Open Ears Festival Kitchener ON - April 27 to 30, 2005

With its innovative use of local venues and visionary programming, the fifth edition of Open Ears promised to be a truly memorable and exciting event. And for the most part it was, ambitiously combining classical and new music with emerging artists performing alongside internationally renowned legends. A well-suited score, smart staging and strong lead performances by Tamara Hummel and Terence Mireau saved home-grown opera The Salome Dancer from its stale libretto. Minimalist quartet Midi Tapant played a moody, playful set; percussionist Pierre Tanguay was as engaging as ever, endearingly beating a rhythm upon his torso at one point, and Tom Walsh's sampler even brought old friend Jean Derome into the mix. Friday's crowd was still abuzz from Thursday's performance by digital sampling pioneer Bob Ostertag and Montreal scratch animator Pierre Hébert. The duo captured the shapes and sounds of wind-up toys with additional props, including fire sparklers and a bag of nachos. Days later, witnesses were still murmuring about how heavy it all was. If the festival began to stumble, it did so because of unrealised and drawn-out performances. Accompanied by the Canadian Chamber Ensemble, DJ P-Love's turntablism was a welcome disruption during RPM (the title of their performance) and mezzo-soprano Patricia O'Callaghan stirred the audience out of its slumber with truly fascinating Acoustic Remixes of Leonard Cohen's work. NYC's Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori struggled for air under their long, hotly anticipated set. Parkins was a wondrous blur, stabbing at her harp while Mori sat stoically at her laptop. The duo's energy climaxed in the middle but otherwise it proved to be a rather disengaging show. An uninvited wailing siren momentarily flustered the startlingly great Penderecki String Quartet but soon meshed with the violins of their stellar set's opening number. Electro-acoustic composer Hildegard Westerkamp and cellist Anne Bourne gave the audience an aural massage, presenting a fascinating combination of meditative sounds and field recordings from India. A darker vibe filled the Zion Church for Diamanda Gálas's mesmerising reading of her chilling Defixiones: Orders from the Dead. The multi-lingual sacred mass drew the festival's most diverse, appreciative crowd and solicited a rare standing ovation, which visibly moved Gálas. Kitchener's City Hall Council Chambers were the perfect site for Negativland to present their Over the Edge radio piece. Essentially a send-up of talk radio and theology, Negativland's mocking "It's All in Your Head FM" captivated listeners for most of its two-hour broadcast. In a way it epitomised Open Ears' broad "celebrating the art of listening" motto by enthralling its audience (who were supplied with blindfolds for the show) while also testing their patience - a consistent duality at this year's festival.