The Arts and Sounds of Rob Michalchuk
Brantford's renowned outsider artist, doing it his way.
Maichina Veri, January 19, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioRob Michalchuk with his saxophone. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Rob Michalchuk is an artistic wizard of many hats. He waxes on in winding ways about the creative components up his sleeve and wields many wands from the paintbrush to the alto saxophone. His magic conjures images and sounds from throughout the cosmos that manifest as pop art, cartoon theme songs and free jazz that dips into noise. Primarily self-taught, this wiz combines schools of art making the idea of labeling or defining his craft problematic and obsolete. Brantford is a more unique and creative place for having a person like Rob in it – although they may not know it.
Rob’s origin story in music began in 1988 when he joined the Telephone City Musical Society on the alto saxophone and took private piano lessons. “So, my first shows were old-age homes and community centres,” he says. Since his beginnings, he’s been requested to play in cities from Hamilton to Brooklyn, New York where he is met with “amazing” responses – unlike in Brantford. His June 2009 installment of his noise project, FOOD, in Harmony Square got him banned from musically performing in the square again. “I made babies cry, I caused lost revenue, blah blah blah.” He goes on and laughs, “Celebrate all that is unique in Brantford and tell them not to come back the next day.”
Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
This would not be the first time Rob’s music has made Brantford residents angry. He has had his power cut twice during performance. Despite this reception, Rob’s creative endeavours through the band Fossils has brought him legendary attention. “Thurston Moore said Fossils was his favourite band on CBC radio,” he recalls. Rob has opened for Thurston, of Sonic Youth fame, twice, but has always been too nervous to talk to him. This is pretty cool, but Rob thinks his accomplishments with his band Pro☆Stars is cooler. “Cool is playing cartoon theme songs to a crowd of 300 to 400 people and having them all sing along while you sing to them.”
If you want to sing along with Rob during a pandemic, check out his livestreams of Pro☆Stars on Instagram. Rob keeps online spell books of his many artistic undertakings through various different media libraries such as YouTube, Instagram and Bandcamp. (At the time of this article, he is posting surreal pencil drawings from his ‘90s sketchbook on Instagram.) Browsing the tomes gathered within you can see the range of Rob’s spell work and you can quickly tell he is not a one-trick pony, cannot be pigeon holed and, even in the genres he works within, he blurs the lines. “I’m not a normal player,” Rob says, referring to his work in noise circles, but this sentiment expands across all of his aesthetic ventures.
"Rob has weaved his magic and talent throughout the city. He arranged Brantford’s first ever noise show, he curates and runs Brantford’s oldest and longest running music label, Poor Little Music (PLM), and he has displayed his art in the former Brantford Station Gallery."
Maybe Brantford hasn’t been ready for Rob. Regardless, Rob has weaved his magic and talent throughout the city. He arranged Brantford’s first ever noise show, he curates and runs Brantford’s oldest and longest running music label, Poor Little Music (PLM), and he has displayed his art in the former Brantford Station Gallery. He does all this in unconventional, but honest ways. For example, PLM, which reaches international audiences, considers the formats on which they release to be art as well producing music on cassettes, VHS and floppy disks. In terms of his art Rob illuminates, “I’ve had people offer me good money for my art, but I’ve refused. Just because I like it still.” He is referring to a portrait he did of a former Brantford mayor. “Like, yeah, I’ll get rid of the painting eventually. I just want to give it to Chris Friel. Not sell it. Until that happens, it’s mine. I can show my art without selling it.”
This is a fine philosophy. In a society that commodifies every hobby and talent, it’s
refreshing for someone to take and keep ownership of their art. Rob is also humble when it comes to his music, too, stating it is neither important or unique.
Rob Michalchuk at Photohouse Studios. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
“It’s only as unique and important has others deem it to be. Music is important to me, in the way that it releases the day’s tensions. It’s self-healing and self-preservation. I’ll find as much love in going crazy on the sax as I would singing Teddy Ruxpin. I release what I do because I like sharing. I find I enjoy the sounds that others do and I can do the same, so why not give?”
If you’re ready to experience some wizardly charms, check out Rob on the following channels listed below.
YouTube – quieky – https://www.youtube.com/user/quieky/
Bandcamp – Poor Little Music – https://poorlittlemusic.bandcamp.com/
Instagram – poor_little_music – https://www.instagram.com/poor_little_music/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College.