By IRWIN BLOCK
VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – With her bass clarinet, Lori Freedman tells stories and evokes emotion in a unique, highly personal way and that is what an early afternoon audience heard in a loving and well-planned solo performance on the fourth and final day of concerts at this town’s Festival international de musique actuelle. Improvising on her own compositions and those written for her, there is a playful and mischievous aspect to her music, reflecting humanity and wonderment as she plays her clarinets in unconventional ways, evoking sounds as a sculptor works clay. Freedman breathes and whispers sounds as she creates textures, vocalizing now and then, or tapping the keys to create a sound without blowing into the mouthpiece, or simply removing the mouthpiece and using it as an instrument, exploiting its unique timbre. Freedman’s performance is planned with plenty of room to improvise and communicate with her audience as they become part of her aural universe. The century-old St. Christophe Roman Catholic church was an ideal setting, with its ceiling frescoes, gilded columns, and natural light pouring in from neo-classical stained-glass windows along the nave, where she played her final notes.
In contrast with the subtlety and nuances of the solo clarinet, the mid-afternoon concert brought together three powerhouse players in a Noise session: Danish alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, Toshimaru Nakamura, with his no-input mixing board (using feedback without any synthesizer), and Martin Taxt on C microtonal tuba. It was a supercharged performance with Nakamura and Taxt providing a dense textural canvas and Rasmussen soaring above it with her powerful alto. She can make her instrument talk and draws from it an unforgettable burnished tone. Beyond the wall of sound, we heard subtlety in Taxt’s tuba, half and quarter tones that nuanced this high-volume, high energy trip.
The later afternoon show was called Breadwoman – performance art conceived by American vocalist Anna Homler, with dancer Maya Gingery. and Jorge Martin at the analogue synthesizer. As Homler chanted mysterious-sounding melodies with words from some unknown language of her own creation, the veiled Gingery walked on stage like an apparition from another world, her face covered in a weird mask that looked like folds of bread, slowly moving to sit down, then got up and eyed what look like loaves of bread sitting on tables in front of the other performers. It all happened in slow motion and toward the end, she took one rounded loaf, grabbed chunks of it and dropped the contents on the floor – which turned out to be feathers. It’s a weird world filled with dream-like and moody music, and the audience is expected to figure out what it all means. I’m still working on it.
The big evening concert at the downtown auditorium was another curio. It was called Phurpa, the brainchild of Russian musician Alexey Tegin, who emerged from the Russian industrial music scene to discover and become a devotee of bön, a pre-Buddhist tradition from Tibet where practitioners enter a quasi-religious and meditative state by low and rumbling chanting. Among fans were those who follow sledge metal. With Daniil Zotov and Dmitry Globa-Mikhaylenko, all veiled and wearing conical hats and Tibetan cloaks, they entered the stage and sat on the floor, chanting, with heavy amplification, burning incense, and sipping tea, then started playing traditional Tibetan horns, which emit similar extremely low-register rumbling sounds. They added clanging sounds from various pots, gongs, and shorter higher-pitched horns, the entire show framed by continuous rumbling sounds from loops. We’re left to make meaning from it all.
The last show was a powerhouse noise outing featuring Sweden’s Mats Gustafsson on baritone saxophone and electronica, Hungarian drummer Balázs Pándi, and Japan’s black-clad Merzbow on computer and electronica. The first piece consisted of 50 intense minutes, at times surprisingly varied in texture and tone. In the ten-minute follow-up, Gustafsson switched to tenor sax with a solo that morphed into intense unison playing. There was no call for an encore.
In his festival post-mortem, artistic director and general manager, Michel Levasseur, said he was happy with the festival’s content and ticket sales, about five per cent above last year’s total.