Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Memories of Fact and Fiction

The Writer’s Festival guide describes this performance piece, created by musician Mike Dubue, as a “collaborative multimedia presentation”, but the event itself was far less straightforward and sterile than what that description suggests. Dubue, when afterwards asked to provide the audience with some explanatory comments, responded with, “I don’t really know what to say about this piece of music.” The piece fits in with others works that uses sound, beat and music to as a means of storytelling, such as that produced by soundscape artists and other musical efforts that are specifically directed towards capturing narrative.


Dubue composed his work a traditional symphonic form of separate movements and melodic repetitions. He noted afterwards that his intention in using the symphonic form was in fact to destroy it by creating various themes and motifs, deconstructing and then reconstructing them, leaving them and returning to them, all in an effort to reflect the place of memory and forgetting in determining how fact and fiction are distinguishable (or, perhaps more accurately, indistinguishable) from one another.


Octavie Dostaler-Lalonde , a talented classical cellist from Montreal, opened the piece with a short solo that was simultaneously light and dark, setting the scene for the sense of ambivalence that characterized the performance as a whole. The next movement slowly integrated each of the other musicians, Socalled (otherwise known as Josh Delgin) playing the melodica, producing a unique sound that hinted vaguely at klezmer, Ottawa folk artist Lynn Miles with wordless vocals and Ian Keteku, renound slam poet, rounding out the soundscape with his rapid-fire lyrics and energy.


Throughout the performance, Dubue was mixing live, providing the final sound with an electronified, synthesized character and manipulating volumes and background noises. The entire performance grew steadily louder, more discordant and haunting, mimicking Dubue’s intention to express the ways in which memory can be a nostalgic, slippery and persistent creature.


Keteku’s lyrics were occasionally lost in the midst of the other artists’ sounds, but the effect also ensured that certain lines stood out to the audience more than others and were consequently retained. For example, he played with the lyrics of a well-known Christmas pop tune, twisting its familiar ending into something decidedly unfamiliar: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is lactose intolerant.” Keteku explained afterwards that this line is particularly illustrative of his attempt throughout the entire piece to rely on the things that are widely believed that then show how they can be twisted, to show that “what we see as real, as tactile, are not.”


The performance was short, running only about twenty minutes or so, and the artists followed with some of their own thoughts and comments on it. Their enthusiasm for performing and for art was evident, and spurred impromptu performances (upon the request and support of the audience) by all of the artists on stage. Dubue performed a solo piece on the piano, revealing his versatility as an artist and his love for music. Keteku followed with his characteristic energy, announcing that he would perform a popular poem of his with the support of each of the others on stage, none of whom had ever heard the piece before. He provided a couple of words of direction to each of them, and once they were started and harmonizing with one another, Keteku took over the microphone and the stage. The improvisation session was a perfect summary of the immense talent of each of the performers and of their excitement for creating and collaborating.