Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville 2011
Strangely similar to the Brötzmann (and on the same afternoon) was the solo voice lecture/recital by Dutch voice artist Jaap Blonk. He opened with the repeated sentence "Are you listening?" in his own forceful whisper, slowly pushing in volume and growl. Blonk loosely played the role of Dr. Voxoid, a professor speaking on the history of sound poetry and falling into the subject, seeming to lose himself at times or lose the character for the sanctity of a piece at other times. He performed pieces by pioneers in the field, including Antonin Artaud and Kurt Schwitters, as well as works of his own devise. He performed a suite of pieces he wrote in "Underlinds," a nonsense language he created out of Dutch phonemes, explaining that that way it didn't have to be translated and could be enjoyed by anyone. The pure range of technique Blonk has developeddown to the fricative sounds of his "cheek synthesizer"is impressive, but what might not have been expected within a performance of something that sounds as dryly artful as "sound poetry" was Blonk's sense of humor. He was, along with everything else, quite a good actor with a surprising sense for physical humor.
Sandwiched between the two solo shows was a set by 7K Oaks, a quartet featuring bassist Pupillo, saxophonist Alfred 23 Harth, pianist Luca Venitucci and drummer Fabrizio Spera. They, too, followed a slow ramp-up, opening with slow piano notes and Harth's samples and live processing, layering shades of white noise while the electric bass rumbled. As the mix grew weightier, Harth created a reverse echo of sampled then real saxophones. The prolonged improvisation worked particularly well against the backdrop of Variation kaléidoscopique, a lovely piece of distorted landscape by Montreal video artist Hugues Dugas. As the Oaks played on, the scene was a sweep of forest spun through a distorted mirror. Together they were fairly hypnotic.
Visuals were also key to Stained Resonance, the collaboration of guitarist Nels Cline and painter Norman Wisdom. In previous performances and on their excellent DVD (released in 2010 by Cryptogramophone) they proved they can do a fast show, but nothing was hurried here. Wisdom did quick, painterly sketches, repeating human figures cloaked in sex and death, and just as quickly smears, wipes or paints them away. He demonstrated an ability to paint an S over a circular blob and, in that gesture, suggest the age and ethnicity of the figure just created. Here the movement was slower on both men's parts, which might have made for more thoughtfully constructed music but didn't show Wisdom at the peak of his skills.
Dutch violaist Ig Henneman presented a drummer-less sextet playing chamber compositions with avant jazz soloing, especially from saxophonist Ab Baars and slide trumpeter Axel Dörner. The pieces worked like polarized themes and solos, calls and responses, creating layers that were then skillfully laid over one another or alongside one another with no loss of clarity. One particularly nice piece, "Toe and Heel," was based on the memories of organ improvisations after Mass, named for the technique used in playing foot pedals.
Henneman's band was half Dutch (bassist Wilbert de Joode filling out that side of the equation) and one-third Canadian, with bass clarinetist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner representing the homeland. Another Canadian pianist was also on hand to help make quota. Vancouver's Paul Plimley played a lyrical set, even gospel-tinged at times, which nicely retained its melodicism even when it grew in complexity. He delivered a sort of CV of playing styles, an enjoyably varied recital that exhibited his mastery by demonstrating that speed of playing and shifts in ideas don't necessarily have to come with a sacrifice of harmonic clarity. He made choices that, in immediate hindsight, seemed obvious, but in the moment were rarely apparent; at one moment with the simplicity of a John Lennon piano song, later in a rattling, percussive piece with the piano prepared and sounding like a demented yet mannered harpsichord.
But the heavy Canadian load was the thirtyish-strong Ratchet Orchestra from Montreal. The band counts, among its ranks, some members of that city's vital Ambiances Magnetiques collective, including Freedman, Jean Derome and Tom Walsh, but also includes amateurs and hobbyists, ranging from 15 to 76 years of age. Playing the matinee after predicted and much ballyhooed Rapture, they opened their set with a Sun Ra chant:
It's after the end of the worldProceeding into a variety of stylized jazz piecesrich and distinct if a bit antic-y at times but vibrant neverthelessthe group encored with a piece that echoed of Quebec's wonderfully upbeat and country-tinged folk music.
Don't you know that yet?"