Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 3 - May 19, 2007
With a festival as inherently risk-taking as the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV), it's a given that some shows will work better than others. There may also be failed experiments, but it's to the festival's credit that it doesn't rely on the tried-and-true. Invariably, even the less-successful performances are, at the very least, worth checking out.
Day three of the 24th edition of FIMAV was all about operating without a safety netand, as usual, within a wide array of musical contextswith some of this year's most and least successful shows yet.
With the emphasis that the festival has placed on electro-acoustics this year, the often "foreign" sounds make it a challenge to determine, from a technical standpoint, how one performance rates against another. That said, perhaps it's better to base the success or failure of these experiments in texture and three- dimensional soundscaping less on production than on the effect: a performance's emotional resonance with the listener and the appearance, at least, of some form of thematic-structural arc across often lengthy pieces. Based on these criteria, the day's first performance by Signal Quintetconsisting of Swiss experimentalists Jason Kahn, Tomas Korber, Norbert Moslang, Gunter Muller and Christian Weberrates as the most successful of its kind this year.
Signal Quintet: Jason Kahn, Tomas Korber, Christian Weber, Gunter Muller, Norbert Moslang
While the stage was largely devoted to assorted electronic gear, there were a couple of conventional instrumentsKahn's single snare drum and Weber's double-bass. But any semblance of traditional expectations of the instruments was quickly dispensed within the first few minutes of the quintet's opening 45-minute improvisation. Kahn used only his hands (often only his fingers) to create subtle rhythms that he then processed and fed to his band mates. Weber's application was more acoustic, but he rarely played the instrument in a normal fashionopting, instead, to create odd sonorities by bowing below the bridge, or even the body, of the bass, rubbing the strings, and more.
Unlike the electro-acoustic performances of Day Two, when it sometimes appeared as if sheer density and field placement substituted for narrative coherence, this show was all about purpose and gradual development. Rarely possessing any form of melodic content, it nevertheless told a story and found the quintet members speaking with a clear and unified voice. Rather than overt sonic assaults, the performance was filled with understatement and nuance, demonstrating a remarkably subtle interaction. For those who feel that sound without melody, harmony and rhythmespecially with largely electronic textures as its basisisn't music, performances like this make a compelling argument to the contrary.
Not that there wasn't at least some aspect of conventional music-making. Throughout much of the performance the listener could feel a pulsealbeit a soft onethat was, more often than not, generated by Moslang's optics-driven gear and Khan's "effected" drum. There was often also a droning low-end pedal tone that, along with the delicate beat, created a trancelike ambience that avoided the static and obvious while contributing to the sense overall of a dynamic field.
Free improvisation, whether it be acoustic or electronic, conventional or otherwise, succeeds or fails based on the focus and purpose (or lack thereof) of the participants. Sharing some common ground with the ambient music of Brian Eno, the interactive and improvisational nature of this performance could be equally hypnotic, but differentiated itself by being of a kind that invited scrutiny and demanded specific attention. Regardless of whether or not this collective made music by conventional definition, it demonstrated that beauty can, indeed, be found in the most unexpected of places. In what has already been a strong year for the festival, this performance will, no doubt, go down as one of its best.
Contrasting with Signal Quintet's performance, Victoriaville Matière Sonore was a strong idea on paper that didn't always succeed in the implementation. The premise was good: construct a forum for a number of composers/sound artists to create individual pieces based on field recordings made around the Victoriaville area. Have the process overseen by renowned experimental blender of natural and industrial sounds, Francisco Lopez, and link the pieces together into a single work with a broader overriding arc. In addition to López, AimE Dontigny, Louis Dufort, Chanal Dumas, Steve Heimbecker, Mathieu LEvesque, HElène PrEvost and Thomas Phillips all contributed to the 90-minute show.
Francisco López / Victoriaville Matière Sonore
Similar to the Theresa Transistor performance on Day Two, but in the larger ColisEe venue, the artists were placed in the center of the hall, surrounded on all sides by the audience and with a sound system facing in around the periphery of the hall. With the equipment setup on a riser with minimal blue lighting, there was little for the audience to watch, encouraging it, instead, to simply absorb the sounds without visuals and to find meanings on a more personal and imagination-driven level.
The eight pieces were linked by a nature recording of birds, used to allow one artist to leave the center stage so that the next could take his/her place. Other than FIMAV CEO and Artistic Director Michel Levasseur's usual spoken introduction to the show, there was no applause between pieces, nor was there any announcement of order of events, so it was impossible to know whose pieces belonged to whom.
Intriguing sounds were many and diverse, ranging from the natural to the artificial, and there was considerable processing applied. Like Theresa Transistor, equal importance was given to where individual sounds appeared and to how they traveled around the aural landscape. The problem was that, to a large extent, the approaches used were obvious and often overly dramatic. Lacking the nuance of Signal Quintet (and, because these were solitary pieces, the interaction of the earlier performance), the overall levels were high, the sounds often overly dense and the collages often too busy for the listener to sense any sort of unified statement.
Sometimes it's good to make the audience come to the music rather than the other way around, and a better balance of dynamics and more discernable narrative for each piece would have made the entire show more successful. Still, credit is due for an imaginative experiment that, some shortfalls notwithstanding, was well worth pursuing.