. In this way we each played for 2 hours, followed by a 2 hour break. In total we each had to play for 6 hours overall, but by offsetting the breaks we hoped for minimal muscle strain and brain drain.

My solo sets consisted of some composed music, some partially composed music and some spontaneously created [improvised] music. The duo sets were all improvised.

As the beginning approached, I found myself intimidated by the massive task ahead. I have played enough concerts to be able to anticipate the flow of energy, and know the various ebbs and flows through it. Performers have a tendency to rush on opening night; as adrenalin increases our heart rate, we tend to execute things faster. Staring at a twelve hour span made the prospect of rushing seem ridiculous. It seemed best to simply slow down and be more mindful of every moment. Usually I am too hyper to think of enjoying things, but rushing would mean having to play more pieces and I still wasn’t sure I had 6 hours of different music in me (we did plan to repeat 2 dance pieces – about 25 minutes worth – but that is all).

For the improvised duo sets the pieces were 60 minutes long morphing from idea to idea, maintaining a continuous flow so the dancers could come and leave while the music continued. We shifted between tonal and non-tonal frameworks, and moved from textures where each of us had an equal part to sections where one of us played a supporting role. These 60 minute sections broke down to roughly the following:
4’ piano leading with guitar supporting
4’ pure duo
4’ guitar leading with piano supporting
We repeated this kind of cycle 5 times to make up the hour.

One of the unexpected needs after 90 minutes of continuous playing was to drink water. The room seemed dry and I found myself being extremely thirsty. Those points where I was accompanying meant that I could stop playing for a bit and drink – very nice.

As the evening went on, I found sitting position to be critical. Holding a position for 40 minutes was no problem, but after that changes were necessary. Those accompaniment moments also gave me time to shift my body around on the chair in order to be able to play for 120 minutes continuously.

Never having performed over a 12 hour period, I had no idea of the ebb and flow of energy, I was pretty sure we could get to the end, but it was a leap of faith. I figured that we would still be functional humans at the end and hoped that the dancers would not be injured. I expected it to be an adventure.

At 6 am, an hour at which I had never performed before, I tuned up my Oskar Graf steel string to play an up tempo piece. Things had been pretty mellow for a while, so it felt right to change the mood for a bit. After playing Nasrudin’s Ecstasy, an up tempo work in 7/16, it seemed to be the perfect moment to play Lydian Sunrise. I wasn’t sure I could remember it – hadn’t played it for over a year – but the dancers responded with vigour and abandon. As I came back around to the opening theme, the room filled with perfect piano accompaniment. My eyes leaked a few tears, watching the dancers externalizing the music’s energy while the piano sounds surrounded me, making the music sound better than I had ever imagined.

As this went on, the magic of another day graced our world with a hint of light. It was time to wind down.

During most the remaining time we played slow and pretty music for the sun salutations taking place in front of us. Trapped by these pretty sounds we eventually toyed with polytonal stuff for a while. It was a little unsettled as we played on our separate paths, which crossed at random intervals.

How to end now? We slowed down and our parts refused to come together.

How to end now? We slowed down some more and our separate scales seemed ever more divergent.

How to end now? We slowed down again. One of us crawled down a few notes while the other crawled up a few notes. We converged on G just as the dancer finished her moment of stillness.

My marvellous Nuit Blanche companions were:
Terrill Maguire – dance and choreography;
John Kameel Farah – piano.
Steve Lucas [and his assistant] – lighting design;
Matthew Fava – Ontario regional director of the Canadian Music Centre;

One time Mullah Nasruddin’s family was very poorand his wife woke him in the middle of the night and whispered, “Nasruddin, There is a thief in the kitchen!”

– Shhh… my dear wife! replied Nasruddin. Let him be. If he finds something … we take it!

Terrill Maguire






John Kameel Farah








Matthew Fava







Steve Lucas

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