Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville 2011
And as far as that uneasy brotherhood between volume and clarity goes, the most extreme example was a quintet made up of French electronicist Richard Pinhas, Japanese noise master Merzbow and the extreme heaviness of the Michigan trio Wolf Eyes. Two guitars, a keyboard, a laptop, a cymbal, a saxophone and plenty of electronics occupied the room in what was assembled, one supposes, to be the loudest thing since noise bands Borbetomagus and Hijokaidan shared the same stage in 2006. Still, they opened with distinct textures and an organizational sense that was nearly symphonic. The first 20 minutes were pristine, beautiful even, and at a deafening level. Even within the din, there were distinct voices (although telling whose voice was whose was another matter). If they didn't keep up that high standard of interplay for the whole of the set, they had earned themselves room to relax into a bit of reductivism.
Festival director Michel Levasseur specializes in finding or curating such unexpected pairings, and one such wonderful meeting on the program was the North American premiere of French turntablist eRikm with percussionist FM Einheit of the legendary German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. eRikm showed a great knack for using scratch techniques against the raw pounding of Einheit, who played an amplified suspended metal coil with a hammer and doubled on a piece of sheet metal the size of a door covered with chunks of cement (musique concrète?), which he proceeded to break further with his hammer and shuffle and drop with his hands, kicking up a cloud of dust. When he struck them with his hammer, sparks flew. Literally. Even underneath the cloud of dust from the breaking of rubble, the raw primitivist rhythms were clear as a bell.
Australian pianist Anthony Pateras deals with volume, even when making very quiet music. Some of his best work involves a softly played but heavily amplified and prepared piano. For FIMAV, he appeared in the duo Pivixki, with drummer Max Kohane of Australian grindcore band Agents of Abhorrence. They were exciting and visceral, being only a rhythm section but not trying transcend that (or pretend that they had). Pateras played some melodic chord figures at times, but it wasn't really about riffs. It was about modes and textures and, again, clarity within intensity.
Few might better typify the crossroads of clarity and intensity than the German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who appeared twice at the festival in honor of his 70th birthday. He brought a new trio with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Massimo Pupillo (Brötzmann seems to have a thing of late for Italian electric power-bassists). When they hit full stop, it worked on the brain something like the Braxton set: There was far too much to take in, even if there were only three of them. The density and the attack were a challenge to muscle through which of course is exactly why it was so exciting.
The Brötzmann attack was made easier to unpack the following day, when he played a solo and magnificently unamplified set. (He didn't need a mike, and even joked at a press conference that morning about a concert with an electric guitarist where he couldn't be heard: "And I can play rather loudly if I want," he exclaimed in exaggerated understatement.) Without the conflagration of the trio, he had nothing more than the slight acoustic decay of the movie theater to augment his brusque and forceful reading of standards and improvised ballads. He played with a forceful whisper and, as the set progressed, with his usual bluster as he folded in a mix of reed flutter and overtone, pushing with a magnified focus on repeated runs and single notes, examining the parallels and crosscurrents, really, of communication, of shared existence, of how emotions can flow freely or run concurrent, can seem to contradict each other. Had their been a set list, it would do little to outline the set he played. Tunes like "I Surrender Dear" and "Round Midnight" were interpolated within his free-flowing monologue, but in too deeply personal a sense to be framed as "playing the standards." The life lessons were underlined by his encore reading of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," a woman still sad in his telling but crying to be noticed, not alone at home but alone in the crowd, in the world.