Crowman Proves You Don’t Need A Theatre to Make Art

Audiences across the country are mourning the temporary loss of live performance as we wait for theatres to reopen. Personally, I had tickets to several shows I’ll never see now, and I’m wondering how to keep art in my daily life. Organizations like the Vancouver Improvised Arts Society are providing a solution.

VIAS is livestreaming improvised ambient electronic music on Facebook Live every Sunday at 3pm. The performance, CROWMAN LIVE!, features the Improvisational Arts Society’s Artistic Director, Meredith Bates, and guest artist Chris Gestrin, both multi-award winning artists. Anyone can tune in while they improvise live, with the option to donate through Paypal. Donations are split between VIAS and the artists.

Crowman describes their music as “seamless improvisations [that] move freely in and out of oddly familiar tunes, weaving together subtle melodic fragments, innovative electronic sounds, shifting ambient textures, and classical innuendos with nostalgic songs and samples that titillate the imagination.”

I tuned in for their second livestream this Sunday (March 29) and found the improvised music a welcome respite from the same playlists I’ve been playing over and over while working from home. I had gotten tired of my regular go-tos and was craving something fresh.

The improvised piece was ambient and still, with almost no movement at times. Perfect for working or relaxing to, the listener can fall into the sound and let it wash over them. I felt physically surrounded by music.

Gestrin crouched on the floor in a blue t-shirt, with his back to the camera, surrounded by keyboards, synths and computers. Bates knelt facing another camera, wearing a green sweater and holding a violin, with several effects pedals arranged in a semi-circle around her legs. They played together harmoniously, without needing to communicate.

Long tones underscored the piece with whirs, pops and other sounds layered on top. The light plucking of the violin added another texture to the music, like drops of rain. Other electronic noises reminded me of rainsticks, like the sounds were tumbling down from above.

In my mind’s eye I could see a large space, cavernous and echoey. There was a subtle tension, like the pause leading up to a sudden drop. However, the beat doesn’t drop, it remains ambient the entire time, the violin strokes rather eerie amongst the beats and tones. As I listen to the reverberation I’m not sure if I’m in a BC rainforest or in space, with sound filling every inch of air. The soundscape had noises that reminded me of animals — hoots and howls, made by electronic creatures.

After an hour Bates addressed the audience for the first time, asking for donations and thanking us for joining them. Both artists waved to the camera then cut the feed, the music still playing. Although I didn’t want the feed to end, you don’t have to wait until next Sunday to experience their lovely musical creations — the videos remain online and can be watched anytime.

Originally written March 29, 2020.

Hi! I'm an artist and writer, currently working as a marketer for Ballet BC. I write reviews of theatre and dance shows in Vancouver, and sometimes books, too.