Clarinetist and composer search out new sounds MUSIC
Liam Hockley has a taste for the difficult—or near-impossible, while Nova Pon is drawn to the rhythms of both speech and birdsong
There’s a word for a lover of 2
movies: cinephile. Ditto for lover of sound (audiophile), lover of cheese (turophile), and even lover of rain (pluviophile). But is there one that means “lover of difficulty”?
If there isn’t, Liam Hockley might have to coin it. Not only is he pursuing a career based on playing the most technically demanding music ever written, he’s also writing about it as part of his doctoral thesis, Performing Complexity.
It wasn’t always thus. Growing up on Vancouver island, Hockley was first smitten by the clarinet, and then by the sounds of classic jazz. As he reports on the line from his Vancouver home, he was something of an anachronism, even in sleepy Qualicum Beach.
“I spent more time listening to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw than anybody else, and probably would have liked to have stepped into their shoes,” he says, noting that his stepfather, a jazz pianist, encouraged that interest. But the 28-yearold performer and academic would soon be thrown into the deep end of the 21st century, after leaving home to study at the University of Victoria. The epiphany came when his clarinet instructor, Patricia Kostek, gave a recital shortly after classes started.
“Vancouver had just hosted the International Clarinet Association’s Clarinetfest, which is a big international conference, and for this conference she had commissioned a number of new pieces by local composers for solo clarinet, or clarinet and electronics, and maybe there were one or two chamber pieces,” Hockley explains. “And that was perhaps one of the biggest moments of discovery for me, in terms of realizing just what an extended vocabulary the instrument had….it was a very powerful moment in my development.”
Hockley has gone on to specialize in extended techniques for the clarinet, although he doesn’t much care for that term: what others might consider alternative or avant-garde approaches to his instrument are to him only part of the everyday tool kit of the 21st-century virtuoso.
“I think the idea of ‘impossible’ is maybe a questionable one,” he says of pieces that might ask him to navigate labyrinthine scores, produce multiple lines on his supposedly monophonic horn, or play microtonally.
For the 2017-18 season, Hockley’s focus is, understandably, on finishing his UBC doctorate “and getting out the door”. He will, however, be showcased alongside pianist Nicole Linaksita and sound artist Nancy Tam at the Fox Cabaret on April 24, as part of a Music on Main emerging-artist showcase, and will join the NU:BC Collective when it serves as the house band for next spring’s Sonic Boom festival.
After that? Expect to see him performing the formerly impossible on a regular basis, both here and internationally.
NOVA PON > ALEXANDER VARTY
Nova Pon presents as a cautious 2 soul, to the extent that she requested written questions before speaking to the Georgia Straight. But it wasn’t a case of the thoughtful and soft-spoken flutist and composer wanting to control the agenda; she’s simply unused to the spotlight.
“I live under a rock, a bit,” she says by phone from her Bowen Island home, “and my notion of an interview was that everything I said would be printed verbatim, and that it would be really poor reading.”
Pon’s lack of interest in selfpromotion may be partly why, at 34, she’s still seen as an emerging composer, despite a sizable body of excellent work. And then there’s the fact that composers mature more slowly than other musicians—a process that, in Pon’s case, was complicated by her youthful need to explore other options first.
“I think for a long time I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I’m naturally drawn to a narrative or journey aspect in any temporal art.”
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return to her hometown.
From a stint in San Francisco to immersing herself in Montreal’s thriving arts scene, her journey has been a diverse one. Her travels began at the tender age of 13, when the Port Moody–raised dancer was determined to become a classical ballet star.
“I was such a ‘Trina’ or bunhead,” she says with a laugh, sitting with the Straight in an airy Strathcona café. “I started doing summer intensives at 13, when my lovely mother sent me off to New York with little or no supervision to go to the one at the Joffrey [Ballet].” Subsequent summer programs took her to Ballet Austin, Philly’s The Rock, and Chicago’s Hubbard Street.
Wong seemed to be searching for something, and she found it when she was accepted in 2013 into a training program at Alonzo King’s innovatively neoclassical LINES Ballet in San Fran. It offered an alternative to the hierarchy of the ballet world: “I was looking for somewhere I could use my voice.”
At LINES, she found her outlet, in an experience she calls lifechanging. “It was this safe environment that allowed you to redefine who your were as a person,” she says. “It was an environment that allowed you to explore through movement a deeper sense of personality.”
From there, Wong headed to Montreal. “I was still running away from Vancouver,” she admits. “My ego didn’t want me to come back home feeling like I hadn’t achieved something.”
The move was hard. She didn’t know anyone, the weather was cold, and it was difficult breaking into the dance community. But she pushed onward, and an eventual residency with Ottawa’s Dorsale Dance led to her first piece of choreography, a work that went on to the Montreal Fringe.
Living in Quebec also fired up Wong’s DIY instincts, as she started facilitating and curating shows for herself and other artists, eventually doing it under the umbrella of Twobigsteps—the unique, multicity collective she’s now basing out of Vancouver. The collaborationminded Twobigsteps spans dancers and musicians from Vancouver, San Fran, and Montreal, staging performances in any of those places, too.
The collective presents her choreography Surrendurance on November 25 at Dance in Vancouver, the showcase for local talent that brings in presenters from around the continent. In the creation for five dancers, Wong plays with the complex patterns of social behaviours and with ideas of spontaneity and control. She collaborated on the project with Jamie Bradbury, a musician she’s been working with since her days in Montreal.
What audiences will notice most is that ballet still flows through Wong’s fluid, elegant work. “As a collective we do morning class before rehearsal and usually it’s ballet,” she explains. “There are elements where they [the dancers] need a ballet background.” But perhaps not one quite so diverse as Wong’s.
> JANET SMITH