Classical Music: Performing Public Art in Vancouver Reveals a “City of Sound”


‘Costs! Can I try this? ‘ Vancouver improviser-percussionist stages outdoor concerts, using sculptures as instruments

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Ben Brown – Sound Sculptures

September 12, 3 p.m. – Dragon Skin Pavilion (UBC)


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September 19, 3 p.m. – Gateway to the Northwest Passage (Vanier Park / Kitsilano)

Sep 26, 3 p.m. – The swimmer (Vancouver Aquatic Center / Burrard and Pacific)

October 3, 6 p.m. – Solo (Devonian Harbor Park / Coal Harbor)


A small series blurring the lines between music and art is being programmed over the next few weeks by improviser-percussionist Ben Brown.

The four free Sunday afternoon events will not be played indoors or on conventional percussion instruments. Brown will perform outdoors at sculptures around Vancouver and on the University of British Columbia campus, all under the auspices of Vancouver New Music and with the blessing of the Vancouver Park Board. The series will also feature Brown’s research collaborators from All Bodies Dance and Foolish Operations.


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Brown’s first major professional gig came with his role as drummer for Juno-winning rock band Pugs and Crows. Concerts, recordings and tours take up most of Brown’s time. But his musical emphasis was, even then, on improvisation.

Brown took some time to travel to Europe: “I toured solo for four to six months with my own suitcase battery. It was then that I freed myself from the usual drummer rhythm of supporting a group or orchestra. “

With the help of a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, Brown sought mentors. “Han Bennink and Dame Evelyn Glennie were my drumming heroes,” he says.

He arranged sessions with Glennie in his studio, about an hour from London in the Cambridgeshire countryside. “I was not just another student learning to play Bach on the marimba. I wanted Evelyn to learn to listen with my body, ”he recalls.


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“I think Glennie didn’t know exactly what to do with me at first. But then everything clicked. She handed me an instrument and said “improvise just for me”. Then she really understood me and understood that I was interested in many cultures and traditions, but especially in the discovery of new sounds.

Returning to Canada, Brown continued his explorations, giving solo performances and working with dancers. But just before his return he made another breakthrough – “it was my last trip before the pandemic hit.”

In Berlin, he discovered a public sculpture by Volkmar Haase which marked him as a marvelous object to be known both by sound and sight. Brown pulled out his mallets and loved the pure tones he gave off. He found other Hasse sculptures in the Berlin area, but not without incident.


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“Various people were coming towards me in anger, and I learned that I really needed prior permission to perform on public art,” he says. “In the summer of 2020, I returned to Vancouver and was quarantined. Then I got on my bike and explored, tapping on this and that, finding out which sculptures sounded good, and got a list of possibilities.

Improviser / percussionist Ben Brown (top) offers a four-concert series over a four-week period from September 12 to October 3, performing on public art around Vancouver.
Improviser / percussionist Ben Brown (top) offers a four-concert series over a four-week period from September 12 to October 3, performing on public art around Vancouver. Photo by Andi McLeish

Brown was far from sure that Vancouver would accept the idea of ​​performances on public art.

“I find there are some common misconceptions about drums. I figured the parks board wouldn’t be eager to let Animal des Muppets unleash their cherished art with a pair of mallets, ”he says.

But Giorgio Magnanensi of Vancouver New Music was supportive. “Giorgio insisted ‘just ask permission!’ I was very surprised to see how favorable the response was.


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So, once the preparatory work was done, a series of Sunday afternoon events were planned, starting September 12 at UBC’s Dragon Skin Pavilion, with the explicit approval of the designer.

“Oliver David Krieg is one of the three designers responsible for the Dragon at UBC,” says Brown. “He was surprised by the video I sent him. He said that musicality was not something he had never considered, but that he found it delicious. “

“There has never been a better time to do this project,” says Brown. “Due to COVID, I don’t do concerts or tours, and there are very few places to play music.

“Part of what I’m trying to do with this project is initiate a discussion about the role of public art in Vancouver and encourage us to reimagine a city that is more interactive and richer in sound. So far, there has been very little reluctance to perform on public art. Instead, I received very positive responses.

“Especially ‘Cool! Can I try this? ‘ “

  1. The first series of four concerts by violinist Timothy Chooi, from August 31 to September 3, will consist of works for solo violin.  For his second series of recitals, from September 7 to 10, he will be accompanied by pianist Chiharu IInuma.

    Classical music: the strings of violinist Timothy Chooi in the new Morning Music season

  2. We’ve covered Vancouver’s classic music scene here

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