The final concert was in many ways a testimonial to the growth and continued vigor of experimental and improvised music in Quebec: In parallel with this festival, which began in 1983, the Montréal-based collective Ensemble SuperMusique was established by three women at a time when avant-garde music was male-dominated. It was launched by Joane Hétu (alto sax, voice), Diane Labrosse, (sampler), and Danielle Palardy Roger (percussion, voice).
They were among the 16 musicians on stage to perform four new compositions that are part of Le fleuve, in tribute to the majestic St. Laurent River that flows through Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean. One piece featured prose declaring that empowering women could make the world a better place. Of the four compositions, saxophonist Jean Derome’s was the most musically rich and complex. The final work by Joane Hétu, which she directed and narrated, was her most accomplished in a long career of pushing musical boundaries — operatic in scope with unexpected instrumental flourishes and shifts, and a fitting end to this year’s impressive lineup.
The Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) arrives with the late, brief spring of Quebec’s central region, an energizing jolt between winter and summer that sees the flowering of older vines and new life bursting through the earth. This year’s instalment of FIMAV did what it has done very well for many years: present challenging music that can find a substantial audience, while also testing the frontiers with little-known but significant musicians. (…)
Events ranged from afternoon sound artists to late-night avant-rockers, with listeners creating their own paths through the festival’s nineteen performances. Composer-trombonist George Lewis once declared, “what I always wanted: music as a space for reflection on the human condition.” That’s a lofty goal and a rare event, but several groups were able to do it, whether working with or without a script, playing with associates they had either known for fifty years or had just encountered.
One such work was Friday night’s Saumon Bleu, a conduction by French musician Olivier Benoit, directing an ensemble that combined seven members of Montréal’s SuperMusique with seven members of Rimouski’s GGRIL, two of Quebec’s distinguished large improvising ensembles. It was a work of brilliant simplicity that began and ended with the quietest sizzle of scratched strings and softly blown reeds strongly suggesting human breath, ultimately crafting a space in which audience and band were one. (…)
Les années se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas au FIMAV. Après quelques années avec des orientations se démarquant clairement, cette année et l’année dernière ont été davantage variées. Pour cette édition, les festivaliers ont eu droit à un bon nombre de petits ensembles dédiés à musique expérimentale instrumentale et composée mais également à plusieurs électroacousticiens et groupes rock. Retour sur une cette trente-deuxième édition intéressante bien qu’inégale. (…)
Après la pause du souper, la soirée s’est résumée avec une performance joignant deux grands ensembles québécois de musique improvisée, Ensemble Supermusique de Montréal et le GGRIL de Rimouski. Mené par le français Olivier Benoit, les deux groupes, qui totalisaient ensemble quatorze musiciens, s’en sont donné à cœur joie avec une longue pièce nuancée mais d’une intensité louable. Si on aurait pris davantage du bruitisme de Vergil Sharkya et de Martin Tétreault, le jeu grandiose d’Isaiah Ceccarelli à la batterie, la rythmique pesante de Luke Dawson et les sons tonitruants d’Ida Toninato au saxophone ont ravi les festivaliers, moi inclus. Si la musique improvisée en grand ensemble avec direction comporte son lot de clichés (grandes montées, moments de folie un peu forcés, etc…), Olivier Benoit a su mené la barque avec brio, poussant les musiciens à leurs limites et en favorisant le développement organique de la pièce plutôt que la formule «spectacle» trop souvent associée à l’exercice. Un succès! (…)
The 32nd edition of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville began with a performance of new compositions by Norwegian guitarist / composer Kim Myhr with Montréal’s Quatour Bozzini in the town’s new cultural space, Carré 150, an impressive $28 million structure that stands on the site of the former Cinema Laurier, one of the performance homes for the festival for many years.
If we’re looking for themes, the first two days’ concerts featured the human voice and by extension, the notion of breathing and the breath mechanism. Both the Bozzini / Myhr ensemble and the Julie Tippetts / Martin Archer Ensemble that followed included vocalists who incorporated poetry and song into the performances. The music of Bozzini and Myhr, who did two pieces, one by Christian Wolff and the other by Myhr, was spare and slow-moving, but insistent and hypnotic, with Angell reciting the poetry of the British poet Caroline Bergvall. The following performance, the Montréal-based vocalist Erika Tippetts / Archer group was performing live for the first time ever, despite the fact that they have been making music in the studio for a decade and a half. Their music is very much in the prog- rock sphere, with elements of the blues, a big bass sound and electric keyboards underpinning the group sound and providing a strong foundation for Tippetts’ soaring voice. (…)
The three performances on Friday evening all featured Quebec and Canadian musicians. Electric bassist / composer / educator Eric Normand lives in the small town of Rimouski, Quebec, where he leads a group called GGRIL, comprised mainly of amateur musicians from the Rimouski area. In starting GGRIL a few years ago, Normand has created an enormously important community music project that is reinvigorating the improvised music scene in Quebec. GGRIL were joined at Victo by veteran Montréalers Jean Derome and Joane Hetu and Ensemble SuperMusique, for an improvisation conducted by French guitarist / composer / improviser Olivier Benoit. There was no vocalist; it was the music itself that breathed and vibrated to the rhythm of the breath and beating of the heart. Benoit’s choice of moves for the musicians was impeccable, as the hour-long piece built up slowly to two climaxes, the tension palpable throughout. This was easily the best improvisation by a large Quebec ensemble heard here in many years. (…)
Ensemble SuperMusique is/are an Ambiances Magnetiques all-star ensemble with ten members for this set, which featured longtime AM players like Jean Derome, Joan Hetu, Michael Cote, Danielle Roger and Martin Tetreault plus some young musicians like Alexandre St-Onge (el. bass) and Guido De Fabro (violin). The musicians sat in a semi-circle so that they could see each other and the music seemed as if it were directed by certain improv guidelines. The instrumentation included two reeds (Derome & Hetu, also on voice, two percussionists (Roger & Cote), cello, violin, electric keyboards or synth and turntables. Considering that there were ten musicians on stage, the music was often sparse yet focused. Much of the set reminded me of John Zorn’s early game pieces (which are also directed improv without someone directing up front), although the overall vibe was slower and more cautious. Ms. Hetu did some odd vocal sounds which always fit well within the framework on the piece. Since nothing was explained, there were a series of incidents that took place which we had to interpret for ourselves. Each musician took a turn sitting in the middle of the stage and drawing or putting info into a laptop which directed the next part of the piece. I especially like the way each percussionists added something distinctly different to the direction of the set. There was also a fine sax duo with two founding members of the AM label, Joan Hetu and Jean Derome, which was both charming and quirky. I spoke with a few audience members who were confused as to what was going on on-stage so it did take some effort to figure out how things worked. Fractured fairy tales, indeed.