International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, Day 3-5
A word of warning to the faint of heart: Saturday was Noise Improv day at the 22nd annual International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, and with one notable exception, it was defined almost exclusively by a kind of visceral emotional catharsis that made for an intense and often disturbing experience.
For the first time in the history of FIMAV, director Michel Levasseur enlisted an artist to curate a portion of the festival. Thurston Moore, best known as a member of Sonic Youth, is no stranger to the kind of extreme improvisation that challenges the senses and, for the most part, dispenses with commonly-held traditions like melody and rhythm. In contrast to the more form-intended concept of spontaneous composition, the groups that Moore chose to participate, along with his own project, "Dream Aktion Unit, were more concerned with broader brush strokes. They sacrified form in the pursuit of textural interests, creating a sonic collage where form was disregarded and something more vigorously spatial took its place.
Moore also chose a number of bands that covered a fairly broad spectrum of what might be considered a limited subgenre. Two groups took a 3 pm double bill and turned it into an almost nonstop maelstrom of sturm und drang. Hair Police, including guitarist/vocalist Mike Connoly, drummer Trevor Tremaine and electronics manipulator Robert Beatty, was perhaps the less successful of the two. Playing two extended pieces, the trio was characterized by an almost relentless onslaught of sound with little dynamic shift. The result appeared to be emotionally intense and rewarding for the group, but didn't translate particularly well offstage. Drums aside, the front was so dense that it was often difficult to tell where the sounds were coming from. Even Connoly's processed screams blended so closely with the rest of the sound coming off the stage that, unless one was paying attention, they were completely buried.
The festival programme describes Wolf Eyes as "part terrorist happening, part punk exorcism and part noise carnival. With regular member Aaron Dilloway on sabbatical, electronics manipulator/vocalist and saxophonist/electronics manipulator John Olson asked Mike Connoly to join them. Despite their extreme reputation, their set demonstrated more diversity and dynamics than Hair Police, giving the two long pieces more definition and flow.
A big surprise was the appearance of saxophonist Anthony Braxton, apparently a fan of the band for some time, who met them at the hotel the previous night and not only agreed to sit in, but was excited to do so. While his furious runs were sometimes lost in the sheer volume, there was a moment of brief respite where, over a dark layer of electronics, he and Olson worked off each other, creating an uncharacteristically harmonic passage consisting of ever-shifting long tones that was in stark contrast to the bulk of the performance. Wolf Eyes was also texturally broader than Hair Policewith Olson playing some form of horn in addition to his saxophone, as well as some kind of rudimentary stick with strings attachedand, with their attention to dynamics as a means of dramatic conveyance, proved of greater interest.
The 5 pm show provided some needed respite from the sonic barrage of Hair Police and Wolf Eyes. Stefano Scodanibbio is a classical double-bassist from Italy who possesses the kind of remarkable technique that, in the hands of a lesser musician, might be an end in itself. But for Scodanibbiowho performed a short piece by Luciano Berio, "Sequenza 14, before presenting his 45 minute-long original composition, "Voyage That Never Ends facility is clearly only a means to a very musical end.
Scodanibbio's wide array of extended techniques was in evidence from the first moments of the performance. Tapping the neck with both hands, extracting oddly-placed harmonics and demonstrating ability for the subtlest of nuance with a bow, he took the Berio piece, originally written for cello but rearranged by Scodanibbio for bass, and made it a thing of beautya showcase for the broader potential of an instrument commonly misconstrued as somehow inherently self-limiting.
"Voyage That Never Ends, released in '98 on the New Albion label, gradually unfolded with a certain minimalist sensibility, demonstrating Scodanibbio's ability to build on a simple bow-defined rhythm by introducing harmonics and overtones to give the early part of the piece its shape. Even more than the Berio piece, Scodanibbio's clear control of the instrument during "Voyage That Never Ends resulted in a melodic and rhythm orchestration that turned his bass into an instrument of endless possibilities.