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Wood, wind and a wry sense of humour

Juno-nominees The Creaking Tree String Quartet unplug the power of acoustics at MY Place
Our music is very technical, but we want people to enjoy it - Andrew Collins. Photo submitted

Who: The Creaking Tree String Quartet

When: Thursday, July 20

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $17/$15

Forget the one note pumped to larger-than-life proportions on an electric guitar or special effects distorting the original sound provider beyond recognition, The Creaking Tree String Quartet is all about wood, wind and experimentation, bringing the power of acoustics Thursday, July 20 to MY Millennium Place.

"When we perform, people are often surprised how provocative and powerful acoustic instruments can be," said mandolinist Andrew Collins from the road.

The road dogs are traveling 20,000 kilometres from sea to sea during their Canada tour, before heading back to Toronto to record a new album with Nashville producer Bil VornDick whose past credits include Jerry Douglas, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

Collins says the genre dubbed new acoustic music is really taking root in Toronto.

"We’ve seen a whole new generation of all ages coming forward," he said. "Through us and others – we’ve all had lots of students in town – we are helping develop a bluegrass (acoustic) scene that didn’t exist 10 years ago in TO."

The Juno nominees are classically trained and therefore able to execute a variety of genres, swing, classical, Celtic, jazz and bluegrass, into one Creaking Tree sound. Because of the music’s complexity, listeners never know which way a violin or bass line may go.

"Our music is very technical, but we want people to enjoy it," Collins said. "We want to avoid producing music just for musicians. Great musicians can appreciate the technique that goes into what we are doing, but we want everyone to enjoy it."

Because all of the quartet’s music is instrumental, the group of Collins, violinist John Showman, guitarist Brad Keller and bassist Brian Kobayakawa, constantly experiment with new ways of drawing listeners into their melodies.

One of the most notable illustrations of this effort is exercised in the quartet’s track The Battle of Alveolar Ridge on Creaking Tree’s second album, Side Two . (The track along with others is available for download at

The song begins with tranquil guitar and mandolin melodies then grows to a soundscape reminiscent of World War II, with the violin marching in the troupes, the bass foreshadowing the coming battle that breaks with a violin crying like an air-raid siren then bombs falling like D Day. Absolutely chilling. The music is abstract enough to let your imagination take hold while at the same time accessible enough to let your ears fold into it.

"We try to draw people in," Collins explained. "We use different sounds and try to do things we are not aware of having been done before. We like surprising people. We never tried to make sound effects before (like we did in The Battle). We are usually more abstract than that. Brian originally wrote part of the piece for a documentary on the Summit riots in Quebec. The documentary didn’t happen, but we adapted the piece to the string quartet."

Humour is always somewhere in the mix. The title of the song pokes fun at the non-singing troupe. The alveolar ridge is a ridge that goes down the roof of your mouth.

"Without humour, things would just get really heavy and boring," he said. "We laugh a lot."

The pick me up of rollicking tracks such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or the playfulness of Merlin’s Gate promise an evening of both the lively and sobering musical score.

Last year, the quartet won numerous accolades including the Pushing the Boundaries trophy at the Canadian Folk Music Awards, Instrumental Album of the Year for Side Two at the Indie Acoustic Project Awards and Instrumental Song of the Year for Old Crow at the International Acoustic Music Awards, as well as a nomination for Favourite Folk/Roots Artist at the Canadian Independent Music Awards. Side Two’s Dynamic Duo track was also a semi-finalist in the instrumental category for the International Songwriting Competition. And all this in one year.

"This is organic music, presented with a wry sense of humour and featuring some of the best up and coming musicians east of the Mississippi," raved one CBC critic. "The playing is just superb, these guys are fantastic."

Tickets for the instrumentalists are $17 for adults and $15 for students/seniors. Call MY Place for tickets at 604-935-8410.