As many of you know, ping things is very closely associated with THE AMBiENT PiNG, Toronto's premier weekly live ambient performance event. Every Tuesday night the PiNG hosts some of the best live electronic music featuring both local and international performers. Every night is exciting and unique in it's own way and as a result it's earned a very positive reputation in both the Toronto music scene and around the world.
And now the PiNG is poised to become even more highly regarded with the release of PiNG AMBiENCE, a compilation CD put together by Rich Baker of Cymbl and Arc who is also a frequent guest on Tuesday nights. This disc brings together a number of artists who have become PiNG regulars (both as performers and as attendees) in a long form mix designed to give listeners a taste of what the PiNG is all about. Featuring such luminaries in the scene as dreamSTATE, Sylken, Arc and cheryl o, PiNG AMBiENCE is a fine example of the music that has made THE AMBiENT PiNG so highly regarded. Featuring a variety of tones, emotions, textures, PiNG AMBiENCE is sure to bring more attention to what is fast becoming one of the most exciting and vital electronic music scenes going.
So with this in mind I thought we'd focus on PiNG AMBiENCE this month, and feature an interview with Scott M2 and Jamie Todd of dreamSTATE who are the organizers and coordinators of THE AMBiENT PiNG, and Rich Baker who put together the disc. I thought we could talk a little bit about history, about the future, and most of all, about the PiNG.
1) Why don't we start with a little history of THE AMBiENT PiNG? How did it start, how did it get going, what was the original intent, who were the people that got it all going?
Rich Baker : Arnold [Sprogis] started it at Garvey's (I think) in Kensington Market. There were always a fair amount of people there. I had seen ambient performances before but through rave type things, not in it's own club. It was cool to wander around a club space to ambient music.
Jamie Todd : For me it all started at a Planet of the Loops show at Holy Joes (spring 1999, I think). Scott and Steven Sauve were on the bill with Andrew Aldridge and Michael Keith and I had ventured down to show support. After Scott had passed the loop baton to Steven, he joined me in the audience and I mentioned to Scott that Steven was doing stuff that reminded me of Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air (a classic LP from the late 60s which influenced me greatly). As Scott nodded in agreement, Arnold sat down beside me and mentioned that he hadn't heard (or even seen) that LP in years and a friendship was born on that obscure reference.
That same night Arnold introduced us to Chris Hutton and spoke of the art magazine Arnold was producing (Kensington Market Artist) and that Chris was doing some articles and reviews on ambient music for the upcoming first issue of the magazine. Arnold went on to tell us about his plans to start a weekly ambient music event which later that summer would become THE AMBiENT PiNG. Naturally Scott and I jumped at the chance to play the PiNG as we were looking for places to play as dreamSTATE and c'mon, THE AMBiENT PiNG, it was too perfect of a fit, it became our home very shortly. That POL show was the catalyst for me, friendships evolved from it, ambient alliances were struck and the PiNG was born as a result.
Scott M2 : First, some props for Arnold Sprogis: When he was planning a weekly ambient night, I suggested that quarterly or monthly might be more realistic but he insisted that weekly was important so people would always know when it was happening - as it would also be a social thing. Good call... I also suggested that this new weekly should have a name. I was expecting something more obvious, like "Soundscapes", but Arnold came up with "THE AMBiENT PiNG". Chris Hutton was a less obvious conspirator in the initial plans for the PiNG. He was also a vital part of the audience at the early shows - always utterly intent and focused on the performances - always with insightful commentary and encouragement after the sets.
2) Care to recall some of your most memorable nights at the PiNG?
RB : Some of the reasoning why I wanted to include many of the artists in PiNG AMBiENCE was because I had been impressed with some of their live shows in the past. And you could always just focus in on the music and the performance at the PiNG so any night could be particularly memorable.
SM2 : After being there for about 200 shows, there's many. Here's some memories that come to mind now:
After seeing Jakob Thiesen perform shows with very funky old analog synth gear and sampler, then with a laptop, discovering at our 3rd Anniversary show that he's also a dead solid drummer. At the same show, hearing guitarist Michael Rockwood go even deeper into his wonderful oceanic soundscape looping.
Seeing the vibrant enthusiasm and good humour radiating from James Johnson and Vir Unis during their performance together here.
Sara Ayers' opening vocal/loop-based piece at the PiNG just took my breath away. Her closing piece made me shiver.
When ambient artist Bruce FM played here, an old friend of his had prepared the visuals for his concert - without letting Bruce see them first. They were absolutely hilarious - poking fun at Bruce and his music in a wide variety of ways - using mocking text segments, a film of a block of ice melting - even a crazed mechanical Guru puppet which played a guitar solo. Bruce took it all with good grace. I'd love to see it again.
Experiencing Ben Grossman for the first time (or any time since) creating magnificent drones and layers from a Hurdy Gurdy with treatments.
Wally Jericho, at so many shows, creating floating or searing trumpet loops, solo or with so many other artists like Sylken, dreamSTATE or Planet Of The Loops. I remember at the PiNG's 2nd Summer Ambient Party (at an artist's warehouse studio/living space) Wally playing an all acoustic set with cellist cheryl o and Steven Sauve on grand piano, and physically twirling in circles while he played, up in the bedroom loft, to create a phasing effect.
General Chaos Visuals are always perfect for ambient music with their slowly weaving analog projections, but they really created an outstanding environment within the white walls at Art System for the Robert Rich/dreamSTATE special concert. Robert's set was beautiful and what a surprise discovering that he was touring with a huge modular synth without a travel case, just piled on top of his other gear in the back of his van. All the patch cords were still plugged in. Faster setup time!
Then there's our previous location at Po Boys Club:
Saxman Richard Underhill getting the PiNG shut down by the police after a noise complaint. (There was someone's bedroom on the other side of the wall right beside the stage.) Police had come before and always left after discovering only some placid ambient music - but at the moment they arrived, Rich had just trapped a very twisted loop in his delay pedal, which some might describe as the sound of killing a cat!
DJ Isis from Vancouver and the various screens with hypnotic analog film loops she and her crew set up throughout the club.
At the first dreamSTATE show with visuals, we had changed into white Tyvek "cleanroom" suits (at Arnold's place just down the street) to become part of the screens for the projections. We decided to enter in through the restaurant downstairs, then go up the backstairs and take to the stage from the back of the club as a little surprise. Turns out the restaurant patrons downstairs thought we were exterminators...
JT : Every night has been memorable, but on a personal note, dreamSTATE's first performance is a standout as is our year long marathon of the Drone Cycle.
We were the third act to take the PiNG's stage and it was a strange night at Garvey's in Kensington Market. After we had set up our synths and completed a sound check, a drunken Garvey regular stumbled up to Scott and myself and asked if we do requests. Scott played along and said it depends what do you want to hear expecting a request for Tangerine Dream or something along those lines and the drunk surprised us by requesting we play some Eric Clapton. Astonished I looked at the sea of wires and synths we had just left behind on the stage and replied sorry we have no guitars and we only do original stuff and in fact we basically just improvised as we played. Scott made a beeline to the bar (to argue with the barkeep/owner about why the band should get at least a couple of free beers as a matter of respect to us for filling the place with people who were buying beer) thereby leaving me stranded with the still babbling drunk who was now into a rant about why we were doing this in the first place. Did we want a record contract, if we did he had the answer. Tell them that you know what a diminished seventh is and they'll give you a contract. Just march into the record companies and tell them you know what a diminished seventh is and you'll get a contract. As he continued on this rant, I noticed that Scott had indeed convinced the barkeep and was walking away with a cold brew, but the barkeep leapt over the bar in a great rush. Scanning the room looking for the object of barkeep's rush, I noticed a short guy coming up the stairs, entering the club, but he saw the barkeep coming and he high tailed back down the stairs and out into the street. I excused myself from the babbling drunk who knew all the secrets of the record industry and joined Scott on-stage where we played to a very appreciative crowd. As we were winding down our performance the little short guy came running back up the stairs and ambushed the barkeep with a water pistol squirt to the face. While Scott and I finished up our set, the barkeep chased the little guy around the club while the little guy kept squirting the barkeep with water. After a couple of laps like this around the club, the barkeep finally managed to chase him back down the stairs and out into the street. It was a great way to end a set and start a string of performances. Soon there were less of the people who didn't get THE AMBiENT PiNG and more of the people who did get it.
The Drone Cycle was memorable as it was a test of endurance for Scott and myself, but it also gave us an opportunity to play with some of our new and old friends. Our concept was to play a two-hour unrehearsed improvisational show once a month and to have a different guest and note each month as we explored the octave over the year (12 notes in the octave, 12 months in the year). Playing with friends is always fun, but this process was also challenging and educational which resulted in some fond memories and some interesting sonic explorations.
It's tough to single out other shows though as there have been so many great shows, some standouts for me though have been the first time I saw Pholde playing metal, the night Susanna Hood stroked a naked piano with a dildo and every time General Chaos have done visuals and turned the room into a psychedelic swirl. The list goes on and on. Most of all though it's every night as I always get inspired by the community and the performers.
3) Over the four years since it's inception the PiNG has become a very nurturing environment for musicians, a space where thoughts and ideas are free to grow, develop. What is it about THE AMBiENT PiNG that encourages that way of thinking? What has inspired that kind of space? Do you think it's the result of the environment, or the people that participate in it?
JT : It's both really. Since it's inception, the PiNG has worked hard at developing a nurturing environment, but it would be all for naught if the community and the people were not responsive. In the early days, it was mostly artists and musicians performing for other like minded artists and musicians which created a lot of exchange and communication between PiNG artists.
This attitude is still with us and on any given night there are many artists drinking in the good vibes and sounds which is inspiration in itself. As an aside I often see illustrators and visual artists regularly exploring their art while attending a PiNG event. There are so many great artists who have performed at the PiNG, that the bar just keeps getting raised and this creates an attitude that you as an artist have a responsibility to raise the level ever higher each and every time you perform.
SM2 : Artists coming to the PiNG know that no one is expecting to dance, to sing along or to hear what they've heard before. I consciously book music that is rarely heard in other clubs - and so it's a place where artists can play music that they may have previously only played at home, just for themselves, and are thrilled to find a place where people will appreciate it and judge it for what it is and not for what it isn't. Creating an environment and setting the tone makes a difference - but it's the audience and the artists who fill the space with the good vibes that encourage you to come back again and again.
4) Rich, you have a particular association with the PiNG in terms of your work with Arc, which I think is indicative of the type of environment that's been created, the sense of community that revolves around the PiNG. Care to retell that story?
RB : The first time I went out to the PiNG I was talking to Arnold and when he learned I was a drummer he asked me to come back the next time with a drum. So I did and he pushed me up on stage where Aidan and Chris were already playing. They didn't know me and I don't think they knew someone else was going to be playing, but we liked our performance (unfortunately it was not recorded) and decided to do more shows. I find working as an improvisory musician tremendously rewarding and Arc has enough common ground that we have continued to perform and record through improvisation.
5) Who's cooler, Batman or James Bond? Why? If one of them turned evil would the other be able to bring them to justice, or would it be a neverending game of cat and mouse?
JT : The Dark Knight of course. He has passion and integrity whereas Bond is nothing more than a glam boy. Batman is driven by his tragic childhood experience whereas Bond just wants to get laid.
RB : It'd be interesting if one of them turned evil because they both always survive in the end, ye can be sure that James would be tied up in the bat cave at one point (with Batpussy or something), but he'd get loose and Batman would have to make his getaway so they could do BatBond 2 (Hey let's get that agent on the line).
SM2 : Batman wears way more black - so is obviously cooler.
6) Tell us about PiNG AMBiENCE. Would you say that it's an accurate representation of a night at the PiNG?
RB : It's not an accurate representation of a night but it gives one somewhat of an idea of what a few nights might be like.
SM2 : PiNG AMBiENCE represents some of the purer ambient and dark ambient soundscapes that are at the very heart of the Ping - though there's a wider variety of styles that I also book which might fall into chillout (with grooves) or experimental ("academic" through noise) music categories. PiNG AMBiENCE captures the feel of the PiNG for me in the Po Boys days in particular, and I think that Rich was trying to assemble a "classic" PiNG lineup for this first compilation with most artists going right back to the first year or so of performances.
7) Listening to it, one can't help but feel a connection between the artists in terms of sound, a sense of shared ideal. Do you think this is indicative of a PiNG sound, and if so, how would you describe that sound?
JT : Hmmm, a PiNG sound, that's hard to pin down as there have been such diverse sounds coming from the PiNG stage overall. For example, the PiNG stage has hosted classical instrumentalists, as well as jazz, rock and pop players exploring less structure and more of the music between the notes so to speak. It has also been home to many sound explorers and soundscape artists, so I guess it comes down to unique artists who bring their own experience, styles and talents to the stage as they interpret ambient music and yes Cymbl's PiNG AMBiENCE mix accurately reflects this diversity.
RB : Ooh that seems like dancing about architecture again. I'd suggest that all artists have a conception about ambient which is different but with some shared aspects, but all the artists because they have performed at the PiNG to the same sort of audience all know how far they can push the Ambient concept. I'm also sure that we have influenced each other. It might be difficult to hear how a trumpet makes a connection with a laptop but there must be approaches that artists have heard and like and share. So the PiNG sound would be the development of the artists that have played at the PiNG, but y'd have to go back and trace that development.
8)You've been doing it for four years now, where do you see the PiNG heading in the future? Any ideas, plans, goals, dreams you have for the next four, fourteen, forty years?
SM2 : Jamie is the one with the bigger masterplans for the future. I just want to keep the garden going and growing and enjoy the fruits as they appear. The things I've hoped for have been slowly happening: more visuals, a stable, friendly host (Cheers to C'est What!), fresh surprises from new artists, appearances by artists I've admired for years - many travelling long distances to perform in a welcoming environment, CD releases from a variety of performances, an onsite ambient CD outlet (Cheers to rik!) and now, the first compilation from PiNG artists (Cheers to Rich!).
JT : Personally I hope it doesn't end and that it will continue to grow and evolve. For the future, more concerts and performances in different environments and cities, but I'd also like to see the regular Tuesday ambient pub nights continue. PiNG AMBiENCE is the first step in taking the PiNG concept and community to the world. I'd like to tune into PiNG radio, watch the PiNG channel, read PiNG mags, comics and books . . .
RB : There are many many things that I've talked about at the PiNG with many people so it's difficult to put it into a couple of sentences. I'd like to see the PiNG garner respect as a venue for new developments in music. I'm excited by all the interaction where different artists are regularly performing and recording with other artists. Eventually all the work that all the artists have put in is going to push the development of the ambient music form itself, as there is such a pool of artists that has performed at the PiNG you could describe the PiNG as a continuous music festival (and workshop). With such interaction, open mindedness, and a constant striving to develop, THE AMBiENT PiNG is a microcosm of everything that Toronto has the potential to become.
PiNG AMBiENCE, a compilation of PiNG artists mixed by Rich Baker of Cymbl and Arc
Care to visit our older featured interviews?
read an interview with Mercurine
read an interview with Numina