Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville Victoriaville, QC - May 18 to 22, 2006

The 23rd edition of the festival opened with a (strangely) rare focus on voice in a panoply of forms, beginning with a performance by a cappella trio Charming Hostess. Heavy topics such as Bosnian war poetry and the death of political philosopher Walter Benjamin were served with a blend of emotional bluntness and welcome gallows humour. Toronto's Barnyard Drama, drummer/turntablist Jean Martin and vocalist Christine Duncan, were joined by guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise for a strong set of explorations that veered from improvised iterations to mutated "covers” of songs by Cole Porter and others. D. Kimm and Alexis O’Hara tweaked the dodgy "performance poetry” genre with a set featuring electronically enhanced monologues and chants in the voices of down-on-their-luck characters. The duo’s bilingual tales were abstract, matter-of-fact, rhapsodic but never less than engrossing. Jazz/improv trios also figured prominently in the festival programming. High points included Norwegians Ivar Grydeland, Tonny Kluften and Ingar Zach, who squeezed their acoustic instruments through a gently obfuscating haze of electronics. Zach’s drums were sometimes "played” by vibrating boxes while Grydeland moved from guitar to banjo to pedal steel, always at the edge of full blown melody. More straightforward but no less excellent was young NYC trio Fieldwork, led by pianist Vijay Iyer. Their piano/drums/sax set-up didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they certainly burnt rubber with tight interplay and a rhythmic attack that nodded to hip-hop and drum & bass. If you wanted someone to bring the noise, well, firstly was a double bill featuring a solo performance by the legendary Keiji Haino, who strolled out and erupted into three effects-enhanced microphones, bringing to mind a Dada performance Godzilla might essay. Second up were the mighty, mighty Sunn O))), unleashing the skull-bone reverberating power of their ultra-low end power chord chaos. After several young women fainted from the onslaught, they brought Haino back out to flatten the rest. Impossible as it seems, the stakes were upped a notch the following night with the fusion of American and Japanese noise pioneers Borbetomagus and Hijokaidan. The newly welded septet went one-two-three-white noise and sustained a province-wide dog bothering pitch for over an hour. FE-MAIL were on hand to provide a more nuanced noise performance. Hild Sofie Tafjord and Maja Ratkje relied on the full spectrum of whisper to scream, tossing in a variety of homemade electronic objects to their dynamically intense and intuitive set. Oh, and Mike Patton ruined performances by Fennesz and Zu, then did okay by Rahzel.