25th Trillium Award

Profile of the AB Series, with a Few Questions

 
Share |
Phil Minton, John Oswald, Michael Snow and Paul Dutton at the soundcheck before CCMC with Phil Minton, May 10, 2012 in AB Series

By rob mclennan

In November, 2007, Ottawa writer, performer and publisher Max Middle founded the AB Series, a literary performance series focusing on sound performance and experimental writing, providing an essential counterpoint in Ottawa to The TREE Reading Series, The Plan 99 Reading Series, the In/words reading series, the Dusty Owl Reading Series and the semi-annual Ottawa International Writers Festival. As artistic director, Max Middle has created the first reading series in the city to focus so heavily on sound poetry and language-centred writing since the early 1990s, when Rob Manery and Louis Cabri ran the N400 Series at the Manx Pub, a follow-up to their late 1980s and early 90s series The Transparency Machine at Gallery 101.

Since its inception, the AB Series has become one of the more engaged and engaging series in the city, hosting not only readings and sound/musical performances but informal lectures and talks. Windsor, Ontario poet Gustave Morin, for example, gave a rare three-hour talk on his visual and concrete works, and Calgary poet and editor derek beaulieu spoke on where visual/concrete poetry might go from here. Not once, but twice the AB Series has hosted performances by internationally-renowned musician and sound performer Jaap Blonk. On the other hand, the Ottawa-based Playback group (Carmel Purkis, Glenn Nuotio, Christine McNair, Sean Moreland, Grant Wilkins, Stephen Ross Smith and Sandra Ridley) gave a performance of works that respond to the work of Gatineau artist Michele Provost. Some others who have performed in the series so far include Jaap Blonk, Jonathan Ball, The Young Griot Collective, Louis Cabri, Erin Mouré, Christopher Dewdney, Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts, jwcurry?s Messagio Galore, Camille Martin, Ron Silliman, Steve Ross Smith and Tokyo Taiga.

Before he moved into founding the AB Series, Middle had been conducting investigations into sound poetry and improvised music with some very talented collaborators as a founding member of the musical and poetry performance experiment, The Max Middle Sound Project. His own print work includes the chapbooks A Creation Song (above/ground press, 2004), smthg (above/ground press, 2005) and flow march n powder blossom s (above/ground press, 2006), part of the second being reprinted in the anthology Shift & Switch: New Canadian Poetry (2005), as well as featured in publications by jwcurry's 1cent, Wanda O'Connor's Impress and his own Griddle Grin imprint, and in various above/ground press productions such as four broadsides, the chapbook anthology wo-by-two on that oversized lifeboat, A Peter F. Yacht Club special (above/ground press, 2005) and various issues of the ongoing Peter F. Yacht Club (various editors/publishers).

The new season of the AB Series features readings and performances by Sandra Ridley, Jenny Sampirisi, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff and Geof Huth, with other events to be announced over the next few weeks.

rob mclennan:

What prompted you to originally start the reading series, and what were you hoping to accomplish? How successful do you feel you?ve been?

Max Middle:

It emerged out of a wish to see poet presentation/readings that might occur if I were to make the appropriate arrangements. Sure enough, they started happening in autumn 2007 and it quickly became a much larger project than I had originally envisaged. Since then, we?ve completed five full autumn to spring programming seasons. We?re on the cusp of commencing Season Six. The launch for the upcoming season is October 4 with a performance by American visual poet, Geof Huth.

There was little ambition to start with and consequently, there was no measure of success set by which to judge. Not having a preconceived idea for what would constitute success has been a luxury, I suppose, and thanks to that degree of freedom, A B Series has developed organically. I?ve been delighted by what we?ve done. As with anything like this, it has come with a tremendous amount of hard work.

rm:

Apart from the hit ?n? run occasionals that jwcurry was hosting a few years back, you?re the first series in Ottawa since Rob Manery and Louis Cabri?s N400 in the early 1990s to focus so heavily on sound poetry and experimental writing. What was your introduction to more experimental kinds of writing, and how did you become involved?

MM:

I attended some performance art events at Gallery 101 while I was in high school in the late eighties. Believe I heard about Louis Cabri and Rob Manery?s Transparency Machine through my attendance at the Gallery events. Manery and Cabri had started running literary events at 101 around that time, in the late eighties. I began attending the Transparency Machine events in spring 1991. I?d been writing poetry with limited exposure to experimental practice to that point. Attending the Transparency Machine, wherein the writer would give expository talk with the assistance of transparency machine media was revelatory. Amongst the first presentations in Transparency Machine at Gallery 101 that I saw were those given by Jed Rasula and David Bromige. Those two stand out as highlights. Later on, there were readings by Steve McCaffery, Colin Browne, Deanna Ferguson and Jeff Derksen . (As a side note, I arrived in regular attendance sometime after Colin Smith read circa 1989. We?ll be hosting a reading by Colin Smith in A B Series this November 2.) In winter 1992, Cabri and Manery moved the events to Arts Court, where I recall being present for readings by Erin Moure, Charles Bernstein and Melanie Neilson.

The last Manery/Cabri presentation I took in was a performance by Aaron Williamson as part of the N4000 Reading Series at the Manx in spring 1994. After which, I was away from Ottawa on extended travels thereby missing Jaap Blonk?s Ottawa debut at the Manx as part of N4000 later in 1994. It wasn?t until June 2008 that Blonk was back to Ottawa this time in an A B Series/Ottawa International Writers Festival co-production. Since then, A B Series has presented one more performance by Blonk: at the National Arts Centre in May 2011.

The Cabri/Manery programming was an eye-opening distillation of experimental poetry. It was foundational for my investigations in the field. There was an interregnum until 2003 at which point I started to seriously engage with my own practice as it addressed currents in contemporary experimental writing. I have specifically been working with visual and sound poetry forms as well as poetry that fits the page in expected form. Work with the Max Middle Sound Project, which has manifested itself as a cabaret with a roster of guest artists, as a rock band and as a sound poetry duo, trio and quartet, emerged from an interest in combining music and sound/poetry performance with elements of theatre and performance art.

rm:

The AB Series occasionally hosts musical performances. What do you see as the overlaps between literary readings, sound performances and musical performances?

MM:

Voice. The primary focus of the series is the live art of poetry reading. As a parallel and complimentary programming objective, A B Series brings Ottawa-area audiences musical/sonic performances involving advanced, experimental vocal technique. The vocal agents have been Bolot Bairyshev, Phil Minton, Koichi Makigami, Jaap Blonk, Penn Kemp and bill bissett amongst many other fine artists.

World-renowned, traditional Altaic throat singer, Bolot Bairyshev made his North American debut at the National Arts Centre in an A B Series presentation on May 18, 2011. Bairyshev?s appearance was as part of the trio, TOKYO TAIGA. We saw Bairyshev sing and play jaw harp, traditional lute and wind instruments, all based in Bairyshev?s ancient Altaic culture. The other two members of TOKYO TAIGA are Japanese musicians Koichi Makigami and Massa Sato, both of whom bring vocals to the ensemble. Makigami plays Theremin and Sato plays a combination of traditional and contemporary percussion. It?s the genius of TOKYO TAIGA to make a composite with contemporary vocal technique, Theremin, percussion and Bairyshev?s folkloric repertoire.

This past May, we brought historically significant innovator of vocal technique, singer Phil Minton to Ottawa for two engagements. One was to guest-perform with veteran Canadian musical improvising ensemble, CCMC, on May 10 at the National Arts Centre. The other was to lead Ottawa?s Feral Choir on May 12. Minton has been leading Feral Choirs around the world for nearly a quarter-century. This was the first Canadian staging of Phil Minton?s Feral Choir to be held east of Vancouver. It was a thrill and an honour for A B Series to be the host for Ottawa?s inaugural Feral Choir. Twenty-five members performed in Ottawa?s Feral Choir, including two children.

A B Series has incorporated dialogistic programming with talks and visual poetry presentations. In March of this year, internationally-regarded poet, editor, critic and all-round savant, Ron Silliman came to Ottawa for his first speaking and reading engagements here. On March 10, A B Series presented an informative and informal afternoon talk by Silliman at Gallery 101. And, that evening, Silliman gave a reading in the A B Series. As for visual poetry presentations, we?ve seen them given by gustave morin, derek beaulieu and Dan Waber.

A B Series has covered a variety of expressive forms that make up what?s commonly referred to as spoken word. A B Series presented an evening devoted to Ottawa?s Oral Tradition curated by Kevin Matthews in March 2008. In April 2009, we saw Clifton Joseph performing on stage at the Mercury Lounge in an A B Series presentation. Sheri-D Wilson and Éliz Robert appeared on-stage together to perform their hilarious English to French insta-translations on January 22, 2011. On January 20, 2012, we saw Cat Kidd perform an excerpt from her high-octane theatre piece, Hyena Subpoena, and that night, Kaie Kellough knocked the socks off the audience with his alphabet piece. As for storytelling, the 40 audience members in attendance for Cree/Métis storyteller and poet, Duncan Mercredi, were fixed to their chairs as his narratives entranced on March 23, 2012.

There have been collaborations with local visual artists. Notably, in March of 2011, A B Series presented playback, a poetry reading with Christine McNair, Sean Moreland, Glenn Nuotio, Carmel Purkis, Sandra Ridley, Steven Ross Smith and Grant Wilkins. These poets read, reconfigured and responded to visual artist michèle provost?s then current exhibition, playlist.

Appearances by international artists are a prominent feature of A B Series? programming. Musicians and visual artists have made significant contributions to the interdisciplinary character of A B Series events. The A B Series? literary reading programme, with its focus on Canadian experimental practice, international sound poetry and leading-edge interdisciplinary work, is a rarity in Ottawa and nationally. As such, it serves an important role in the local community and in Canadian literary culture.

rm:

How has running the AB Series affected the way you see your own writing and writing practice?

MM:

Having participated in the mechanics of staging these events, I?ve become more attuned to what makes live shows happen. A B Series events have been produced in diverse environments and as a result, I?ve had the experience of working with a variety of technical variables. I?m continuing to work on sound poetry projects and am considering the performance settings in which their eventual production will take place. One line I?ve been following is ?mashing-up? an historic text like the Ursonate with contemporary popular idioms, such as pop songs, and processing the results with translation and other devices. And, partly owing to what I?ve seen performed in A B Series, I?ve been experimenting with strategies for folding sublimated linguistic sound into musical composition.

rm:

What are some of the upcoming events you?re working on, and who would you love to see in the series that you haven?t yet managed?

MM:

Check out abseries.org to see what?s on the immediate schedule. To follow up on what?s there, we?ll be presenting John Giorno?s first-ever Ottawa performance (in his storied 50 plus year career) at the National Arts Centre?s Fourth Stage this November 7. Opening for Giorno will be Ian Keteku, Brandon Wint and John Sobol. Soon after that we?ll be presenting Hungarian poet/artist/actor, Katalin Ladik?s first Canadian performance on November 21. Gerry Shikatani will be joining Ladik on the program that evening. On December 8, we?ll have our annual A B Series xmas party with bill bissett, happening this year at Raw Sugar Café. We start the New Year on January 10 with readings by Pearl Pirie and Carolyn Smart, also at Raw Sugar Café. And the interviewer will be reading with Beatriz Hausner on January 31 at the Ottawa Art Gallery. On February 15, we?ll be hosting a performance by evalyn parry, venue to be announced. Winter/spring dates to follow in A B Series Season Six (October 2012 to June 2013) will be announced in December 2012.

Just a few artists of many artists we?d love to see in A B Series are David Moss, Steve McCaffery and Maja Ratkje.


Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.

Photo of rob mclennan by Stephen Brockwell

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Advanced Search

Dundurn Press

Humber Writer's School Ad

University of Guelph Creative Writing

Humber Scapa

Humber Literary Review