Episode 7 – Montréal
A podcast by Esther Bourdages
Silvano Mercado Vilches
Montréal, Your Ears Are My IslandEpisode 7 of the Timezones podcast series, co-initiated and co-produced by Norient and the Goethe-Institut. This episode portrays the diverse music scenes of Montréal. Producer Esther Bourdages traces their global connections and historical roots.
The interviews capture the challenges of being a musician in Montréal, a hip, bohemian international city, highlighting new shifts and new transitions that are slowly cropping up as effects of gentrification.
Curated by Esther Bourdages
blablatrains (Ana Dall'Ara-Majek and Takuto Fukuda). 2019. “Pythagorean Domino”.
Caloia, Epps, Lauzier, Nakatani. 2020. “2sd Set”. Live at Café Résonance. Mr. E Records (#14).
Chris Paul Harman. Performed by Kimihiro Yasaka. 2019–20. “Billboard Ver 1: Peg, Here Comed the Rain”.
Claude Vivier. Performed by Ensemble Constantinople & Guests, directed by Sandeep Bhagwati. 2019. “Vivier 1”, “Bols”. ... et je reverrai cette ville étrange. Dreyer gaido (21119).
David Kristian. 1999. “Loomis”. Room Tone. Alien8 Recordings (ALIENCD19).
Erik Hove Chamber Ensemble. 2017. “Morce Code”. Polygon, Inner Circle Music.
Geraldine Eguiluz Sextet. 2021. “Tamales Oaxaquenos”. Mexhicah Bones. Studio recording.
Ida Toninato, Jennifer Thiessen. 2018. “Unknow Road”. The Space Between US. Ambiances Magnétiques (AM 236).
Ijo, Ivetta Sunyoung Kang. 2020. “Anterior Skin [leftover]”.
Jason Sharp. 2018. “Stand Above the Streams, Pt. 1”. Stand Above The Streams. Constellation Records.
Jean Derome. 2001. “Dernier Paysage”. Canot-Camping: Expédition 4. Ambiances Magnétiques (AM 100).
Lori Freedman. 2019. “Withwhatbecomes”. Excess. Collection QB (CQB 1923).
Lynda Gaudreau, Martin Tétreault. 2007. “Tourne-disque No 1, sections 1-2-3”. Document 4: A Choreographic Project.
Mili Hong. 2019. “[Experior::04]”. Live @ experior::04.
Norsola. 2018. “For Ezra”. Howl Live. Howl Arts collective.
Rêves sonores (Nick Schofield and Stefan Christoff). 2021. “Spirodon”. Crépuscule. Youngbloods (YBZ032).
Sam Shalabi. 2001. “Outside Chance (Dreamfangs)”. On Hashish. Alien8 Recordings (ALIENCD29).
Silvano Mercado Vilches. 2010; 2015. “Phy, Tribal”. PHY, TRIBAL.
Simon Bertrand. Performed by Kimihiro Yasaka. 2009–10. “La lune”. 22 Miniatures for Piano.
Stefan Christoff & Sam Shalabi. 2014. “Elephantine”. Flying Street, Howl Arts Collective.
My name is Silvano Mercado Vilches. I am a musician. I came here by chance. Well, actually it’s music that led me here in some kind of way.
I was traveling for a year, everywhere in the world. I went to Asia, to India, to do some volunteer work in a music school, which was traditional Indian music. This school was a Quebecois project. I made friends there. I decided to end my journey by visiting Quebec to see how things were here. Those people were so nice. So I’m like, okay, let’s go check.
[1:12] Mili Hong
Oh, hi, my name is Mili Hong.
[1:27] Adam Basanta
Hi, my name is Adam Basanta. I’m an artist and composer, experimental sound artist living in Montreal. I’ve worked in visual arts and with a focus on media that involve time in some way, which has meant sound for many years. My background is – at university – is contemporary music composition.
[2:03] Kimihiro Yasaka
My name is Kimihiro Yasaka. I’m a pianist. I reside in Montreal. I’ve been here since 2006. I came here to do my bachelor’s degree in piano performance under supervision of professor Kyoko Hashimoto at the Schulich School of Music, McGill University. I graduated with a master’s degree in piano solo performance.
[2:47] Joseph Sannicandro
I’m Joseph Sannicandro. I’m a writer, sound artist and scholar based in Montreal. I have a series called sound propositions, featuring critical interviews with artists and musicians talking about their creative practices, which is has become a podcast sort of series of audio documentaries, exploring sound art and practice.
[3:21] Silvano Mercado Vilches
I quickly met some people, I thought they were really open. I thought things were way more easy here. Maybe because it’s smaller. I always felt like Montreal was some kind of big village, that’s how I still feel about it, actually. People were really open: yeah, you know, you meet them and say: “Oh, you’re a musician, okay. Let’s do something, you want to meet and play?” And we try something and, and we just do it. It’s more about the music, it’s not about, you know, who’s gonna be the best. It’s way less competitive from my perspective.
[4:20] Mili Hong
I went to college in Korea for a year for a music education. I moved to Canada when I was 20 or 21, then went to jazz school. I graduated, also that’s where I met my husband, Eli, he’s a bass player. He always wanted to move to Montreal because part of his family’s from Montreal. I had no idea of Montreal because I was, like, just stuck in Vancouver for like 12 years.
[5:09] Adam Basanta
I had some sort of feeling that I wanted to do something else outside of composing music, something artistic, express myself in realms that weren’t necessarily just in the concert venue. I moved to Montreal in 2010. There was some sort of ... something happened when I was moving.
Arriving in a new city, I was exposed, I felt, like, bigger than I was used to in Vancouver. I know a couple of people in the contemporary music scene here and when I moved here, it was just amazing to see all the different sides of the music, experimental music scene, you know, and also there was this whole, you know, electronics DIY scene.
There were people who were doing sound art, which was a completely new thing for me at the time. People doing electronic music performance with visuals and of course the free improv scene, the musique actuelle.
[7:28] Kimihiro Yasaka
I may talk about, just about contemporary classical music. It’s really, really active compared to other cities, I believe. There are many, many opportunities for musicians like me.
[7:46] Adam Basanta
But it really felt like kind of anything was possible or, like, that nobody really cared or was paying too much attention, which made a lot of things possible.
[8:00] Kimihiro Yasaka
I found a lot of new things in Montreal and people are really open-minded. So the city embraces a lot of different cultures.
[8:49] Silvano Mercado Vilches
The concert I remember the most, I think, with you, was the one we did some, I made some installation objects that people could touch, be part of the music we were doing and they were all connected to it with contact mics. I remember because it was, there was not so much people, the gallery was really nice. They were all listening and I felt like, wow, I was impressed because, I don’t know, sometimes people just come, you know, when they hang out, and they’re not necessarily here to listen.
[9:28] Kimihiro Yasaka
Audiences, they’re really welcome to listen.
[10:13] Joseph Sannicandro
My first, early associations with Montreal were Constellation records. And I remember when I saw Silver Mount Zion in Brooklyn in 2005. And they talked about how, you know, Montreal was kind of a place that allowed them to do what they did. And I was curious: what does that mean?
But when I moved here a few years later, I learned a big part of that is just that the rent is really cheap in Montreal compared to Boston or Toronto or New York or, you know, other big cities. You know, the loft scene here in Montreal, musique actuelle, it took me a while to understand what that meant.
Bands like Mount Zion and Godspeed first sort of led me to that, because there’s, there’s a certain overlap with the musicians and the styles of music. And you have, like … some academic and some underground influences in those scenes that kind of come together. I found an openness here in Montreal that I didn’t, maybe it existed, but I never found really in New York.
I came here and I found that you could find people to play academic music, improvising, totally amateur or autodidact. And those things would intersect with the electronic music and the jazz scene, they were much more fluid.
[12:51] Silvano Mercado Vilches
I went to meet some friends and you were there too, at the Cagibi. And there was this guy, kind of poet, and he was singing and, you know, he cleaned out the room. Funny, but I remember still liking this. And this is what I like about Montreal: whatever it is, it’s possible and you can do it. People will be open to it. Very free.
Experimental scene, I always found people really interested in the music. They come and they’re really quiet. And then they listen and listen. They’re very into it. And the music.
[14:26] Adam Basanta
I was really doing contemporary music. You know, like I was writing contemporary music, electroacoustic music, acousmatic music, it was my focus for the few years I was here in Montreal. Like, you could just do a concert somewhere without a permit or without, you know, courts, like a lot of bureaucracy.
[15:06] Mili Hong
Female, like, musicians, even, like, now, in jazz schools especially, I can see more women involved and I think it’s great, like it shouldn’t be a men’s thing. It’s like, playing music, why does, like, gender matter, you know?
[15:42] Adam Basanta
You know, that was just a feeling like there was space for everybody, the sound art scene, you know, especially, I think that’s, you know, it’s a very vague term. It was definitely eye-opening for me to see.
A lot of people would do kinetic work a that time. There were kind of semi, semi-institutional, kind of back into it, like a place like Oboro, artist-run centers or Eastern Bloc, or, like, places were kind of geared towards this kind of thing. It was shocking for me, you know.
[17:02] Joseph Sannicandro
And that’s another thing that I really liked about coming to Montreal is when you have a festival like Pop Montreal, for instance, you can go to multiple concerts in the evening because everything’s pretty compact. The downtown Montreal, or not really downtown, but the Plateau and the Mile End, where most of the nightclubs and nightlife is centred, pretty close to downtown. So you can kind of go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood very easily.
Arcade Fire had played the fall before I came up here for the first time. So that put Montreal on the map again in a big way, you know! Yeah, and of course the Jazz Fest. Another big draw, even if it’s pretty commercial. Montreal had this reputation as being a place for, like, music and, you know, fun and blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, so I came up and literally the first place I went was Casa del Popolo. Casa Obscura, which is another one of those underground venues that foster dialogue between different kinds of musicians.
[18:53] Adam Basanta
In my studies, I decided that I wanted to kind of focus my thesis on something, the idea of composing with sound but also composing with something that’s not sound, to use the same musical approach but with something that’s not sounding, the thing that I chose to focus on was light.
[19:27] Kimihiro Yasaka
I wanted to have some lessons from other musicians in Montreal. So I met Richard Raymond and also Kyoko Hashimoto. I took lessons from them. It was so good, so much better than I can get. And I was really impressed.
[20:05] Joseph Sannicandro
Jazz and free jazz and pre-improv and noise and freak folk and all those kinds of things that are kind of going on. And that you can see that there’s a connection between those musics, between the places, the spaces where they play, some of the musicians themselves, you know! I think that’s something that always struck me about Montreal and I think maybe comes from the strong jazz tradition here, you do have a lot of examples of very loose combinations of groups.
[20:40] Kimihiro Yasaka
Being Japanese, I’ve been working a lot of Japanese contemporary classical music. And that’s also not so known in Japan, right!
[20:59] Joseph Sannicandro
So a lot of those musicians, like William Parker, for instance, I had never seen before I moved to Montreal. So that was something that I kind of understood is that Montreal plays this role in the larger ecosystem, where you have this generation of musicians from the 60s, 70s and 80s who maybe got teaching jobs in upstate New York or Massachusetts or whatever. And they might gig a little bit in those places, but they come up here a lot, because there’s kind of an audience that was cultivated here. And there’s a deep history there that we could talk about on some level that really goes back to the 1920s and to prohibition in America. In America.
[22:24] Mili Hong
You know, even though we didn’t make too much money at the beginning, the same right now, but, like, you still have a little more room that you can breathe, like as, like, a young person, like developing, like a professional. You know, that thing said yes, or, like, gigs are just, like, very random. Sometimes you make enough money for a month, sometimes not.
[22:52] Adam Basanta
We had this idea about using lamps to control the light of the lamp, I’d put up a transducer, compact speakers, something that basically makes another object vibrate, turns it into a speaker. If we can put that inside the lamp, then we’re going to amplify electronic sounds through the lamp. That would be a really interesting approach to laptop performance.
[23:43] Kimihiro Yasaka
It’s just, I miss my culture. I miss my country, I guess. I think then I realized being Japanese, like I never thought I am Japanese being in Japan, I think. Now I’m outside of Japan and now I realize how Japanese I am.
[24:16] Adam Basanta
Microphones and speakers and tape recorders, similar objects making feedback as a solo electronic performance that almost doesn’t involve the laptop as a performance element at all. I’ve done that. I met Jason Sharp and I knew he was using feedback as well as saxophones. I was writing a saxophone quartet. I was using feedback for saxophones. I was asking him some questions and so we kind of developed this, this dialogue around “I am working on an album and, you know, and I’d like to, maybe you write a part in one of the songs in the album, you know, that you would play on this instrument, that be okay?” and listened – “Yes, sounds great, sounds great!”
[25:14] Joseph Sannicandro
In America, they passed a prohibition on alcohol in 1920 and that was not repealed until the very end of 1933. So you have, like, almost a decade and a half where you can’t drink. And so in that time, lots of jazz musicians from New York, from Boston came up to Montreal because you could still have a proper cabaret, proper nightclub where people could dance, listen to music.
[25:53] Silvano Mercado Vilches
Yeah, we play at the Balattou, and also at the Balattou, we were the same gang, Mr. Valdez, they introduced me to other people. Les Nuits Gitanes, we had two or three different concerts there, inviting different types of musicians. There were people from the Manouche scene, this player of kora, African harp. We work together on making all these different styles.
I was really happy to play at the Balattou because it’s very one of the landmarks of Montreal, also very important in the African community.
[26:52] Adam Basanta
Yeah, I mean, definitely, definitely things have changed in the last 10 years. But it’s, it’s hard for me to separate that from the fact that I’ve changed over the last 10 years, too. I do think some things have changed for the worse, you know. I feel like the underground venues really suffered the most.
Places that were just, you know, spaces where you did shows, there was a lot fewer of those, I think maybe more will come up, but I don’t know where they will be. I don’t think they can really exist in the neighbourhoods that people live in, like maybe it can exist a bit further away, further away, a bit further away, in Hochelaga or kind of north of the 40.
[27:47] Kimihiro Yasaka
By meeting these people or by knowing these different types of arts, yeah, that stimulates me and then kept me going, always, always.
[28:04] Adam Basanta
I mean, I think sustainability, in terms of artistic practice, should be talked about in a beautiful way. There’s of course ecological sustainability, but there’s also kind of financial sustainability in the sense of, you know, making sure that you have a few different ways of making money. Performing an artistic activity, meeting people and exposing people to different practices and giving people sometimes extremely meaningful experiences in a concert or exhibition, by the way, is something that has value to it.
[28:43] Kimihiro Yasaka
Music, it’s not just about notes or sound, could be a response to the social. What’s happening in the world or what gets musicians to speak out!
[28:58] Adam Basanta
I can kind of wish in general we had more nuance in language, how we talk about sustainability and gentrification when it comes to artists, because we’re kind of using the same words that we would use for multinational corporations; that’s not entirely fair, I think, on the artists.
Mili Hong began playing drums at the age of 16. She spent most of her life in South Korea before moving to Vancouver, Canada, in her early 20s to study English and music. Although she originally planned to move back to Korea after completing her studies, she decided to remain in Vancouver to experiment and explore her new life in Canada’s thriving and diverse music scene. She received a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from Capilano University, majoring in Instrumental Performance, and played in various ensembles from small combos to big bands, presenting her with numerous opportunities to explore different styles of drumming.
Silvano Mercado Vilches is a Parisian of Franco-Chilean origin. He attended the conservatory from an early age and grew up in a very diverse artistic and musical universe. While his career as an instrumentalist and composer takes shape between Latin music, jazz, and electro folk, his love of cinema naturally led him to music for images. This discipline, ideal for tapping into all styles, allows him to share his work between composition and sound creation, leading him to working professionally in several fields: fiction, documentary, experimental, and live improvisation.
Joseph Sannicandro is a writer, sound organizer, and traveler currently living in Montréal. He writes about miss-communication, (un)popular culture, and the labor of creativity and is interested in the analog humanities. Joseph is a PhD candidate in cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. His work has appeared in eContact, .dpi, Carceral Notebooks, the Journal for Sonic Studies, and edited book collections. His dissertation, currently in progress, explores the nature of doing things together through a cultural history of aesthetics and politics in post-1968 Italy.
Kimihiro Yasaka is a Japan native, an active pianist, and a recording artist as well as an enthusiastic educator. He began his piano studies at the age of twelve with Ms. Reiko Mizutani in Japan and went on to completing his Master’s degree in Piano Solo Performance under the supervision of Professor Kyoko Hashimoto at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montréal. Yasaka’s repertoire includes a wide range of styles from Baroque to contemporary music. He is a particularly devoted performer of new music and has performed in several Montréal, Canadian and world premieres.
Visit her blog or follow her on Instagram, Facebook and SoundCloud.
Esther Bourdages would like to thank all the artists participants, Silvano Mercado for the sound design of the rough version, Hannes Liechti, Svetlana Maraš and the Goethe-Institut.
Artists on Real Estate Monsters and Montréal
moderated and produced by Stefan Christoff
In this bonus talk, we hear the producer of the Timezones Tiohtià:ke / Montréal podcast, sound artist, curator and radio host Esther Bourdages, along with the voice of sound artist and academic Joseph Sannicandro. Stefan speaks with both artists about one of the major themes emerging from the main podcast episode: the struggle and debate around access to creative spaces within the urban environment in the context of gentrification and the growing pressures of real estate capital. How can artists survive, overcome, and resist gentrification?
Musically interwoven into this edition is a segment of the duet track “Orbiting Mercury in a Dream” by bonus talk moderator and producer Stefan Christoff (organ) and Joseph Sannicandro. The piece was released by Élan Vital, a label based in North Macedonia, on the album La lumière du soleil dans un semi sous-sol, the video was directed by Guillaume Vallée.
Stefan Christoff is a community radio host, musician, social activist, and student living in Tiohtià:ke / Montréal. Stefan hosts Free City Radio, a weekly podcast and radio program that airs in the city on CKUT 90.3fm, focusing on the intersections between social justice movements and the arts. As a community activist, Stefan has been deeply involved in migrant justice movements, challenging the violence of the Canadian state’s migration policies that attack the fundamental rights of asylum seekers, non-status people, and immigrants. Stefan has created many albums with artists both locally and internationally, including duet albums with Sam Shalabi, Lori Goldston and as part of Anarchist Mountains and Rêves sonores.
Artistic Editor: Svetlana Maraš
Project Management: Hannes Liechti
Group Photos: Claudia Goulet-Blais
Jingle Voiceover: Nana Akosua Hanson
Jingle Mix: Daniel Jakob
Mastering: Adi Flück, Centraldubs
Artwork: Šejma Fere