AMN Reviews: FIMAV 34 Saturday Performances


VICTORIAVILLE, QUE. – A male French bagpipes improviser as the opener and an outrageously gifted pair of female Japanese punk rockers as the closer characterized the eclectic nature of the programming Saturday in this four-day Festival de musique actuelle de Victoriaville, which ends tonight with the last of 19 concerts.

Erwan Keravec brought his instrument, part of the folk tradition of his native Breton region of France, to the century-old St. Christophe church for his afternoon concert, slowly emerging from the rear balcony as he played and ambled his way to the magnificent altar at the front. He laid out drone sounds, alternating with melodic runs and long tones as he experimented with the acoustic possibilities of the space. His richly-coloured conclusion, combining rhythm, texture, and melody was a vivid demonstration of its orchestral potential.

The European content continued with Dálava – American vocalist Julia Ulehla, now living in Vancouver, backed by a quintet, singing Moravian folk songs collected in a book by her great-grandfather and brought to the U.S. when her father fled Czechoslovakia in 1968. In ballads and waltzes, Ulehla used her rich and powerful voice to give new life to these songs in a jazzy musical setting, her vocals beautifully and tastefully supported by her life’s partner, guitarist Aram Bajakian, and cellist Peggy Lee, who echoed and enhanced her melody lines. Though few in the audience understood the Czech language, thanks to her introductions, and explanations of these songs of passion, her dynamic stage presence, and passionate delivery, their themes spoke to all of us, a warm and accessible show.

American vocalist Audrey Chen partnered with Richard Scott and his analogue synthesizer in the next show – an hour-long demonstration of how the human voice and electronica can co-exist as they interact. A veritable sound sculptress, Chen explored the range of vocal possibilities alongside Scott’s electronic creations. After half an hour, we got the point.

Our interest was re-ignited with the Swedish group called Fire! – a progressive-rock and free jazz amalgam featuring Mats Gustafson on saxophones and electronica, electric bassist Johan Berthling, and the fabulous Andreas Werliin on drums and electronica. This is a group that cooks, whether on slower tunes and ballads or in full fury, with Gustafson leading the way thematically on baritone and tenor, concentrating on long tones and repeated motifs, and driven forward with gusto by the well-tempered rhythm section. Even if the encore was a one-chord wonder, intense playing and a rich group sound made it all worthwhile.

The late evening concerts featured three Japanese shows, the first a double-bill that began with Phew, the stage name of the singer and punk artist who performed with her laptop and electronica. We heard her ah’s and other sounds and echoes thereof, other sounds, and electronic textures in various combinations. It was all cleanly presented, orderly, and somewhat conservative – an exploration that failed to stir the imagination.

The group called Saicobab is a fusion trio simulating Indian ragas with Yoshida Daikichi playing the electric sitar, Hamamoto Tomoyuki on percussion, and vocalist Yoshimio, with her sparkling and quirky stage presence and use of electronica to change the texture of her sound. These are all seasoned musicians, and they have fun, but the electric sitar lacks the rich tones of the acoustic model, the miked tambourine fails to reverberate like the tabla, and the ensemble is more a novelty than a re-interpretation of the real thing.

More successful was Afrirampo, the reunited duo of electric guitarist Oni and drummer extraordinaire Pika. They emerged in the Japanese experimental rock scene in 2002 when the musicians were in their late teens. After much success, they split up in 2010, and reunited two years ago. Barefoot and skimpily dressed in matching dresses, they came on stage beaming and bursting with energy, and led the audience in an “I love you (Je t’aime)” call-and-response – as if to show that these young women want to have fun as they perform. Have fun they did, romping through a hard-hitting session of tunes that brought a claque of head-bangers to the edge of the stage, and displaying mastery of their instruments and rock conventions. These women play at the highest level and even as the clock struck 1:30 a.m. the crowd was engaged and happy.

The festival continues today with five final concerts.


AMN Reviews: Stephanie Richards – Fullmoon (2018; Relative Pitch Records)

Stephanie Richards is a Canadian-born composer / improviser whose armament of choice is the trumpet. Now a resident of New York, she has collaborated with Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, and John ZornFullmoon is her first release, a solo effort with live samples from Dino J.A. Deane.

As far as I can tell, all sounds on the album are derived in some fashion from Richards’ trumpet. But she does not play the instrument in the conventional sense – instead, she explores her ability to create drones, percussion, resonance, using varied extended techniques. Yes, she does provide a melody or two, but in a non-repetitious, improvised sense. Deane’s contributions build up Richards’ pieces with overdubbed layers of the samples, often resulting in an electroacoustic feel. These processed acoustic sounds emulate not only percussive elements but even string instruments.

Richards refers to her approach as re-composition, where she breaks down each recording and then builds it back up from constituent parts. This is a lengthy process, as it took her over two years to finalize the nine pieces of Fullmoon. As a result, this is a singular release. Both harsh and alluring at the same time, this album will make you unthink what you know about the structure of music.


AMN Reviews: Maryam Sirvan – Untamed Terror (2018; The Committee For Sonic Research)

Maryam Sirvan is an experimental sound artist currently based in Tbilisi, but originally from Iran. Untamed Terror is her first solo release. From the outset, it is abundantly clear that Ms. Sirvan is focused on forging her own musical path. While loosely invoking dark ambient stylings, she also adds in scraping, static, pitch-shifting, electroacoustic noise, overlapping synthesized rhythms, droning voices, and undulating walls. Often, the two pieces on this album have five or six (maybe more) layers interacting simultaneously. The result is a deceptively complex effort that straddles a number of genres without fitting neatly into any.

The title track is nearly 30 minutes and encompasses all that is mentioned above and then some. But beyond the raw techniques used, Ms. Sirvan composes these sounds to evoke a certain atmosphere – shattered landscapes, dark caves with falling water, and haunted villages. And, staying with the view of her music as a whole, one can make out anthropomorphic elements – footsteps, breaths, and vocalizations on the edge of audibility. Needless to say, all of this in line with the Lovecraftian nature of the title.

Under the Full Moon rounds out the album at 15 minutes. Slow inhaling and exhaling is accompanied by a growing wave of static and white noise as well as bassy rumbling.  Sounds of people talking and laughing lurk in the background while the wave is manipulated and twisted. The voices evolve into a maddened babble as the electroacoustic elements become fractured. This eventually leads to a processed amalgam that steadily fades.

Music from a nightmare…soundtrack to a psychological horror movie… Untamed Terror is all of that and much more. Ms. Sirvan’s work exploits the fact that we are more afraid of what we cannot identify than what we can. Much of this album’s impact is subconscious and unknowable.

A perfect candidate for late-night listening at high volume. Strongly recommended.

AMN Reviews: FIMAV 34 – Thursday and Friday Performances


VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – True to its mission, the 34th Festival de musique actuelle de Victoriaville kicked off its four-day celebration of music that is “out there” Thursday night, breaking conventions, expanding auditory horizons, and exploring new aesthetic values.

The welcoming speeches for visitors and musicians who flock to this city, 87 miles north-east of Montreal, from across North America, Europe, and Asia were short. The music in the first eight of 19 scheduled concerts said it all, from avant rock, to pure improv, and free jazz, with unusual instrumentation and lots of experimentation.

The opener, in the town’s bright and modern downtown auditorium, was a two-part tribute to Montreal-based saxophonist and composer Walter Boudreau, beginning with a cover band of a dozen younger musicians playing Paix (Peace), considered his first major work. The music was a throwback to the late 1960s when the piece was conceived, with elements of heavy rock, jazz, and contemporary classical. Considered revolutionary in the early 1970s, the piece suited the festival’s adventurous. Unfortunately, because of an unresolved mixing-board issue, the words and tunes chanted by two vocalists were drowned out. In the second part, Walter Boudreau conducted his own composition, Solaris (incantations VIII-IXh), a contemporary classical suite, with a 15-member Société de musique contemporaine du Québec ensemble. It is a sombre work, conjuring some apocalyptic visions, and without the propulsive elements of the previous work.

The next gigs were played in the nearby hockey coliseum, transformed into concert spaces, with convenient bar, tables and chairs. Lan Tung, the Vancouver-based composer and vocalist who plays the two-stringed erhu violin with virtuosic skill, showcased her Giant Project. It combines her own Proliferasian septet and Taiwan’s five-member Little Giant Chinese Orchestra, with traditional instrumentation and directed by her friend from their student days, Chih-Sheng Chen. Their jazzy, often swinging tunes were fun to hear, demonstrating that Chinese traditional and Western instrumentation can co-exist, with the right direction.

The midnight closer was a collective improv effort called David and the Mountain Ensemble, a Montreal-based crew of mainly younger musicians, reflecting the city burgeoning creative energy. The 12-member group is led by drummer David Dugas Dion, who shepherded it through the hour-long visceral experience, dominated by its wall of rhythm and sound. With his back to the audience, Dion used John-Zorn style flags to call up new directions for the band. Repetition and dense sound rather than rhythmic or melodic variety tended to have a numbing effect, especially as the clock neared 1 a.m.

The two afternoon concerts on Friday were shimmering examples of individual creativity when it comes to spontaneous improvisation. Charlotte Hug, the classically trained Zurich-based viola player, opened her solo show in the beautifully renovated, late 19 th century St. Christophe church. Using her soft-bow technique on a viola built in 1763 by J.G.Thir, Hug emerged from behind the church altar weaving subtle sounds from both her viola and her voice, clucking and whispering as she played with the viola, never bowing it in any conventional way. She struck the strings with her bow, loosened it, then bowed the strings to lay out long descending and ascending tones. She alternated from three different bows as she sculpted sounds from her instrument, always with a mischievous smile, prancing on stage in bursts of creative energy. Part improv and part performance art, every sound and silence spoke of spontaneous creation.

Free improv was the guiding force in the trio featuring long-time Montreal-based collaborators Malcolm Goldstein (violin), Rainer Wiens (prepared electric guitar and kalimbas), and joining them for the first time Liu Fang, playing the pipa, the four-stringed instrument known as the Chinese lute. There was an evident caution in the encounter, with Goldstein playing melody fragments, Wiens playing with sound, and Liu, sitting in the middle, with a more traditional approach as she bridged with harmonic excursions.

The evening concerts featured two American avant jazz groups, starting with the Rova Saxophone Quartet – Larry Ochs (tenor), Bruce Ackley (soprano), Steve Adams (alto, sopranino), and Jon Raskin (baritone). Rova was founded 40 years ago, but the current personnel have been together since 1988 and it showed in the tightness of their collaboration, the level of communication, and precision in their balancing of charts and improvised solos. Though structurally complex, everything they played sounded smooth and sophisticated, more like classical contemporary than a jazz unit.

There were no doubts about labels when it came to the next show, featuring bassist William Parker and his In Order to Survive quartet, with drummer Hamid Drake, Rob Brown (alto sax), and veteran pianist Dave Burrell. Parker set the scene with his consistent and persistent pizzicato in tandem with Drake, then Brown embarked on his voyage with fluid and imaginative theme development, and Burrell took over with his percussive attack on the keyboard. The first piece lasted a full hour, and they continued with two more for another half hour. “In order to survive, you must keep hopeful lives,” Parker said in his parting message.

The midnight gig featured the Swiss trio known as Schnellertollermeier – described by their label, Cuneiform Records, as a “brutal-jazz power trio” – electric guitarist Manuel Troller, electric bassist Ani Schnellmann, and drummer David Meier. This is a super tight group, offering high-volume unison playing of repeated motifs, propelled by drummer Meier’s pulsating polyrhythmic attack. It was so loud, some of us covered our ears. Though well past midnight, the enthusiastic audience bopped their heads to the beat, and were ready for more.

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday.