Tyondai Braxton / New Chance / Pantayo

The Music Gallery, Toronto ON, October 17

Photo: Tom Beedham

BY Tom BeedhamPublished Oct 18, 2015

Audiences spent the third night of X Avant on a journey through three very different sound environments.

Seven-piece gong-chime ensemble Pantayo opened the night with folk tradition-updating kulintang music. Adding modern touches like bass synth and kick drum, the all-women ensemble updated the traditional form by approaching its vibrant tonal sound through the lens of their identities as diasporic Filipinas, ultimately recontextualizing a music tradition originally essentialized as frail and relaxed as a one that is concentrated, affirming, potent and powerful.
"We want to acknowledge that we are in the traditional territories of the Mississauga, the Hauddenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat. The music that we play is inspired largely by the indigenous people of Southern Philippines, mainly the Maguinganaoan and the T'boli tribes of Southern Mindanao," kulintang player Christine Balmes read to the audience from a pre-prepared introduction.

She continued to explain the present at-risk situation (paramilitary intervention, cultural genocide, displacement) that indigenous communities and cultures represented there face because their land lies on natural resources valuable to multinational corporations (including Canadian mining companies, she noted). "How is what's happening in the Philippines with the indigenous people over there similar to what's happening to indigenous people in Canada and around the world, and how are we complicit as settlers and diasporic people? This is a question that we ask ourselves as we play these instruments, and this is a question that we want to ask of you."
Following that, Healing Power Records co-curator Victoria Cheong's reliably unpredictable solo project New Chance came next with a set that pushed the Zen empowerment Pantayo spread throughout the Gallery into another, more extroverted zone.
Quoting abstract expressionist Agnes Martin, Cheong opened her set with the proclamation that, "Anything is a mirror. There are two endless directions. In and out," a directive she also included on March's Ear Rationelle tape, and quickly set about working into newer, song and dance-interested territory. Cheong literally stepped out from behind her samplers, sequencers, other electronics and the introspective nature and noise planes of her tape to another atmospherically inclined kind of avant-pop filled with prominent, soulfully delivered lyrics that touched on topics like interconnectivity and identity.
If New Chance and Pantayo spent their sets creating healing worlds, Tyondai Braxton blew them apart. The former Battles guitarist/vocalist issued HIVE1 — his first solo release since departing from the band in 2009 — earlier this year, connecting warm ambient sounds with high concept live performance installations involving multiple performers playing seated atop pods, but his Toronto solo debut at the Music Gallery marked the beginning of a new cycle, and Braxton spent it going full supernova, carving out earholes with a violent new sound that's just as cerebral and richly textured, but infinitely more aggressive.
Jet engine squalls and tectonic groans hit audience members in their chests and pinned them to their seats while ear-splitting squeals tore their way through and seemingly threatened to rip the fabric of reality asunder. Receiving the brunt of these overwhelming sensory attacks over the course of an hour made for an exhausting concert experience (and a few slinked out of their seats in the Gallery's church pews in seek of quieter sanctuary before Braxton could finish), but his is a sound so big it has its own gravitational pull, so it demands your attention anyway. 

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