For its 12th year, the Music Gallery's flagship X Avant festival is returning with a lineup befittingly curated under the broad theme of "resistance." In increasingly divisive times, it's a timely and obvious gesture to make, but the program is unpacking the theme with lucid, sharpened questions ("How do we preserve and enhance true dialogue and equity between cultures? What lessons can we take from history to fortify ourselves for the future? How do we ensure these activities aren't instantly commodified?"), asking guests of the genreless fest to take in the programming with active focus in addition to voracious curiosity.
After a heartfelt land acknowledgment from Artistic Director David Dacks, the festival commenced with three wildly different percussion-oriented performances.
Although her X Avant appearance was originally slated to involve a presentation of Kill-Sex-Abuse-Culture, a collaborative project with partner Reila, Luyos MC (MaryCarl Guiao) led the night with a set more in line with her solo repertoire. Combining a mix of original as well as traditional Moro and Manobo kulintang pieces with electronic soundscapes and spoken word, readings, song and (briefly) jaw harp, Guiao also invited Boi Beting — a tribal leader from the Philippines currently seeking refugee status in Canada — to dance and read poetry on a number of pieces speaking to issues of indigeneity, Filipinx identity and diaspora.
While Beting's poetry articulated the harrowing conditions surrounding her flight from the Philippines and the emotional struggles associated with seeking refuge in Canada, Guiao's dizzying kulintang danced over an ominously textured beat build, complicated juxtapositions speaking volumes to layers of intergenerational angst.
Local experimental percussion mainstay and composer Germaine Liu (pictured above) has a unique propensity for finding music in the most seemingly mundane objects and events, and the set that followed from her namesake ensemble was no different, inviting fellow percussionists Mark Zurawinski and Joe Sorbara along for a series of water-based pieces. Over the course of their set, the Germaine Liu Ensemble repeatedly challenged any academy-set definitions of just what constitutes an instrument or a musical practice, reaching into the tubs of water at their feet for whatever sounds they required.
It was an evening highlight. The ensemble set to work circling the rims of fishbowls with wet fingertips, hammering disorienting gong sounds out of water-set pot lids, simulating rain on tin roofs with foil and tin cans and simply dropping bowls and cups into the water. The set straddled a line between creative new music and performance art, frequently earning satisfied laughter and excited applause from the audience.
After Germaine Liu's avant-garde splash, John Colpitts (Kid Millions, Oneida) and his Man Forever project closed out the night with a righteous display of physicality. Currently touring in support of their beaming Play What They Want song cycle, instead of the more improvisatory live ensemble work Colpitts has logged between albums, this set stuck to the script, even if it was significantly stripped down and different; for example, Yo La Tengo weren't there for "You Were Never Here," and Laurie Anderson wasn't present to deliver the disembodied vocals she granted its mighty "Twin Torches" (border trouble, Colpitts joked).
Joined by a trio of auxiliary percussionists, a bassist, and a pianist, Colpitts and company still brought each piece to a zone of tempestuous mental melting, but without lead vocals and guitars, the complicated martial skeletons were stripped relatively bare, offering further insight to the intricate rhythmic mechanics driving each of those machines.