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Toronto conference explores the Gould Variations

A Robert Wilson horned frog.

Dreamers, Renegades, Visionaries: The Glenn Gould Variations takes place at the University of Toronto today and tomorrow. Here are some highlights.

Horned Frog videos

Ten years ago, American Robert Wilson, best known as an experimental theatre director, was dining al fresco with a Malaysian prince in Bali, listening to both Glenn Gould's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations and the sound of frogs croaking in a nearby pond. He reproduces the beauty of that moment with a series of intensely colourized video portraits of South American horned frogs whose gentle sounds of croaking and splashing are accompanied by Gould's piano playing. (They are on display at the U of T Art Centre until Oct. 6.)

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"I know it is totally absurdist, ridiculous to do something for his anniversary, but it was this personal moment," says Wilson, adding that Gould's music confirmed his own interest in the structure of sound. "How do I see something, how do I hear something, and how do I hear two things simultaneously?"


Atom Egoyan has returned to a child's first experiment transmitting sound: a string strung between two tin cans. With the help of stage designer Camelia Koo, Egoyan has created oversized cans with multiple strings . His Macrophone has been erected on King's College Circle, where the public is welcome to try it out. "When I think of Gould, I think of … how we hear and broadcast sound," Egoyan says, adding that his creation is "a child's fantasy of mass media. The biggest surprise will be if it actually works."

Chilly Gonzales

The Canadian pianist, producer and trickster will be channelling Gould in his stage appearance this weekend. He calls his widow's-peak hairline Gouldian and shares the pianist's preference for a low position at the piano: Gonzales actually plays on a Swiss-made, limited-edition replica of the famous Gould chair. But Gould's influence on his career, he stresses, is not musical, but a lesson about when to break rules and when to respect them. "Glenn Gould is the John McEnroe of the piano: rule-breaking and not rule-breaking" Gonzales says, referring to the tempestuous tennis master.

Gould's DNA

Three young McLuhanite musical producers are taking Gould's speculation about how listeners might one day experiment with recordings and bringing it into the mash-up age. With Billy Iannaci on piano and computer, and Andrew Testa on drums, DJ LRS (a.k.a. Sam Pereira) is sampling Gould's music and turning the notes into contemporary pop tunes. "We are showing how Gould's ideas 60 years ago pretty well predicted all that is happening in music production today," Pereira says, identifying himself as what Gould called the "uninvited guest at the banquet of the arts. People who aren't classically trained can make music using a computer."

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Their work, entitled Gould's DNA, is a 10-minute video featuring the new music and showing how it was created.

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