This is music to provoke your imagination and make your ears tingle with excitement. — Incursion Music Review, Canada
The music will overwhelm you… — Sztuka Fabryka, Belgium
Music used for the film La beauté de Pandore (35mm, 92 minutes, 2000) by Charles Binamé; produced by Cité-Amérique.
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 9840 / 1998
- UCC 771028984022
- Total duration: 53:48
- Crystal case
- 125 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
- 80 g
- Label: empreintes DIGITALes
- IMED 9840_NUM / 1998
- UCC 771028984084
- Total duration: 53:48
The son of a Breton and an Algerian, Ned Bouhalassa buried his mongrel pedigree in the ascetic study of audio phenomenology. Electroacoustics promised to release forever those troubling sentimental attachments he had to music. In the tradition of Dhomont, Bouhalassa’s assiduous experiments in acousmatic art conjured stark and disconcerting works. Attraction is his nihilistic apogee, reducing all existence to magnetic impulses that collide violently or hurtle away.
As the attention and the kudos crackled down on him in the rarefied ground-zero of a multi-speaker acousmatic array, Bouhalassa’s appetite for musical adventure forced him out into the streets for fresh sustenance. Soon, he would be found flipping through the chart-toppers at the record store and wigging out to Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Public Enemy, admiring their volatile and spontaneous sonorities and passion. There is plenty for an electroacoustician’s ear in this music, if you don’t mind it ringing after the show. Over the years, Bouhalassa’s work in film, television, and multimedia soundtracks has considerably broadened his interests and compositional palette. His recent work revels in this cross-genre electronic sensibility.
Ned Bouhalassa, along with Alain Thibault and Louis Dufort, is among a new group of electroacoustic composers that is stepping away from its sound-dissecting apparatus and venturing downtown to mill among the undergrads at steamy venues. The science of sound is being practiced expertly and with great sophistication in the commercial music industry — and these new composers thrive on the amazing innovations and creative energy of this voracious business.
Aérosol shows the evolution of a humble young composer from the grim satisfactions of academic rigor to the burgeoning suppleness of his present work. Jets is ideal chill-out music, cinematic, atmospheric and ceremonial, recatalyzing the coherence of past impressions in wonder. Visionary sound stimulus for all citizens of the future.
Bruce Gottlieb, Montréal [x-98]
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In the press
Ned Bouhalassa’s music is unusual for an electroacoustic composer — for someone working in an area that one would normally think of as being limited to the world of academia. His work combines the scientific discipline of acousmatics, in which he was grounded, with raw field recordings and MIDI-sequenced fragments in a variety of techno-derived styles, with striking originality and transitions so natural that one hardly blinks an eyelid. He is one of a new group of electroacoustic composers coming out of Canada who are drawing on the rich developments in electronic technique that have evolved over the last 10-15 years through the dance music scene, combining sound sources in a truly postmodern sense, where all sounds are a resource to draw upon freely, without prejudice for style; where all things around us can be, and indeed are, music.
Ned Bouhalassa has been actively involved in the composition and promotion of electroacoustic music since 1987, working with the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, and teaching at Concordia University from 1991-96. His works have been diffused in concert and radio internationally, and he has received awards for his work in Canada and internationally. These days composition occupies him full-time, as he works on commissions for a variety of media, from tape alone to film and dance works.
I began by asking him about his studies in acousmatic music in Montréal, and how his early explorations in electroacoustic techniques still bring a great influence to bear upon his work today.
NB: My first contact with acousmatic music was in 1986, at Concordia University, when Kevin Austin came into the Introduction to Music History class (at the end of the semester) to give a brief presentation of electroacoustics (ea). He played a short tape piece he had composed with another Montréaler, Daniel Feist (also a well-known radio personality). The clip was entitled, Auxferd night burr’d, November 2.A.M. It had no text, but an engaging narrative was played out using musique concrète techniques on a Rastafarian-like voice. What struck me most was that the sounds were bringing all kinds of images to my mind — some abstract, others more recognisable. Upon hearing “Auxferd,” I saw that it was possible to tell a story using sounds alone. I bought a 4-track that summer, and starting experimenting with layering and pitch transposition. I began studying ea that Fall, and soon after, I got involved in the ea community by helping to put on many concerts, working for the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), hosting an ea music radio show, etc.
I also listened to a _lot_ of ea. I’ve always been very good at taking apart music or sound art by ear. I still remember the night I had an epiphany about multiple layers of processing. I was listening to a radio broadcast of a piece by Francis Dhomont (it may have been Points de fuite), where I could hear the sound of a pencil or some other like-object rolling towards and then away from me. I tried to analyse in my head the techniques used to make that kind of movement, and realised that it involved changing not only the timbre (filtering), but also the amplitude (volume), and stereo position (panning). This may seem obvious when it’s explained like that, but for me, being able to figure it out by listening alone had more impact than any professor’s lecture or text.
I didn’t take my composing seriously though until I won two Canadian young composers’ prizes in the same year (1990). Of course, I knew enough not to expect to make a living from it, but it made me feel stronger, more confident. I was quite insecure about my composing abilities, and getting recognition from my peers helped me a lot. By getting involved with the ea community, I also became friends with people whose work I had greatly admired: Christian Calon, Francis Dhomont, Gilles Gobeil, Robert Normandeau, and others. For me, this was also a fantastic way to learn the craft: to sit around and talk shop with these gifted artists.
Around the same time, I became interested in Hip-Hop, particularly Public Enemy. I liked what they were doing with samplers, adding street ambience to the Funky Drummer, using all kinds of musique concrète techniques. In 1993, I bought my first portable DAT and binaural microphones, and I began making a lot of indoor and outdoor recordings. Listening with headphones while recording really increased my perception of the sounds that I took for granted and hardly ever noticed (cars, general city noise, my refridgerator, a clock ticking, etc). 8 years later, I still go back to these DATs for source material.
I think the period where I fell in love with ea was a particularly exciting one, at least here in Montréal. The composers I listed above and many others were doing their first mature works (except for Francis, bien sur), and there was a regular flow of strong pieces, concerts. I think things starting leveling off in the mid-90s, or maybe it was my interest that diminished. This was also the period when I started to regularly listen to Techno music in (almost) all its forms.
MStation: In many of Bouhalassa’s works he seems fascinated by exploring the nature of sounds, and at time seems to almost get inside of them. The physics of sound is always something that is conveyed very immediately to me by his pieces — perhaps augmented by binaural field recording techniques. In works such as Jets (1996-98), where there seems to be a focus on movement, spatiality and kinetics, I wondered if this was at all reminiscent of early Xenakis, the orchestral pieces based on atomic particle movements.
NB: I can’t say I’m very much influenced by Xenakis. Of course, I’ve listened to some of his pieces, and I always think of him when I create cloud-like stochastic textures (using software like Cloud, MacPod or SuperCollider). I do like to really get into my sounds with a microscope, but in my case, it’s really the EQ and compression. Reverb is something I’m learning to use less. Kevin Austin really helped me understand how to manage digital reverb. I prefer to dig into the unprocessed material first: the acoustic world is so much richer than any digitally-created or processed source.
The focus on movement that you mention is really a compositional technique. I treat space as an equal aspect of sound, which means that I pay the same attention I do to pitch, amplitude, rhythm, etc. The sounds have dynamic trajectories because I program/automate movements across the stereo field (or sound stage). Regarding my fascination with movement, I should mention my acousmatic confreres as influences. I’m also still exploring granular synthesis in all its forms (slow and sparse, or fast and dense). In Move 1, I actually used that process to generate much of the gestures.
MStation: The acousmatic school seems to have quite an influence upon your teachers work, and upon Canadian ea/cm. Do you use any of the principles of acousmatics, i.e. abstraction and hiding or disguising the original sound source?
NB: I’m very intuitive, so I tend to steer away from what can be perceived by some as ‘rules’ or principles. Sometimes a sound that I’ve heard many times before, like an outdoor swing or a car zooming by, will take on a different characteristic when I take it out of its original context and edit it in the studio. If its screaming, “I’m a car!”, and it works for me in the context of writing a piece, then I might not disguise it at all. It’ll be a car for most people, and that’s already so full of meaning… On the other hand, if when looped, filtered, reversed, etc, it takes on a new, abstract, musical character, then it’s no longer a car, and that’s fine as well. In my acousmatic work, I combine both abstract and recognisable, anecdotal sounds. I like to think that when I’m successful, I tell a story that can be interpreted many different ways: you can tell that there’s some kind of underlying narrative, but the relation between the sounds/gestures is open to as many interpretations as there are listeners.
MStation: I very much admire the way you incorporate techno influences into your work — it is with great subtlety, and there is such a fluidity of movement across boundaries of style, that conveys that _all_ the sounds around us are music.
Is there a particular style of techno / drum’n’bass / hip-hop, or a particular group that you like? I guess that when it comes to incorporating techno into ea music it is also a question of what sort of music will work with the electroacoustic sounds, and whether you want things to blend or jump-cut.
NB: I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to combining genres… which is a good thing. I know that I won’t write a classic electroacoustic or techno piece, but that’s not what interests me these days anyhow, ‘pure’ anything. I listen to all kinds of music, as much as possible: the radio in the car, in the kitchen, web radio, dj friends, clubs/parties, etc. I get inspired by anything that is exciting. It can be 3 sine waves, or a dense soop of noise, as long as it’s _alive_. We are really blessed here in Montréal, as there are 4 community radio stations, and I can almost always hear something interesting on air. I like fast, hard jungle, like the British stuff (Optical, )EIB(, Dillinja, Dom and Roland, Total Science); IDM/glitch/anything-else-that-fits-that-label, like Autechre (studio more than live), Oval, Ikeda, Pole, Pan Sonic Plastikman; and of course more Brits, like Amon Tobin, Luke Vibert, Luke Slater, Photek, Lamb. Electroacoustic sounds can and should be any sound really, so the question is not so much what to combine, but rather what to leave out. Often, the problems are more technical than poetic. If you have a really heavy, in-your-face techno beat, chances are there’s not much room in the frequency spectrum for anything else, certainly not something subtle. So then it’s a question of filtering the beat to make room for other sounds. I’ve been using electroacoustic soundscapes as bridges to beat sections — or beat sections as lead-ups to electroacoustic spaces… I see people like Matmos doing that, and I think it’s great. They use electroacoustics as a way to create scenes, near-narrative contexts for their rhythmic tracks. I mean it’s really nothing new. Many rock records I used to listen to as a teenager had field recordings or little montages that preceded a given song.
MStation: What software and/or hardware do you use? I gather you’re Mac-based, are you using OS X at all?
NB: I use Logic Audio and the AudioWerk card on a G3 desktop. As for operating systems, I prefer those that finish with a “.5 or .6”! By the time they get to that point, they usually have worked out a few bugs… I’m running 8.6 presently. I love VST plug-ins, especially Pluggo, and I’ve recently started using EXS24 (Emagic’s soft-sampler). The latest, greatest toy in my collection is the new version of Absynth.
MStation: How you find working as an intuitive composer with programs like SuperCollider and granular synthesis apps that often require pretty intensive programming? Are there ways in which you balance these two seemingly opposite approaches?
NB: Since the early days of using a university studio, I have had a two-birds-with-one-stone approach to learning/programming software/synth patches: as I explore a new tool, I try to ‘compose’ gestures that I can later incorporate in a piece. That way, I don’t feel like I’m ‘wasting’ precious composing time. Anyhow, there’s no better way to judge the pertinence of a given program than by trying to make music with it right off the bat.
MStation: Technically, are there particular approaches or applications that you find helpful to acheive this? You already mentioned reverb, which I would assume helps a lot in the spatialisation and dynamic movement of sound. Are there any particular applications or techniques that help you to put a sound under the microscope?
NB: This might seem obvious, but one technique is to use EQ as a microscope. Use the peak filter setting, make a sharp bell, crank up the gain on the cutoff point and sweep around the frequency spectrum. This will allow you to ‘zoom’ in on the sound and find its significant frequency characteristics or formants. You can then decide if you want to highlite or hide the later. One can do so much with EQ alone.
MStation: Again it strikes me that it’s the movement, the dynamics of the transitions between beats and electroacoustics that inspires you… Sometimes I’ve noticed that the forms you use are quite cinematic, not only with the jump cuts from acousmatics to techno, but in the way you set a scene.
I’m aware that you also compose film music, I wondered if you’d like to say a little bit about your current project?
NB: These days, I’m starting work on the soundtrack for a feature film called Jack and Ella (www.jackandella.com). I’ve been given carte-blanche for one of the rare times in my soundtrack career. The music will be a blend of film score, techno and electroacoustics (surprise, surprise!). It’s a wonderful story, full of meaningful dialogue, superbly acted, well shot, etc. The director is my girlfriend, and we both work at home, so it should be an interesting experience!
I also just got a Canada Council for the Arts grant to compose a new 30-minute acousmatic work based on the morphing of sounds, the Berlin zoo, and the myths of Orpheus and Morpheus. I hope to travel to Berlin to record animals and people in the zoo, and to San Francisco, where I will use some of Sound Traffic Control’s resources for resynthesis.
MStation: Many thanks, Ned, and we wish you both all the very best with the forthcoming release of Jack and Ella. Ned Bouhalassa’s album Aérosol is available from empreintes DIGITALes. Jack and Ella, a film by Brenda Keesal, featuring music by Ned Bouhalassa, will be completed in Summer 2001.
Bouhalassa is a French composer of acousmatic music, and it appears that his name is widely renowned in experimental circles. Aérosol is yet another release from Diffusion i Media which belongs to their ‘short duration/half-price’ series. Bouhalassa’s talents are constantly in demand in the Montréal area, where he also teaches at Concordia University. Aérosol stands as a less abrasive and more «musical» release in comparison to the other DiM CDs. The artist’s attraction to cinema and science fiction is quite evident in the music — it holds a very atmospheric and suggestive quality. The track Constamment (autoportrait), really kicks in at the 10 minute mark. The techno flourishes are devine. Move 1 is a very minimal track which passes by like a strange dream. If you find many of the modern examples of noise too haphazard and experimental for your tastes, then you may just find this release to your likeing.
Montréal based composer Ned Bouhalassa specializes in acousmatic works and his teachers included Kevin Austin and Francis Dhomont. Various sources influence his work including cinema, contemporary visual art and science fiction. Bruce Gottlieb’s notes also indicate diverse influences of: volatile popular music like Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Public Enemy; academic and underground venues; and the sophistication of the commercial music production. The composer has worked in a variety of media, including cinema, television, the internet, and techno-derived styles.
CD notes indicate that his acousmatic work attempts to balance structural with emotional and poetic concerns. Jets is the opening offering, a dynamic and energetic work using jet-shaped materials that moves freely in the piece with at times wild abandon. The result is eerie and angular, and the sonic metaphors are strangely mixed in parts. A sense of spontaneity is balanced with interesting textures, and pace balanced with unity. The sense of timing is outstanding.
Constamment (autoportrait) is autobiographical in five sections, skimming a variety of musical influences. Sonically it lacks cohesion despite the interesting byways that vary in quality from the sublime to the mundane. The techno sections in particular are less convincing.
The CD notes describe Attraction as the composer’s ‘nihilistic apogee including magnetic impulses that collide violently or hurtle away’. Composer notes indicate that the piece ‘consists of various representation of the energy that is build up and released in many types of attractions’: the result being a series on non-recurring and complex gestures. The work mixes musique concrète techniques and analog synthesis with digital transformation. In context, it sounds dated, yet the work has enough internal interest to keep the listener dramatically involved.
Move 1 is a poetic study of abstract representations of human and animal movement. The composer constructed a MIDI data generator that alters a variety of controllers each time a sample is played. A flowing, complex and yet homogeneous texture results, with a great sense of discipline.
Bouffée délirante is Bouhalassa’s first attempt to realise ‘cinema for the ear’. It also represents the composer’s initial exploration of montage and the ‘sudden jump-cut gesture’. The subject matter is one of personal introspection leading to madness. In context, the control of discontinuity is superb, drawing the listener into an increasing sense of fragmentation.
The CD in total achieves the composer’s aim of balancing the spontaneous and poetic with the control of form and content. The variety of techniques and control of diverse genres is impressive, as is the control of sonic metaphors. Perhaps more interesting is the balance of the best new and old techniques, and the familiar with the unfamiliar. This allows the composer to create within tested methods, yet also to reinvent and create within them. The edgy style constantly keeps one interested, and the sheer variety of material leaves one with the sense that this disk will be often revisited.
Acousmatic composer Ned Bouhalassa, born in France but now making his home in Montréal, has been active in the promotion and production of electroacoustic music for a number of years. Aérosol presents various works composed and recorded from 1990 through 1998, and comes packaged with liner notes on each piece by Bouhalassa himself. Sponge-like, Bouhalassa absorbs elements from a diverse array of influences (cinema, visual art, techno, environmental recordings…). His music is full of difference and variety. Each sound playfully moves through the stereo spectrum (an aeroplane in the sky, the buzzing of insects, the crackles of a digital landscape), and it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear the same sound twice. Each of these compositions take on their own themes and compositional techniques. The first, Jets, explores the idea of an automated sound projection, where sound is perceived as moving “in an almost intuitive manner.” Constamment (autoportrait) is a selfportrait expressing the artist’s anomalous memory and his state of mind on turning 37. Clearly evident in this piece is Bouhalassa’s love of techno music, for occasionally a thumping bass or a rhythmic interlude will force itself into the otherwise abstract sound environment. The next piece, Attraction, attempts to express any number of attractions in life and in art. Recordings of acoustic sources were put through the hoops of digital processing and traditional musique concrète techniques. The final piece is my favourite here. Bouffée délirante (Maddening Exhalation) is described as “an attempt to realize what has been coined ‘cinema for the ear’”. There is, as is characteristic of all these compositions, a complex array of sound sources and moods. But what I like most about this piece is the way it jumps suddenly from one “scene” to another; a smooth intonation (from a cello? a violin?) will suddenly be cut and move into a whole new sound structure, only to return back again, clumsily, at a later moment. Bouhalassa calls this a “jump-cut gesture”; these interruptions are like film montage for the ears, breaking up the narrative or moving it along. There are no words, but the sounds tell a story all on their own. This is music to provoke your imagination and make your ears tingle with excitement.
The CD brings us 5 compositions, composed by Ned Bouhalassa from 1992 towards 1998, which shows us the progress in his acoustic work. Each compositions can be seen as collage work for fantastic movies played internal in the subconscious of your brain. The best is to put your CD Walkman on, close your eyes and browse through his acoustic compositions. The music will overwhelm you with collages of recorded sounds and fresh sounds that tickers around. He does not creat music that starts and develops towards an end, no it is a constant flood of combination of sounds that creates several levels and a big variety within the compositions. Sometimes the compositions makes you sleeply, a few minutes later the very strong use and combination of sounds and collage can drive you into hypnotisation and even a psychose. In his later work he used mostly the collage technic of recorded sounds while in his earlier work the use of created sounds overwhelms. The composition is not music ‘as such’ but is the reflection of stories in sounds as an opera in the digital age. That is maybe also why the tracks are long — 8:22 is the shortest track. The reflection of the stories is the main reason for these compositions, a very difficult task for a single person, but Ned Bouhalassa succeeds in his task.
Ned Bouhalassa, on the other hand, goes for weird sound-bending, warping of tones and familiar sound into unrecognisable structures. He counterpoints melodic elements with abrasive textures, and does it in a most unusual way. I’m yet to make my mind up on this one!
Ned Bouhalassa’s Aérosol, while not nearly as overwhelming as Copeland’s CD, is an enjoyable, dynamic work that occasionally integrates more conventional musical elements within its electroacoustic maelstrom. Pieces move from the chaotic sonic pastiche of Jets to the cooler grooves of Constamment (autoportrait). Aérosol reveals a somewhat lighter, more playful approach to electro acoustic music, inspired by the power and energy of pop culture.
A compilation dating from different periods. 1990 to 1998, it brings us a narrative product wich defines scenes intimately spaced along dynamics and interactive corridors that promote the creation of images wich are interrupted by rythmic motives or silences. The intervals that separate the recording dates link or keep apart aesthetic configurations of contrasting making.
Ned Bouhalassa is a young Canadian electroacoustic composer who has studied under Francis Dhomont. His recent achievements have included music for the cinema, television, and Internet involving a variety of techno-derived styles. Aérosol is Bouhalassa’s debut release and presents an excellent collection of five electronic compositions that lack the sterile academic ambiance so prevalent in this genre. The opening track Jets is an electronic analog of water, air, and dust jets that leave a trace as they move through space. This is a cool piece as these ‘jets’ hurl themselves in all directions in stereo space. The next piece, Constamment (autoportrait), is Ned’s self-portrait. Consisting of 5 sections, it starts quietly and ends with some hip techno beats. The remaining three tracks Attraction, Move 1, and Bouffée délirante are equally as brilliant. In fact an edited version of Move 1 also appears on the Asphodel compilation The Swarm of Drones.
If you are looking for some adventurous, but not academic, electroacoustic music, by all means buy Aérosol. Highly Recommended.
‘Electroacoustic music’ is a term encompassing an array of music that utilizes recorded sound (traditionally magnetic tape) as an instrument. It can be divided into two broad categories: music which utilizes tape and performers, such as compositions for orchestra and tape, or live interactive music for performer and tape [mixed music], and the more traditional ‘tape music’ based entirely on recorded sound. Tape music did not appear until after World War II (though it had antecedents in Dada and Futurism) when tape recorders became widely available, and were ‘invented’ in France by Pierre Schaeffer (though a few isolated composers ‘discovered’ the process on their own soon after). Schaeffer’s collages of found sound and manipulated tones represented a radical break from contemporary ideas of ‘music’ (in fact he coined a term “musique concrète” to describe his work). They were meant to be heard as abstract sound art, without predetermined notions that sounds necessarily have to be ‘connected’ to the objects that produced them-any ‘meaning’ being assigned by the listener. Musique concrète provided the foundation later for the tape music of serialist composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, and eventually stimulated the evolution of electronic music itself.
Tape music has often gotten an undeserved bad rap in this country. Self-consciously hip, mainstream music journalists write it off as an ‘academic’ exercise for university eggheads (even though Schaeffer himself was never trained as a composer or musician), and conservative NPR programmers either ignore it altogether or regard it (along with most ‘weird’ 20th century music) as beyond the pale. Hence most folks have had very little exposure to electroacoustic music, and recordings have been virtually impossible to obtain in this country until recently.
Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes is among the first North American labels to actively distribute and promote electroacoustic music exclusively, and their recent Miniatures concrètes CD (reviewed below) is a good sampler of modern musique concrète. Other more widely available (barely) electroacoustic music releases of late include Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontakte (ecstatic peace!), The Storm of Drones 3-CD compilation on Sombient/Asphodel (which includes one disc of empreintes DIGITALes artists), and the Testament compilation CD on RRR.
Writing reviews of ‘underground’ music is sometimes a tricky thing. One has to keep in mind that even though someone is a household name in my household, it doesn’t mean that their name is likely to be dropped real often down at the local ‘Pump and Pantry’. I recall Bouhalassa’s name from an appearance on that rather okay Swarm of Drones compilation (Asphodel) from a couple of years back and at the time just figured he was probably Naut Humon’s cousin or a one-time roadie for Rhythm and Noise (or both). When this appeared in the mailbox recently, I was a bit surprised to find out he was an award-winning, up-and-coming sound artists who studied under musique concrète big-leaguer Francis Dhomont, and has been an active promoter of electroacoustic music since 1987. Go figure. Aérosol is an introduction to Bouhalassa’s works from 1990-1998, and reveals him as a very accomplished soundcrafter doing a pretty fine job of making what the French call ‘contemporary music’ sound a bit more contemporary.
When played as a backdrop, most of the music on Aérosol sounds structurally similar to your typical Pierre Schaeffer / Pierre Henry ‘good time oldie’ cut-and-paste tape music regularly pumped into restaurants and bank lobbies throughout the Midwest. But Bouhalassa’s music stands apart from his forbears due to his remarkably diverse and interesting sound palette, which draws heavily on non-traditional and even (gasp!) non-French sources for inspiration. The unintentionally funny liner notes paint him as an overly hip, quasi-nihilist rebel who ‘wigs out’ to Nirvana and Sonic Youth. He also states his love for techno, which he listens to daily, and often dances to until the early hours of the morning (fuckin’ raver), and is photographed hilariously (to me, anyway) in front of some seeming computer-generated montage, shaven headed, peering pensively to the side, looking like any of the myriad of anonymous techno-crats who litter the pages of The Wire these days. Despite the mild ‘hype’, Bouhalassa manages to pull off a pretty amazing feat that some of his new hip acousmatic youth counterparts (e.g. Alain Thibault) do not: to create music with the upbeat energy and vitality of techno and other ‘underground’ musics in a way that involves, rather than pummels, the listener while maintaining a grasp of the traditional style (and spirit) of musique concrète.
The standout ten-minute opening track pretty much sums up Bouhalassa’s style. Jets is an ever-changing, active yet never overly ‘busy’ sound landscape filled with seemingly familiar sounds assembled into a seamless, flowing whole, while maintaining the integrity of its individual elements (yeah, kinda like musique concrète, dude!). A large share of the sound sources for Jets are ‘musical’ and manage to faintly recall every kind of electronic music ever invented, from kosmische tone-float to post-industrial speaker damage. Everytime I hear this, I spot 10 or 20 little sound bits that I think I’ve heard before, on an old Pink Floyd album, early Tangerine Dream, the first This Heat, or anything in the Soleilmoon mailorder catalog, yet when I try to pin those bits down on the next listen, they always seem to elude me. A good share of the sound material Bouhalassa uses is electronic in an up-front, digital and very ‘there’ way (like much techno), but these bits are often embedded in a subtle, yet equally interesting background of lower-end sounds. This disc sounds great (and completely different) on crappy computer speakers as well as expensive headphones, and like most great sound art, sounds slightly different on each listen (it is especially rewarding when played loudly). Bouhalassa always keeps his pieces moving, never allowing them to stagnate or slip into predictability, but all the while he is very patient, allowing his ideas to unfold gradually while maintaining a sense of spontaneity. Its hard for me to describe the overall effect of Jets other than to tag it as a sonic roller-coaster ride, an overworn term that pretty well sums up the effect of most of my favorite tape music.
The next three pieces are similar to Jets, with a few differences in sound material and style. Constamment (autoportrait) is the longest piece and also Bouhalassa’s most overtly ‘techno’ work. It begins in a somewhat restrained, yet colorful way, and then infuses a very unobtrusive illbient backbeat element as a backdrop, which appears and disappears as needed. Attractions follows, which utilizes processed acoustic sound sources, making it the most recognizably musique concrète piece on the album. It opens with the sound of breaking glass, a good old tape music cliché that indicates something of a subtle sense of humor (always welcome in this genre) before moving on to more unfamiliar ground. Where as Attractions uses more traditional methodology to collage sounds, the following piece Move 1 uses MIDI technology to achieve the same ends, but is good nonetheless. Bouhalassa’s use of computer greatly expands the array of sound material available from very limited sources, and I can but hope this work will stand as an example to the legions of MIDI-heads who crank out cratefuls of dull ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ music and fail to take advantage of (or even interest in) the full range of sonics available. Move 1 also contains my favorite sound ‘bit’, a densely layered insect swarm that recalls David Dunn’s excellent ‘Chaos and the Emergent Mind of the Pond’ on the Angels and Insects CD, on Nonsequitur.
The final piece Bouffée délirante is an early piece from 1990 that sounds quite a bit different; an overt attempt at ‘cinema for the ear’ which is not quite as sonically rich as the other pieces, but still a good and very interesting example of an artist ‘groping for a sound’ as Mr. Moon would put it. It relies heavily on the ‘jump cut’, an abrupt edit used to good effect on most of the pieces on this disc, which here tends to come off a bit jarring. Still I’m willing to cut him some slack and recommend Aérosol as a fine point of entry for those acolytes of electronic music who have some interest in exploring electroacoustic territory. Yet another in the uniformly excellent ‘budget series’ from this fine label.
Ned Bouhalassa has constructed a truly breathtaking journey through the world of natural sound manipulation. Consider the piece Move 1, which begins with the maddening buzz of insects. I made the mistake of stepping on a hornet’s nest once while treading through some wetlands. I thought planes were approaching. I was wrong. This is what I heard. I got stung plenty. The hornets quickly disperse, and the sound shifts into chickens clucking sporadically. This is interrupted by the sound of something dropping into the water, almost as if a frog is scurrying for cover, which has the gratifying effect of destroying the environment the music was sculpting for you. Chickens and water are not common entities… yet they seem to coexist here. Further along, wetland insect buzzing slides in and out, interrupted almost violently by flapping wings. Then, a door slams.
Again, Bouhalassa seems to create a semi–coherent environment, only to slap you in the face with something completely foreign. The piece parades on, and the sounds become less familiar and more manipulated. Many of the sounds Bouhalassa incorporates are immediately familiar, yet he shifts them into environments and textures they probably would never see. This is the real treat involved in listening to this release. He also attempts to integrate the world of musique concrète with some well–intentioned but hardly inspiring techno. This is really the only area worth bypassing on this wild sound journey. Highly recommended.
Electroacoustic music, or contemporary musique concrète, needs more practitioners like local Ned Bouhalassa, whose first commercial collection maps the evolution (1990-98) of a young composer straining to break free from the confines of an institutional music that allows everything in theory but usually ends up just sounding like theory (swoosh… whirr… crash!). What I really want to hear, though, is some of Bouhalassa’s latter-day delves into techno, hinted at here in 1997’s Constamment (autoportrait). (7/10)
Ned Bouhalassa is in a sense part of the third generation of Montréal electroacoustic composers. Unlike the work of the scene’s patriarch, Francis Dhomont, which is very much in the style of ‘old school’ acousmatic composers like Bayle and Chion, or the work of ‘second’ generation composers like Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil (for example), which strives to apply new ‘sound palettes’ to acousmatic ideals, Bouhalassa allows clear and unadulterated influences from more commercially viable music to enter his compositions.
A great example of this is Jets, where relatively orthodox acousmatically-treated material alternates with what could easily pass for ‘chill out’ music in any dance club. If you like the idea of “acousmatisme” but find it occasionally too stuffy, Bouhalassa might be your man!
Aérosol by Ned Bouhalassa is rich in highly crafted sounds which are humorous, yet enticing, and always fully aware. Ned Bouhalassa demonstrates on Aérosol his mastery at creating strange and flowing pieces that interconnect with each other flawlessly. I believe that anyone who is slightly interested in strange music should own this disk.
Ned Bouhalassa’s work is far more angular; sounds are sourced from a much wider palette than Copeland’s and are combined in volatile, unpredictable compositions. This CD is also a release in the [compact-compact] ‘short duration’ series and is a reverse-order retrospective (1998-1990) of some of his work. He also had tracks included on the … of Drones series and is himself closely connected to San Francisco’s Sound Traffic Control, “a media arts assemblage that features a unique real-time matrixed spatial audio system through which musicians, engineers, conductors, DJ’s, and sound sculpture form an interwoven surround sound orchestra” (Phew! Their definition—wotta mouthful! I think it means something like: They’ve got a hifi and maybe a working mixer!).
Aérosol opens with his latest work titled Jets and is based on movement away from… Some sounds scurry off, darting and casting nervous, uneasy glances, others hurl themselves violently towards the edges of the audio field. Also included is the track Move 1, which appeared in another, shorter version on The Swarm of Drones 2CD compilation released in 1995 (Asphodel, again). This piece is ‘based on an idea of representing animal/human movement through sound, and explores the possibilities of generating rich evolving textures from single samples.’ Headphones recommended!
The track Constamment (autoportrait) dating from 1997 contains sound elements which represent various aspects of Ned’s past and present, and includes several nods and a wink in the direction of what has come to be known amongst the young and frivolous as ‘techno music’—y’know: racy drums which boom, boom for a while and then there’s a whoosh, maybe a girl yells something about shakin’ yer booty and then boom, boom one mo’ ’gain.
These CDs have been created by two inspired and highly innovative young composers of electroacoustic music. If you’ve not got anything released on this peerless Canadian label, then this is an excellent place to start. If you’re already familiar with their releases, then these two CDs with surely augment your collection. Absolutely brilliant.
Ned Bouhalassa is an electroacoustician from Montréal. When Aérosol was released, he was a fan of techno music and a DJ at a college radio station, but also teached at Concordia University and was president of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). This double-sided “serious/less serious” pattern can also be found in his works. Aérosol (referring to the paint cans used by graffitists) is a collection of five pieces composed between 1990 and 1998. One finds on this record a refreshing inspiration coupled with a poetic sense not unlike his mentor Francis Dhomont. Bouhalassa uses the same sonic forms, he has Dhomont’s talent for evocation and his sense of sound syntax, reaching a high level of quality in the art of the “cinema for the ear.” But he also adds a breeze of youth, particularly through the use of techno music elements. Jets and Move 1 are impeccably constructed, but Constamment (autoportrait), a selfportrait, suffers a bit from over-fragmentation, making it hard for the listener to follow.
The most modern of the three is the [Canadian based-] Breton-Algerian studio composer Ned Bouhalassa, who goes out to search for inspiration in the street whenever he’s fed up with the studio. On Aérosol he is inspired by street-life, film, science fiction, graffiti and even techno music. Bouffée délirante (1990) is Bouhalassa’s first attempt to make “cinema for the ear.” Attraction is Ned’s nihilistic credo. Magnetic fluxes attract or repel each other. Constamment (autoportrait) is an [electro]acoustic self-portrait in five parts illustrating five phases in the life of the composer.
empreintes DIGITALes shows with these three new albums that electroacoustic music is constantly in flux and cannot be narrowed into an academic corner. [English translation: Jean-François Delannoy and Berry de Bruijn]
Bouhalassa is something of a bright young thing in Canada’s electroacoustic scene. And, as befits such a position, he shies away from the academic pigeonhole in favor of something more eclectic and more modern-sounding. The bio says he’s influenced by Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and Public Enemy. I can hear you cringing already; these obvious names conjure an image of an ivory-tower academic trying to get with-it, like your teachers dancing at the school disco. In fact, such influences are very much submerged in a well-developed musical imagination.
The first track, Jets, will serve as an example of his approach. It’s very much object-oriented; self-contained events move around, develop, overlap and re-appear in an open field. Very effective it is too, and completely abstract, although there are moments which have a more conventional musical texture. The composer astutely identifies these as ‘nostalgic,’ perhaps giving some insight into his relationship with those influences from popular music — and, in a coup of meta-meta-humour, one can even catch a sample of rhythmic, 70s-style robotic speech halfway through Attraction which strongly echoes the Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic, itself a tribute to the age of Space Invaders and Old Skool Hip Hop. Whether this specific reference is intentional or not, this complex, textured, unromantic use of recognizable elements from other music is typical of the rest of the disc.
Bouhalassa says something revealing in his comments on another track, Move 1, when he refers to the “exchange or contrast between the recognizable (stable) and the unknown (unstable).” Thinking of movement in terms of a series of exchanges between stability and instability, a balancing act of a dynamic equilibrium, is helpful when applied to all kinds of music, but most explicitly to music like this. To think of these sounds as objects is also helpful; they are objects which can explode, collapse, propagate, dissipate, emerge anywhere, combine with one another and produce weird hybrids. Bouhalassa seems most fascinated by the idea of sonic movement, the concept that a sound can become an object which moves in a conceptual space (we are not talking here about the stereo field, of course). It’s an interest which produces difficult music, certainly, and not stuff which follows the conventional musical lines of development. Without conceding that this is “ideal chill-out music” — it’s too surprising, it buffets you and comes at you from strange angles, shouting ‘boo’ — it’s certainly absorbing.