Syphon 2.2

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a publication of modern fuel artist-run centre, kingston, ontario // volume 2, issue 2 // summer 2013 // issn number: 1480-0306 distributed freely at select artist-run centres inside canada, by subscription, or online at

Huffing that gasoline, making that scene— featuring kristiana clemens, owen fernley, umber hulk, matt rogalsky, with a special vapours musical supplement and a centerfold artist project by dorothea paas. syphon honours the etymology of the term "hoser," referring to those farmers who, on the Canadian prairies during the great depression of the 1930s, would syphon gas from their neighbours’ vehicles with a hose. We reclaim the somewhat derogatory expression and apply it to all those trying to make ends meet in artist-run culture.

all photo credits Owen Fernley


introductory note

syphon is an arts and culture publication produced by Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre that is meant to act as a conduit between the arts community in Kingston and communities elsewhere. It was created in response to the lack of critical arts commentary and coverage in local publications, and seen as a way to increase exposure to experimental and non-commercial art practices. Syphon has a mandate to feature local arts coverage in conjunction with national and international projects, and an emphasis on arts scenes and activities that are seen as peripheral. It acts, in essence, as a record and communiqué for small regional arts communities throughout the country. modern fuel artist-run centre is a non-profit organization facilitating the production, presentation, and interpretation of contemporary visual, time-based and interdisciplinary arts. Modern Fuel aims to meet the professional development needs of emerging and mid-career local, national and international artists, from diverse cultural communities, through exhibition, discussion, and mentorship opportunities. Modern Fuel supports innovation and experimentation, and is committed to the education of interested publics and the diversification of its audiences. board of directors Melinda Richka, President Sunny Kerr, Vice President Phoebe Cohoe, Secretary Jenny Stepa, Acting Treasurer Kelley Bolen Julia Krolik Robin McDonald Sharday Mosurinjohn Pansee Atta Emily Carlaw, Student Representative staff & personnel Kevin Rodgers, Artistic Director Megan McNeil, General Director Modern Fuel would not be able to function without the generosity and spirit of its volunteers. 21 Queen Street Kingston, Ontario, Canada k7k 1a1 613 548 4883 Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 12 noon to 5pm editorial & publishing for syphon Kevin Rodgers, Editor-in-chief Vincent Perez, Editor-at-large & Art Director Megan McNeil, Advertising Printed at McLaren Press, Bracebridge, Ontario.

Matt Rogalsky on the scene and its sound


think it was Herbert Brun who stated once in an interview that he was always striving to compose the music that he “didn’t like yet.” When I read that as a teenager, I thought the notion was a little shocking, and admirable. It relates somehow to John Cage’s mid-20th century definition of “experimental” music: music which depends on processes “the outcome of which is not known.” It also begs the question, how can anyone ever become “professional” in this line of work? Is professionalism something to be avoided, or can one perhaps strive to be a professional amateur? We have many professions these days which grew out of the work of amateurs: in the 1920s, for example, it was impossible to become an accredited psychoanalyst because the field had not been established and codified. It was defined only by key thinkers and a pool of enthusiasts who found their ideas compelling. Those enthusiasts did not limit themselves to analysis with Freud in Vienna, pondering the meaning of their dreams, and so on. Some were simultaneously pursuing research in other equally experimental fields: investigating the paranormal, for instance, or trying to understand humans’ place within a holistic ecosystem (the term was coined by a Freudian botanist less than 100 years ago). At that time there was little stigma in pursuing serious research in several apparently wildly different areas, by necessity as an amateur.

Is professionalism to be avoided, or can one perhaps strive to be a professional amateur? “Experimental music”... what means this? It seems to have a lot to do with amateurism, in the noblest sense of the word. That is, going back to the original definition, “lover of.” To a great extent, anyone who identifies as an artist is trusting instinct, following what they love as they develop and change, constructing experiments and challenging themselves, embracing failure with success as a necessary part of growing. Kingston is lucky right now to have a large community of young sound


lovers, “experimental musicians” who have constructed a sort of safe space in which to share ideas, perform for each other, form and reform bands, make noises without particular intent to make major statements, and grow from interacting with a wide variety of touring musicians who pass through town. Most of the time this is happening without anyone earning very much, and of course amateur status is also often defined by whether or not one gets paid. Sometimes we persist only because we love. I’d like to see more people get paid more, more often, but (for instance) the grassroots, deliberately “unofficial culture” aspect of what goes on at The Artel is inspiring. Combine that with other local opportunities to experience and perform “experimental music”—thanks to CFRC, Modern Fuel, Tone Deaf, Queen’s, along with other independent producers—and there is currently a pretty full calendar of events. More than I can take in, which is great. When I came to Kingston ten years ago the situation was much different. But this “scene” is only as much as the people driving it, and we may be coming to a point of transition as some of those people get ready to move on to other cities and opportunities. Interesting times ahead, and we’ll need to ensure that the momentum and enthusiasm gained in the past few years isn’t lost. Here’s to everyone who’s making it happen and keeping it happening. matt rogalsky has been active since 1985 as artist/composer/performer of live electronic music performance, and gallery and site-specific sound installations. His practice is informed by study and recreations of late 20th century electronic works by other composers, notably David Tudor and John Cage. Most recently, he performed his own and others' works on programs of experimental music and performance in festivals in Calgary and Vancouver, and exhibited his sound installation Discipline, for twelve self-resonating electric guitars, at Mercer Union Gallery in Toronto. Rogalsky is currently based in Kingston Ontario, where he also teaches in the School of Music at Queen's. He also plays electric guitar and mandolin with bands The Gertrudes and Old Haunt, and as Memory Device has also recorded and produced music with many other Kingstonbased singer-songwriters and bands.


Owen Fernley: if (music) then (continue)


bout four years ago my fight or flight response was tested in a large indoor venue after driving to Ottawa to see what might have been an entirely forgettable concert, had it not been for the opening act. This was someone whose performance resonates in my head to this very day. As the audience was assembling in their seats, the house music went down and the musician stepped up to a controller connected to a speaker system. After some anticipatory silence, we were then sonically attacked with a wall of noise so sudden, and so loud, I was immediately compelled to plug my ears and duck. The noise didn’t let up however, and all around me I could see people leaving, clambering for the aisles to take refuge in the lobby. I remember judging if I should also make a break for it, but instead I opted to stay. I shut my eyes, and keeping my ears plugged, I placed my head on my lap, behind the seat in front of me, as though caught in a crashing airliner. As the noise wore on, I remember easing my ears open and hearing the breadth of frequencies expand inside from the cavernous venue around me. I could hear noise reflections clashing with each other, reverberating off the walls and the ceiling. The whole performance was a sustained assault. There was no ebb to this flow, and I soon recovered my ears and braced for an impact that perhaps would never come.

risk you need to be prepared for. Experimental music is not regulated. By it’s very definition, it is experimental. This, in my mind, means the performer need only ask themself one question: What would happen if... This in turn leads to all kinds of interesting scenarios. Some subjectively good, some not, some terribly boring and others instantly appealing, usually for reasons unexpected. All are valid, and the more extreme the experience, the more they occupy my memory, which in the long run makes me value them more.

It occurres to me that when seeking out experimental music, there is a certain level of

We could sense there was a message of value in all that bandwidth, but we could not explain, as it was built from crude tools and obscured in a wall of noise. The first experimental show I saw that called itself as such was part of Kingston’s Tone Deaf Music Festival. The venue was a wooded path in the Cataraqui Conservation Area. The idea was to walk down the path at night, while battery-powered radios planted on the ground and in the trees played snippets of audio. The music itself was interesting enough, but the spatialization it achieved represented an ultimate limit for me. It was here I realized “stereo” was simply a standard we happen to be using: an assumption that makes the overall production and playback of music more

convenient, as in a physics exam when you are told it’s okay to ignore the effects of kinetic friction. Or relativity. Experimental music is often the most noisy, the most drawn out, the longest, the most technologically advanced, the most expansive in terms of media used (is this even music?), and the most difficult to parse into words. Collectively it cuts a wake in an ocean of sound from which all other music can get behind. It’s been like this for as long as music has existed. At first there was chanting and maybe singing in unison, clapping and hitting things. As our craft moves forward the wake expands. Technology is invented or repurposed to support new methods of performing, listening and archiving. The music diversifies. Long drones and intense noise dominate the present stereotype, but this genre is only a placeholder, a common assumption from which to experiment from. Experimental music is about innovation, the creation of a positive feedback loop between available technology and our understanding of music, one reinforcing the other. The piano keyboard evolved over many years into an efficient interface to voice several notes at once and in any key. It is now as ubiquitous in music as qwerty is to computing, although both are built from compromise. The modern drum kit is also quite the experiment. It started in the percussion pits of orchestras, where players consolidated their instruments. The drums and the piano work well together, but only thanks to the changing public opinion of what makes for good listening. None of this is experimental music, but the process has always been there. Otherwise music as we know it would not exist.

control board. The guest and studio microphones, the phone line (via cell phone), the computer line-in, both record players, both CD’s, the tape deck, anything that wasn’t on that could be. Those who tuned in at the time would likely have checked their reception, but that didn’t matter to us. We could sense there was a message of value in all that bandwidth, but we could not explain, as it was built from crude tools and obscured in a wall of noise. The boundaries of what we call music and how we interact with it continue to expand, unrecognizable in the context of our present day. New techniques in listening will emerge, and music may finally become a universal language in the literal sense of the term, a direct connection between minds. No object-oriented verbs or nouns needed, as words will not describe. The noise subsides. Our primitive brains are designed to detect movements outside our field of view. By bringing them into focus we guide our craft forward. Our wake is cast and our history archived. The journey continues, but only by challenging our boundaries and expanding our field of view. The reverberations from the walls and ceiling trailed off as sounds from the lobby and the street filled its place. I unplugged my ears and acknowledged the ten or so people still in the audience. They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea. owen fernley is an experimental musician and geophysicist in Kingston, Ontario.

One night at CFRC, four of us wondered what would happen if we managed to get an input signal moving on every fader of the




Kristiana Clemens: Live Transmission

“Radio comes to us ostensibly with person to person directness that is private and intimate, while in more urgent fact, it is really a subliminal echo chamber of magic power to touch remote and forgotten chords.” —marshall mcluhan, Understanding Media


ike music or the Internet, radio fulfills our desire for instant communication across distances, an aspiration that lies at the heart of humankind’s longings for connectivity and exploration. As a platform for music and audio art, radio offers creators the promise of expanding the horizons of one’s audience, reaching the ears of unknown and unseen listeners in remote locations in serendipitous instants of time. The mystery of contacting distant strangers, the spontaneity of a timebased medium, and the magic of transmitting sound signals outward to the depths of the universe, coalesce into a compelling opportunity for artists seeking to explore, challenge or improve relationships within our communities or between our society and environment.

In 1895, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless system capable of transmitting signals across distances, over the air. In 1901, he sent a Morse Code signal for the letter “S” across the Atlantic Ocean, from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The response from the scientific community was one of disbelief, so in 1902 Marconi conducted a second test, proving that radio signals could be transmitted across distances of more than 3,000 kilometres. Within 10 years, Reginald Fessenden and Lee De Forest had created technologies to transmit much more complex audio signals, of voice and of music, from multiple stations across the AM frequency spectrum. The modern radio age was born. In the 1920s, dozens of broadcast radio stations emerged across the globe, including Kingston, Ontario’s own CFRC Radio. Today, radio signals form the basis of all kinds of communications technologies, from wireless networking to cell phones and satellite signals. Media studies experts such as Robert McChesney and Henry Jenkins point to the similarities between our current relationship with the Internet and the social impacts of radio in its early days, particularly in regard to struggles aimed at preserving access to communication tools as a public good, or to the encroachment of corporate interests onto emerging media platforms. While pundits incessantly predict the death of radio, the


medium has already chimerically transformed itself, pervading the infrastructures of our newest technologies, while providing a channel through which artists can explore our past, present and future in collaboration with unfamiliar listeners.

While pundits incessantly predict the death of radio, the medium has already chimerically transformed itself... When one considers the appeal of radio in an age where any piece of information or music is instantly available at one’s fingertips, most people will respond that tuning in creates an opportunity for spontaneity, serendipity or surprise. Listening offers an experience of opening oneself to one’s surroundings, broadening one’s understanding of contemporary culture and society, sitting back and absorbing the tonalities that another human being, someplace distant or at least hidden from view, has crafted for our pleasure and enrichment. Unlike on-line social media sites and search engines, where results are selectively winnowed down to appeal only to those preferences that a proprietary algorithm has determined we are entitled to, radio remains a mass medium, allowing the broadcaster to share content with an extremely diverse audience, while permitting the listener to engage with sounds and concepts that may be unfamiliar or challenging. Unlike the Internet, which we access by physically attaching ourselves to a device, and which cannot be fully enjoyed while driving or in the park, radio greets us in the private or public location of our own choosing, and at the level of fidelity and intensity we select, be it a portable windup speaker or a 400-watt stereo system. This friendliness and adaptability makes its potentially consciousness-altering properties infinitely more accessible and palatable. When radio is produced outside of the commercial sphere, without a profit imperative, the result is a transgression of norms being increasingly established and enforced by digital media mega-corps and surveillance states. Non-profit radio might tell you what you DON’T want to hear, and it will NEVER be watching you. Even more frightening for marketers of the status quo, radio might change your preferences and perspectives altogether.

This special property of non-commercial, and especially community-based radio, is many music and sound artists’ best-kept secret. Offering a venue for creativity and experimentation, as well as the chance to connect with ears that would otherwise not be reached, community radio continues to draw underground artists to its airwaves in swarms, like honeybees to a field of flowers. A unique and mutually reinforcing connection is established between local radio and local art, as artists create programming to raise awareness about the sounds that most interest and inspire them, while listeners are encouraged to explore these sounds independently or participate in creating their own. In short, the technology that radically enhanced our capacity to communicate across vast distances more than a century ago is now a tool to reflect surprising and unexpected facets of our local communities back to us. The technology that increasingly provides the infrastructure for our access to the Internet, simultaneously subverts the individualized and corporate-driven content dished out by multinational web corporations and government spin-doctors. Radio expands beyond its original mandate as a tool for communication across distances, and becomes a tool for social change, for creative collaboration, for the exploration of social, political, economic and cultural alternatives. Radio puts music in the streets, and then broadcasts the sounds of the streets back into our homes, tents and cars. Radio is not dead. Radio is our future. kristiana clemens is the Operations Officer at CFRC 101.9fm in Kingston and sits on the National Campus and Community Radio Association Board of Directors. She has been involved in campus and community radio since 1990 and has also worked as a journalist, DJ, sound technician, community organizer and performer.

Support Syphon, Submit! We want to hear from you. Send us your letters, rants, reviews and musings about any aspect of your local arts scene. Though we have ideas of our own, we welcome unsolicited material (of which we would otherwise be unaware) at a length ranging from 500 to 1000 words. Send them by email as MS WORD or RTF attachments to Please include a short biographical note with your submission. Contact us for deadlines.

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credit for centerfold 80% of dorothea paas' songs are about death!

Umber Hulk

Y ou! Halt!

Yes, you! A-ha, A-ha, do you feel it? Your body numbing, as you take in the gaze from all four of my eyes at once? Do you feel your limbs stiffening? Muscles atrophying? THAT IS THE POWER OF THE UMBER HULK’S GAZE!! What business have you in this dungeon, which I call home? Are you a treasure hunter, seeking to plunder what little resources I call my own? These small baubles and trinkets I have managed to accumulate, and which constitute all that I own: are these what you seek? SPEAK! Your weakness astounds me. Go on, take your saving throw versus paralysis. I will wait. Ha! Utter failure! I knew it! Perhaps you are on a quest? You seem fool enough to delude yourself with such righteousness. Here to redecorate? To root out the “trash” like me, and the Decomposing Pianos down on sublevel 5? Did some sovereign tell you glory awaits? Were you promised fame and fortune by a strange enchantress? Every other week another one of you waltzes into this dungeon looking to transform it into un habitat that better suits you. Well, message received. No room for a lowly old Umber Hulk in your ideal dungeon-polis! Hey, U-Hulk, buddy, you say, U-Hulk, buddy, get out of this dingy nowhere of a dungeon. Well, U-Hulk’s got news for you: I love it here! With my iron-like claws, strong enough to burrow through stone, I love to dig myself into corners! (fourfold wink!) What encumbers you so? A loop pedal? A circuit-bent child’s keyboard? A CD labeled “field recordings?” What parlour wizardry is this? Hand-made cassette tapes? Ah yes: another roaming emitter of sounds formless and arbitrary, under guise of subverting conventional narrative! Braying petulantly about your feelings through a broken microphone -“je suis weird” and “la musique, c’est difficult” and such -- while encouraging people who are normally spry and energetic to sit in chairs and watch humorlessly! I question whether my four-foot mandibles could mangle language so! What in the Prime Material Plane is the aim of these experiments? What results do they achieve? What manner of troublesome dynamic is established ‘twixt artist and audience when swaddled in such gauzy rhetoric? And you think I am fearsome – a-ha, a-ha! What could be more fearsome than THE REDUNDANT NOTHINGNESS INHERENT IN THE GESTURE TOWARD “EXPERIMENTATION”!

Hark, what is yon darkened stain spreading fast ‘cross the fore of your jodhpurs? A-ha! You have brought dampness upon yourself in your fear. THAT IS THE POWER OF THE UMBER HULK’S GA – uh. Wow. Still going strong. Are you going to be ok? That’s a lot of…wow. Let me just find something to help you dry off. Here, dry thyself with this parchment. I procured it from a lowly scribe who sought to historicize “the experimental scene.” I think perhaps its present application writes the history quite nicely, does it not? A-ha! Right, now where was I? Yes: abandon such hubris! “Look at me, I am not like the other dungeon crawlers,” you say. Hmph! Waltzing in here as though you’re the Great Wizard Ro-Gal-Sky of the House of Gertrude. As though your grimoire contains anything other than recordings of breathy vocalization loops, waiting to be layered atop one another until all damnéd suggestion of clear intention, determination and risk is obscured! I am sorry to break this to you, levelone conjurer of soft clouds of inoffensive digital static, atop which perfect fifths phase-shift pleasantly, but not a day goes by that these dungeon walls do not ring with the atonal bleating of these so-called “experiments.” Would you like to know how these experiments play out with regard to my four-foot mandibles? Well, perhaps you have heard of the experimental technique of chopping and screwing? A-ha! No? Well, it’s a DJ thing. Started in Houston, in the 90s. Aggressive manipulation of samples. Did you need me to look it up on Wikipedia for you? In the name of the Neogi! Still you persist in besmirching your trousers and all that lies beneath! OK, I’ve got to admit that your…um… performance here is throwing my game off. In fact, it is somewhat awe-inspiring in its revoltingness. Is that the kind of thing you could learn to do on command, perhaps? I’ve got an idea for something that would freak the shit out of some people at this art space I know about. Could you maybe come back and we’ll work out a bit of a routine? I’m thinking that I’ll do the whole, “You! Halt!” thing, and then somewhere in there, you can just let fly. What do you think? Does Wednesday work for you? No? Hmm. No, unfortunately Thursday’s not good for me. I’m burrowing through solid rock all day. Friday after the show? Yeah?

Peripheral Visions Peripheral Visions is Noise. Improvisation. Found sounds. Electroacoustic. Circuit Bending and beyond. It is the result of a call for submissions, whereby all submissions were accepted and sequenced. Most of the artists are from geographic locations or communities that are removed from large urban centres: located in, or constituting an outer boundary or periphery. Launch of the Peripheral Visions bandcamp compilation will coincide with a Vapours Concert at Modern Fuel on July 10th in Kingston, Ontario.

Listen at 1. introduction 01:03 2. hello babies / must we bust 04:22 3. c. trimmer / soundtrack to the radio documentary, ‘beth’ 03:10 4. ghost marriage / aine 03:25 5. d. burke mahoney / fog of industry 11:35 6. fire moss / mu 03:00 7. zach clark and kayla grant / wooden ladder leaning in a crater on the moon 05:47 8. the solina string ensemble / chorus howls 04:04 9. colliding canyons / echoes of pacific rim 03:44 10. i heart chaos / protoplast 02:33 11. buffalo 7 / for julia 04:01 12. shanna sordahl / gir 09:29 13. timmy bear / art show theme 04:00 14. kevin rodgers / reprise 01:58 15. graham beverley / germinale 02:15

Great! umber hulks are sentient insect-like beings that live their lives underground and are easily agitated by those who dwell on the surface. They have powerful claws and four foot long mandibles, presumably to help them dig deeper into unexplored regions.


14 AUGUST 2013 SQUARE PEGS VI Please join us for this popular Annual Video Screening in Market Square, curated this year by Modern Fuel's New Media Coordinator Patrick RoDee UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS: 24 AUGUST TO 5 OCTOBER 2013 In the Main Gallery DARIUSZ KRZEMINSKI (Toronto) : SETTLEMENT In the State of Flux ERIKA OLSON VIDEO SCREENINGS: 10 OCTOBER 2013 FASTWURMS: FILMS FROM 1979 TO 1986


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