REVIEW: Area performance artists get on the air with Radio Saturn

All planets with magnetic fields emit radio waves – and so it’s only natural that the musicians of the Boreal Electroacoustic Music Society (BEAMS) would want to play around with them.

Such was the premise of an unusual public recording session and performance art happening called The Saturn Sessions, which took place May 19 in the informal and intimate confines of the Ortony Armory, for about 30 observers. Using a 1981 recording of Saturn’s radio signal captured by detectors of NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe as bed tracks, the performers set about to make live recordings to accompany the sound of the ringed planet. So this “performance” was little more than a recording session to which an audience was invited. People had to endure the tedium off stopping and starting and playbacks – but at least they got to keep the recording at the end, as long they brought a blank CD or flash drive.

First up was the poetry reading of Moonfyre, (below, of Pocket Universe). She recorded her existential and fatalistic musings and whisperings between the pauses. Next, Will Truchon took centre stage, armed with only an MP3 player and a Boss delay pedal and turned Radio Saturn into something that sounded like early Tangerine Dream (before they discovered percussion).

Bill Damur’s overdub consisted of bass flute. Don Ross added clarinet in a separate performance. You might not think a clarinet is appropriate instrument to include into an extraterrestrial soundscape, but to Ross’s credit he pulled it off, sometimes using a percussive technique.

Easily the most dynamic component of the evening was Stanis Coleslaw R.E.M. (listed in the program as “performance artist at large”), armed with projections, a gas mask, a concertina he molested mercilessly, and topped by screeching and splashes of Dada. If BEAMS were the Beatles, Coleslaw could easily be their Yono Oko.

The word “experimental” was tossed freely about, yet with experiment comes the possibility of failure. It might do BEAMS good to take notes before offering up another such event. While not being totally discountable, the vocals proved to be the most intrusive elements in the final recording, getting in the way of the music. The recording works best when it’s spooky. One could have done with less of the goofy segments.

The playback of the final result also proved to be anti-climatic as “error” messages kept popping up on the laptop.

But, failure is a relative term.

“This is the biggest crowd we’ve had for a BEAMS event”, beamed host Gene Kosowan, “So, I’m happy. I’d just be happier if they bought more beer…”