Stay weird, Winnipeg


The Quasar Saxophone Quartet performs to strobe lights in a performance
creating a physical sensation of music. THE PROJECTOR/ Jen Doerksen

Winnipeg’s reputation for weird art grew over the week of the 8th annual Cluster: Integrated Arts Festival. A variety of artists who live local and work abroad collaborated on a number of pieces from audio-visual installations with live music, to different musical adaptations of other artist’s work, to multimedia dance work.

The festival ended with a piece called Hello!, which paired a fast-paced homemade video with Quasar saxophone quartet, an arrangement of sporadic notes and percussive clicks created through the four saxophones.


SC Mira performs at the West End Cultural Centre as part of the 8th annual
Cluster Festival. THE PROJECTOR/ Jen Doerksen

“Cluster is possibly the most photogenic festival in Winnipeg, I think,” said Leif Norman, a local photographer hired for the festival. Leif has been covering the festival for the past few years.


“They do audio-visual stuff. Sometimes there’s lazers, projections, interesting costumes, bizarre lighting scenarios, in warehouses, all kinds of good stuff,” he said.

The festival ran from March 10 to March 18. On Friday, March 17, local pop-rock group SC Mira opened for an orchestral arrangement of Grimes’ album Many Visions by Montreal-based Plumes. The stage shared synths and ripping guitar licks with a large harp and wind instruments. On the 18th, the Hello! show featured a variety of videos.

One was a short remix of an old video by Heart called Heart Emoji. The creator, Eliot Britton, said he made it after a friend sent the video over.

“I saw this introductory sequence with this woman kind of stroking this pool, then switch to this angry sister, and I was like ‘this is so great,’ so, I put it in my little folder called things to do things with,” he said.

Another video featured two models in large spherical costumes standing in a colourful room created through 3D motion graphics. Something resembling a song played in the background. Each note sounded like a click or percussive instrument. They were strung together to create a flow and rhythm for the saxophone quartet to complement.

With each click or percussive hit, the model would switch positions. The backgrounds showed your typical house, including couches and lamps and chairs. But sometimes the couch would be halfway up the wall. The models’ poses didn’t seem to articulate anything in particular, but they maintained a pattern in time with the music.

The creators, called Z-Machine, came together to merge existing digital and musical medium skills. Carmen Vanderveken helped bring the team together.

“I had worked with Natalie and Matthew before, but we had never worked the three of us before. So it was my initiative to bring us together because I knew we had some common taste. I knew that we would work well together,” she said.

They started this piece for another art show that will happen in June.

“It’s an intermediate result. We’re going to continue improving it until June. I think the most fun part is yet to come,” she said.

The festival featured a number of different and new works, and Hello! wrapped up the festival in that same spirit. One of the videos shown was almost nonsensical, and at times the quartet performed just with strobe lights.

Brandon University jazz school graduate Julian Beutel said the mixed arts element grabbed his interest. His friend Josh invited him to the show, and he went.

“We were like ‘Hey, we like ideas, and art music that pushes the boundaries, especially interdisciplinary music, so this seemed like this would be up our alley,’” he said.

For Beutel, the strobe lights contributed to the new experience of art and music.

“The strobe lights were what pushed it to the next level where it was a very physical sensation. There were the visuals with the poetry in some cases and the music, but the sheer intensity of the lights made it like a very physical sort of thing. It added a whole lot of sensory,” he said.

The festival expects to have another set of sensory mixed media experiences next year.