Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 2 - May 18, 2007
One of the great things about the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV) is that, unlike many festivals, it's possible to attend every show. With three venuesa movie theater, converted arena and intimate room in an educational institution (CEGEP, one of a network of 48 post-secondary schools in Quebec), shows are programmed to cycle through the venues two times on the festival's busiest days (Saturday and Sunday). Within reasonable walking distance, the layout allows sufficient time between performances for attendees to get to the next venue.
Day two of the 24th edition of FIMAV ran the gamut from acoustic to electro-acoustic to eardrum-shattering electric, and from unadorned free improv to metal spectacle. Just another day in the life of FIMAV.
The first show of the day was proof that the most unconventional of instruments can be used to create imaginative soundscapes. Canadian pianist/electronic manipulator Michael Snow has led a life of diversity as a celebrated avant-garde filmmaker and improvising artist. New York-based guitarist Alan Licht has operated in a variety of musical spheres, influenced by everything from the minimalism of Steve Reich to no wave bands like Sonic Youth. Japanese-born, New York-based Aki Onda is an equally intrepid artist who, aside from composition, production and photography, uses a most unlikely instrumenta cassette Walkmanto create a personal view of music as texture and experience.
The trio's hour-long performance, while not its first, found them still very much in exploratory territory, looking for ways to shape sounds ranging from spare and atmospheric to dense and industrial. Snow began on piano, and while his approach was unencumbered free play, a brief humorous snippet at the end of the performance demonstrated that even the most unfettered artists are often grounded in conventions, or at least options they may choose to employ or disregard . Repeated motifs evolved into aggressive block chords and furious flurries of notes.
Michael Snow, Alan Licht, Aki Onda
Licht entered gradually, his playing early in the set the closest to conventional guitar tonality that would be heard during the group's set. With reverse looping followed by a relatively clean tone, he created cascading lines that interacted with Snow's contributionssometimes at odds, other times managing to connect more directly. But after the first few minutes, all pretense of instrument usage common to all three musicians fell by the wayside, with Licht using his instrument more like a controller to generate sounds that were then radically altered by his array of effects. Onda's entry was even more deliberate, slowly adding texture to the gradually intensifying and occasionally assaultive mix.
Once Snow moved off piano to a mid-1970s Kat synthesizer and Licht began to make use of his array of processing gear, any semblance of following familiar conventions in the creation of musical phrases was abandoned. Difficult though it was to discriminate exactly who was doing what, careful visual attention paid off. Snow and Licht could both be seen adjusting controls that synched up with some of the harsh textureseven, at times, linked to transient or oscillating electronic rhythms that would occasionally surface, only to disappear again, as the ambience turned even more aggressive, increasingly occupying the foreground.
That Onda could use for "samples" personally created cassette recordings so effectively and in so many ways was among the impressive accomplishments of this demanding set. While one might not think that the kind of electronic-noise improv this trio makes would be a moving experience at the visceral level (the way, say, music with a defined pulse is), Onda's physical engagement laid waste to any such misguided notion. At times he would extract a sound from his Walkman, hit play and then pull sharply back on the hand-held unit, creating an acutely felt sonic shift. Like Snow and Licht, he also processed his native sounds, often beyond all recognition.
While there was little relationship to the familiar, the set had its own form, even if suggestive of a relentless barrage of sound. Snow, at various points, put a portable radio up to a microphone, broadcasting whatever he happened to find, including a radio announcer discussing a festival taking place in Victoriaville. Like many other moments during this often intense spatial-temporal audioscape, serendipity reignedthe postmodern self-referentiality of the radio announcement being a prime example. But perhaps what made the set so interesting was, above all, the audience' awarenesss that many of the sounds being produced by Snow, Licht and Onda were as new to the artists as to the audience. Improvisation as texture, not as rhythm, melody or fixed form.