X Avant New Music Festival Music Galley, Toronto ON - September 21 to 24

The one thing that sets apart festivals from stand-alone gigs is the concept of programming. In some ways, the whole aspect of what performance follows another falls into the realm of a good DJ, mix-tape or radio set. While some festivals are thematically conservative, there are some that take many chances and pay attention to how concerts are presented. The X Avant Festival’s co-directors, Jonathan Bunce and John Gzowski, put together a series of evenings that not only made creative sense but lead to some pretty interesting observations about music in general. Friday featured a mix that took us from the realm of "new art music” with an amazing performance of compositions by Steve Reich and Frederic Rzewski by Toca Loca, to some improv piano and drums by NYC’s Gordon Beeferman and Jeff Arnal that had more than a little reference to minimalism in their busy journey. Om capped off the evening with a crushing, minimalist, heavy rock throw down that had many head banging happily ’til their ears gave out. Saturday saw a full schedule with a Music Gallery night that featured a somewhat flat offering by the Vancouver/Melbourne electro/acoustic ensemble Telephone followed by a courageous extended set by Toronto’s Barnyard Drama. We were then treated to a performance of classic drone music brilliantly executed by Mr. Tony Conrad on violin, viola and electronics, aided and abetted by Anne Bourne on cello. The setting of the two performers obscured by an undulating white sheet and backlit so that their shadows ebbed and flowed with its movements provided simple yet powerful accompaniment. The evening continued downstairs at the Drake Hotel with an amazingly inspired evening of electronic music featuring Akumu (with Anne Bourne), Naw, Ether.Mann and a transcendent closing set by Jelinek, knob twisting pedals as well as the laptop. The festival closed with a Sunday evening at Sneeky Dee’s with Susanna Hood performing a John Oswald piece, a beautiful and riveting performance by American composer Nick Brooke and company and finally, with an off-kilter and wacky set of songs by the Dirty Projectors, who if it wasn’t for Dave Longstreth’s bent vocals, kind of came off like XTC on holiday. Congratulations to Bunce and Gzowski for staging a varied, inspired and coherent festival.