Herein lies a challenge for any composer, classical-based or otherwise: Come up with a segment of music plus two extra notes on paper, hide those notes from view, pass on to the next composer who, utilizing those trailing two notes as a point of departure, would do the same for another composer in a group.

This particular “game,” named Exquisite Corpse, has attracted the attention of Contact, a Toronto-based ensemble skilled in genre-bending experimental, classical and alternative works. The group’s main organization, Contact Contemporary Music, requested that three groups of composers from Toronto, Vancouver and New York take part in this game and collectively compose three original works for the seven-piece group to perform.

“The funny part was the composers were going to do these works by e-mail and two small measures at a time plus two extra notes simply was not enough,” explains Contact percussionist Jerry Pergolesi. “So we just let them write these long pieces however they wanted to do it. No restraint, no set limitations.”

The resultant works will be performed at the Music Gallery on Friday night, an event recognized as part of Pride Week festivities.

The tie-in to Pride is crucial, Pergolesi says, especially given Exquisite Corpse’s historical background.

The game got its start around the time of World War I, invented by a Paris-based cultural movement of artists and writers dubbed the Surrealists, and later extended to other genres, including animation, digital art and ultimately music.

American avant-garde composers John Cage, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and Virgil Thomson were among the most notable composers of experimental music to have participated in the game around the 1940s.

All of these men, Pergolesi points out, were homosexuals during a time when the gay community was being heavily ostracized by public at large.

“Cowell denied being part of the gay community, yet he was arrested for alleged homosexuality activities and spent a lot of time in jail,” Pergolesi says. “Cage never came out of the closet, same with Thomson. But Harrison was surprising always open about it.

“Yet all of these men were very highly influential in music. In fact, there’s not a DJ alive who doesn’t owe his career to John Cage.”

Pergolesi explains the primary aim of the Exquisite Corpse performance is to “pay homage to the these men, who were able to think outside the box and thrive on their sense of adventure and spirit.”

More details
• Exquisite Corpse takes place at the Music Gallery, Friday at 9 p.m.
• For more on this event, visit, or