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Concert Reviews, Music

Concert Review: Arboretum Festival 2015 – Julianna Barwick, Organ Mood, Flying Horses

By: Laura Beaulne-Stuebing –

Julianna Barwick.

Julianna Barwick.

The host for the second night of Ottawa’s annual Arboretum Festival, CBC’s Laurie Brown, may have said it best, between openers Organ Mood and local instrumental band Flying Horses. She told the audience gathered at St. Alban’s church near Ottawa’s downtown core Thursday night that music without words can move us “blissfully beyond language.” Sometimes the simplest sound or rhythm — like a heartbeat, for example — can be provocative, effective, emotive.

Arboretum is in its fourth year and growing. This year the main events over the weekend moved from an outdoor courtyard to a small island on the Ottawa River, just a short distance from Canada’s Parliament buildings. St. Alban’s is an intimate space built for excellent acoustics and has hosted a number of Arboretum shows in previous iterations of the festival.

Organ Mood, Flying Horses and headliner Julianna Barwick each brought unique, mostly wordless, sounds to the high ceilinged space at St. Alban’s, transforming a cathedral into an echo chamber of synth and rhythms, or cello and piano and trumpet, or an ethereal voice circling back, layered on itself over and over.

Flying Horses featured just a cello, some piano and synth, and a trumpet from time to time. The effect was enchanting, with the cello echoed off the walls of the church, its deep sound reaching up to the rafters.

Headliner Julianna Barwick, a Brooklyn-based artist by way of Louisiana, weaved the sound of her voice into loops, layering them on top of the last recorded phrase. Barwick spent so much of her childhood in church choirs and was at home at St. Alban’s. Her voice rolled like the tide coming in, slow and steady, while she played and partnered those layers and loops with the keys of a Nord electro.

But Montreal’s art techno duo Organ Mood of Christophe Lamarche and Mathieu Jacques stole the show, even as the opening act.

Both Lamarche and Jacques played separate roles; one with his hands on synthesizers, the other interpreting the music in artistic projections on a massive screen, creating patterns, squiggles and geometric shapes as the sounds his partner was making progressed. The group started back in 2008 in an attempt to, according to their Facebook page, “transform the concept of live shows by recreating the role of the public.” With this in mind, they welcomed audience members to join them.

The song “Flux” saw the duo invite someone from the crowd up and place an instrument they’d fashioned themselves, kind of like an ultra sound, to the audience member’s chest to pick up the beat of her heart. Then that beat, quickly skipping, was used as the rhythm for the song. It was so simple and natural — the most natural rhythm, really — but so unnatural all at once to be amplified over a PA system. It was utterly captivating as her heart moved the audience beyond words and into waves of sound.

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