Silence is not just a concept but a physical space dedicated to presenting sounds and musical practices that are diverse and challenging through concerts, workshops and improvisation sessions. Founded in 2012, it has presented over 350 performances, workshops, screenings and installations. No you are not in New York City but Guelph Ontario! Thank you to Daniel Fischlin and Martha Nandorfy for the following interview.
I'm curious about how two busy people who are writers, professors and partners became involved in this extra-curricular activity?
While we have participated in the Silence community since it began in 2012, we do not run it. Silence is a not-for-profit run by an active Board of Directors. Our Curation Committee, which includes members of Guelph’s own amazing musical community such as Joni Nehrita and Lucas Tensen, programs our Silence Presents series dedicated to artists from all genres whose work emerges from a disciplined and committed artistic vision that prioritizes risk-taking. We also have an Administrator Director who manages the Silence Presents series and additional bookings, promotion, grant applications, community outreach, and finances. Our events are successful in large part because of our Operations Manager David Lander (who you might also know from his work with the Guelph Jazz Festival and Kazoo! Fest), in addition to amazing volunteers who ensure our shows are positive experiences for all. It takes a lot of people to make this many shows happen for as diverse programming as we do!
Daniel has had the pleasure of seeing the community build steadily through his involvement with Morning Music, a weekly improvisation that parallels his academic interests. Morning Music mirrors the broader goals of Silence to support innovation and creativity, encourage participation from artists of varied backgrounds, and to breakdown hierarchies between genres. Martha, though not a musician herself, has a long history with music and musicians. Another long-time participant of Morning Music, Gary Diggins, also calls the Silence space home to his Sound Sanctuary where he actively practices music therapy. Daniel, Martha, and Gary are some of the members of the Board, and they work hard to provide a happy, affordable, sustainable space for musicians and audience to experience different kinds of music––as well as to incubate new musical practices deriving from improvisation, free jazz, experimental musics, among others.
Your mission statement says that the programming is unbiased in regard to genre, culture, class and tradition. You have presented over 350 performances in 3 years. Has there been any conflict or healthy discussion about your programming options?
There has been amazing diversity from legendary American and European jazz musicians, to an opera with dance, to experimental film screenings. We have presented alsmot 400 performances, workshops, screenings, and installations. Our Artistic Curation Committee (ACC) programs 40-60 concerts a year in accordance with our Silence vision. Many of our past presentations have been new music and jazz. We had a discussion, and in order to ensure balance, we have a new way of working that will bring in different genres that weren’t represented before, such as world music, classical music, and singer-songwriters. This season we have also presented the SHIFT series that was carefully curated by the ACC ; through the sponsorship of the Ontario Arts Council we brought in several nationally and internationally acclaimed artists including Maryem Tollar, Rich Brown, and Ken Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble. Our Administrative Director carefully tracks the types of artists we program in our Silence Presents series to make sure we achieve this new balance. Diversity is very important to Silence, and we work hard to make sure our programming achieves that goal. Programming is a work-in-progress, and so we re-assess frequently.
In addition to our Silence Presents series, locals and touring artists book the space, and often these are similarly innovative, challenging, and exciting shows. The space lends itself well to an atmosphere of community, support, and careful listening that many types of music thrive in. We see ourselves as part of the broader Guelph community, which includes local artists, our residential neighbours, and nearby businesses. A healthy discussion about how to best serve our community and the Silence mission is ongoing and crucial: we continue to be astounded at how resourceful and creative the scene is here in Guelph … and how important the space has become to various communities as we've kept the music happening.
How has the community best used your space?
What’s great about Silence is there is no one single “best” way: we have our diverse Silence Presents artists and our walls are currently exhibiting the beautiful work of First Nations artist Donald Chrétien, whose colourful woodland-style expression is inspired by distinct features of Ojibwe clans. We want our space to serve the community’s needs, whatever they may be. We are particularly proud to offer an accessible space with a flat entrance way and wide doors. And our Silence Presents series continues to offer a “pay what you can” fee at the door: whoever you are, Silence is a place you can come to listen, improvise, and feel connected.
We are so happy that our space has been booked for such wide-ranging events, including Guelph Roots shows, Guelph Jazz Festival events, Kazoo! Fest, student poetry readings and slams, community activist meetings by OPIRG, CRFU radio shows, fundraising events for local schools and arts organizations. In addition, there have been modern dance concerts, end-of-term recitals of youth and amateur bands, and presentations through the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation and Musagetes.
Most of these events involved music making and enjoying/deep listening but we love to see different arts interconnecting in the space. Because the space is small and the acoustics are so precise, people experience the music up close and intimate and that has been really important for both our audiences and musicians who appreciate that intimacy.
Although the movie The Sound of Music is pretty romantic (and I must admit one of my favourites), the title is fantastic. Do you have any sense of the sound of music of the future?
This is a dangerous question because music is so wonderfully adept at evading predictions, and generating new forms and surprises even if it means reimagining older technologies or inventing new instruments (both of which we've seen happen at Silence—one memorable show involved a synthesizer performance wholly run using vegetables and fruit!). We like the idea of Silence as 'a safe place for dangerous music' that pushes boundaries, allows for multiple forms of creativity to flourish beyond the constraints of big media and narrow categories. Most of the music on the planet that is made is not made for commercial reasons, and we see this as a key part of what happens at Silence. Music in the future will still be as diverse as people are as long as they have venues to experiment and reach others.
Can you give me one or two titles that you would highly recommend to our customers?
If you want to explore ideas similar to Silence’s mission, read The Improvisation Studies Reader, The Fierce Urgency
of Now or any one of the Duke UP books in the series that Daniel is general editor for.
Currently, Daniel is listening a lot to Ben Monder's Hydra and Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the Moon and Steve Coleman's amazing work on Functional Arrhythmias. No boundaries to the listening or reading!
Thank you so much Martha and Daniel for your enterprise and commitment. Yes, the future of music is slippery but Silence is definitely grounded!