… he makes an alliance with soundscape composition, glitch, and acousmatic art. — The WholeNote, Canada
Prix Opus 2003-04: Disque de l’année — Finaliste
- 1Angle mort (2001-02), 14:01fixed medium
- 2Trois miniatures en suite (1997), 10:09fixed medium
- 5Parcelles 1 (2002-03), 15:19fixed medium
- 12Parcelles 2 (2003), 14:21fixed medium
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 0474 / 2004
- UCC 771028047420
- Total duration: 54:44
- 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
- 50 g
- 1Angle mort (2001-02), 14:01fixed medium
- 2Trois miniatures en suite (1997), 10:09fixed medium
- 5Parcelles 1 (2002-03), 15:19fixed medium
- 6Parcelles 2 (2003), 14:21fixed medium
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 0474_NUM / 2004
- UCC 771028047482
- Total duration: 54:44
To Stéphane Beaulieu, Martin Bédard, Fanny Britt, Yves Daoust, Anne Day-Jones, Nathalie Dussault, Antoine Laprise, Majo Vallée, and a very special thanks to Emmanuelle Léonard for her beautiful photographs.
Some recommended items
In the press
S’il est vrai que toute musique peut prétendre à être du cinéma pour l’oreille, et plus particulièrement celles que l’on qualifie d’acousmatiques, les enregistrements ci-dessus le sont tout particulièrement. Fractures est le premier recueil (sur le label montréalais) d’un jeune créateur québécois. Lumière dans la nuit émane d’un membre du GMVL de Lyon.
Une même préoccupation les habite: sons transformés parsemés de citations plus ou moins identifiables, avec pour le Québécois, une prédilection pour les ruptures plus ou moins brutales tandis que le Français travaille davantage la continuité, la linéarité. En témoigne d’ailleurs la structure même des pièces: celles de Bouchard (mise à part Angle mort) se déclinent en plusieurs volets plutôt courts (deux à cinq minutes) quand celles de Fort sont d’un seul tenant.
Le propos du Québécois reflète, principalement à travers Parcelles 1 et Parcelles 2 une préoccupation plus humaniste, dans la mesure où ses pièces restituent des instants de vies humaines, entre jeux d’enfants et bruits échappés du chaos urbain, entre une relative sérénité campagnarde et, par exemple, diverses sonorités captées dans les aéroports: Le Concorde, Orly, passage d’avions… Même humanisme, mais dans une approche plus poignante, la lutte pour la survie (Angle mort).
L’approche du Français est sensiblement plus naturaliste, bien que L’impatience des limites, la première pièce, soit d’essence plus intime. Qu’il s’agisse d’une transposition sonore de paysages danubiens, mêlant faune et flore (La paix de l’entendre) ou d’une promenade faisant crisser la neige sous les pas (Silence radieux), l’ensemble du recueil trouve son unité dans une déambulation sonore à la fois grave et sereine.
Christian Bouchard moves fluidly between lush spacious environments and agitated, rough, edgy punctuations. By doing so, he makes an alliance with soundscape composition, glitch, and acousmatic art. His choices to distort sounds or to magnify normally discarded recorded artifacts are offset by his imagination for colour and his feeling for the inherent nuances of sounds manipulated from environmental sources. In summary, the worlds of glitch and a filmic acousmatic sense go hand in hand in his sensibilities. There is not a conscious attempt to construct narrative in his works like in the Gotfrit CD that I reviewed last month. However, images and vestiges of stories do peer out from time to time, products I think more of the inherent associative qualities of environmental sounds than of a conscious attempt to construct the sense of a storyline in his music. Bouchard’s early works on the CD maintain a compactness and economy that I appreciate more than in his later and more longer-form works. But then again, the use of conceptual structural models in these earlier works, such as the portrait of a soundscape from the point of view of a parking meter, is more appealing to my ears these days than the looser and more meandering structures that are more common in acousmatic art. In closing, Bouchard has a nice edge and grit to his music that I think will appeal to listeners looking for something new.
Fractures doesn’t consist of conventional music… unless, of course, you’re in that poetic/stoned frame of mind in which rustling trees and murmuring highways constitute a symphony. But then, this is precisely what you’re expecting if you’re at all familiar with empreintes DIGITALes.
Fractures’ sixteen tracks of low-level ambient noise — most of it recorded in public places throughout Canada and Europe — form a cohesive and often lovely aural palette. The opening selection, Angle mort, sets out to explore the struggle of an injured patient amid the inhumanity of a hospital room. A trio of tracks titled Trois miniatures en suite experiment with the parameters of the electroacoustic sound, while setting the stage for a twelve-track epic collectively known as Parcelles. Bouchard explains these final selections as illustrating: “the sound environment of a particular time, the chaos of the world, the rural calm, the urban swarms, the energy of the living” and finally, “fragments of moments.” It’s a vivid, fascinating explanation, and like the rest of the liner notes, it lends meaning to the album’s audio/recording experiments.
The Compact Disc label empreintes DIGITALes currently numbers some 65 discs and embraces a diverse range of electroacoustic music. Yet there are many common motivating forces in this collection, the most notable being the ‘quest’ for sound. The variety of sounds on offer is well highlighted by these two discs, yet the techniques and methods used are remarkably similar and are rooted in this desire to search out the right compositional material.
Humeur de facteur (The Maker’s Humour) is some 54 minutes in length and consists of six movements, each one an individual making up part of the whole. Beaupré, a harpsichord manufacturer and composer (in both cases a builder) seems to bring the same sense of attention to detail to his music as he does to his harpsichord construction. The work itself resides in the world of the harpsichord; mainly pitched material treated and resynthesised to offer new timbral worlds. Inharmonic drone-textures shelter granulated plucked strings whilst small metallic percussion hint at the delicate interior of the harpsichord. There is a highly fluid method of mixing, a delicacy often left behind when working with so many disparate sources. It would be all too easy to wallow yet Beaupré manages to create a polyphony that offers a unique combination of weight and power, with enough breathing room to take it all in. The polyphony relies upon submersion in pitch and mode and Beaupré creates transitions between modes through spatial dissolves and other ‘ethereal’ scenes. At times, Beaupré forces his sounds upon us through mechanical repetition, but we are quickly lured back inside his world through bell-like sonorities and other more ominous textures.
Without being in any way melancholic, the work hints at the solitary life of the instrument maker, alone (but at one) with his work. Perfectly mastered - if you want to hear some of the bass attacks you’ll have to endure a fair degree of midrange pitch material – Humeur de facteur presents some wonderful sound-worlds. It seems apparent that after listening several times, the uniqueness of each movement is not as obvious as it might have first appeared. Moreover, the relationship between the movements becomes more beguiling as the work develops. It would not be naïve to assume however that no matter where in the 54 minutes the form became unfathomable, it is possible to ‘readjust’ ones hearing, enjoy the sonorities on offer, and quickly come back to the piece as a whole. In fact this work raises some of the most fundamental questions about so-called ‘old school’ electroacoustic music: Sound over form; a polyphony of disparate sources and pseudo-narrative structures (despite the abstract sound-world, the vast landscapes afford visualisation and to a certain extent, quantification). It is Beaupré’s mixing that offers us some answers. It is colourful and delicate yet purposeful and at times profound. In a dark corner, this is perhaps where the Humeur de facteur can be found.
Fractures on the other hand finds itself rooted in a world of noise, chimeras born of real world sounds and synthetic noises. Whilst Beaupré placed emphasis on the vertical through mixing, Bouchard directs his attention to the horizontal, focusing our listening towards the passing of time: The montage here is timed to perfection.
Angle mort is a Kingdom hospital of sound, dealing with ‘the struggle between antibodies and viruses and the auditory point of view of the patient surrounded by machines in a hospital room’. Sounds are clear and well balanced; given their individual complexity, too much mixing would be inappropriate. At times, metallic drones provide a skin for the scars of glitch. But this is not really ‘glitch’. These small sounds, driven by dark rhythms possess a certain resolve. They are the right sounds at the right place at the right time. Whilst these small glitches could be heard as the sounds of mechanical error outside of the work, their contextualisation is definite; not only from sound to sound but within the sound itself. Each sound seems clinically prepared and the mastering is excellent. Bouchard draws you in to his dark and strangely impersonal world through a fairly frenetic opening section. We are suddenly made self-aware – and perhaps we are patient – as the sound world turns in on itself. As the piece draws on it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the pace of the music. The timbral invention of the first ten minutes loses some of its vitality, leaving one feeling slightly empty at the close of the work.
Bouchard then presents us with his sketches in the form of Trois miniatures en suite. These short vignettes shed light upon the remainder of the disc and give us an insight into Bouchard’s working method.
Without conjuring an inevitable Deleuze & Guattari moment, it seems safe to say that in Parcelles, a work focusing upon sounds that seem to organize themselves from what appears to be chaos and ‘create a music I am often the only one to hear’, Bouchard is talking about the elusive rhizome. Both Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 (some 20 minutes in total, split into 7 and 5 movements respectively) draw naturally upon Trois miniatures… but also incorporate the darkness of Angle mort. Dark however becomes bleak and impersonal becomes inevitable. The inevitability of sound pervades Bouchard’s music, as indeed does his compassion towards the recorded ‘scenes’ (something that transpired only after numerous auditions). At once a contradiction appears. We are borrowing Bouchard’s memories – it is wonderful but at the same time it is not enough. In Bouchard’s words these are ‘incredible moments’ he wanted to share but they are but ‘fragments of moments’. (I actually prefer the French, partager which doesn’t sound as personal.) We are continually invited to grasp at the moment but it is continually torn away.
These may sound like negatives but over a good pair of loudspeakers, one can almost touch these invitations of sound, such is the clarity of recording and mastering involved. So in a sense, one is offered a chance of being part of ‘the moment’, not too much so as to become overly attached and not too little so as not to recognise it.
Naturally one must go beyond the traditions and forms of the past: these are short movements of between one and four minutes. Must they have a form? Can they not just be structured? What is fascinating about these two pieces is the continuity between cuts and the bizarre concoction of real life (albeit filtered and edited) and a lurking synthetic residue. Try to focus upon the ‘moment’ and physically edit the cuts out of the work and this music becomes frustrating. Let it wash over you and you will be disappointed. In short, Parcelles (and to some extent Angle mort) require extended, attentive listening, preferably over a good pair of loudspeakers that can project the beautifully crafted full range sounds, glitches and hard edits. I particularly liked the energy of the penultimate movement in Parcelles 2, Brazil Wins. We are presented with some truly original work on this compact disc.
Christian Bouchard was born amidst the turmoil of the revolutionary year of 1968, when students and workers of the Old World raged against the rulers of Europe, and while the U.S.A. was torn apart by the Vietnam War.
Bouchard released his premier recording in 1995; a prepared guitar venture. Simultaneously, he dispersed his first attempts at electroacoustics. This proved successful, and he went on to studies with Yves Daoust. Bouchard has of late been awarded several prizes for his electroacoustics.
The first work on this empreintes DIGITALes CD is Angle mort; a recent piece completed in 2002. The subtitles regarding the sequence of sounding events tell a story in themselves: Duel-1; Accident; Duel-2; Morphinic Night; Transfer; Microscopic Cohabitation / Scattered Memories - and the dedication gives it away too: “To my bike-riding friend”.
These titles remind me of an August Strindberg short story, in which a man who has just lost his wife to illness and death reads through a paper of notes all the way from the engagement to the marriage to the wife’s death and the funeral arrangements; a whole life and existence summed up by short notes on a piece of paper.
Christian Bouchard explains that he to begin with aimed at a sound world that would picture the struggle between viruses and antibodies as well as the sounds a patient would pick up at intensive care, with all the machinery around him in his dreamy state of sedation. As Bouchard was working with this, he received the news of a friend’s motorcycle accident, which threw the sound process in a somewhat different direction.
The sound sources are submitted in Bouchard’s linear notes: “electronic sounds, oral noises, breathing, crowds, lifts, street corners, mechanical objects”.
The work commences in a spur of cut-up white noise, splices of electronic rumbles and aural atmospheres that appear almost percussive in their sudden appearances and disappearances, as if the world was turned off and on at the whim of a child of God, playing in the nursery of the universe. It could also be mistaken for a little techno unit so and so - but it’s a different story!
Bouchard’s cut-ups work. He doesn’t keep them up too long, but simply lets the lightning-fast excisions swoop past in precipitous angles that leave you ducking and dodging until reality starts filling up your consciousness with a seeping, wheezing fog of moist audio. It’s a more constant flow of oxygen finding its way up your nostrils and deep inside your auditory meatuses.
As the action gets more intense, hammering down on your nerve-ends in a vibrating hell-hound breath, sounds out of a human oral cavity drools down your listening like honey down a spoon you just lifted out of a jar…
As the piece progresses, it appears to lift you up by the neck like a kitten, speeding you through a shaman state of mind, in which secrets of life and the world are presented to you in a sonically transformed, symbolic kind of way, as in some of the most Stockhausenesque Stockhausen works (Oktophonie, Kathinkas Gesang), or like in Rolf Enström’s brilliant shaman electroacoustic work Tjidtjag & Tjidtjaggaise (Prix Italia 1987!), wherein Jonas Edvard Steggo’s Saami yoik (recorded on site in 1952) naming the two Lapland mountain peaks is turned around into another, hitherto invisible (unheard!) realm, wherein the shaman travels to the beyond and back with you, the listener, in a steady grasp.
Bouchard manages the same notion, albeit with the victim of the motorcycle accident as the traveler, levitated out of his gravitational position in the midst of all that intensive care equipment, floating under the ceiling with all those hoses and tubes hooked up, looking like the source of life floating in weightlessness, being tapped by an alien breed, and the concrete walls of the gigantic hospital suddenly transparent like the lungs of a fish grasping for air on the pier, the whole building an organism full of cellular activity and flowing fluids of necessities, as the gravitational conversations go on between celestial bodies in deep space…
Flakes of memories drift by, familiar voices disguised in phase shifts, childhood fears magnified, a father that reaches to the sky, his hat up there blocking the sun, the creaking of the baby carriage tearing the world apart…
Sounds of traffic and cafeterias bring adulthood and meager spirituality; the meaningless gestures of day-to-day curling back as a curse… and the beeping of life-supporting hi-tech reaches the mind in a mimicry of Terry Riley organs, feed-back and all, finally reducing existence to its bare core; a singularity of pain and pleasure and all the states in between, from a root canal to an orgasm in an instant.
Piece number 2 (tracks 2 - 4) is Trois miniatures en suite from 1997 - Bouchard’s first digitally produced electroacoustic work, which was made from a set of rules concerning duration and other aspects. For example, the composer is instructed to “look for soundscapes bearing the traces of the human activity that will be the only material for a miniature. Include the complete selected samples at least once.”
Bouchard made three pieces according to these instructions, here presenting them as a suite.
The first miniature is called Sacréboules, which mixes a passing airplane with two Chinese balls rolling, plus the sounds of a brook.
The second one is Le point de vue du parcomètre, which Bouchard calls a “superimposition of soundscapes from a single point of view.”
Thirdly Bouchard presents Tonicité “for base material, a single sound take.”
Sacréboules sounds different from what the description suggests. It opens in a prickly, hardly audible, high-pitch, randomly percussive mood, perhaps an electronically transformed flow of water over rocks and pebbles (the brook), but this cannot be determined save by the confirmation of the composer, should you ask him. These sharp, beautifully trickling triangle sounds soon are accompanied by a harsh and overwhelmingly brutal, dark noise (probably the airplane), wherein the triangle sounds take on the shape of church bells which in turn bend into some sage bell bulgings from undersea consciousnesses, withdrawing into a sound world reminiscent of Pierre Henry’s Le Livre des Morts égyptien, which however is based on manipulated grand piano sounds.
At the end the live shot of reality is revealed. Quite an exiting piece, extremely cleverly organized! This is true, vibrant, artistic sound wizardry! Many should listen and learn here! It is in the handling of small means and short durations that the true artist is revealed.
Le point de vue du parcomètre immediately appears to be dealing with time - or perhaps the illusory measuring of time… You hear a clock being wound and the ticking of wristwatches, on a backdrop of church bells… but it’s like trying to grasp the air in your hand och running for the end of the rainbow; simply a malfunction of our way of thinking, of our way of organizing existence in our mind; a wrongly formulated question.
Atmospheres of human societies rise in the soundscape, echoing in town mall reverberations or subway station environments, as the true nature of time looses us in a 300 000 kilometer per second flyby… constituting an aspect of space, wherein gravity is mere curved time, and our fates are smeared out on the walls of the time-space continuum like God-given graffiti…
The third part of Trois miniatures en suite - Tonicité - opens in the raw, natural vicinity of a backing dump truck, and the traffic aspect keeps up in it’s identifiable shape for a short while, until a softly panning, very benevolent and pleasurable sound soothes you and your comrades on this journey of lives…
The soaring sensation keeps up, in a laid-back flow of time and distance, albeit after a while reminiscent of the horrendous but spiritually enlightening Ligeti -flight of 2001 - a Space Odyssey - which in fact was a shaman journey not unlike the one Rolf Enström pictures via Jonas Steggo’s yoik in Tjidtjag & Tjidtjaggaise, mentioned above.
This, again, proves the brilliance of Christian Bouchard’s performance. It’s quite unlikely for anyone to be able to chisel such a wondrous and spiritually provoking piece of sound art out of such a meager source material - but Bouchard manages! Congratulations! This really livens me up!
Parcelles (2002 - 2003) comes in two sections, the first on tracks 5–11, the second on tracks 12–16.
Bouchard has a way with words, too, explaining quite poetically the aim of Parcelles. Please go to his page at empreintes DIGITALes’ site to read his whole statement. However, some of what he says boils down to the fact that he is fascinated by “magical moments” found in his sound environments, and that he tries to record those and utilize them in his art, much like a painter catches “landscapes, abstract forms” etcetera, filtering them through his personality, through his frames of reference. He calls them “fragments of moments”.
Bouchard meticulously submits the sources of Parcelles: Iron brake out my window - Sirens-Children in the nearby park - Fill in the Crier at the Montréal Festival - Secrets of a Stranger in Brussels; St Michel’s Cathedral - Noon Comings and Goings at Saint-Malo/Intra muros - Waiting for the Boeing in Paris/the Concorde - To All Passers-by, Thanks!; very close to my mics - And It Was So Quiet; between two cars - Leap-piano, Child’s Play, at a Jazz Festival - Noted Landscape at La Malbaie - Saint-Laurent Boulevard - A Fragment of Solitude at Orly.
The iron brakes out Bouchard’s window are turned into a bronze age lure in a mystical veil of age and dreamy textures - and thus it goes on through the entire Parcelles work, both parts; surprising utilizations and manipulations of windows in time, slices of reality taking on their hidden characteristics in fluent, poetic presentations that say something more and different than what is apparent just through the sum of the sounding parts - and therein lies the brilliance, the true quality of this sound art, which charms me more than most things I’ve heard lately. I can’t find one dull moment in Bouchard’s pieces. He’s the right man at the right place!
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Wrong — at least when it comes to electroacoustics, the beautiful province of Quebec compares very well to any other region of the world. Call me chauvinistic, I don’t care: Quebec is home to several composers of tremendous talent and influential professors.
My goal is not to turn this article in an analytical essay, but, as a music reviewer and unstoppable listener, I am convinced that there is such a thing as Québécois electroacoustics. Despite the stylistic variety among our composers, I detect a Québécois “sound,” something that sounds to me neither British nor French or German; something that calls to me and speaks to me in a language more immediate and easier to understand.
This “unity in diversity” is probably, at least in part, due to the lasting influence of a small number of key composers whose academic teachings have shaped our younger generations. I am thinking first and foremost of Francis Dhomont and Yves Daoust. So let’s begin this sound path with a Frenchman so Québécois at heart that he was awarded a prestigious Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. I can sincerely recommend all of Dhomont’s albums: his graceful writing, his narrative flair and his intelligence turn any of his works into fascinating gems. I have often publicly expressed my admiration for Forêt profonde (including in my first Sound Path, so I will skip it this time), but Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, his first large-scale work, remains an international classic of electroacoustic music, and his more recent Cycle du son shows how close to perfection his art has grown — the piece AvatArsSon in particular, my first pick for this Sound Path.
If Dhomont’s music is often constructed following large theoretical, literary and sociological themes, Yves Daoust’s works lean more toward poetry and the anecdote. Most of his pieces betray his respect for the abstractionist ideals of the French school, but his seemingly naive themes (water, crowds, a Chopin Fantasia or a childhood memory) empower his music with an unusual force of evocation. His latest album, Bruits, also displays a willingness to grow and learn. One is tempted to hear the influence of his more electronica-savvy students in the startling title triptych.
To those two pillars of Quebec electroacoustics, I must add the names of Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau is a very good example of what I consider to be the “typical” Québécois sound: a certain conservatism in the plasticity of sounds (the result of the combined influence of the British and French schools); great originality in their use; and an uncanny intelligence in the discourse which, even though it soars into academic thought, doesn’t rob the listener of his or her pleasure. My favorite album remains Figures, in part because of the beautiful piece Le Renard et la Rose, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince – and also because of Venture, a tribute to the Golden Age of progressive rock (a pet peeve I share with the composer, might I add). As for Gobeil’s music, it is the wildness of wilderness, the turmoil of human passions, the sudden gestures, the copious splashes of sonic matter thrown all around. If La mécanique des ruptures remains an essential listen, his most recent album Le contrat, a collaboration with guitarist René Lussier, stands as his most accomplished (and thrilling!) work to date.
These four composers may represent the crème de la crème of academic circles, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog counts numerous young composers and artists whose work deeply renew the vocabulary of their older colleagues.
I would like to mention Fractures, the just released debut album by Christian Bouchard. His fragmented approach seems to draw as much from academic electroacoustics as from experimental electronica. Thanks to some feverish editing and dizzying fragmentation, Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 evoke avant-garde digital video art. I also heartily recommend Louis Dufort’s album Connexions, which blends academic and noise approaches. His stunning piece Zénith features treatments of samples of Luc Lemay’s voice (singer with the death-metal group Gorguts). I am also quite fond of Marc Tremblay’s rather coarse sense of humor. On his CD Bruit-graffiti he often relies on pop culture (from The Beatles to children’s TV shows). His piece Cowboy Fiction, a “western for the ear” attempting to reshape the American dream, brings this Sound Path to a quirky end.
Serious or facetious, abstract or evocative, Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere. Now it is your turn to explore its many paths.
Christian Bouchard’s first full-length solo album as a composer of electroacoustic music is a very convincing debut. Younger than the average age of empreintes DIGITALes’ roster (he joins the label at 35), Bouchard seems to approach the genre from the experimental electronica angle rather than the more traditionally academic angle of musique concrète/sound synthesis; i.e., Bouchard’s music is more concerned with the electrical-sounding sounds (beeps, clicks, hums) at the heart of the works of composers like Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Leif Elggren, or Ryoji Ikeda than the plastic sound-modeling of Francis Dhomont or Jonty Harrison. And so Fractures is not about large gestures of sonic matter, but about cut-ups, interference, and flurries of data. Angle mort is the only piece of long duration. Its title (“Blind Spot”) and a dedication to a “bike-riding friend” announce a reflection on road accidents, but the piece, although emotionally charged, goes beyond the anecdote. But Bouchard’s main strength resides in the miniature. The three other pieces on this disc are all suites of short movements (nothing over four minutes), dynamically segued. Trois miniatures en suite, the oldest work on this set, is a bit stiffer than the other pieces and hardly breaks away from its “work assignment” nature. On the other hand, the two “Parcelles” suites (a total of 12 segments) offer fascinating sonic kaleidoscopes. Bouchard juxtaposes different points of view, different landscapes, different camera angles, so to speak. He is not telling a story, but only encouraging the listener to establish links between segments based on their sole proximity to each other. The hyperactivity of some movements (fast cut-ups, shifts between field recordings of crowded places and pure electronics) is disconcerting at first and makes for a demanding but very entertaining listen.