Show Review: FORMS Presents Laurel Halo At Longboat Hall

By Cole Firth & Melissa Vincent, Feature Photo via Little Big 

In case you haven’t noticed, the Goodyear blimp has been hovering over downtown Toronto making quiet, graceful appearances in various patches of early autumn sky. In spite of its obvious connotations as an iconic marketing symbol, there is something undeniably compelling about the presence of an airship, how unsuspecting viewers react to it, the mediums they use to document it, and ultimately the capacity for something so to capture the attention of a whole city. It is this approach to archiving and deconstructing the everyday that inspired the inaugural FORMS Summit, a series of panel discussions and live events that explore “creativity and technology and its influence on everything from digital life, human connection, urbanism, artistic expression and beyond.”

In Queen Street’s Longboat Hall, an all-star lineup of electronic soundcrafters also showcased a certain kind of presence that was no less physical for being auditory in form. Jeremy Gara, Arcade Fire’s longtime drummer, steered dense layers of synthesizer through a series of intricate maneuvers. Sitting at a table of mostly analog equipment, there was a palpable feeling of evolution and development as his songs played like a succession of loosely defined movements rather than individual songs. Gara conjured up rich, saturated loops of fuzzy electronic noise that were accented by stabs of overdriven organ, bringing to mind the work of fellow Montreal resident Tim Hecker circa Ravedeath 1972 (2011). A visualizer was projected to Gara’s left as neon greens pulsated to the vibrations, matching the monochromatic tones of his performance. In the relatively small, oblong room, the sound was deeply enveloping. It felt physical in the way more dance-oriented music often does, with the low end reverberating through chest cavities and shaking sinuses.

Gara’s heavy, organic performance was followed by a more sparse approach from Montreal producer Kara-Lis Coverdale (a.k.a K-LC). Coverdale sculpted bright, cartoon-like soundscapes that writhed and entangled themselves in the wooden banisters of the hall; think Disney’s 1940’s classic, Fantasia filtered through the contemporary lens of experimental music. Her specific brand of ambience drew from a warmer, more vibrant aural palette, leaving plenty of contoured negative space in her compositions. It created an entirely transfixing atmosphere which divided the audience between those standing at  attention or sprawled out on the floor staring at the psychedelic visuals projected on the ceiling.

The varied sequencing of artists provided a nice lead up to headliner Laurel Halo, a wildly talented and acclaimed electronic auteur from Ann Arbour, Michigan via Berlin and roster staple on Kode 9’s Hyperdub records. While her eerie, clinical LP Quarantine from 2012 would have fit nicely with the overall vibe of the evening, she leaned on the more beat-driven, dancefloor-ready tactics of her most recent album, Chance of Rain (2013). It was undeniably a DJ set, though Halo was chopping and rearranging tracks on the fly. She stuck mostly to uptempo, syncopated garage rhythms, flitting seamlessly between agile techno and rumbling drum ‘n bass sounds. It’s easy to see why Halo is signed to Hyperdub as some of her darker cuts could have been nestled into a post-Untrue Burial EP. While her tracks betray an experienced and masterful artistry, the set itself was a fun and energetic way to end the evening. Longboat Hall was an especially poignant venue choice with just enough room for dancing and a wrap-around balcony for technically-inclined fans interested in seeing exactly what was going on behind the darkly-veiled stage table. The unabashed dancing of FORMS attendees underscored the physicality of the musical programming and ultimately succeeded in bringing to the forefront the intersection between sound, space, and movement.

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