Published Jun 01, 2003This 20th anniversary of the festival kicked off with a performance by festival veteran René Lussier, as the leader of a band that included Fred Frith. Both Lussier and Frith were also featured in the program of the very first festival in 1983. Lussier has obviously been influenced by his collaboration with Eugene Chadbourne at last year's festival. His music veered in style from improv jazz to Django-styled blues to traditional French folk, featuring violin and percussive foot-tapping. Next up was the new trio of Mephista, made up of NY veterans Ikue Mori, Susie Ibarra and Sylvie Courvoisier. They served up an improv on modified piano, drums and Ikue's laptop, which was loaded with samples that fused the sounds of chiming tone and clicking percussion, filling a middle ground between the two acoustic players. A highlight of day two was a quintet of a cappella vocalists, consisting of international voices Jaap Blonk, Paul Dutton, Koichi Makgami, Phil Minton and David Moss. The performance began with a vocal drone, which rose in volume and tone until the listener's skull and nasal passage began to vibrate sympathetically. From there they improvised wordlessly with sounds that ranged from operatic soprano to an apocalyptic showdown between Donald and Daffy Duck, proving humour has a place in "serious" music. The first of two John Zorn-directed ensembles was Cobra a group of 14 musicians ruled in play by Zorn`s "game piece" method of improv. A series of visual directions, in the form of hand signals and symbols on cards, dictated the "who, how many, how much?" each moment of improvised music contained. The musicians were diverse, including Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Trevor Dunn, all of Mephista and several others, and their uncommon backgrounds melded into a maelstrom of sound just barely tamed by the boundaries of the game play. Electric Masada, the second of Zorn's presentations, was equally energetic but lacked the high wire tension of Cobra. Sue Garner, ex of New York band Run On, and Thrill Jockey recording artist, was one of the performers in the midnight time slot. She presented a quiet set of Southern folk tunes that resembled an acoustic Lucinda Williams' most poetic work. The midnight slot is a difficult one, and Garner suffered, coming after Zorn's high voltage show, as did Kid 606 and Peaches, with half of Pan Sonic, the latter of which came after Fred Frith`s classical composition for a 16-piece orchestra. Peaches turned her suffering into comedy in a performance that included getting paid by the festival organiser in cash on stage. Other highlights, in a festival having few low points, included an improv electro-acoustic five-piece in the festival's largest venue. The artists Xavier Charles, Diane Labrosse, Martin Tétreault and duo the Kristoff K. Roll worked a variety of amplified objects and instruments, ranging from laptops to household items, on a central stage surrounded by seating, itself surrounded by ten speakers. The audience was invited to wander around this inner circle in order to experience the diversity of the sound combinations. Two jazz trios, led by improv legends and saxophone demolitionists Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann, were joined together in a thrilling collision of sounds. Especially impressive in the groups were the polyrhythmic displays by drummers Paul Lytton and Hamid Drake, joined at times by upright bassist William Parker. They provided an unequalled backdrop for Parker and Brotzmann's interplay. Most unexpected and impressive was the duo of Annette Krebs and Andrea Neumann. Krebs uses objects such as cotton swabs, steel wool and portable fans to quietly coax sounds from her miced acoustic guitar, while Neumann works with a similar set of objects on the sound board and strings of a piano separated from its outer shell. It was a performance where the framing silences played a large part in each sound event.