Saskatoon workshop revitalizing folk music through experimentation – Saskatoon

Jeff Morton says the strange sounds his participants are making are helping to return folk music to its roots.

“Folk music, by definition, is music for everyone,” he said.



“Creating music that is truly participatory… is a reclaiming of that genre.”

Morton, a musician and composer, is the facilitator of the Finding Folk for Music Composition Workshop, part of the PAVED Arts Sounds Like audio festival. He instructed participants to eschew traditional song structure or writing techniques.

“The idea with this workshop is to teach people about alternative ways of making music in a sense of… writing music or how to think about how we write music,” Morton said.

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The purpose, Morton said, was to remove folk music from “a dominant culture that often discourages people from making music if they feel that they don’t have the technical facility to do so.”

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“Music really is just from the people.”

The room the seven participants are in, at PAVED Arts space, is empty except for a table of old, out-of-tune and broken instruments.

The participants are divided into groups and rotate between this room and two others, which also have odd instruments.

The stations are dedicated to melody, harmony and rhythm. Each station has an old iPod and headphones, to which only one person from each group is allowed to listen. That person must then start creating music with the instruments in front of them and the others must play along and fill in the silent spaces left by the listener. A new person listens to the recording in each room so that no one person hears all the backing tracks.

The stations have guitars that are missing strings next to violin bows, drums alongside metallic animal figurines and xylophones. Each group carries a microphone and MP3 player to record what they create.

Garry Wasyliw, one of the participants and a composer, said the exercise reinvigorates the creativity of folk music.

“In art, we have the mediums we’re familiar with — there’s painting, there’s film, there’s literature,” he said.

“Sound is an art. We can make art with sound — it’s useful to not limit that to ‘music.’”

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The process of writing to backing music that not everyone can hear with strangers was, said Terry Billings, interesting and fun.

“It is sort of like a game of telephone,” said Billings, who described herself as an artist who works with sound but who is not a musician.

“You expect things to change and do interesting things. To evolve or mutate.”

After both groups had been to each station Morton edited their creations together.

The result is nothing that Woody Guthrie would have released. There is no form and it’s a collection of jagged textures interspersed with crystalline chimes, scraped strings and xylophone tones.

Wasyliw’s eyes are closed and he bobs his head when he listens.

It is folk music, said Morton, because it was created by people seeking to experiment and express themselves.

Jeffrey Popiel was in the same group as Wasyliw. He called the finished product “meditative.”

He said the workshop helped him to understand that people understand music in unique ways.

“Everybody has their different language and even music as a language, it’s perceived in different ways, just as poetry can be.”

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