Alchimie: Compact-compact 3

Mario Rodrigue

… a sense of space and movement, and an effortless movement between real and surreal imagery. SAN Diffusion, UK

It took some talented hands to shape these little tracks. N D - Magazine, USA

  • Canada Council for the Arts

CD (IMED 9415)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9415
  • 1994
  • UCC 771028941520
  • Total duration: 37:39
  • Crystal case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
  • 80 g

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Download (IMED 9415_NUM)


Alchemy, the Disc

There seems to be a line, a buffer zone which separates what is from what might be. A floating frontier where the concrete stands in counterpoint to the imaginary, the existing to the as-yet-to-become, the realized to the potential, in short, the past to the future. This line is the present. Always moving yet stationary, the elusive moment of our fluid desires, the present forges the future and crystallizes our passions.

Between the experienced and the unaccomplished lies a path of perpetual conquest: that of the past in relation to ever-changing aspirations. And so the present is infused with intent, direction and expectations in regard to the unknown. This is the stance that I adopt during my composition. The beginning of a work proffers the end, traversing an impulse and keeping its thematic continuity.

Of the five pieces on this disc, three (Tilt, Qu’est-ce concert? and Fiano porte) were composed in the studios of the Faculty of Music of the Université de Montréal, using standard analog sampling: recording on tape and varying the speed of playback. In this manner I could construct chords of bells, human voices, springs, accordions, marbles rolling on various surfaces, and of other sound objects. An analog system of active filtering permitted me to develop these sonorities, adding many colors, many forms to my palette of sounds, and assuring a coherent temporal progression.

To produce this disc, I copied the original tapes of these three pieces on a multitrack digital audio tape recorder, and sampled the sound sources as well as other sounds to enhance certain parts of the pieces and thusly create new, definitive versions. The production of this disc provided me with the opportunity to rework these pieces: I heightened them — without deforming them — strengthening the themes and solidifying the basis throughout, [thereby accentuating several movements].

Mario Rodrigue, Montréal [i-94]

Some recommended items
In the press


Alistair MacDonald, SAN Diffusion, May 1, 2001

Another from the Québécois label empreintes DIGITALes, this CD was released in 1994. It’s one of their Compact Compact series — an excellent idea — about 40 minutes of music at half the price of a regular CD. This disk, however, is great value for money with five pieces by Mario Rodrigue composed between 1985 and 1993.

First impressions? I must confess never to have heard this composer’s work before. I put the CD on without looking at the cover and found myself feeling pleasantly refreshed to be in a sound world which seemed a little old fashioned. So I reached for the cover — Tilt, the first track was made in 1986, and apparently, along with Qu’est–ce concert? (1987) and Fiano Porte (1985) was made with good old fashioned reel–to–reel tape recorders, varispeed, editing and filters. Aah yes, I remember it well! Rodrigue works in Montréal and the early pieces were made in the studios at the Université de Montréal where he studied with [Francis] Dhomont and [Marcelle] Deschênes. What I enjoyed most about all of the pieces on the disc was the layering of sounds, a sense of space and movement, and an effortless movement between real and surreal imagery. But the pre–digital pieces seemed somehow richer (no, I’m not going to write about analogue warmth). Perhaps the advantage of reels of tape over synths and samplers (certainly the samplers from the early 90s) was that you could use so much more sound — long sweeping gestures, no faking of sustained sounds with tiny loops because of the lack of memory, no MIDI limitation of dynamics, no equal tempered keyboard trying to tell you how to tune your sounds, better sounding distant transpositions with varispeed… OK, I’m biased, but I really don’t think that the beginning of Tilt would have been the same had Rodrigue been using the S1000 and Atari ST he used in the later pieces. Nevertheless, all five pieces inhabit rich, vivid sound worlds, and I was no less impressed with the later works.

Tilt is an imaginary pinball machine. Rodrigue didn’t start with recordings of real pinball machines, but takes the idea and plays with it, travelling a long way from the simple initial idea and turning it into a dynamic piece of music. I was impressed by its shape and energy and loved the sounds.

The track which follows, Cristaux liquides (Liquid Crystals, 1990), gained a well deserved Mention in the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition in 1991. Stylistically it is a mixture of the abstract electroacoustic soundworld of Tilt, and a more pitchnrhythm based language. Rodrigue pulls it off, though, making a virtue out of some of the limitations of his sampler — the piece has layers made up of rhythmic loops and clearly pitched sounds (drones, chords) as well as longer sweeps of recorded sounds (particularly water). The piece is obviously his with the clarity of mixing which characterises all of the pieces on the disk.

Qu’est–ce concert? plays with the idea of ‘concert’: it tips its hat to musique concrète in its opening spinning sound (the electroacoustic concert) and real soundscapes with references to concerts make appearances, including birdsong, a city, the sound of an orchestra tuning–up, applause and a string quartet. No simple catalogue of images though — the piece really flows and theres a constant stream of surprises, soundscapes appearing unexpectedly from within each other.

I have to admit that it took a few listenings before I started to enjoy Le voyageur. Im too easily put off by notes by composers which try to explain music in terms of narrative. It seems to belittle the power of sound to suggest much more, to ignite the imagination and to suggest ideas which can’t easily be described, if a piece can be explained away so easily as a story. A personal hang–up, perhaps. Although all of the pieces on Alchimie have a narrative idea or image lurking in the background, there is always something else there, something more to listen to. But the note on Le voyageur is a short, simple narrative, and the piece seemed to realise the ‘story’ in a very literal way. However, the piece is no less skilfully composed, and once I had managed to forget the description in the CD booklet the piece started to make more sense.

The final piece on the CD is also the oldest. Fiano Porte was made in 1985. Although the technique is not so developed it is fascinating to hear strands which are carried into later pieces. The looped fragments of voices are not so distant from the world of Cristaux liquides and the sense of space is all there along with a very natural feel for mixing.

This is a CD well worth recommending, and I came away wanting to hear what Mario Rodrigue is doing now.

… a sense of space and movement, and an effortless movement between real and surreal imagery.


David Cotner, New Creative Music, January 1, 2001

Bells subsume into drainage systems and there is something quixotic about the cutting-up of water. And is identifying sounds winning out over listening to them? A taste of honey and a swirl of flies? Now shivering and wobbling, with an unidentified lowing beside. The cut-up review? No, as it coincides with the lowing laugh — that would be banal. Voices of children are trumped by more wobbling. Thumped? It could be read as such. Coo-koo. Applause. Is alchemy’s transmutation nothing less than an exchange of ideas? Something from nothing…

Telephone message — communications. Tones — questions. Voices — attention. Musique concrète — it is unclear.


Esteban Lago, Hurly Burly, no. 12, January 1, 2000

The sounds that this electroacoustic music composer who studied in Montréal under the supervision of Marcelle Deschênes and Francis Dhomont, uses are highly identifiable or rather method sounds. Chance seems to be a distinct feature of his intention and some episodic memory can be made out in the soundscapes appearing at certain points of the piece.


RK, Odradek, no. 3, January 3, 1998

Mario Rodrigue, ein kanadischer Elektroakusiker, war u.a. Schüler bei Francis Dhomont, von dessen musikalischem Denken er viel gelernt zu haben scheint. Die Spuren, welche diese Zusammenarbeit hinterlassen hat, vor allem hörbar im Sound, wie im konzepionellen Aufbau, sind jedoch nur ein Bestandteil eines großen Repertoires, das von sensiblen Naturgeräuschen, Vogelgesang, über Schritte, Stimmen, traditionelle mechanische Geräusche, bis zu Elektronik, — Radiofragmenten und symphonischen Elementen reicht, die mit viel Ernst und ebensoviel Humor verknüpft und gemischt wurden. Liquidität und Ruhe dieser Musik, vergleichbar den Arbeiten von Michel Redolfi, und die Dichte Dhomont scher Prägung sind ebenso zu finden wie die sensible Transparenz z.B. mancher natürlicher Geräusche bei einigen französischen Elektroakusikern. Rodrigue bewegt sich im fließenden Feld zwischen dem Konkreten und dem Imaginierten. Er spielt mit den Elementen, die sein Material sind, aber er verliert sich nie in diesem Spiel. Starke assoziative Verknüpfungen und Entwicklungsprozesse machen die intensive Lebendigkeit, den Witz und die Wärme dieser Arbeiten aus.

Uber Verfremdung verwandelt sich eine Waschmaschine, in der das Leben einer ganzen Stadt zu toben scheint, in einen Helikopter, der dann aLdreht und aus dem imaginierten Bild fliegt, — um nur eines aus einer Fülle von Beispielen zu beschreiben. Rodrigue’s Zauberkino für die Ohren ist reich an Inhalten und klar und transparent in seiner musikalischen Erzählweise, was bei diesem enormen Fundus an verwendeten Geräuschen und Klängen-und der Komplexität der daraus entstandenen Arbeiten sicher nicht selbstverständlich ist. Besser kann man elektroakustische Musik kaum machen. Das informative Booklet gibt Auskunft auch über technische Details und Arbeitsweise.


Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, no. 20, June 1, 1997

A lot of great music is packed into this slender, discount-format CD, one of the best on this label. Rodrigue’s electroacoustic pieces have a fluid style that is refreshingly different from the jarringly erratic nature of most tape-music. Like a roller coaster ride through a spectacle of stereophonic fireworks. Not merely entertaining either: compositionally, the pieces are compelling, and they are no less artful for all their seeming concern with impressive technical tricks. It took some talented hands to shape these little tracks. Rodrigue is my top recommendation to insomniacs who listen with headphones.

It took some talented hands to shape these little tracks.


SOCAN, Words & Music, July 1, 1995

Montréal composer Mario Rodrigue offers five electroacoustic works in this release, each demonstrating his keen ear and sense of humor. In Tilt, he creates an imaginary pinball machine and explores the sounds it might make; Cristaux liquides is described in the notes as “sound poetry inspired by two different physical states of water—solid and liquid”; and Le voyageur relates a space traveiier’s exploration of one of earth’s major metropolises.


SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, July 1, 1995

Le compositeur montréalais Mario Rodrigue explore dans ces cinq nouvelles œuvres électroacoustiques la «zone tampon entre ce qui est et ce qui parait être». Il décrit notamment l’enjeu d’une partie de «machine à boule» dans Tilt, crée une poésie sonore inspirée de deux différents états de l’eau dans Cristaux liquides et suit un vovageur céleste qui pénètre dans l’orbite terrestre dans Le voyageur.


Ned Bouhalassa, Contact!, no. 8:2, June 1, 1995

Undoubtedly, the period beginning in 1985 and ending around 1991 will certainly go down as the ‘golden age’ of electroacoustic composition at the Université de Montréal. That six-year span would see a cluster of future internationally-renowned composers like Gilles Gobeil, Robert Normandeau, Stéphane Roy and Alain Thibault walk the same corridors and share studio time. Other composers like Michel A Smith, Denis Saindon, and Daniel Leduc would also realize outstanding works in their respective specialization (Multimedia, Live Electroacoustics, and Radio Art). Why, come to think of it, Christian Calon, though not a student, was working in the music library during some of those years!

The fact that this was indeed a unique period is confirmed with the release of Alchimie (alchemy) and Amore (Love), two short-duration CDs (+/- 40 min). Mario Rodrigue and Roxanne Turcotte were also part of that illustrious group, and though there names may not be familiar to readers of Contact!, their work is as rich and polished as that of their former classmates.

Rodrigue’s Alchimie contains 5 acousmatic (solo tape) works covering an 8-year period. The first piece, Tilt (1986), is a short, dynamic ride in an imaginary pinball game. Chosen as best overall work in the 1986 CBC National Competition for Young Composers, it contains most of the elements that one finds in Rodrigue’s latter works: rich inharmonic tones (bells); tonal chords (pads) and progressions; short repeated rhythmic patterns; and most of all, lots of movement (dynamic stereo panning, montage). Of the remaining four works, it is Cristaux liquides (1990) that stands out, with its very colourful blend of anecdotal and abstract sound objects. Like Calon, Gobeil and Normandeau, Rodrigue’s work has been influenced by cinema, and virtually all of the works on Alchimie provide the listener with finely-crafted, vivid examples of ‘cinema for the ear.’

… merveilleux exemples du «cinéma pour l’oreille».


Tom Schulte, Outsight, January 1, 1995

Alchimie is part of empreintes DIGITALes’s series of electroacoustic recordings for introduction or exploration of the genre. The CDs, each under forty minutes, come packed in a slimline case and are half-price. Here are five piece recorded by Rodrigue from 1986 to 1993. This includes Tilt, which earned him the 1st Prize in the electroacoustic category and the Grand Prize in 7th CBC National Competition for Young Composers (1986). Tape recordings of varied playback speed make up three of the five pieces on this disc, Tilt, Qu’est-ce concert? and Fiano porte. Using this technique, Rodrigue put together sounds usually encountered discretely (bells, rolling marbles, etc.) into “chords.” The effect is visually evocative because each sound brings to mind a tangible shape and texture. Also, these audio collages suggest weightless floating and a fantasy setting. The unexpected sonic replication and ‘harmonization’ suggests the effects of surreal distances and perceptions as encountered in dreams. (4.5/5)

… each sound brings to mind a tangible shape and texture…

Le disque de la semaine

Dominique Olivier, Voir, October 6, 1994

La maison de production de musique électroacoustique DIFFUSION i MéDIA lançait récemment sept nouveaux disques compacts, simultanément. Amore de Roxanne Turcotte, Claire-voie de Wende Bartley, Alchimie de Mario Rodrigue et L’oreille voit de Randall Smith dans sa série COMPACT-COMPACT, c’est-à-dire des enregistrement d’une durée de près de quarante minutes seulement, vendus à moitié prix. L’ivresse de la vitesse, de Paul Dolden et Tangram de Robert Normandeau constituent quant à eux des coffrets, alors que l’œuvre intégrale de La mécanique des ruptures de Gilles Gobeil tient sur un compact ordinaire. On retrouve parmi ces œuvres de pures merveilles, l’école électroacoustique québécoise étant ce qu’elle est: une des plus riches qui soient actuellement, à témoin les concours internationaux. Mario Rodrigue fait partie de ce groupe de compositeurs d’envergure internationale, et nous offre avec Alchimie un échantillon de son immense talent qui ne cède en rien au vulgaire ou au facile. Un monde à découvrir.

AVIS: Le texte reproduit ici est extrait du site de Voir et est protégé par la Loi sur le droit d’auteur du Canada. © Communications Voir Inc, 1994

… son immense talent qui ne cède en rien au vulgaire ou au facile. Un monde à découvrir.