The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada
The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada

Gordon Monahan and Jesse Stewart

theremin, water, and amplified objects; percussion

MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, September 7, 2005
Guelph Jazz Festival, Guelph

Sound artist and composer Gordon Monahan performed at the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph inside his installation When It Rains along with percussionist Jesse Stewart Stewart, who is also a visual artist, curated the show and wrote the catalogue essay for Monahan's exhibition. He does a great job of describing how the installation works:

In this piece, a complex titration system of plastic tubing and valves is suspended several metres above the gallery floor. The water valves are controlled by a series of MIDI triggers that cause the valves to open just long enough for droplets of water to form. The water droplets then fall onto a series of amplified household objects suspended below: plastic plates, pieces of stainless steel, vinyl records, etc. In the current incarnation of the work, motion sensors trigger the playback of numerous pre-programmed musical compositions written specifically for the installation.

One of the extraordinary things about When It Rains (in addition to the visual beauty of falling droplets of water) is the installation's degree of musical precision. The water droplets produce a series of intricate rhythmic compositions that sound at times like a distorted gamelan ensemble and at others like urban techno music without the driving bass.

For his concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival, Monahan used a theremin to control the water droplets – both the rate of falling, and which object they would hit. The theremin could also trigger pre-composed patterns, amplitude, and other vectors. Additionally, an amplified piano wire was strung tautly over the space, with another wire hanging down from it by Monahan's right hand. By pulling on the wire, Monahan controlled the sustained metallic pitches emanating from the piano wire.

To read about another water-based installation by Gordon Monahan, check out this article on his 2007 aquaeolian harp installation in North Vancouver at



Stewart, Jesse. “Music from Everywhere: The Sound Art of Gordon Monahan.” Catalogue essay for Gordon Monahan: Music from Everywhere. Guelph: Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Sept. 11-Nov. 6, 2005.

Many thanks to Gordon Monahan and Jesse Stewart for permission to post this excerpt from their performance in the Sounds Provocative web archive.