Hear the harpsichord hum

Experimental music at send + receive festival

Katelyn Clark at her harpsichord.

Supplied photo

Imagine hearing a hidden beat in between pitches of sound creating a pulse that wasn’t there before. Katelyn Clark – an artist featured at this year’s send + receive festival – uses different tunings on various piano-like instruments to create this experience of sound and space for her audiences. 

Clark is no stranger to keys. Whether in tunings or on instruments, they surround the sound she creates. From the age of four, she has been playing piano but soon ventured into more diverse keyboards.

“My mother took me to a harpsichord concert of Bach’s Goldberg Variations when I was around nine-years-old,” Clark says. “I became fascinated with the harpsichord after that.”

Her fascination with harpsichords and early keyboards led her to study them in places like the Netherlands, Italy and Quebec. Originally from Victoria, B.C., Clark continues to experiment with sounds and her instruments in Montreal, Que. 

“Lately, I’ve been experimenting quite a bit with very early keyboards,” Clark says. “Especially with the small medieval organ (organetto) and the medieval harpsichord (clavisimbalum). One of my favourite things is playing with different tuning systems or temperaments, and I can do this very easily on these small keyboards.”

Clark says her inspiration comes from many places, but she is especially inspired by natural sounds and northern landscapes. She will often try to imitate the sounds she hears by trying to speak through her keyboards.

As for the beat created in Clark’s performances, that’s thanks to the tuning. Western music uses similar standard tunings. In contrast, Clark aims to use extremely different tuning systems, which surprises audiences with expectations of hearing a usual tuning.

“Many people haven’t heard medieval or very early Western instruments before, so the sound that the audience hears during my performances usually creates a very unique experience,” Clark says. “Someone can expect to feel like they’re entering a new landscape when listening to my music.”

Winnipeg’s send + receive festival provides Clark’s tunings and other off-the-beaten-path music a place to thrive. 

Crys Cole, who has been director of the festival for eight years, says send + receive is where new people, things and sounds can intersect.

“It’s a very carefully considered program that really brings artists together who are very special and distinct in their approaches,” Cole says. “There is no need for context. It’s about opening your mind and ears and experiencing something that you may not usually.”

This year’s send + receive theme is rhythm, which is a word that fits well with Clark’s tonal beats. She is looking forward to checking out other artists’ practices at the festival and sharing her own performance in Winnipeg for the first time.

“The larger intention of my practice is to connect place and sound, and to offer the listener an experience that is new and temporally undefined,” Clark says. “My goal is to draw you into the experience and away from time.”

Published in Volume 70, Number 4 of The Uniter (October 1, 2015)

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