DAVID TOOP performing with SARAH PEEBLES, DARREN COPELAND and NILAN PERERA at the Annex Theatre (736 Bathurst), Saturday (November 16). $15 advance, $20 at the door. 416-910-7231. www.soundtravels.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Balancing two sides of a career isn't easy. Just ask David Toop. His status as an influential writer often overshadows his work in improvised experimental music.
That's because he's known to most as a music journalist and author of The Rap Attack, Ocean Of Sound and Exotica, in which he's dissected and commented on everything from hiphop and techno to 50s lounge music and experimental ambient.
But he's had an equally long career as a musician and composer, working within ambient and electro-acoustic circles. He never really planned to be a professional writer, and the workload of writing for the Face, the Sunday Times, Spin, Arena, Interview and other publications has made it hard to concentrate on his own music.
"I'd been writing as well as playing music since the early 70s," Toop explains from his London home. "In 1984 I started to get really tired of the music scene, and I was also tired of never having any money. I didn't intend to write for a living, but releasing my first book, The Rap Attack, launched me into a career as a journalist.
"At the beginning of the 90s I began to miss playing music, so it became a question of disengaging myself from journalism and getting back into it, which was quite difficult.
"It wasn't until I wrote Ocean Of Sound in 95 that I cut myself off completely from journalism."
Saturday's gig at the Annex Theatre marks his first-ever performance in Canada. He'll be improvising on various flutes, reading from texts and playing recordings of soundscapes and his own material.
Local artists Sarah Peebles and Nilan Perera will work with him on laptop and prepared guitar respectively, and all of it will be moved around the 3-D space by Darren Copeland.
Toop is currently working on a fourth book, Sound Body, which looks at the effect technology has had on live music and on the way we perceive music in general.
While he doesn't restrict himself to the impact of computers, the software studio is nevertheless an integral part of this story, not only because of the incredible affordability of home recording, but also because it's changed the definition of what a live show can be.
"In some ways it's the equivalent of the piano. When the piano was introduced it was seen as a machine that was going to destroy music.
"Many people have the same attitude to laptops now. One of the complaints about laptop performance is that there isn't a clear relationship between the actions involved and the sounds produced -- there's something very mysterious about it.
"You have the same thing with the piano. Look at how classical and jazz players have adapted to that: they've developed a whole repertoire of pointless gestures to emphasize that they're emoting and to connect their movements to the sounds that are coming out."
Toop himself has made the shift from recording in a conventional studio to a computer-based home studio, and feels this has enabled him to get closer to executing his own visions more accurately.
"You don't have to translate for another person. In the past I've always worked with sound engineers, often building up long relationships with them so they more or less know what I want to do -- but there's always a slight possibility that your intentions aren't being totally understood. When you're working on your own, anything that's not right is your own fault."