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Artists Charity Chan

An active member of Montréal’s music community, author-composer-performer Charity Chan is a pianist by training who has had the opportunity to perform and present her works throughout Canada, Europe, Oceania, and the United States. Her live performances emphasize the hidden resonant abilities of the piano, often using alternative performance techniques in the process of live creation.

A unique voice in the world of contemporary and free improvisation, Charity’s music draws from a wide-array of sonic practices as part of her creative inspiration and development. Furthermore, her compositions and improvisations are strongly rooted in the immediacy of physical gesture and the importance of collaborative communication.

While her creative work is primarily in contemporary improvised music, she has also worked and studied extensively in the classical and contemporary classical idioms. This was particularly the case during her course of studies at McGill University, Mills College and Princeton University. She has played with musicians from a wide array of backgrounds, including jazz, pop-rock and electroacoustic. Her performances on piano and accordion have led her to collaborations with a number of international and nationally acclaimed musicians, including: Fred Frith, Jean Derome, Lori Freedman, Joëlle Léandre, Lukas Ligeti, DiDi Kern, Ragga Gisla, Bill Nace, Frank Gratkowski, Pauline Oliveros, Nicolas Caloia, Roscoe Mitchell, Damon Smith et Weasel Walter.

Over the last several years, her music has appeard on a variety of labels, including Innova Records, Mills College Records, Tzadik, Carrier Records, and Ambiances Magnétiques.

More recently, as the subject of a recent series of video works by Sylvia Safdie, Charity’s music and peformances have been exhibited at Les Flaneries Musicales de Reims. Charity also directs Caribou Sonore, a Montreal-based organization that produces workshops and concerts in experimental music. Past and upcoming events feature artists such as Joëlle Léandre, Han Bennink, Wilbert De Joode, Ig Henneman, the Instant Composers Pool and Elliot Sharp.

Born in Kitchener, Ontario Charity Chan, after a number of years in the United States, decided to re-make Montréal her home in 2010.

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Charity Chan

Kitchener (Ontario, Canada), 1982

Residence: Toronto (Ontario, Canada)

  • Composer
  • Performer (piano, prepared piano, voice)

Associated Groups

Charity Chan, 2007
Charity Chan, 2007
  • Ensemble SuperMusique (left to right in front:Cléo Palacio-Quintin; Guido Del Fabbro; ; Isabelle Bozzini; Alexandre St-Onge; à l’arrière: Charity Chan; Aaron Lumley; Vergil Sharkya’;  Corinne René; Nicolas Caloia; Philippe Lauzier), photo: Élisabeth Alice Coutu, Montréal (Québec), March 2, 2013
  • Charity Chan @ Douglass Street Music Collective, photo: Peter Gannushkin, January 29, 2013
  • Charity Chan @ Spectrum NYC, photo: Peter Gannushkin, New York City (New York, USA), January 26, 2013
  • Charity Chan @ Spectrum NYC, photo: Peter Gannushkin, New York City (New York, USA), January 26, 2013
  • Ensemble SuperMusique (left to right in front:Émilie Girard-Charest; Pierre-Yves Martel; Clemens Merkel; Charity Chan; in back: Marie-Chantal Leclair; ; Jean Derome; Alexandre St-Onge; Jean René; Jean-Marc Bouchard; Philippe Lauzier; direction: Joane Hétu), photo: Élisabeth Alice Coutu, Montréal (Québec), November 10, 2012
  • Charity Chan, photo: Michel Pinault, October 8, 2011

Main Releases

In the Press

Charity Chan: choisir Montréal… sans être hipster

Alain Brunet, La Presse, January 23, 2013

Venus de l’extérieur, les musiciens anglos ayant choisi Montréal ne sont pas exclusivement dans la bulle hipster. Loin de là! Voici un exemple probant parmi tant d’autres: née à Kitchener en 1982, l’Ontarienne Charity Chan a complété un premier cycle universitaire à McGill. Ses études de piano l’ont menée à l’improvisation libre, à tel point qu’elle a voulu poursuivre dans cette pratique en s’inscrivant à la maîtrise en Improvisation Contemporaine au Mills College d’Oakland où elle a étudié auprès du guitariste Fred Frith et de la contrebassiste Joelle Léandre. Même institution californienne où étudia feu Dave Brubeck auprès de Darius Milhaud dans les années 40!

Très active sur la scène de la musique actuelle (au sens impro-jazz-noise-machin) depuis plus ou moins 2005, elle vit toujours à Montréal, et mène actuellement des recherches sur la «gestuelle, l’incarnation et la mémoire culturelle en musique improvisée». Elle a aussi étudié avec moult improvisateurs de renom, Jean Derome, Malcom Goldstein, Joe McPhee, membres du Sun RÂ Arkestra. A travaillé avec Lori Freedman, Sam Shalabi, Scott Thompson, John Heward, Fred Frith, Maggie Nichols, Joëlle Léandre et autres Frank Gratkowski. Membre de l’International Society of Improvising Musicians et de l’American Musicological Society, elle a présenté le fruit de ses recherches au Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium (université de Guelph) et à l’International Society for Improvised Music (université du Michigan, Ann Arbor).

Ce mercredi à la Casa del Popolo, la pianiste se produit avec des musiciens américains dont on parlera beaucoup au cours des années qui viennent: d’abord le trompettiste Peter Evans, assurément une pointure de la nouvelle génération dont on vante le talent depuis un moment déjà, puis le batteur Weasel Walter et le contrebassiste Tom Blancarte.

Très active sur la scène de la musique actuelle, elle vit toujours à Montréal, et mène actuellement des recherches sur la «gestuelle, l’incarnation et la mémoire culturelle en musique improvisée».

Improv state of mind — Charity Chan embraces the culture of spontaneous music

Lawrence Joseph, Montreal Mirror, January 6, 2011

Pianist Charity Chan sandwiched our interview between two practice sessions in different parts of town, her schedule indicative of her increasing activity within the Montréal improvised music scene. Originally from Kitchener, the 28-year-old first settled here in 2005 to complete her music BA at McGill, which included improv classes with Lori Freedman and Eric Lewis. After stints in the USA, completing an MFA in contemporary improvisation at Mills College (studying with Fred Frith and Roscoe Mitchell) and the start of a PhD in musicology at Princeton University, she has been back in Montréal since August. “Mills was perfect for me at that time. They were flexible and supportive,” she enthuses, “but I always wanted to come back to Montréal.”

Chan has two discs out on the Ambiances Magnétiques label, which she says “feels like family.” The solo effort Somewhere the Sea and Salt features her highly physical “extended piano” music, which creates sonorities from every surface of the instrument, conjuring up a rich blend of often harrowing textures. Her trio disc with Fenaison is entitled plat, and features Rémy Bélanger de Beauport on amplified cello and Kris Covlin on saxophones. Chan plans at least two further releases for 2011. A second and as yet unnamed (“titles are always the last thing,” she says) solo CD will feature works for piano, harpsichord and accordion. “If you can improvise then you can compose,” Chan asserts, and the CD will include both approaches. An online, digital-only set will look back in time, comprised of improvised recordings with fellow Mills students. The latter will be for sale by donation only, an experiment in the workings of the Creative Commons licence, another one of Chan’s diverse interests.

Her PhD dissertation studies the culture surrounding improvised music. Using Montréal as its primary locale, she will document how musical improvisation scenes and distribution networks develop, and the pedagogy of improvisation. She will run a workshop next fall with renowned French bassist Joëlle Léandre and SuperMusique, aimed at teaching younger improvisors. “One can go through techniques such as conduction and graphical scores,” but in a philosophy that echoes Mills professor Pauline Oliveros, her main point is to “encourage a state of mind that encourages improvisation.”

Also, look forward to a duet with Nicolas Caloia of Ratchet Orchestra fame, and a multimedia extravaganza with Chan on piano accompanied by two cellists, de Beauport and Gaël Huard, video projections by Raphaelle Frigon, and a dancer to be named later.

The solo effort Somewhere the Sea and Salt features her highly physical “extended piano” music, which creates sonorities from every surface of the instrument, conjuring up a rich blend of often harrowing textures.

La maturité de L’OFF Festival de jazz

Serge Truffaut, Le Devoir, May 24, 2008

Enfin! Bravo! Merci aux organisateurs de L’OFF Festival de Jazz de Montréal d’avoir accompli un retournement temporel. La neuvième édition de cet événement ne se tiendra pas simultanément à l’autre, le «gros», si l’on peut se permettre. Après s’être rendu compte que l’offre musicale se confondait avec hyperinflation au début de l’été, les responsables de l’Off ont décidé de devancer les dates. Bref, il se déroulera du 13 au 21 juin.

La deuxième modification apportée est géographique. Adieu le Patro Vys, bonjour le Dièse Onze, qui a ceci de bien qu’il est un club de jazz à l’année. Jazz et resto situé au 4115 A du boulevard Saint-Denis, pour être précis. Les autres points de chute sont les mêmes que ceux de l’édition antérieure: le Lion d’or et le Pub Saint-Ciboire. Auxquels s’ajoutent cette année…

… La Sala Rossa. Et là, si l’on peut dire, c’est l’autre bonne nouvelle de cette année. Voici de quoi il s’agit: les organisateurs de l’Off se sont associés à ceux du festival Suoni per il popolo, qui se tiendra du 1er au 30 juin. Cette alliance, selon les confidences de Jean-Jules Pilote, cheville ouvrière de l’Off, devrait s’étoffer au cours des prochaines années.

C’est à espérer. Car au cours des prochaines semaines, ce duo d’organisateurs va proposer deux spectacles à La Sala Rossa: le Sun Ra Arkestra, dont on a parlé la semaine dernière, le 14 juin, et le Barnyard Drama, le quartet Lauzier, Myhr, Martel, Tétreault ainsi que Gordon Allen le 15 juin. Prix du billet de Sun Ra: 25$, alors que celui du lendemain se détaille entre 14 et 16$.

Puisqu’on décline les histoires d’espèces sonnantes, il faut insister sur un fait économique fondamental. C’est sérieux, très sérieux même. Le rapport qualité/prix inhérent aux shows de l’Off est REMARQUABLE! Le coût d’entrée des spectacles à l’affiche du Dièse Onze est de 8$. Ceux du Pub Saint-Ciboire sont gratuits. Ceux du Lion d’or: 20$ en prévente ou 25$ à la porte pour deux shows ou 15$ pour celui débutant à 21h30. Pour les détails, on peut se renseigner au lofffestivaldejazz.com

Bon. Après lecture du programme, six des shows au Lion d’or sont à retenir: la Fanfare Pourpour, qui aura l’accordéoniste et chanteur suédois Lars Hollmer pour invité. Cette fanfare à la veine humoristique indéniable est toujours dirigée par l’immense Jean Derome. Quoi d’autre? Il suffit d’écouter leur album paru sur étiquette Ambiances Magnétiques pour s’apercevoir que les membres de cette grande formation excellent dans l’alchimie des folklores du monde.

Le 18 juin, le saxophoniste et clarinettiste Chet Doxas va proposer un spectacle propre à aiguiser toutes les curiosités: Le Mur de Jean-Paul Sartre. Doxas a composé une série de thèmes inspirés, donc, de ce chef-d’œuvre littéraire qu’il interprétera en compagnie de Stéphane Allard et Zoé Dumais aux violons, de Jean René à l’alto, de Sheila Hannigan au violoncelle, de Zack Lober à la contrebasse, de son frère Jim à la batterie, tous sous la direction de Jon Sapoway.

Le même soir, mais après Doxas, les musiciens phares des labels DAME et Ambiances Magnétiques vont occuper la scène pour improviser à tout va. Autour de Derome, on retrouvera Joanne Hétu au saxo, Charity Chan au piano, Diane Labrosse à l’échantillonnage, Lori Freedman à la clarinette basse, Guido Del Fabbro au violon, Rainer Wiens à la guitare et l’incontournable Pierre Tanguay à la batterie.

Le 20 juin, le très courageux, le musicien essentiel, le contrebassiste battant Normand Guilbeault va décliner ses compositions retraçant la vie de Louis Riel. Il sera flanqué de quatorze musiciens, narrateurs et projectionnistes. C’est au Lion d’or le 20 juin à 20h. La veille, au même endroit, on aura droit à l’accouplement jazz et poésie avec José Acquelin, Renée Gagnon, Hélène Monette, Carole David et Jean-Marc Desgent.

Enfin, le 21 juin, l’affiche est alléchante parce que… parce que… le saxophoniste Janis Steprans a réuni trois autres saxos autour de lui pour clôturer cette 9e édition. André Leroux sera au soprano, David Bellemare au ténor, Jean Fréchette au baryton et Steprans, bien entendu, à l’alto. Simon Lévesque à la contrebasse et Dave Laing à la batterie vont rythmer le tout.

Les billets sont en vente à L’Oblique, à L’Échange, à L’Articulée ainsi qu’à la Casa Del Popolo et à Cheap Thrills pour les shows du 14 et du 15 juin.

Articles Written

  • Charity Chan, Paris Transatlantic, March 21, 2011
    Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone.
  • Charity Chan, Signal to Noise, no. 61, March 1, 2011
    The care that went into each composition is also apparent in their ordering.
  • Charity Chan, SSG Music, January 18, 2011
    Their passages of “almost” melodic and harmonic material felt like rays of light accidentally breaking through, providing just enough guidance to direct the audience through their beguiling musical forays.

On &records

Charity Chan, Paris Transatlantic, March 21, 2011

&records is not just a record label, it’s also what you could think of as an ongoing conceptual art project, managed by two Montréal based artists: Fabrizio Gilardino and Michel F Côté. Both have been active on the Montréal music scene for many years, both releasing work on the Ambiances Magnétiques label and producing the annual “jazz sur mars” series. &records started in 2003, and has been putting out new albums ever since. 2010 proved to be one of their most prolific years, with over seven releases, spanning everything from solo recordings (Jean René’s Fammi), to noise rock (La Part Maudite), from electroacoustic improvisation (Palétuvier (rouge) ) to lush pop extravaganza (Alexis O’Hara’s Ellipsis).

What’s intriguing about the label is the concept behind it: &records is an imprint with a set end date: when Côté and Gilardino reach a total of 24 releases, the label will close its doors. It’s an interesting idea, and one that differs from the usual means of organization for a label, presenting the listener with the feeling that everything has been carefully considered and curated. The care that goes into the project is evident from the discs themselves, with each album featuring graphics by Gilardino silkscreened onto its cover. Packaging is minimal, with only the bare necessities in terms of descriptive text, but the craft and thought behind the project are obvious.

These three albums are among &records’ most recent releases, and despite their striking musical diversity, covering a gamut of musical approaches and techniques, they share a consistent atmospheric and evanescent quality. Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone. Often making use of subtle and quiet electronics, these are intimate moments, further reinforced by the rhetorical understatement that seems to be the preference for all three groups / artists.

In Palétuvier (rouge) , the fourth in the Palétuvier series, Diane Labrosse (sampler), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet and saxophones) and Pierre Tanguay (drums) present a hushed yet focused series of four improvisations constructed almost purely from wisps of sound, and playing as much with silence and space as with sound itself. Even when there’s a sense of consistent momentum, or where the music appears busier, as in the opening track Miso Eratu, there’s still plenty of space left in between its pulses and grains. The beats on Dextrus Fitera feel a bit plodding and heavyhanded, but they nonetheless contribute to the impression of this album being one long composition, as opposed to four pieces related only by propinquity. It’s almost as if the musicians were slowly breaking down the component parts of the first track into shorter, quieter, and smaller elements, until, by the time the final Alvarum Macenza is reached, what remains is barely audible, forcing the listener to strain to hear what is going on. It’s as if the music is progressively slipping away, with Lauzier’s gossamer-thin threads of sound the final echoes of a barely remembered dream.

Alexis O’Hara’s Ellipsis provides a similar aesthetic of understatement, but with a quiet fortitude that imparts a greater sense of grounding and permanence, albeit one that still maintains the fundamentally translucent and soft character of her compositions. For this album, she’s joined by a coterie of Mile End/Montréal musicians, including Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la band), Alexandre St-Onge (Shalabi Effect) and Radwan Moumneh (Jerusalem in My Heart).

The first thing to strike you upon listening to Ellipsis is the seductiveness of O’Hara’s voice, whose close, whispered quality makes it seem like she’s standing right beside you, telling you sly secrets no one else knows. At times it’s overdubbed, at times layered under the instrumental accompaniment, in a process of masking and unmasking that makes listening both hard work and something to relish. It’s compelling and intoxicating, the lyrics (in French, English and Spanish) switching from playful to somber in a heartbeat, all the while retaining their mildly acerbic wit. Even when the songs adopt a marginally disturbed character (Inside Joke (love is), Twenty-Three and Bugs), they remain beguiling and enthralling. Ellipsis is a gorgeously and skillfully rendered set of pieces that calls for listening to over and over again.

If Palétuvier (rouge) and Ellipsis are dreams wearing rose-colored glasses, Ave <w> is their distant cousin in slightly nightmarish Technicolor, sonically denser, with harsher, grittier textures, more strident in character but by no means overwhelming. This is a project by one Tiari Kese, who, according to Côté, is “a world-renowned pianist and French horn player, known for his interpretations of John Cage.” In fact, Kese is actually Côté, who also credits himself on percussion and electronics and joins trumpeter Gordon Allen (a.k.a. Ellwood Epps) in a set of pieces originally commissioned by Sylvain Émard Danse. The music is a mix of live recordings and samples featuring a wide range of influences, including (as Kese names them): Satie & Cage, Tétreault & Falaise, Siewert & Brandlmayr, B Günter, Fennesz, Neina and Oval.

Côté’s fondness for noisy, distorted sheets of sound combined with sweeter harmonies penetrating a morass of grainy distortion is evident throughout, as it is on his recent Mecha Fixes Clocks (À l’inattendu les dieux livrent passage). This proclivity of Côté’s for “musical white noise” is particularly clear on Marge brute du ƒ, where “Kese” performs sharply punctuated chords (courtesy Erik Satie) on the piano, their attacks triggering a patch that distorts and augments their overtone material. This and the opening Unit Vector in Vratsa are probably the most forceful of the pieces on offer here, the rest of which returns to the bittersweet atmosphere common to all three of the albums, well in line with the general aesthetic of this fine label.

Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone.

Review

Charity Chan, Signal to Noise, no. 61, March 1, 2011
The care that went into each composition is also apparent in their ordering.

Review

Charity Chan, SSG Music, January 18, 2011

Despite the fact that it has had a vibrant avant-garde music scene for some time, most people know Montréal for some of the city’s big-name exports in indie music, post-rock, or electronica. Moreover, despite much cross-over between music scenes here in town, there is still a lot of music-making that takes place very much under the radar. Which is why it was so good to see such a strong turnout so soon after the holidays for a show featuring both local and visiting musicians, on a bill that was more clearly avant-garde than indie.

On the bill that evening (January 8, 2011) at L’Envers were the trio of Peter Evans (trumpet/piccolo trumpet; Mostly Other People do the Killing), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), and Weasel Walter (drums; Flying Luttenbachers). Opening up for them was Pink Saliva, a local noise music and improvisation group. The trio included Gordon Allen (a.k.a. Ellwood Epps) on trumpet; Michel F Côté (Klaxon Geule, Mecha Fixes Clocks) on drums and electronics; and Alexandre St-Onge (Shalabi Effect) on electric bass.

Pink Saliva recently celebrated their first release (Pink Saliva) on &records, a label run by Côté and Fabrizio Gilardino. As a mix of noise, feedback, free improv, and jazz (for this concert, there were also some twangy riffs), the music of this group is best said in their own words: “Comme toujours, il est préférable que vous décidiez par vous-mêmes”/“As always, it is best for you to decide for yourself.”

The Pink Saliva set opened with a duo between Côté and St-Onge. Côté approaches his kit like a set of orchestral percussion instruments, rather than a standard rock/jazz drum set. Carefully eliciting an assortment of timbres and tones from his instruments, Côté’s relatively sparse and carefully crafted mallet work left plenty of room for St-Onge, who filled in the space with dense, manipulated — but still quiet — static and feedback. The round, warm sounds of Côté’s playing paired with his electronics (microphones and portable speakers) meant that his drum set was transformed into a melodic rather than a percussive instrument. In turn, St-Onge’s bass (a five string fretless with two outputs, one of which is MIDI) allowed him to show off the full range of his musical technique. St-Onge seemed to spend much of the night bending notes at will, and layering them over a sustained bed of deliciously enticing textures. His playing was never gimmicky or overly obvious, but, like Côté’s, very well-crafted. Allen’s eventual entrance into the music featured his characteristically raspy and bleating tone, which blended seamlessly with St-Onge’s white noise-like textures and twangs, increasing the already thickly gritty sound that stayed just shy of being immersively overwhelming.

What is striking about this trio is how the conventional roles of the instruments are often reversed. The musical pulse (I hesitate to say “beat”) was provided by Côté or St-Onge, although rarely together. Instead, they seemed to pass between them the roles of “melody” and “pulse,” with one taking over from the other when a passage or idea ended. Further emphasizing this idea of role reversal, the horn (at least this evening) primarily had a background function, rather than being front and center as would be the case in a more conventional ensemble. Despite brief forays into his higher register, Allen’s trumpet stayed mostly within his mid-range, his static-y sounds functioning as a sonic carpet beneath the phrases, pulses, and melodic material provided by the other two. During a brief interlude with St-Onge in a groove-based “surf-rock”-like passage, Allen almost broke out into a sustained passage of quasi-melodic material, but ultimately stayed within his comfort zone of spewing broken arpeggios, sustained tones, and blurts. Collectively, the trio created a lugubrious and forceful sound that was never overwhelming in its density. Their passages of “almost” melodic and harmonic material felt like rays of light accidentally breaking through, providing just enough guidance to direct the audience through their beguiling musical forays.

Their passages of “almost” melodic and harmonic material felt like rays of light accidentally breaking through, providing just enough guidance to direct the audience through their beguiling musical forays.

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