Edmonton

No pressure: Propane tank musician ready to explore new sounds with saxophonist

While most barbecue warriors will be out cleaning their grills on Saturday, Ryan Hemphill will be tuning his tanks.

'If you hit them in the right spot in the right pitch, they just really like to sing'

Ryan Hemphill uses empty propane tanks of varying sizes to make music. (Nicolás Arnáez)

While most barbecue warriors will be out cleaning their grills on Saturday, Ryan Hemphill will be tuning his tanks.

The soundscape artist who makes music with propane tanks will be collaborating with Edmonton saxophonist Allison Balcetis in an improvised, ensemble performance that will see them cooking with gas. (Sorry.)

"I really love the sound propane tanks, how they're kind of bell-like instruments when you clang them around," Hemphill told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Friday. "So I decided it would be an interesting thing to feed music into and see what happens."

After getting his undergrad at the University of Alberta, Hemphill got his master's in music composition from the University of Victoria; his research interests include new interfaces for musical expression and sound-art installations.

This weekend's concert at Mile Zero's Dirt Buffet Cabaret — the second time Hemphill has performed with the tanks — hits both notes.

Ryan Hemphill is a soundscape artist and propane tank musician. (Nicolás Arnáez)

Hemphill uses audio transducers as the base of "homemade electronics" that basically turns the tanks (empty, of course) into loudspeakers of varying sizes that produce varying pitches and tones.

The plan for Saturday's performance involves running Balcetis' saxophone sound through the tanks, while Hemphill works in the background adding reverb and creating loops, which he'll layer over her live performance.

"When you start sending in different pitches, especially for a saxophone here, they start kind of lighting up in different ways and if you hit them in the right spot in the right pitch, they just really like to sing," he said.

The two have had one rehearsal — which, Balcetis noted, took place in Hemphill's living room, to the apparent enjoyment of his cats.

Saxophonist Allison Balcetis will be improvising during her ensemble performance with Ryan Hemphill and his propane tanks at the Dirt Buffet Cabaret on June 15. (Nicolás Arnáez)

Balcetis had heard Hemphill perform previously and the "gorgeous" sound made by the tanks convinced her on the spot that she wanted to work with him.

"I'm improvising into a microphone and immediately you might hear that my sound is being amplified into those propane tanks right," she said.

"But after Ryan gets enough samples of my sound, he's taking it and … then I'm playing with a really altered version of myself."

Hemphill laughed as he added, "I kind of feel like it's more like the ensemble is Allison and the Propane Tanks. I'm just kind of in the back, mixing it."

The Dirt Buffet Cabaret is a semi-regular event put on by Mile Zero Dance. The format features a handful of different performances, from dance to comedy to poetry to music. The show takes place at 8 p.m. at Mile Zero, located at 95th Street and 108th Avenue.

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