IMOO brought together musicians with varied backgrounds to make a night of unique, and improvised music. Photo: Iain Sellers.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

IMOO Festival showcases experimental music

With string quartets that throat sing and pluck strings, saxophones accompanied by steel drums, on top of all kinds of improvisation—the IMOO (Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouis) festival audience heard a wide range of music on Saturday night.

From Sept. 21 to Sept. 23, the Ottawa-based festival met for its eighth year of performances at Gigspace, and various other locations throughout the city.

According to program director, and organizer, Brad Evans, “(the event incorporates) improvised music in any fashion. We … don’t have any rules about what people are expected to do. There will be straight forward jazz bands, and there will be very abstract … improvisation—it’s anything goes, really.”

All performances at the weekend’s events were created on the spot for the audience, with many of the musical artists from Ottawa—and a few other featured guests from Montreal, Toronto, and Tokyo.

“For this weekend, I invited people that I wanted to see myself,” said Evans.“I’m a big, big fan of the musicians we brought in from Japan (Satoko Fujii, and Natsuki Tamura) … They said yes, so I built the rest of the lineup around them.”

Saturday night’s performance featured four acts, each lasting around 40 minutes, with intermittent breaks so that the performers could meet the small audience and clear the stage.

Jesse Stewart, an adjunct visual arts professor at the U of O, performed multiple times at the weekend’s festival. On Saturday, he accompanied saxophonist Petr Cancura on a steel drum, a hand drum, and drum set.

“I’ve played a few times as part of the IMOO series over the past (eight) years,” said Stewart. “The community of improvising musicians in Ottawa is … a small, but dedicated group of really exceptional musicians (and) exceptional improvisors.”

Stewart told the Fulcrum that while much of improvisation is created on the spot, musicians on stage can also pull bits of other songs to use in their new compositions.“To me, that’s part of the beauty of this music. Anything can happen—we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Indeed, throughout the evening, the different groups of musicians repeatedly changed the volume, style, and even instruments that they incorporated into their music.

In the first act of the night, the IMOO string quartet began their songs with quiet string instruments, but by the end of their time on stage were using electronic equipment and metal balls with bowls to create unique noises.

“(Playing improvised music) has really encouraged me to expand my musical vocabulary,” said Stewart. “Within this context … (where) just about anything could happen musically, we can try things out, and explore nuances of sound that we might not be able to do (otherwise).”

Although he acknowledged the following in Ottawa is small, Stewart confirmed that there are ways for interested students to get involved with improvised music if they are interested in trying it out.

“Get together with some other musicians who are, hopefully, open-minded, and just start doing it—that’s one of the ways we learn,” he told the Fulcrum. However, Stewart also warned budding musicians to take the style of music seriously; “if you’re going to go into it, and you think it’s a big joke, then don’t bother.”

“This music … it’s unique, and will never happen again,” said Stewart. “(So), all the people that are here … they’ve created a community—and the music has brought them together to celebrate the uniqueness of this time, of this place, and this moment. To me there’s something beautiful about that.”

To learn more about IMOO, or check out one of their weekly single-act performances, check out their website.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper