Deck the Hall

In keeping with Nuit Blanche’s non-visual focus, Gordon Monahan strings Massey Hall along to fashion a huge resonance chamber

GORDON MONAHAN at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Zone A, from dusk until dawn.

Gordon Monahan is preparing for his first performance at Massey Hall. But it won’t be just any debut.


The Canadian musician and sound artist, who’s focused on experimental sound installation and performance throughout his career, will be stringing the entire interior of the iconic performance hall with piano wire.

It’s yet another challenge for a Canadian artist who has previously airlifted a piano over St. John’s Harbour to perch atop a cliff, created computer-controlled kinetic sound sculptures and played the world over (including the Venice Biennale) with his much-loved electro-kitsch cover band, Fuzzy Love.

Monahan’s work combines performance bravado with carefully thought out and often highly technical explorations of acoustic phenomena and, recently, aeolian tones – those fluctuating sound frequencies you hear generated by long, vibrating wires and branches.

In Space Becomes The Instrument, Nuit Blanchers will have the opportunity to hear the pre-eminent hall played as it has never before been played.

“The strings are activated by motors, the sympathetic vibrations of which are then amplified by contact pickups fed into an 8-channel surround-sound PA,” says the artist on the phone. “Performers can also pull on each wire in a way that changes its tension and pitch. It’s a deconstruction of an audio system in a sense.”

It also gives listeners the chance to hear an architectural space used as a vast resonance chamber for ambient sound. For the entire night, the concert hall will literally become an instrument in its own right.

Monahan’s piano-wire piece will be supplemented at the top of every hour by a 20-minute work entitled Speaker Swinging. Last performed at Mercer Union in 1982, it consists of three performers standing on the balconies, swinging loudspeakers in circles of approximately 15 feet. Monahan will send electronic square and sine waves through the speakers as their motion creates a circular Doppler effect, generating what he describes as a “trance-like, meditative cluster of resonances.”

Both of Monahan’s performances participate in this year’s overall focus on the non-visual, with zone curators choosing a substantial number of sound installations as well as works devoted to taste, touch, smell and even the extrasensory. Zone A curator Thom Sokoloski, who chose the work, has stated that he favoured installations that help viewers to reimagine and reappropriate historic Toronto spaces.

Re-imagining Massey Hall should be easy, since the audience will be placed on the stage, a perspective known mainly to performers until now.

“It’s the most dramatic view of the space,” says Monahan. “Quite breathtaking, really.”

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