Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 1 - May 20, 2010

Gordon Marshall By

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Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville
Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada
May 20, 2010

Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV), translated into English, is an acronym meaning Victoriaville International Festival of Contemporary Music—or, more precisely, "Now" music, or, "the music of now." It distinguishes itself from, say, a festival like New York's Vision Fest, by never letting its avant-garde legitimacy come into question. This is a tall order and, it might even be argued, a self-defeating one. After all, Vision Fest is still cutting edge; it's just that its players are typically more seasoned, showing they have stood the test of time.

In any festival, a balance must be struck somehow, between presenting the new material and doing so with some quality control. FIMAV has ingeniously found ways of reaching that formula. One was by putting itself on hiatus for a year, in 2009. This pause gave the team, led by artistic director and founder Michel Levasseur, the opportunity to address both conceptual and financial issues. Though it has been a swimming success for 26 seasons, the festival as it has returned this year, in 2010, has indeed reformed itself conceptually, focusing much more on indigenous Quebecois styles.

Books could be written about Canada's blissful lack of preoccupation with a patriotic identity, and all the good this does for it culturally, letting it clear and blend international strains in the arts. This, against an environmental background that is still very much a frontier. May 20, 2010 was still only the first night of FIMAV, but it promised to represent a new hope for this northern nation, and particularly its French-speaking province of Quebec, to define a new musical aura for a new millennium that is iconoclastic while still respecting tradition, and draws its power from a stylistic eclecticism that avoids being clunky by drawing right from the roots of world idioms.


Before getting to the evening's highlight act, mention should be made of the festival openers, the French duo of Jean-Jacques Birge and Antoine Schmitt, who put on a double performance. The first part, titled "Mascarade," consisted of a kind of radio collage generated by two laptops, but which were supplemented with actual radios that picked up a nearby station. Samples of what sounded like Ravi Shankar, "The Nutcracker," Enrico Caruso and various hip-hop artists chafed at one another. The radio collage was nothing new in itself, and Birge and Schmitt couldn't compare to the most salient example—The Beatles' "Revolution #9," from The Beatles (Apple, 1968). However, the pair added a visual dimension to the spectacle, wherein their faces were seen in solarized black and white close-ups behind them, sometimes distorted into crystal-like formations. In addition, their computers were rigged in such a way that hand/arm levitation could induce therermin-like effects.

In all this was a pleasant, mind-expanding experience, though a little sloppy. They made up for it with their feature, which they called Naboz'Mob. This consisted of a grand team of mechanical rabbits, each with a synthesizer and speaker inside of its "tummy." The rabbits emitted colored light in shifting patterns and configurations. At first it had the charm of a mellow fireworks display, or some particularly tasteful Christmas decorations. But as it unfolded, the patterns and sounds became more haunting and ethereal. In the long run it really was quite remarkable and had the power to make forays into the childhood unconscious.

Sam Shalabi's Land of Kush

Sam Shalabi's Land of Kush takes its name from an ancient Saharan empire. However, Kush is also the name of Africa's mythical first ancestor. A 22-piece band, replete with harp, flutes, guitars, synthesizers and two upright basses, this was a group with geographical karma to spare. Spinning together spare obbligatos on oud or violin that segued into intense Egyptian dance rock-outs, and then into space-prog, the outfit brought to mind another great band from a Francophone land, France's Magma. But whereas Magma are rooted in space-travel and the '60s, Land of Kush never looked back. They explored the sublime secrets of the globe's own terrain, rediscovering new frontiers in ancient stomping grounds. Their performance never stopped; lasting 80 minutes, it just kept pushing up the Nile through Africa.

It's possible to question whether someone of Shalabi's generation, who doesn't remember the '60s, can really produce authentic psychedelia. On that point, Shalabi was not afraid to lift from The Beatles themselves point blank, in the sleekest, sliest way—all the while utterly transforming and grafting the latter onto a new template for a new music for a new future.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Martin Morissette

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