Groovy beats, a banjo and bells promise an unsilent Longest Night

Alexis O’Hara’s answering machine knows how to beat box. It also mixes samples, before the beep.

Alexis O’Hara’s answering machine knows how to beat box.

It also mixes samples, before the beep.

The Montreal performance artist is coming to Whitehorse to join this year’s Longest Night ensemble.

But she’s hard to get a’ hold of.

“I saw her at the Dawson City music festival two or three years ago,” said Longest Night artistic director Brian Fidler.

“And I was blown away.”

O’Hara uses a looping pedal to create soundscapes.

She’ll sing a bit of a tune, loop it, then sing or talk a bit more and loop it, until she has a whole bed of sound that she’ll tell a story over.

“She calls them songs,” said Fidler, who tracked O’Hara down using Google.

It was Thursday morning, and Fidler couldn’t stop yawning.

Co-ordinating a bunch of musicians, dancers, actors and technicians isn’t easy.

Not to mention maintaining an artistic vision throughout.

And this year, Fidler is performing as well.

Mucking around with the idea of soundscapes, he came up with a piece that involves local DJ John Gelinas and the old radio that’s featured in the poster.

“I’m going to be tuning in the show through the radio,” he said.

But he wouldn’t elaborate.

“People need to come and see it for themselves,” said Fidler, who also plans to play an exiled cruise ship entertainment director.

Don’t ask.

For the last few weeks, he’s been poking his head into rehearsals, watching Sour Brides Theatre prepare a piece, catching a bit of the Yukon Dance Ensemble’s Capricious Pilfer, and listening to Dave Haddock’s groovy compositions.

Fidler’s job is to seamlessly tie the whole artistic hodgepodge together into the production that’s Longest Night.

And he was still pulling new pieces last week.

After watching Fiona Solon sing during Brave New Works On December 8th, he asked her to join his ensemble.

Called Wheelbarrow Bathtub, Solon’s lyrics accompany a slideshow of her childhood while Charles Hegstad plays banjo.

“It’s about me growing up in Tagish with no running water,” she said.

“And people who’ve seen it say it’s like stepping into my life.”

Solon is also going to perform a soul-funk piece with Dave Haddock called Coyfish.

This year, Haddock replaced Longest Night’s Vancouver-based musical director Vede Hille.

“I aim to please,” said Haddock, discussing his compositions.

“And it’s not hard to listen to. I like a certain amount of dissonance, but a lot of it’s groovy.”

The biggest challenge for Haddock was not writing the trombone and marimba parts — both instruments he doesn’t play — it was getting everyone together for rehearsals.

The seven-person ensemble has been meeting for the past few weeks and is sharing some of Haddock’s compositional tasks, with clarinet player Birch Kutch, accordion player Andrea McColeman and drummer Graeme Peters each creating a piece for the show.

“It was neat to write all the parts, rather than just telling people, ‘This is how the song goes,’” said Haddock, who would imagine how each instrument sounds, then try to fit all the parts together.

“I have lots of ideas in my head,” he said.

“And Longest Night provided a good focal point.”

The production’s founder, Daniel Janke is also sharing two of his original composition this year.

“And it’s great to have him back,” said Fidler.

Janke created the show 12 years ago to celebrate the solstice.

And it stuck.

“The days are so dark and short, and the nights are so long,” said Fidler.

“So it’s nice to have something that marks the change in seasons.”

This year before the show, Phil Kline’s solstice composition Unsilent Night will be played outside the Yukon Arts Centre.

It’s a ghetto-blaster symphony.

Listeners pick up a boom box and, in synch, push play. Then everyone walks along a small path lit by ice candles while the music mixes together, combining bells, gongs, singing bowls, Indonesian gamelan, ambient atmospheres and operatic arias.

“It’s twinkly, pretty and silly,” said local Unsilent Night producer Christine Spinder.

“But it’s also moody and has the darkness of winter.

“It takes you on a bit of a journey.”

Spinder first heard the piece in Vancouver, but it originated in New York City 15 years ago.

And in New York it’s a parade of 1,000 people all with boom boxes, she said.

So far, Spinder’s got six boom boxes and is urging interested participants to bring their own and join the walk.

“Every person who’s heard this falls in love with it,” she said.

Unsilent Night begins at 7 p.m. And the Longest Night performances begin at 8 p.m.

The shows run Wednesday and Thursday, December 20th and 21st.

Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office and Arts Underground. Adults are $23 and students and seniors are $17.

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