Posted by: kaleidophonic | May 15, 2012

The Sounds of Expo 67 (Pt. 4): Fusion des Arts and mechanical music

Greetings Kaleidolings! Today I’m getting back to a favorite subject of mine, Expo 67.

(If you’ve never heard of Expo 67 before, you might want to check out my previous Expo posts, here, here & here.)

This post comes by way of colleague Sara Spike, who pointed me towards one of the latest episodes of CBC radio’s Rewind, a weekly show that delves into the CBC radio archives. The May 10 edition of Rewind (hosted by Michael Enright) focused on “Expodition”,  a show that aired on CBC Radio every Monday to Friday for 15 minutes throughout the six months of Expo 67. To quote the CBC website, this show “was an on air guide to the pavilions, people, pleasures and problems of Expo 67.”

Katimavik, the Canadian pavillion at the 1967 International Exposition (Expo 67).

Among the topics covered on this abbreviated edition of Expodition was the Canadian pavillion (aka Katimivik) and the People Tree (the round sphere you see at right in the image above). It seemed to me to be a bit strange to try to describe a highly visual thing such as the people tree through the medium of radio, and this feeling was compounded when Enright moved on to another Expodition episode that focused on Canadian painters (and, I might add, I’m really sick of hearing about the Group of Seven. Honestly, can we please pay attention to some different Canadian painters??).

That said, the Expo 67 episode of Rewind picked up a bit around the 7.41 mark, when a strange whistling noise becomes audible in the background. A female narrator attempts to describe a huge piece of sound-art, Synthesis of the Arts, which was a production of the Fusion des Arts collective. Sadly, Enright skips right over this spectacular work, choosing instead to focus on the Torontonian architect who designed the Canadian pavillion, rather than the Québécois artists who made up Fusion des Arts. Lucky for you, however, I have come across FdA before, so I can provide some of the information that Enright left out.

La Groupe Fusion des Arts was an interdisciplinary collective of creative people who were interested in challenging the accepted notions of art and design that held sway in 1960s Quebec. In 1965 they issued a manifesto that explained how the individuals involved felt that visual arts had become an insufficient medium. The 1960s were dynamic times, and so, the group argued, art had also to be dynamic. Successful works of art had to work on a multiplicity of levels, encompassing visual, sonic, tactile, architectural, social, and psychological dimensions. It had to be composed of the material of modern life, that is, the material of industrialism.

In keeping with the carnivalesque atmosphere of the Worlds’ Fair, Synthese des Arts was designed to engage in a playful manner with the people who would move through the installation. The installation consisted of 10 steel plates and a gong (with mallet) that would produce different tones depending on the rotation of the sculpture. Other sounds were produced by way of amplified electric circuits mounted throughout the installation. Sadly, I could not find any images or recordings of this work, other than the brief clip presented in the Rewind episode.

Thankfully, however, Synthesis of the Arts wasn’t the only sound-installation put on at Expo 67 by the group Fusion des Arts. Another performance, called Les Méchaniques, a mechanical music program that was put on at the Youth Pavilion. While the original performance was only supposed to last 15 minutes, it proved so popular that it was repeated over 30 times during the fair. Méchaniques consisted of 10 mechanical instruments and five other objects, playing on a series of themes. The 10 instruments were built from pre-existing domestic items and were given names such as le drumadère, la trieuse de rythmes, le rodrigal, l’écraimier, les pédales de Garenne, la twinkleuse, le poinçonnium, la fefeuille, la cymbale Yuno and le quatrangle.

The grainy images of the three mechanical instruments included here were scanned from a text published by the University of Montreal in 1973.

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  1. […] to The Grateful Dead. And a theme song you just can’t beat. Not to mention some interesting experimental and electronic […]


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