More an enhancement than a replication of Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), Toronto’s VTO2010 festival cherry picks some of FIMAV’s international performers, presenting them with invited Canadian musicians. As these CDs indicate, the improvisers are impressive no matter the location or formation.
One of the most anticipated concerts is the Six at the Music Gallery May 26. An all-star European ensemble, one of its distinguishing characteristic is the supportive synthesizer work of Köln’s Thomas Lehn. Close Up (MonotypeRec. mono024 www.monotyperec.com) demonstrates Lehn’s skills providing the underpinning for Bertrand Gauguet, a technically adroit French saxophonist, plus Viennese quarter-tone trumpeter Franz Hautzinger. As with the Six, electronics are part of this trio’s mix. So on Close Up’s three extended tracks blurry intonation encompasses loops of granulated tones mixed with rumbles and pulses from Lehn, air burbled through the body tube of Gauguet’s saxophones and tremolo buzzing from Hautzinger. Building up in sonic fervor through the intersection of synthesizer pitch shifting, distortion and flanging plus wide-bore whizzes and echoing patterns from the acoustic instruments, the CD climaxes with the over 26-minute Close Up 03. Cricket-like reed chirps and hand-muted brass vibrations are put aside for spectral processing which adds the affiliated extensions of most timbres as they sweep by staccato or glissandi. While the electronics’ wave forms undulate symmetrically, they also output enough percussive drones to subsume technical flaunting. The trumpeter’s braying bell-like reverb and the saxophonist’s feral animal-like squeals consequently meld with thumping synthesizer pedal-point expressions for a satisfying finale.
Colin McLean’s computer processing is also prominent on Everything but the Beginning (Unsounds U17 www.unsounds.com). But so is the prowess of British guitarist Andy Moor, a member of the EX. In Toronto his Music Gallery performance – also on May 26 – is as part of a long-standing duo with French poetess Anne-James Chatton. On this CD, his technical command of the six-string is showcased with McLean’s hardware usually confined to patched rumbles and processed burbles and rebounds. Moor often uses the laptop undercurrent as a click track, linearly exposing single-string snaps, rough twangs or chuffed reverberations. His improvising can be playfully decorative, as when he seconds the sample of a squeak toy on Delta Block. In contrast on The Flower of fixed idea it appears that piezo pickups multiply his twangs so that the theme is pulsed, pushed and twisted into voltage-shaking signals.
Acoustic interaction is also featured on May 19, with the Dans Les Arbes quartet at the Music Gallery. Consisting of one French and three Norwegian musicians, it offers the same sort of extrasensory perception its percussionist Ingar Zach brings to Mural Nectars of Emergence (SOFA Records 528 www.sofamusic.no). Interestingly enough Zach’s “Mural”-mates, Australian flautist/saxophonist Jim Denley and guitarist Kim Myhr, are at FIMAV in a different configuration. Minimalist and atmospheric, the CD’s seven tracks are built up from pointillist dabs of sonic colors, soaking together without abrasion. That doesn’t mean the performance is modest, just unshowy. Zach for instance use wood pops, bowl scrapes, chiming bells and drum-skin rubs to make his points. Meantime Myhr’s guitar preparations allow him to produce hefty church-organ-like chords in some instances, loops of electrified signal-processed clangs elsewhere and constant harsh strumming. Throughout Denley’s masticated split tones propel his saxophone pitches to the patchy edge of hearing with strident wolf whistles, tongue slaps and subterranean growls, while there’s nothing delicate about his buzzing flute expositions. Flash Expansion is particularly noteworthy. With Myhr’s rhythmic rasgueado meeting up with amplified drum-top rubs and harsh reed reflux, the processed loops bring the narrative in-and-out-of-focus, with the sound menacing and motor-driven one minute, the next as weightless as waves lapping against the sea shore.
A weightier Canadian balance to the international sounds is the exclusive-to-VTO triple bill at the Tranzac club May 14. The Rent and Hat + Beard are locals, while Shaman from Montreal is also on hand. Consisting of Jean Derome and Joane Hétu on woodwinds, voices and objects Nous perçons les oreilles (Ambiances Magnétiques AM 200 CD www.actuellecd.com) exposes Shaman’s strategy of D-I-Y ethnomusicology. Like ancient tribal healers the duo expresses itself through verbal screams, squeaks, murmurs, mumbles and cries as well as inchoate instrumental textures. The two recount 12 short narratives which are as much Dada as primitive, wrapped in onomatopoeia that bonds mouth expressions such as cheers, yelps and gurgles with slide-whistle peeps, unsequenced altissimo saxophone stridency, key percussion, clipping chromatic timbres and reverberating body tube echoes.