A VERSION OF THIS STORY APPEARED IN THE TORONTO STAR, NOVEMBER 11, 1999

 

By Nick Krewen

Special To The Star

Meet KURT SWINGHAMMER, cultural engineer.

That's how he designates himself on his website, www.swinghammer.com, and with good reason.

You've probably heard his name, seen some of his art, enjoyed his music. Maybe you're even aware of his presence for the past 15 years as one of the most respected progenitors of the Queen Street West collective.

Although he's been able to escape mainstream attention, the 42-year-old iconoclast may just be Toronto's most multifaceted artist,. He successfully dabbles in music, art, graphic design, television, and seemingly wherever he lays his hands.

"In the'70s, garbagemen were calling themselves sanitation engineers, and housewives were calling themselves domestic engineers," noted Swinghammer over tea last week at his modest Kensington Market home.

"So I just called myself cultural engineer."

Sitting in a room that doubles as his studio, evidence that culture bleeds from Swinghammer's pores is hanging, sitting, standing and playing all around him. In one corner, a bank of vintage synthesizers that would be the envy of BRIAN ENO -- monophonic Moogs and an exquisitely conditioned VCS3 -- sit near a mini-recording studio that is spewing a continuous loop of musical babble from its speakers.

Paintings, carvings, posters and photographs adorn the multi-colored walls, each panel a different pastel. In another room, a swatch of rainbow acrylics sits patiently on a table, awaiting the next visual creation .

Visual Swinghammer and musical Swinghammer seem inseparable.

"Kurt's the ultimate renaissance man," declares ED ROBERTSON of BARENAKED LADIES.

"I hear his music, see his art, and think they're the coolest. As a composer, Kurt has a bunch of those `I wish I'd written that' songs."

"Kurt's someone who is constantly searching for new things," offers Toronto drummer ANDY STOCHANSKY, the former ANI DiFRANCO sideman who recently collaborated with Swinghammer on Remote, a CD of instrumental ambient music.

"He'll never settle for second best from himself. He's always searching and pushing the envelope with his art, whether it be paintings or music. I don't think I've ever been out with him one night where I haven't come home and been inspired to work the next day."

Today, the envelope that Kurt Swinghammer is pushing is as recording artist. His new album Vostok 6 , which he'll present through an acoustic guitar and looping devices tonight at The Rivoli opening for SARAH SLEAN, is a wonderfully crafted, beautifully textured 60-minute metaphorical tribute to Soviet cosmonaut VALENTINA TERESHKOVA, who became the first woman in space in 1963 when she circled the Earth 48 times.

"Space is a metaphor for me, the space between people," he explains. "This record works on many levels, yet you never really want to impose a meaning on a piece of work. It can resonate in so many different ways. "

Floating in a stratosphere of Moog-generated arpeggiated oscillation, strummed acoustics, honeyed vocal treatments and wry observation, Vostok 6  has been winning raves from some high profile talent, including Ani DiFranco.

Rolling Stone Online reported the singer lavishly praised the album during a recent concert that Swinghammer opened in Texas, describing Vostok 6 as "unbelievable, spacy, like mutants running through it."

She also invited Swinghammer -- as well as THE ARTIST and soul saxaphonist MACEO PARKER -- to DANIEL LANOIS' Kingsway Studios in New Orleans this summer to play guitar on her upcoming album To The Teeth , out November 16.

"It was a great honor," says Swinghammer. "The tracks went down effortlessly, and everyone was really thrilled. A couple of weeks later she was recording in Buffalo, and asked me to contribute to the title track, `To The Teeth.'

It was this amazing, powerful and one of the most politically charged pieces she's ever done."

DiFranco isn't the only one requesting Swinghammer's axe. Recent projects by TORY CASSIS, MIA SHEARD, Andy Stochansky, DAMNHAIT DOYLE and Sarah Slean -- whom Swinghammer will join onstage tonight to help showcase her new album Blue Parade -- have all hired him.

"Hopefully people think of me as someone who brings something unexpected," says Swinghammer. "If it's guitar, it's an unorthodox approach. I don't think of myself as a technically advanced player, but one who is sensitive to texture."

 

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DISCOGRAPHY

1984 -- This Is Culture

1985 -- Play

1985 -- Talking With My Hands

1986 -- Chemistry

1987 -- The Fair

1991 -- PoMo A GoGo

1999 -- Remote  (with Andy Stochansky)

1999 -- Vostok 6

COLLABORATOR

 

1986 -- Vital Sines, Big Dark Dreams

1987 -- Various Artists, In Demand

1992 -- Various Artists, Back To The Garden: A Tribute To Joni Mitchell

1992 -- Various Artists, Canada Bittersweet

1992 -- Various Artists, Indie Can '92

1994 -- Various Artists, A Canadian Christmas

CONTRIBUTOR

1985 -- Various Artists, Cordelia

1987 -- Glenn Milchem, Acting Natural

1988 -- 100% Cancon, Dump The Deal

1989 -- Chalk Circle, As The Crow Flies

1991 -- Kyp Harness, Nowhere Fast

1992 -- Brothers And Systems, Transcontinental Weekend

1994 -- Anhai, Anhai

1994 -- Brainbox, Primordia

1995 -- Various Artists, Stuck On A Cold Steel Pole

1996 -- Arlene Bishop, Pinky

1996 -- Dan Bryk, Asshole

1996 -- Faceplant, Smells Like Gasoline, Drives Like Steve McQueen

1996 -- Wendy Lands, Angels And Ordinary Men

1996 -- One, Smoking The Goats

1996 -- Andy Stochansky, While You Slept

1997 -- Victor Crowl, The Healing

1997 -- Jeremy Robinson, Butterfly Pin

1997 -- Sonic Boom Orchestra, Sonic Boom Orchestra

1998 -- Zoe Bliss, 13 April

1998 -- Andrea Koziol, Coming Of Age

1998 -- Renann, Renann

1998 -- Lorraine Segato, Luminous City

1998 -- Lorna Vallings, Taste

1998 -- Various Artists, Lilith Fair  (with Wild Strawberries)

1998 -- Various Artists, Local Flavour  (with Mia Sheard)

1998 -- Tamara Williamson, Nightmare On Queen Street (Mixer)

1999 -- Tory Cassis, Anywhere But Here

1999 -- Ani DiFranco, To The Teeth

1999 -- Fergus Hambleton, Snapshots

1999 -- Jessica Schoenberg, Humanisms

1999 -- Mia Sheard, Reptilian

1999 -- Mike Shields, Stranger Than Fiction

1999 -- Sarah Slean, Blue Parade

1999 -- Andy Stochansky, Radio Fuse Box

1999 -- The Supers, SPKLANNG!

1999 -- Various Artists, Music For Peace

2000 -- Damnhait Doyle, Harmony

2000 -- Blair Packham, Everything That's Good

 

PRODUCTION

1996 -- Veda Hille, Spine

1997 -- Michael D'Amico, Long Furry Tales

1997 -- Ron Sexsmith, There's A Way

1998 -- Jeremy Robinson, Good And Gone

 

THANKS: Sean Stanleigh

1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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