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Musicians During COVID 19: Collaboration, Connection and Cacophony

October 08, 2020
11:00 AM EDT - 2:30 PM EDT
Watch the Live-Stream at
Ken Moffatt & Alannah Fricker,

With music communities cut off from one another physically due to COVID-19, collaboration and creation has greatly shifted. The pandemic has restricted what avenues are possible for sharing work, and technology has allowed us to continue to connect, create and use our voices during social isolation. At the same time, technology continues to affect the economic well-being of musicians at a time of increasing precariousness and mediates how we relate to one another. Through a series of live streamed performances and discussions, six musicians and educators  explore the complexities of creating music and culture intertwined with technology.

Featuring the Music of:

Waubkunii Kwe: Waubkunii Kwe will be performing and discussing songs that are related to the issues Nishinaabeg across Turtle Island have faced throughout time, reflective of a culture rich with knowledge and ways of seeing, feeling, knowing and doing. Ken Moffat will join Waub in a live conversation after her set

Pete Johnston & Randi Helmers: From the band Stranger Still, Pete Johnston & Randi Helmers will discuss their experiences of combining poetry and composition while isolated, and share recent recordings. Ryerson, Music Program 

Mark Campbell: Curator, scholar and DJ Mark Campbell will spin local Toronto hip-hop, share archival footage and present his Talk DJs Defying Algorithms. University of Toronto, Music and Culture Program

Ben McCarthy: Sound artist and experimental musician Ben McCarthy will do a live ambient, contemplative, electronic music performance. 

Sonja/Sofie Mikhaylova: Electronic artist and founder of Biblioteka Records, Sonja will join Ben McCarthy in conversation after his performance.

Evangeline Brooks: Evangeline Brooks will provide visuals for Ben McCarthy’s performance. She is a hybrid media artist and graduate of Ryerson’s Integrated Digital program.

Co-curated by Dr. Ken Moffatt, Jack Layton Chair, and MJ Wright, experimental musician and Arts and Contemporary Studies student at Ryerson. 

This event is organized by the Jack Layton Chair and co-sponsored by CESAR, RLAS, and RCSS. 

Accessibility: Due to the musical nature of this event, closed-captioning will not be available for the entire time. We endeavour to have a fully closed-captioned video of the event available on the Jack Layton Chair YouTube channel within 30 days of the Live-stream. If you require any accessibility accommodations during the event such as ASL interpretation, please let us know at least 1 week in advance by emailing


  • 11:00 Twitch goes live
  • 11:10 Introductory Comments by Ken Moffatt
  • 11:20 Waubkunii Kwe performs songs related to issues that Nishinaabeg across Turtle Island have faced throughout time, reflective of a culture rich with knowledge and ways of seeing, feeling, knowing and doing. Waub is a graduate of FNTI/Ryerson Social Work
  • 11:40 Ken Moffatt, Jack Layton Chair, joins Waubkunii Kwe in conversation
  • 12:00 Pete Johnston performs his compositions that combine poetry with music. Juno Award winner and educator in Ryerson, Music Program
  • 12:20 Randi Helmers joins Pete Johnson in conversation on their work together in the band Stranger Still
  • 12:50 Mark Campbell (DJ Grumps), curator, scholar and DJ, spins local Toronto hip-hop & shares archival footage. University of Toronto, Music and Culture Program
  • 1:10 Mark Campbell presents his talk: DJs Defying Algorithms
  • 1:30 Ben McCarthy, sound artist and experimental musician performs an original ambient, contemplative, electronic set
  • 1:50 Sonja, electronic artist and founder of Biblioteka Records, joins Ben McCarthy in conversation. Sonja is a graduate of Ryerson’s Journalism program
  • 2:10 Closing Comments by Ken Moffatt and MJ Wright
  • Evangeline Brooks provides visuals for Ben McCarthy’s performance. Evangeline is a hybrid media artist and graduate of Ryerson’s Integrated Digital program
  • MJ Wright (Tacetician) co-curates the event with Ken Moffatt and hosts the Twitch stream. MJ is an experimental musician and Arts and Contemporary Studies student.

Artist Bios

Waubkunii Kwe: As a Nishinaabekwe, Waubkunii Kwe’s culture is rich with knowledge and ways of seeing, feeling, knowing and doing that inform and engage Nishinaabe inenimowin (thought). This life flows throughout all of their work, as a helper (social worker), singer, daughter, sister, and aunt. They enjoy opportunities to share, learn and engage with like-minds. Her set includes songs that are, in some way, related to the issues Nishinaabeg across Turtle Island experienced and continue to experience today. Songs are thought of leading up to events, but some songs change as the Spirit decides. All songs shared are social songs that can be shared openly.

Evangeline Brooks is a hybrid media artist specializing in generative art and art direction. She holds a BFA from Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts Film Studies program with an Integrated Digital specialization and a certificate in Design for Arts and Entertainment from the Chang School of Continuing Education. Her work is heavily informed by growing up mixed race in a post-internet age, intersecting identities that put her in liminal spaces: in between cultures, and in between changing communication technologies. Her work has been shown with TIFFxInstagram, Open Doors Toronto, and the Toronto Images Festival.

See Evangeline’s work on their Website, external link and Instagram, external link.

Randi Helmers has been performing as a professional actor and singer across Canada and Europe for the past 35 years. Selected theatre credits include: The National Art Centre of Canada (2006-2012), Caravan Farm Theatre (1990-2017), Canadian Stage (2015),The Stratford Festival of Canada (2003), and Nightwood Theatre/Aveny-T Copenhagen (2002-2007). As a singer, Randi has recorded two albums and toured with the Canadian band John Millard and Happy Day. Selected festival engagements include: Canwest Cabaret at The Young Centre, Toronto (2008-9), Regina Folk Festival (2004), Frostbite Festival, Whitehorse (2001), Festival d'Ete, Quebec (2000). Currently, Randi performs at festivals, concerts and clubs in the duo Sweet Session with bassist/composer Rob Clutton, whose repertoire is Shakespeare sonnets arranged for voice and banjo, and with Stranger Still, whose repertoire is based on the poetry of Alden Nowlan. 

See Randi’s work on their Facebook, external link and Instagram, external link

Mark Campbell [aka DJ Grumps], founder at Northside Hip Hop Archive, is a dj, curator and scholar. As a co-founder at the Bigger than Hip Hop Show at CHRY 105.5fm, Mark has DJed on and hosted the show from 1997-2015 and served as a Member of the Board at the Ontario Arts Council from 2015-2018. As a scholar, Mark has published widely with essays appearing in the Southern Journal of Canadian Studies, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society and the CLR Journal of Caribbean Ideas. His coedited collection, We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel, is set to be launched fall 2020 by McGill-Queen's Press.

See Mark’s work on their Twitter, external link and Website, external link

Sonja, also known as Sofie Mikhaylova, is a DJ, electronic synth artist, music writer and editor, workshop organizer and facilitator, and creator of independent record label Biblioteka Records. Sonja graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2015. She is a member of the Toronto Music Industry Advisory Committee and The JUNO Awards Electronic Album of the Year Committee, and a Polaris Prize juror. As a DJ, she enjoys playing assorted deep, future, and tech house and techno. She has played at numerous events and venues across Ontario and has a monthly residency on Miami-based station Empty Plate Radio. As a musician, she relies on analogue hardware and equipment for improvised, alien, and fleeting modular synthesizer sets that play with deconstructed club techno. Her main focus and project is Biblioteka Records, an independent record label focused on experimental and instrumental electronic music.

See Sonja’s work on their Website, external link, Instagram, external link, and Facebook, external link

See Biblioteka Records' Website, external link, Instagram, external linkFacebook, external link, and Soundcloud, external link.

Ben McCarthy is an electronic musician and sound artist from Toronto, Canada. Working fragments of field recording and broken melody into music that slips in and out of generic idiom, McCarthy’s output is rangey and prolific. He recorded pop music as Pale Eyes, reaching the electronic top 10 on Canada’s college music charts for his 2013 release sweatshop. His 2018 solo album little music spans blown-out dj ensembles, found sound ambient music, and texturally dense MPC-derived rhythms, moving from abstract figures and lush idiosyncratic timbres, to lurching beats and spiraling loops. McCarthy won the Dora award for Outstanding Sound Design and Composition in Independent Theatre in 2019. His work with art video game collective SpekWork has been shown at the Venice Biennale, Amaze Berlin, and Mayworks’ Nightshift. While fist-poundingly anthemic in parts and soul-searchingly contemplative in others, the underlying goal of McCarthy’s music is to, as the Kafka adage proclaims, "break the frozen sea inside."

See Ben’s work on their Bandcamp, external link, Instagram, external link, and Soundcloud, external link.

Pete Johnston is a Juno Award-winning bassist and composer. He was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and studied composition and bass at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Following a two-year tour of North America with the Johnny Favourite Swing Orchestra, Pete moved to Toronto in 2001 to pursued graduate studies in composition and ethnomusicology at York University. After completing his doctoral studies in 2010 Pete resumed his post behind the bass, studying with renowned bassists Barre Phillips and Gary Peacock and performing in numerous groups around Toronto including Aurochs, See Through Trio, See Through 5, See Through 4 and Stranger Still. Pete currently teaches music at Ryerson University and Humber College. 

See Pete’s work on their Website, external link, Bandcamp, external link, and Soundcloud, external link