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BRUCE LEE GALLANTER REVIEW of the 24th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL MUSIQUE ACTUELLE VICTORIAVILLE!
This was the 19th Victoriaville New Music Festival that I've attended since I drove up by myself in 1988, when Fred Frith convinced me that this fest was made for open-minded listeners like myself. Fred was quite right and every year I come back to the relatively small Quebec town of Victoriaville, a couple of hours northeast of Montreal. Ever since the third year that I've attended (1990), I have come up with a handful of friends from the New York area, often with two to six folks in our vehicle. There are a number of reasons why we come back every year: where else can we attend a festival of some 24 concerts of new music from a diversity of styles, genres and geographical backgrounds, from avant/jazz to progressive rock to modern classical to hard rock, to punk & metal to electronic music to lower-case improv and other musics too difficult to define? Besides this, there are other reasons why we love to attend every year: we are now a part of family of friends from around the world who get to spend a week together just once a year and most of us stay at the same place each year, The Victorin Hotel (formerly the Colibri) where the musicians also stay, so you have breakfast sitting next to Daevid Allen or Eugene Chadbourne or maybe Haino Keiji. While there is a rumor, especially from a few musicians, that there is no good food/restauraunts in Victoriaville, take it from an old-timer like myself, this is not really true. You just have to know where to go. Another plus for me as well as some of my friends is the positive, self-effacing and often charming stage manner of Victo's organizer, Michel Levasseur, who has become a close friend over the years.
And while last year's Victo Fest (2006) was one of the least consistent in recent memory, this year's fest was a courageous return to form, a strong line-up with a number of incredible sets. This year, my crew included just Len Seigfried, Jason Roth, Eric Stern and myself, since our friend Kurt Gottshalk decided to fly up and he often hung with the other journalists. The day before we left was indeed a troubling day for me & I hoped that it didn't foreshadow any of the positive energy the up at Victo. After I got up early to do laundry on the previous Tuesday (5/15), the first e-mail I opened was from my friend & former DMG webmaster, David Beardsley. The e-mail shocked me as it mentioned the murder of our friend & microtonal guitar great, Rod Poole, the night before in Hollywood, not far from where Rod lived. He got into a fight with a couple who almost ran him over, a shouting match erupted and then they stabbed him to death. I had just gotten a call from Rod the previous week asking if we wanted to carry a very limited edition new LP of his. I said of course and to send an e-mail description for a future newsletter. When I got to work that day, guess what arrived in the mail - yes, a copy of that album with a nice note from Rod thanking me for my support. Later that day, I went to The Stone to see/hear Fred Frith play two sets, the first was with John Zorn and the second with Zeena Parkins. In between sets, they cleared to room so Zeena could set up and a dozen of us waited outside in front of The Stone. A half dozen young & ornery Latino dudes moved through the line of folks on the sidewalk with long cardboard poster tubes in their hands. I quickly just got out of their way, but not the guy next to me who had just attended the first set. He stood his ground and said something stupid to them and one Latino hit him the in the head with a poster tube and then a fight between them broke out with both men them rolling into the street, a bus almost running them over. Another guy on line tried to intervene but was also smacked by the other Latinos. Zorn quickly came out and broke things up and had everyone come back inside to cool down. They put ice on the head of the man with the big mouth who had a large bump. I have not seen so much violence in NY in many years and many of us were quite shaken up. Our long drive up to Victo the next day was thankfully uneventful except for a quick but intense thunder-storm that erupted when we were passing through Albany.
It was nice to see Michel Levasseur at the Platform office the next day. We talked about how things are changing so quickly in NY and about the violence we have to reckon with at times. After our first hearty meal at our favorite Greek restauraunt, Mykonos, we made our way to the Cinema for our first set: Marilyn Crispell, Lotte Anker, Mark Helias and Andrew Cyrille. I felt that choosing this quartet to open was a good idea and their set was indeed splendid. Ms. Anker is a fine alto saxist who can be heard on a trio disc with Marilyn & Marilyn Mazur and another trio disc with Craig Taborn & Gerald Cleaver. Although Ms. Crispell has been concentrating on more restrained and melodic piano on her last few ECM discs, this is only one part of her overall sound/music whenever I've heard her live for the last few gigs. While one piece was lovely and quietly haunting, the next piece had some intense, explosive moments. At this set, as well as at another Crispell Qt. set a few months ago at the Miller Theatre (w/ Joe Lovano, Helias & Paul Motian), I felt that Mark Helias' bass solo was the highlight of both strong sets. His playing just gets better and better. What I really dug about this quartet was the way they would take a melodic fragment and slowly turn it inside out. A perfect opening set.
As a big fan of the Dutch avant-jazz scene (ICP, Breuker Kollektief & Braam’s bands), it was the highly anticipated set of Cor Fuhler's Corkestra that we were lucky to witness. Corkestra is an unusual eight-piece sort-of double band featuring Fuhler on piano, Nora Muller on cimbalom, Ab Baars & Tobias Delius on tenor sax & clarinet, Anne La Berge on flutes, Wilbert de Joode on bass and Michael Vatcher & Tony Buck both on drums. The first piece began as a trio with Ab Baars on tenor, Nora on cimbalom and Tony Buck on drums, all playing cautiously before the entire octet takes off. Throughout the set the cimbalom (a hammered dulcimer) would play intricate parts and harmonies with Mr. Fuhler as he played inside the piano. Fuhler often wrote fascinating parts for the tenors and the flute which sounded much closer to modern classical than to jazz. Vatcher played some eerie bowed saw on a couple of the pieces, the first & only time I can remember seing/hearing a cimbalom on stage was with Van Dyke Parks at the Bottom Line. What I dug about this set was that although there were eight players, it often broken down into different trios or quartets, with evolving sections of spaciousness and restraint. Both drummers worked together well, one would lead while the other would embellish. Some of this reminded me more of European modern classical with some bird-like sounds on the reeds, while other sections recalled some charming Duke Ellington-like melodies or structures. The final piece had one of those great 'Ethiopiques' like dark, cosmic grooves.
The final gig of the night was by Jean-Francois Laporte. No, I hadn't heard of him previously to this set, but I was most impressed. This was the first of four midnight sets at the college (Cegep in French) and it took place in a spiral staircase down the hallway from the regular performance space. At the top of a staircase, Mr. Laporte sat in a chair with two large cardboard tubes tied to the sides of the chair. Two balloons were stretched across the fronts of both tubes with an air-hose coming from each balloon. Laporte had an airflow switch attached to both hoses, which he would slowly turned on and also would twist the other balloon slowly as he regulated the air flow. Two mics were sitting near the ends of each tube. What happened was as he regulated the airflow, the balloons would resonate and change textures and tempos. It was both fascinating to watch as well as to listen to. The stairwell was the perfect place to witness this piece as they sounds slowly changed and everyone got a different view of what Laporte was doing. His final piece was a bit dangerous to check out as he stood on the chair and swung a large beer can with some small wings attached in circles not far from the heads of the folks who were checking it out. The sound it made was also interesting, but the thrill or fear that one of us might get smashed in the head or body by this flying object did add some adrenalin to our already cautious late-night excitement. It was a great first day at Victo.
One of the odd things about Victo Fest is the way the schedule is laid out. Except for the first and last day, the other three days begin with a concert at 1pm, so you have to be ready for just about anything adventurous, loud or quiet or in-between. The first set on day two was a trio with Michael Snow (Toronto-based artist & film director from the CCMC) on piano & synth, Alan Licht (NY-based & former booking person for Tonic) on electric guitar and Aki Onda (also NY-based for the past few years) on tapes & mixing board. Although it started out quietly with taped voices, spacious piano and restrained guitar noodling, this didn't last very long. I had only heard Mr. Snow play more jazzy piano with the CCMC in the past, but here he was doing more eerie sounds on his synth. Aki Onda is a wizard of sonic selections via cassette tapes and did a swell job of spinning a web of taped sounds and adding them layer by layer. Whereas electronic improv on labels like Erstwhile and For Four Ears, is most often subdued and spacious, here it was often dark and unnerving and occasionally dense. It was a strange way to start the day, but nonetheless appropriate for the noise-lovers amongst us. What it most reminded of was the disturbing feeling that I've had since NY has become the epicenter of over-priced condos and restaurants with whatever culture is left being squeezed out.
Theresa Transistor is a rather silly name for four serious electronic music composers working together in a quartet. I remember enjoying solo efforts from two of these composers, Christian Calon & Christian Bouchard, on the Empreintes Digitales label. The quartet played in the center of the colosseum on a stage with the audience surrounding them, this often works to their advantage especially if one checks out their individual set-ups and the way the sounds are dispersed in numerous speakers around the room. It began with Erstwhile-like ultra subtle electronic sounds, the textures slowly shifting. Layers of sampled voices appeared and would slowly melt or bend around one another. I liked that we had to calm down and just let the sounds happen at their own subdued level with occasional unexpected eruptions. It reminded me of an experimental radio show where different layers of electronic sounds were well-placed in a stream. A story was unfolding if you listening the right way.
One of the most highly anticipated sets at Victo this year was the next one: John Zorn on solo alto sax (at the cinema). It was even better than anyone could have expected. Although Mr. Zorn has been playing solo sax sets for nearly thirty years, in the last decade his solo sets are very rare. He played two sets (& recorded one) at his 50th birthday festival at Tonic and did an historic solo set in Mexico a few years back. That's about it. In the late 70's & early 80's, Zorn would play in front of a small table with dozens of mouthpieces, bird or game calls and a cup of water to play into. He rarely put his sax or clarinet together and developed his own vocabulary on mostly mouthpieces. You can hear these early solo sax sounds on two albums from a CD called 'Classic Guide to Strategy'. Zorn has continued to explore and develop his distinctive sounds and techniques, often without taking his sax apart. This set was a culmination of the many different extended explorations that Zorn has developed over many years. The one thing that continues to amaze me is when Zorn starts playing two or more lines simultaneously, often circular breathing in streams as he does this. I know that Zorn was initially inspired by Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker as far as the circular explorations go, but he has gone beyond his initial inspiration and come up with something new, unique and incredible to behold. For each piece at this special set, Zorn would explore and work a variety of ideas and turn them into musical magic. There were moments when he would weave so many fragments of notes that different lines or melodies would appear and intersect. Zorn was in a good mood this evening and was delighted to be pushing himself and challenging the audience at the same time. Towards the end, he did play a section with just his mouthpiece and his hands as a mute. It was a joyous moment for old Zorn fans like myself and a delight to his newer fans who realize that Zorn still has some surprises in store. For me, it was a perfect set and I know it delighted the audience. Mr. Zorn received an ovation and did a couple of well-deserved encores, holding his sax up in the air to show that his sax also deserved some credit.
From a completely different side of the sonic spectrum came The Melvins at the colosseum. I have to admit that I did catch the Fantomas-Melvins Big Band at Victo a couple of years back and was impressed with their massive yet tight sound. The new version of the Melvins is now a quartet with two drummers, electric bass and Buzz Osborne on lead guitar and vocals. Buzz is that big dude with a large afro that also plays in the Fantomas. The Melvins were very loud and sludge-like, yet very tight and they rocked hard. Although I am certainly getting older (at 53), I was weaned on rock music and still enjoy some of what it offers, but the bludgeoning volume and danger of being knocked into by those who are slamming up front, is a bit too much for me. I was once almost killed at a Butthole Surfers show and still have occasional nightmares about it. I was pleasantly surprised to hear The Melvins cover "Ballad of Dwight Fry" from an early Alice Cooper album ('Love it to Death') that I still dig. But, I wasn't quite sure why they covered "Okie from Muskokee" not once but twice?!? I didn't know that Buzz sang lead and that he had a fine voice, similar to Jim Morrison at times. Michel often finds a way to make the kids happy with gigs like this, but I'm not sure how much the rest of the adults appreciate this stuff.
Another highly anticipated show was by the legendary Japanese band Koenji Hyakkei, who had never been in North America. The band is led by Ruins main-man, Tatsuya Yoshida, who plays drums, sings and writes and arranges the music. This band has been around since 1994 and the current version is a quintet with Ms. Aki Kuboto on vocals, Ms. Keiko Komori on soprano sax, a great electric keyboard player (not Hoppy Kamiyama as mentioned in the program), Kengo Sakamoto on electric bass & voice and Tatsuya on drums & voice. Tatsuya is widely known as a Magma fanatic, so his writing and the bands’ overall sound is highly influenced by Magma. The music was exuberant, super-tight, difficult (quick changing) and consistently well-played. Both their soprano saxist and keyboard player (electric piano & synth) played a number of spirited solos, but it was the music itself that stood out as dynamic progressive rock at its best. Tatsuya's drumming is often astonishing and powerful and both he, the bassist and keyboardist played this complex music with passion and finesse. This was another a midnight concert at the college and again the perfect way to end a fine day of diverse and difficult music.
The third day began with an electronic quintet featuring Jason Kahn (percussion & electronics), Gunter Muller (former drummer and head of the For Four Ears label, just doing electronics nowadays), Norbet Moslang (from Voice Crack) on cracked electronics, Tomas Korber (el. guitar) and Christian Weber (acoustic bass). All five of these men can be heard in a variety of improv situations and contexts. This was another 1pm set and a good way to begin our long day of six sets. This set was very focused lower-case improv. The sounds started out as ultra-subtle distant drones with the sparse squeaks of occasional contrabass and/or percussion. The quintet did a good job of slowing time down so that we could observe the textures of the sounds under a magnifying glass. Most impressive and consistently fascinating.
The next set was Victoriaville Matiere Sonore, which looked interesting on paper turned to be less so. This concert took place at the colosseum and was again in the center of the room with the audience surrounding the players. The idea was the eight sonic manipulators would sample sounds around Victoriaville and then remix the results at this concert one player at a time, one after the other. The problem for me was that there is not much going in Victoriaville throughout the year except for when the festival occurs. I should know since my fiance lives there and I visit a few times each year. For me the only sounds that remind me of Victo are Michel Levasseur's voice doing his introductions, Huguette's voice, her dog Victor's barking and the public radio we listen to. I felt that each of the sonic explorers had a minimum of sounds/information to work with and each had about ten minutes to do their segment. Some sections worked well when the sounds were interesting or manipulated into something different. What it did was it made us focus on what we were actually hearing and what was being done to those sounds. Each person's technique and approach was different, so the results varied from fascinating to interesting to moments where not much was going on.
Larry Peacock is/are a female trio of odd characters from Germany, more involved with performance art than music. It was also one of those sets that made me question exactly why they were chosen over the dozens (hundreds?) of more interesting bands out there. All three women dressed like men and did make us question what they were trying to do. The central figure was Antonia Baehr a/k/a Henri Fleur who dressed as pudgy man in a big business suit with a nice vest. She spoke or sang in parts and had a strange detached demeanor. One of the women played a bit of trumpet and the other some vibes, but mostly they did some goofy skits or sang Residents-like ditties that did nothing for me. I could tell that they were making fun of the expectations and some male/female perceptions, but I still found it tedious and unnecessary in a festival that claims to have challenging music from around the world.
Another great surprise was the set by Carla Bozulich, once of the Geraldine Fibbers and Scarnella, (a duo with Nels Cline) and having recently released a new solo effort. I had caught the Geraldine Fibbers on their final tour at the Knit when Nels was in the band and was impressed by them. I was even more knocked out when I caught Carla do her tribute to Willie Nelson, both on disc, ("The Red Headed Stranger") and live at Tonic, as well as her noise duo with Nels, Scarnella. Carla has a newer solo disc out called "Evangelista" where she is backed by members of different Quebecois bands, all female. I read good reviews of this disc and was eagerly looking forward to this show. Carla did deliver the goods and I was completely enchanted. Her band consisted of violin (Jessica Moss), cello (Becky Foon), electric bass (Tara Barnes), keyboard (Nadia Moss) and with Carla on occasional electric guitar. Carla has a rather dark yet enticing stage presence and wore a frumpy dress, that made her seem quite real-to-life and not like a posturing rock star. The first piece had that devilish drone that Velvet Underground specialized in with the strings buzzing eerily. Both Carla's voice and the music she wrote had a powerful, demanding undertow that was hard to deny. Carla explained at one point that she was not a very good guitarist, but still she knew how to use every sound, every bent note just right. Her songs were a collection of broken sounds, exposed nerves and twisted melodies. The funny thing is it worked since she pulled them directly from her heart, directly from her soul. She was not afraid to let the demons out and we are all felt better for it.
Folks came from far and wide to witness the only North American performance by Acid Mother Gong, an eight-piece all-star band that spanned generations and continents. The membership featured Daevid Allen (original Gong-master since 1970) on glissando guitar & lead vocals, Gilli Smyth (original Mother Gong sorceress) on space whisper, Josh Pollock (University of Errors, Daevid's US outfit) on space/rock guitar, three members of Acid Mother Temple: Makoto Kawabata on lead guitar, Hiroshi Higashi on synth & Atsushi Tsuyama on el. bass, plus their guest Keiko Komori on soprano sax and Tatsuya Yoshida on drums. It began righteously with Gilli Smyth's sublime space whisper intro as the band played soft cosmic vibrations around her, slowly taking off into outer space. Daevid Allen burst on stage in a great outfit with a clerical collar and a hand-painted long shirt and screamed "Viva Quebec!" as the band exploded into an intense space-rockin' insanity. Both guitarists (Kawabata & Josh) let their axes erupt with squealing, molten guitar, feedback and played massive lead solos. It felt wonderful to have these waves of focused rock/noise wash over us. After that part of our journey, Gilli again brought us back down to Mother Earth with an appropriate poem about the childish antics of George Bush, as the band played a fine, folky repeating mantra-like groove around her voice. The band played a series of intense space-rocking jams, each more intense than the one before it. Kawabata took a handful of screaming guitar solos that were completely mind-blowing while Hiroshi provided some cosmic glue with his swirling synth. Guest soprano saxist, Keiko, also a played some fine soprano sax throughout, took a couple of inspired solos. You couldn't get any better than the rhythm team of Atushi (AMT) on bass and Tatsuya (Ruins) on drums, as they constantly fanned the flames of intensity on each piece.
I must admit that I didn’t really need another midnight concert after the five previous sets I had seen that day, so I went home and missed Magic Markers, but I did hear good reports about this gig.
The fourth day commenced with Quasar (Sax Quartet) plus Alexandre Burton & Julien Roy on visual & audio treatments. Nothing sounds quite like the sound of a sax quartet at 1pm in the afternoon. The Quasar sax quartet opened abruptly with some intense, freer-sounding (four) saxes weaving together in layers, the soprano and alto playing one loop, the tenor and bari playing another loop. For the second piece the quartet switched to three altos & one tenor and some electronics were added. It was a much more minimal piece with one drone at a time floating in the air. There was a camera on the mic stand for the saxes that was projected onto the screen above. Julian and Alexandre took the images of the saxes and slowly altered them on the screen above. The visuals often lagged behind what was on the screen and were not nearly as interesting as the quartet’s own movements. The third piece featured the saxes without their mouthpieces and the quartet did a great job of using odd sounds like breathing, percussive tapping, odd harmonies and wind-like drones to make the piece work. The saxists eventually switch to their mouthpieces only and again provided some interesting sounds, something that John Zorn has developed and is now part of the modern sax vocabulary. On the last two pieces the electronics were used most successfully. First, the tongue-slapping sounds of the saxes were altered subtly, then the samples were then played back and slowly manipulated. The saxes and samples became more dense by the second half of this piece and the outcome was a marvelous blend of acoustic and electronic sounds.
The following set was another highly anticipated one, Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Trio. It was more like a quartet with an almost invisible fourth member, Braxton’s Super-Collider (software for his) computer. This new trio featured Mary Halvorson on guitar, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, trumpets & odd horns and Mr. Braxton on alto sax, sopranino sax, concert bass & bass sax, etc. Braxton’s computer was interactive but only heard on occasion, as the real interaction took place between these three master musicians. As Taylor Ho Bynum switched between a half dozen horns, the next section of the piece would took place. Mary does not play guitar like anyone else and seems to come up with new ideas and sounds whenever she plays. Although she has that jazz guitar-like tone, she is always finding new ways to break our expectations. She will turn her pick-ups down, so that it sounds like she is playing an acoustic guitar, as well as playing chords in her own weird way and then work with some more restrained feedback that sounds completely original and unexpected. What is truly amazing about this trio is the way they work together, weaving fragments of notes into new combinations at every turn. Braxton has been bringing back his concert bass sax, that ridiculous looking 6-foot tall sax that remains in a stand and is wheeled into place. It is a joy to watch him play that gargantuan sax and get more sounds out of it that one would think possible. Besides being an incredible composer, teacher and philosopher, Mr. Braxton is a master reeds player/explorer. In this trio he has found two other kindred spirits who can match wits with him that is no small feat. The electronics were the least interesting member of this group, just providing occasional shadows and ghost-like sounds that were difficult to notice. This was alien communication at its best, like three planets circling one another in measured orbits and more like the best modern classical sounds, than modern jazz.
I’ve known Hans Tammen for many years and have seen & heard him play his endangered guitar on a number of occasions in solos and duos, mostly at the store. Hans’ duo set with a dancer named Fine Kwiatkowski was next and if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have any clue who that person was up on stage. In the past, Hans has played his guitar on his lap or on the table and manipulated it with assorted objects, similar in ways to what we’ve often heard from Fred Frith. I got to this set a bit late and ended up sitting on the floor against the wall to the left and could not see what Hans was doing. What I heard was loud, intense, focused and rarely guitar-like. Hans also had a computer or sampler and manipulated his sounds with the skill of a mad scientist. Fractured electronic sounds, bent string weirdness, noise eruptions and with some Merzbow-like intensity and sound/noise. I was relieved when Hans finally laid back and played some more sparse sounds, always choosing every note with care. The sounds were often cinematic, rarely melodic and occasionally brutal. Fine was thin yet tough-looking and animal-like in her movements. She would contort herself in variety of odd ways. I found her dancing to be both fascinating and a bit disturbing. It worked well with Hans’ equally scary array of sonic manipulations.
One of the only disappointments of this festival was that AMM’s pianist, John Tilbury, had canceled at the last moment due to health problems. I did have the good fortune to see AMM play a handful of sets in New York in the last decade, but since then Mr. Tilbury now refuses to play here due to the political situation in the US. Hence, the next set was supposed to include him. It did feature an old friend of mine, Stevie Wishart on violin & hurdy-gurdy, Christof Kurzmann on computer & clarinet and Werner Dafeldecker on contrabass & electronics. You should know of Ms. Wishart from a fine trio disc with Fred Frith & Carla Kihlstedt on Intakt from last year, as well as her work with the Chris Burn Ensemble and Machines for Making Sense from Australia. Kurzmann & Dafeldecker can be heard on various discs on labels like Erstwhile, Grob and Charhizma. If you’ve never heard a hurdy-gurdy, you really should. It is an odd-liking instrument that you play by turning the handle in circles as you push down on strings that are rubbed by a resin wheel. The set began with Stevie’s hurdy-gurdy providing an enchanting drone as Werner would also play eerie drones with his bowed bass. Christof slowly wove subtle electronic sounds within the drones, sounds drifting softly and then ominously as they evolved. I dug the way Christof’s electronic sounds were occasionally harsh yet soft at the same time. The overall sound of the weazing hurdy-gurdy, slightly bent drones of the bowed bass and quietly disturbing electronics were both haunting and unnerving simultaneously.
The one set that I was most looking forward to was Anthony Braxton’s 12+1Tet, which was next and again in the colosseum. I heard three sets by this amazing group last year at the Iridium and was blown away by each set. Just a couple of months ago, a 10-disc box-set by this group was released and it is one of the great treasures of the year. The personnel features Mr. Braxton, Steve Lehman, James Fei & Andrew Dewar on reeds, Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets, Nicole Mitchell on flutes, Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon, Jessica Pavone on violin, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Reut Regev on trombone, Jay Rozen on tuba, Carl Testa on contrabass & bass clarinet and Aaron Siegel on percussion. All one could say was that this set was absolutely brilliant. The piece began with an hourglass being turned upside-down. Mr. Braxton refers to this development in his music as “accelerated ghost-trance”, so although the musicians began their lines together, they soon break into sub-groups. What happens is one sub-group, say tuba, flute and violin, starts playing one written part while the rest of the ensemble plays another related chart. Different players pick other partners and hold up a chart or a small blackboard indicating which piece they will play. What is most interesting is the way there are so many intersecting parts that are connected to each other, if you are able to hear them at the same time. It was most exhilarating to hear the various sub-groups work its way together and around one another into a cosmic web of activity. Everyone in the ensemble had a chance to both solo and interact with different sub-sections. This set was one of the finest sets that I’ve ever witnessed at any previous Victo set and word is that it will be released on disc in the future.
I probably should’ve gone back home after that spectacular set, but nooooo, I had to check out Fond of Tigers from Vancouver. Sadly, they way too f**king loud and it made me nearly ill from their ridiculous volume. I had to leave when the bass player’s brutal sound felt like it was squeezing my insides out. There seems to be one Canadian band that gets on my nerves every year (Et Sans, Sam Shalabi or Fly Pan Am) and this year’s winner was Fond of Tigers. Oh well.
The final day began with a wonderful set by Joane Hetu’s Ensemble SuperMusique called “Filature”. Joan Hetu runs the great label from Montreal, Ambiances Magnetiques. Her longtime partner is Jean Derome and both of them play alto sax, do vocals and compose at length. Both Joan and Jean consistently release excellent, diverse discs on A.M. and I always look forward to any project that either works on. Just about every year, someone from this label (like Diane Labrosse, Norman Guilbeault, Danielle Roger or Pierre Tanguay) does something special up at Victo. ‘Filature’ is Joan Hetu’s most ambitious project yet and it will take a while to absorb its many layers of ideas. It featured ten musicians, five women and five men with Pierre Hebert doing video projections. Joane refers to it as sound/theatre and that sounds right. Joane was once a weaver before concentrating on becoming a musician and the theme of “weaving” is the central thread throughout this work. The first part is called “The Warp” and featured the five men on alto sax or flute, violin, trumpet, contrabass and drums. The music was an exquisite blend of lovely harmonies, short drones, acappella vocal sections and haunting music. The video images were of a single tree branch with some occasional growth. The second part, “The Weft” featured the five women musicians on violin, cello, flutes, sampler, percussion & alto sax. Most of the women contributed charming vocal sounds along with their contemplative, cinematic music, sometimes sparse but always enchanting. The third and final part was called “The Pattern” and it featured all ten musicians. It began with just a few repeating notes and evolved through different grooves and sections. I love the way the vocals and instruments shared stunning harmonies with each other. Joane has a gift for breaking up the melody and having different members share their lines so that whole band sounds like one refined tapestry of sound. It reminded of the superb magic-music that Fred Frith’s Keep the Dog used to play and yes, Jerome Derome was an integral part of that band many years ago. The images of twine, knots, rope, faces and hands connected with the music just right. It was a marvelous set and I can’t wait for it to be released on disc!
Dr. Eugene Chadbourne is always a perfect antidote to the more serious side of experimental music making and here he was again to make us all smile and often laugh out loud. Dr. Chad played a duo set with a woman named Kevin Blechdom, who is a former student of Fred Frith’s from Mills College. Both Eugene and Kevin started by playing banjos. The duo sang a bunch of traditional tunes but in their own warped way. Starting with “Dance All Night with a Bottle in Your Hand” and then into the bluesy standard “Corina Corina”. Both sang lead and harmonies with each other and it felt great since it was filled with silliness, sloppiness and touching sentiments. Dr. Chad sang a song which explained that “Condoleeza Rice is the only rice that I don’t like” while Kevin played a fine Jew’s harp solo. They did an odd version of “Good Vibrations”, with both players singing different parts at the same time. Eugene sang a hilarious hip-hop song called “Danger”, which made fun of male posturing. And yes it’s true they covered “Interstellar Overdrive” on banjos with a great psych/space/rock guitar solo by Eugene. The highlight for me was Dr. Chad’s righteous and powerful singing on an old blues tune called “Graveyard”, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Eugene sing better. They also did splendid versions of “Ballad of Easy Rider” and “Alabama Jubilee” and ended the set with Kevin raping her banjo and both musicians pulling out cap guns and shooting each other, making fun of the way the US deals with their (gun/war) problems. This set was a breath of fresh air is also being considered for future release.
The final concert took place at the colosseum and began with someone named Daniel Menshe. Mr. Menshe sat at a table and played amplified noise. He opened by playing a harmonica with delays and looped it until it became thick, dense, dark and somewhat disturbing. Daniel then held a metal strip with a contact mic to his throat and screamed, again looping the results into swirling electronic waves. He banged on his body with the metal strip and slowly bent the noisy waves of sounds that were being emitted. He was always manipulating the different waves of noise, reminding me a lawn mower with a bass throb at the center of the sound. It was either too much of one thing or not enough variety to make most of friends happy, I only liked some of the sections, but not the entire set.
The festival concluded with two Japanese giants of noise collaborating together for the first time: Merzbow and Haino Keiji! Merzbow played mostly two laptops while Haino played a variety of devices: his voice, electric guitar, a stringed-thing that I’ve never seen, those theremin-like things and drums. Merzbow started with some analogue-sounding feedback/noise that he would slowly alter. Haino began with his voice, which was almost angelic in nature and did no screaming, something he is most known for. Haino has become the master of the sampler of the past few years and does an amazing job of looping just the right selected samples. As Merzbow slowly tweaked his waves of noise, Haino sampled his own voice and created an astonishing chorus of haunting, melodic voices. It sounded unlike anything I’ve ever heard from Haino and many of us were quite surprised. Eventually Haino got into to scary growling sounds with his voice but never overdoing it. Whereas Merzbow often sounded limited on his laptops, he rarely changed his sound very much, Haino was a constant source of delight(s) as he switched from instrument to instrument. Next Haino played a strange acoustic that looked like some ancient Chinese shaman toy. Haino played a long note-bending solo that was both amazing and unique in sound. It worked well with the harsh electronic noise that Merzbow had whipped up. The next section featured Merzbow on this flat, square homemade piece of wood with a spring and pick-ups. Merzbow held it like an electric guitar and wailed some brutal, ugly noise with it. Haino switched to the drums and played them well, soon sampling the drums and repeating this one throbbing, tribal drum sample as Merzbow graced us with layers of screaming noise/feedback. It was completely primal and devastating to deal with at this extreme volume and reminded me of the evil side of Black Sabbath. Haino then moved to those theremin-like metal cups, where he waves his hands to great dramatic effect while he coaxes scary spirits from those devices. The conclusion was Haino on electric guitar, something he is of no doubt a master. This was a perfect culmination to an extremely intense set. I felt that overall Merzbow was somewhat disappointing since his sounds were so limited but that Haino was consistently riveting throughout the long set. It seemed like an odd way to end this festival, but in some ways it was still a triumphant success overall.
After a somewhat disappointing festival in 2006, I felt that this year was much better and a return to the great Victo Fests of yesteryear. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville. So, we know that Michel Levasseur will have to come with some special surprises for this historic event. Word is that The Art Bears will reform just to play at next year’s fest, so you know where me and my friends will be! Thanks once again to Michel and his crew for another amazing year! Who loves you..? We certainly do!
Here my list of suggestions for next year's Victo Fest:
1.JULIE TIPPETTS!! She has never played her own concert in North America throughout her long career and she is an amazing singer! The Robert Wyatt 'Soup Songs' project that she is in would be a perfect choice!
2.THE ICP ORCHESTRA! Always wonderful live and they-ve never been to Victo
3.BARRY GUY NEW ORCHESTRA!
4.GLOBE UNITY ORCHESTRA! They still play once in awhile, so why wait!?!
5.KAZUTOKI UMEZU'S KIKI BAND - they rule, check out any of their CD's!
6.NED ROTHENBERG DOUBLE BAND! Three amazing discs & they rarely play!
7.SCORCH TRIO – Raoul Bjorkenheim/Ingebrit Haker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love
8.TISZIJI MUNOZ/MARILYN CRISPELL QUARTET!
9.CATHERINE JAUNIAUX/MARC RIBOT - their sets at Tonic were great!
10.SOFT MACHINE LEGACY with PAUL DUNMALL special guest!