7 Insights from a Sound Art Festival Director

As mentioned in earlier blog posts, send + receive is a festival I am proud to be apart of.  I am consistently finding a deeper appreciation for what the festival does for the practice of sound art and for the Winnipeg community.  crys cole, the Director of send + receive and sound artist herself, has planned and executed this festival for 8 years.  I am thankful to have the opportunity to ask crys questions and have a glimpse into the festival from a Director’s perspective.


Tony Conrad performs at send + receive v15 with Jason Whelpton.  Photo by Robert Szkolnicki.


1) Where does the title, send + receive, come from?

The name was coined by Steve Bates, the original Director of the festival. Steve started the festival back in 1998 as a project out of Video Pool with the support of his partner Jake Moore. The name relates to radio transmission – Steve was very engaged with radio subculture at the time. It references the basic technologic process of transmitting and receiving audio signals. I’m sure that Steve would have a deeper interpretation to expand on this, but that’s the basic root of it.

2) What has been your favourite moment of send + receive?

Oh man… there are so many truly! I have been the Director of s+r for 8 years now and every year there are special moments that really impress upon me.

There are innumerable performances that left a huge impression on me but the most special moments usually relate to the impact on the local audience and the interpersonal connections between the festival artists and the local community.

A very special memory for me is the standing ovation at the end of Akio Suzuki’s breathtaking performance at v14 (2012). His performance was very special and the crowds’ reaction was overwhelming! He was so humbled by it… I found myself choked up… it took me ages to address the audience. I love what Akio does and to see how moved the audience was by his performance was deeply gratifying. One of my favorite things about running the festival is giving a platform to artists who I believe are truly distinct and special. Feeling the impact that this has on the local audience, and in tandem the effect on the artists, is so incredibly rewarding to me.

After the closing concert by Charlemagne Palestine in 2013 (v15) Tony Conrad sat beside me and told me that what I’m doing, and what we have built with s+r is very special and something that I should be really proud of. He was so wonderfully supportive and it was really touching.

On a very different note, I would have to say also, that an important memory is meeting my partner Oren Ambarchi at the 10th anniversary edition of s+r in 2008. It was my first year as Director and I was completely stressed! I barely ate or slept through the 2-week long edition. I met Oren when he arrived to perform on the final weekend and we immediately became friends. As it turns out in the years to come we were destined for much more.

3) Who would be your top three artists to bring to send + receive?

Since the beginning of my time as Director I have managed to bring in almost every artist that I have set-out to, with a few exceptions. When I first started I said to some friends that I would bring Keith Rowe (a long time hero) to Winnipeg and in my 3rd year (v12) I did it! That was a very big moment for me, to bring in a senior artist who I admire and that had impacted my creative life so deeply to Winnipeg.

Every year I want new challenges and new concepts to be explored with the festival and I have an extensive list of artists and projects that I hope to make happen. I don’t want to let any cats out of the bag!

4) What has been most challenging about being the festival director?

There are innumerable challenges with running a festival, especially when you are the sole staff person. The learning curve for me since taking over the position in 2008 has been steep but rewarding. The position covers everything from A-Z.

For me, because I am an artist myself, it is of the utmost importance that that the artists at s+r feel respected and supported. This means in all capacities. When an artist feels appreciated and knows that the crew and hosts are there to support them to do their work it makes a huge impact on their contribution. This means a very hands-on approach on my and on the festival crews part.

If you have a vision for something you don’t want to cut corners, you want the people who attend, present their work and who work at the festival to feel good, which is a lot to manage! There are no details of the festival that I don’t oversee. I believe that this makes the events special, but it also makes it very mentally and physically demanding which can be stressful. This is something I have brought on myself though, and honestly I don’t think I could do it any other way.

5) How does send + receive differ from other Canadian sound art festivals?

There are many interesting festivals in Canada though only a small handful that focus on sound art and experimental music practice. Many come from a foundation in either New Music, Electronic Music or New Media. I feel that because s+r developed outside of these institutional definitions there is a less formal and perhaps broader range to what we program. Sound is the fundamental important medium that we consider – beyond that we can program a very diverse array of works and find unique ways of linking them.

One thing that I think is very special about s+r is the overall vibe and the feeling of community that we have developed. Artists come from across Canada and around the world to stay in Winnipeg for the duration of the festival in most cases. This nurtures an opportunity for artists to share their work and develop relationships. This is deeply valuable to the local artists and community as there are increased opportunities to engage with visiting artists. The crew is very invested in each performance and really cares about the artists getting what they need to make their best work. People bond, start collaborations and build networks. When each edition is over the incredible outpouring of appreciation and comradery is very special. Having performed at festivals around the world I can say that this feeling, this supportive almost familial vibe, is unique and a very important part of s+r.

6) Where would you like to see the festival in the future?

I’ve always fantasized about a year-round sound gallery, but honestly I don’t believe that this is something that Winnipeg could sustain. I believe that s+r would be a great foundation to build more educational resources about experimental sound practices. I try to do this every year with the festival but something more ongoing year-round would be wonderful.

7) How has being the festival director influenced your own arts practice?

There is a very complimentary nature to being a sound artist myself and running the festival. I have been a passionate collector and general nerd about experimental music and sound since I was a teenager and it is really quite amazing to have found a job where this is an asset! I also perform and present my work around the world, so my network is always expanding, which feeds directly into the festival programming.

At the same time bringing artists to Winnipeg keeps me energized and continually broadens our community.

For more photos of send + receive, click here.

Have a question for crys cole?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

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