Ian Ferrier

Ian Ferrier has been active in the world of poetry and spoken word performance since the late seventies, but he came to prominence on the cusp of the new millenium, with the release of his first book / CD, Exploding Head Man. His curatorial work with Fortner Anderson throughout the nineties, recording and releasing spoken word audio through their label, Wired on Words, as well as organizing and hosting countless live events, was invaluable in bringing Montreal’s spoken word scene into being. His work in the spoken word community was recognized at the 2011 Calgary International Spoken Word Festival, where he received the inaugural Golden Beret Award.

Through the past decade, Ferrier has built on the success of his first CD with a growing repertoire of poems married to music, a full performance schedule, curating the live monthly series Words and Music at the Casa, and the release of two more CDs. What Is This Place? featured collaborations with a dizzying showcase of Montreal musicians and composers, including Jean Derome, Normand Guilbealt, Pierre Tanguay, Sam Shalabi, André Asselin, Bryan Highbloom, Kathy Kennedy and Gordon Krieger. It also had two tracks by Ferrier with Pharmakon MTL, the live improv ensemble that he’s been performing and recording with for the past five years. This intensive practice has led to the Pharmakon MTL CD To Call Out In The Night, released early in 2011.

Pharmakon MTL is Ferrier, guitarist / composer Chris Mah, vocalists Moe Clark and Valerie Khayat, drummer Doug Stein and brother Jonathan Stein on bass and laptop. “Chris has a studio out in Dorval,” Ferrier explained. “He’s bought a small place out there, and recording means we’re all over the house. The drums are in the basement, the guitar amps are in a different room, the vocalists are upstairs, and everybody’s connected by a headphone mix. So it’s like, sit back in the dark and where is this going to take you? To me, that’s just thrilling. It’s like skiing, everything appears in front of you and which way are you going to go, and how are you going to take it, and how fast or how slow?”

All of the tracks on To Call Out In The Night were recorded live. “All of this music is improv music. It is mixed a little bit but most of it happens in real time. I’m a poet who performs a lot of my work, so I probably have thirty things kicking around in my head that I could do off the top of my head. There’s a piece called ‘Shadow on the Castle Wall’, which just fit perfectly with some music that they were doing. That happens regularly, but there are some that are really like downhill skiing. ‘Disappear’ is one of them, and the last cut on the album, ‘Here I Am’ is another. There, the lyrics are being made up as the music progresses. Which is just wild.”

To Call Out In The Night also features a video by multimedia artist Pk Langshaw. “She invited the band to come in and do audio for one of her projects, which was just beautiful. When we landed there ... they have a sound technician, they have a person who has a text program that projects text, they have another person projecting colour, they have two video people, they have dance people, they have sensors on the dancers so that when the dancers move the text moves with them. So it’s quite a complex production. They’d been setting up for two or three days and nothing had worked.  And all of a sudden, a band comes in with a whole pile of gear! But by the time we set up, we were ready to go, they were ready to go, and all of the stuff that you see in that video was done in a matter of fifteen minutes.”

When he can’t play with Pharmakon MTL, as is often the case with out-of-town gigs, Ferrier travels with nothing but a couple of guitars and a looping pedal. He recently appeared at the Poetry Gabriola Festival in the ‘Canada Speaks’ showcase. “It was so much fun! It was all these people that I meet on the road, Ivan Coyote and David Bateman and Kaie Kellough from Montreal and half a dozen other people. It was like a master class for how you do spoken word.” He followed that up with a quick tour of Alberta. “I managed to land in the middle of their first major snowstorm of the year. I drove through the black ice and snow on top to little towns like Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Fort Macleod.”