Robert Normandeau

… soundtracks for the mind… SAN Diffusion, UK

This is definitely a work to play and to savour over and over. Amazon, USA

Éclats de voix: Prix Ars Electronica 1993 — Mention

This reissue presents the ‘studio’ version of the works (remixed since the 1994 original release IMED 9419/20).

  • Canada Council for the Arts

CD (IMED 9920)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9920
  • 1999
  • UCC 771028992027
  • Total duration: 73:44
  • Opak
  • 127 mm × 142 mm × 10 mm
  • 60 g

On the web

Download (IMED 9920_NUM)


The Diffusion System

The recording of Bédé, Éclats de voix, Tropes and Tangram for this disc is a ‘capture’ of the their diffusion in a recording studio. Using the speakers as musical instruments, it was imperative that they be transparent, so as not to veil nor shade the original sound material. The speakers chosen were Tannoy CPA12s in conjunction with two Tannoy CPA15,2 subwoofers.

Eight in number (in order to recreate the effects of spatialization), the speakers had to have identical sound characteristics which is enabled by the uniform quality of their components and the great care exhibited during the manufacturing process. To be precise, the basic principle of the CPA12 speaker is the temporal alignment achieved by two magnets being affixed on the same axis (what is known as dual concentric mounting). These coaxial speakers eliminate any problems with dephasing of the two channels, a common problem with this type of speaker. Finally, the quality of Tannoy’s components makes any electronic system of compensation or correction superfluous; these same systems have a tendency to react differently at different volumes, thereby affecting the sound.

Claude Berthiaume, Spectrum sonorisation, Montréal [iv-94]

Why Tangram?

Why Tangram? Why this title? I shall let the author explain. I myself find nothing angular — nothing even remotely geometrical — in this eponymous piece which relies not on the combination of forms, or of figures (everyone knows the Chinese puzzle), but rather on fusion, on a quasi-mystic surcharge of materialism: rich rugged sonorities like a switch of horse hair; from this the sound is curried so that we might delight in its lustrous sheen, immersing us in its panic plenitude (dionysian, first and foremost), its mysterious bubblings and brewings…

(The incredibly dense material, at times ripped by the roar of a train on the track, by trumpeting or spurts, white rocketing noises: this dynamic is essential, these ‘true stories’ are necessary to pierce these hypnoses of matter, at times magnified, abstract because of their very concreteness.)

Another principle which structures, coalesces the work: an assuring mechanical roundness encircles this (metaphysical) disorder, like a non-stop antidote, counteracting the natural entropy with a repetitious serenity (which takes on a particular flavor in Normandeau’s work): the elemental is revised, tamed by the rumble of the clockwork of the loops and by studio manipulations. So well that this music of Elements (frog croaks, night birds, a storm) is at the same time the music of rotating machines and of motors; the sounds of nature, rolled into a ball, are squeezed together with industrial force: the two poetics are mixed, indissoluble, in the dances.

Each in their own way, the other pieces on the disc reflect this personal manner, (and in the variations appears the pertinence of the generic title Tangram): In Tropes the art of transition-escape is polished to perfection — we are cramped, crushed under the strata, the excrescence — when just the moment before we found ourselves in a limpidity so complete (as to recall Mozart…). Bédé, more astringent (despite several vertiginous distortions of convex mirrors — calling to mind Alice…) ushers in Éclats de voix, the most elaborate piece, the most nimble, the richest because, despite the prevalence of fusion, it unites the two principles — (specious plasticity — thousands of pieces ground and glued), it is interrupted by a fantastic machinery, the widest variety in its semantics, and the rare rough spots — so charming — living, vocal bones of childhood…

Jean-Christophe Thomas, Paris (France) [ii-94]

Tangram, the Disc

Taken from the title of one of the works appearing on the disc, Tangram represents the almost infinite permutations which lie hidden in elements as sparse and simple as the voice of a child, the sound of a passing train, or a few notes of classical music. Though highly contrasted, the pieces presented on this disc exhibit several common denominators.

Firstly, they all utilize, without exception, sampled acoustic sounds; these were recorded for the most part using a portable DAT recorder.

Secondly, the entire cycle was conceived for multitrack presentation. The methods devised in the studio permit the playback of each track (recorded on 16-track, 1/2 inch, Dolby S) on a separate loudspeaker, without having to retouch the levels or the equalizations. Mixing, therefore, is accomplished acoustically and not electronically. The spatialization of the sounds in an integral part of the composition, and thusly the performance space serves to delineate the sonorous parameters as well as the height, the length, and the intensity.

Thirdly, as an extension to the second point, to capture this added dimension of space evoked by a multitrack playback. Jean-François Denis and I had the idea to simulate a concert setting in the recording studio, and the final stereophonic version of each piece (but Spleen, composed afterwards) was produced at The Banff Centre for the Arts (engineers: Antonio Oliart and Stephanie Rogers; assistant: Jennifer Lewis ) using multiple loudspeakers.

Last but not least, the works represent the quintessence of my work during 1990-93, and exemplify the perspective which I’d embraced during that period: cinema for the ear. Basically, this consists of seeking inspiration outside of the musical context, specially in the work of cinema. Themes are inspired directly from the titles; once elaborated, they then underlie the work, becoming axes around which the composition takes shape. They serve as landmarks for the listener exploring these unheard-of spaces.

Robert Normandeau, Montréal [iv-94]

Some recommended items
In the press


Gred Horton, SAN Diffusion, October 1, 2000

Normandeau freely admits to having been influenced by various other music forms including rock; these influences are obviously audible in most of his works. For example his piece Venture, which was created in 1996, uses as its sole source material the music of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other rock artists. Certain pieces on Tangram share some of the common elements which can be derived from rock music, i.e. long determined passages and repetitive rhythms.

Tangram’s first track Bédé (1990) uses onomatopoeia through the voice of eleven–year–old Marie–Helene Blain. The effect is of children giggling, whispering and conspiring together in an ethereal world, tentatively touching the real world like Alice Through the Looking–Glass. Was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson listening to this when he wrote about Alice? Éclats de voix (1991), also uses onomatopoeia through its spoken passage: various sections lead us through processed effects; ghostly mutterings and industrial sound textures which lend a sadness and emptiness to a spectral score, introducing the listener to an elaborate sound world. Spleen (1993), for which the composer was awarded the Main Prize at the Musica Nova 95 International Competition held in Prague, is full of tension built up through a percussive heartbeat, but there is an underlying irritability in the piece like the weariness a traveller may feel at journeys end. An undoubtedly complex work. Track 4 Tropes (1991) contains excerpts from Mozart’s chamber works. Beyond the treated piano and orchestral soundscapes lies a delicate inner core. Normandeau appears to dissect and then reassemble Mozarts music whilst still maintaining the original composers subtle creation of character. The title track Tangram (1992) is at 27:05 minutes — the longest piece on the disc. This powerful piece strains to give birth to the perfect Chinese Tangram, a seven piece geometrical form, finally emerging into fluidity and composure.

Robert Normandeau’s Cinema for the Ear aesthetic lends to his work a depth where meaning, sound and music become one. Either composition on this disc could be placed into a film script, these are soundtracks for the mind, very filmic in structure, and will therefore affect each listener differently creating a personal imaginary element.

I first bought the CD and listened to these compositional works in 1994, found it excellent then and I still find it drives my imagination in the year 2000.

… soundtracks for the mind…

Stunning sounds; captivating compositions

Steve Benner, Amazon, August 17, 2000

The original 1994 release of Robert Normandeau’s Tangram from DIFFUSION i MéDIA (on the empreintes DIGITALes label) was a double CD edition. It contained TWO copies of the same music: one disc having straight transcripts of the DAT masters, for diffusion use; the other being a recording of the same music diffused into a studio space from an 8-speaker array, better suited for playback over domestic hi-fi. This re-release (in DiM’s new environmentally friendly cardboard OPAK packaging) contains just the latter CD but as the two versions were all but indistinguishable from each other (at least on a domestic hi-fi system), there is little lost for the home purchaser.

The five works presented here showcase the works of Québécois acousmatic composer Robert Normandeau produced between 1990 and 1993, and includes two prize-winning entries in the Noroit-Léonce Petitot International Competition. Éclats de voix (“Bursts of Voices”, 1991) was winner of 1st Prize for Jury as well as Public’s Prize at Noroit 91. The work is constructed entirely from computer-processed samples of the voice of an 11-year old - although this source is, in fact, hardly ever obvious. The exquisite sonorities (representing five childhood ‘states’) that Normandeau wrests from his source are entirely captivating (like most of his work) and the piece is an absolute delight from start to finish. The disc’s opening work, Bédé (1990) is an electroacoustic miniature, of just 3 minutes duration, derived from the same source material but making an interesting contrast with Éclats de voix. The source sounds in Bédé are more discernible for what they are; the piece is also rather darker and gives a somewhat more disturbing view of childhood than that presented in the later work.

The third work on the disc, Spleen (1993) continues the same theme. Awarded the Public’s Prize at Noroit 93, this piece is constructed entirely from processed vocal samples of the voices of four 16-year old adolescents. Its restless pulsing rhythms and sudden mood-swings portray only too well most people’s experience of that time of life and in a way that is impossible to draw away from! Fabulous stuff!

Tropes (1991) presents a different face to Normandeau’s work. The starting point for this piece is the chamber music of Mozart. More specifically, recordings of Mozart’s music, here computer-manipulated out of all recognition-not just as originating from Mozart, but even, in fact, as being instrumental music at all-except for a very few short passages. The result is an entirely individual - almost deconstructivist - view of the relevance of Mozart to the modern musician as well as the contribution that he made to the development of western art music. In this work, Normandeau demonstrates his complete mastery of his own chosen art, demonstrating a genius not far short of that of the great master, himself! The final work on this compilation, Tangram (1992) is a purely acousmatic composition. Part of Normandeau’s “Cinema for the Ears” oeuvre, this 27-minute epic takes the listener on an electroacoustic journey through the seasons, “highlighting the elements and materials associated with each.” The work is inspired by the Chinese puzzle from which it derives its name and shows a sonic equivalence to it, utilising simple sound elements to form complex structures, which become recognisable through their very figurative or associative natures. Here we have another entirely captivating auditory experience. Throughout, abstract or barely recognisable sound materials are blended perfectly with more recognisable, richly associative material: the calling of loons, crackling of flames, pulled zippers or the unmistakable sound of freight-train air-horns echoing through the Rocky Mountains above Banff-to name just a few of the more obvious environmental sounds from which this work is built. This is definitely a work to play and to savour over and over.

Like most of Normandeau’s music, this disc deserves to be in the collection of every lover of serious, contemporary music. If you already have it and are looking for more, the release Lieux inouïs from the same company contains almost all of this composer’s works which pre-date the music here. His latest works are featured in DiM’s CD release Figures. Both are every bit as good as this.

This is definitely a work to play and to savour over and over.


Jesús Gutierrez, Hurly Burly, no. 11, July 1, 1999

Tangram presents five parts which, virtually all of them, could define themselves as conceptually dreamlike or as music for visualizing. Althought all of them are different in the valuation and selection of sounds they have in common electronic flow avalanches in constant relation to certain vocals stains intermingled in bundles of strings and silence intended gaps.

… conceptually dreamlike or as music for visualizing.


Tom Schulte, Outsight, January 1, 1998

Normandeau creates pure adventures in sound. Crackles, animal kingdom sounds, machinery, electronic instrumentation and more flow from one to another. This series of sounds not only commands attention but is sufficiently dovetailed to strike the listener as musical. He refers to his suggestive style as “acousmantic music” in which Normandeau creates “cinema for the ear.” I can attest to his success in inspiring mental images as effectively as other music creates moods. Like the well-known Chinese puzzle, the composer puts together superficially incongruous sound-shapes into arresting and imaginative aural sculptures. (4.5/5)

Normandeau creates pure adventures in sound.


Noah Wane, Splendid E-Zine, October 13, 1997

Academic electronic music can be so cold at times, so calculated and intellectualized, so academic! The pleasure of Tangram is that the music it contains is so human. Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that Robert Normandeau creates his music entirely from acoustic samples (often human voices), thereby giving his music an innate organicism. Another reason is that each piece on Tangram is aurally cinematic in the sense that each tells a story — which is refreshingly human in a century like ours where the trend in ‘serious’ music has been decidedly anti-programmatic. Finally, there is Normandeau’s recording technique, which aims to recreate a live-concert-type atmosphere. Rather than mix his works electronically, he ‘mixes’ them acoustically by routing each track to a speaker and spacing the speakers in different configurations in the studio. Thus each ‘mix’ is actually a distinct capturing of the sonic diffusion created by a given speaker setup. If you want to hear what this adds up to, Tangram has two ‘mixes’ of each piece so that you can compare and contrast. Mr. Normandeau is to be applauded for creating such inviting and sensitive electronic music.

Mr. Normandeau is to be applauded for creating such inviting and sensitive electronic music.

Off the beaten path

James Baiye, Paris Transatlantic, December 1, 1995

Lieux inouïs (Unheard-of Places) by Québécois composer Robert Normandeau reminds us of Neil B Rolnick’s Sanctus from Bridge Records [PNMR Vol. 1, 5]. Working with completely different aesthetics, two composers with nothing in common have coincidentally created similar sounds from classical sacred music. Like a lot of French Canadian music, the Normandeau CD is narrative; almost programmatic, following a natural and extremely sophisticated progression. And like a lot of American music, the Rolnick CD is abstract, occasionally funny, and mostly non-linear. But Rolnick pales in comparison compositionally, and surprisingly enough, technically. Both composers use tape samples (analog, not digital) of classical music. In Normandeau’s disc. the cited music is mixed with environmental sound, much of it readily identifiable. For instance, Jeu (Game), an electronic tour de force, uses a mélange of nostalgic references to Paris (sounds of the Metro, ÀOrly airport, construction noise) and organ anf choral music. As the listener is swirled into the inexorable movement of the piece, the places (lieux) become almost miraculously tangible. Impressive and intriguing.

As the listener is swirled into the inexorable movement of the piece, the places (‘lieux’) become almost miraculously tangible.


Rick MacMillan, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, January 1, 1995

Ce coffret de deux CD contient cinq œuvres électroacoustiques de Robert Normandeau débordantes de timbres séduisants, et dont plusieurs ont remporté des prix européens. Ce coffret comprend des échantillonnages de sons acoustiques allant de la manipulation de voix d’adolescents dans Spleen à des extraits métamorphosés de la musique de chambre de Mozart dans Tropes en passant par des sons provenant de la collection d’instruments du département d’ethnomusicologie de l’Université de Montréal dans Tangram.

… débordantes de timbres séduisants…

Hors des sentiers battus

François Tousignant, Le Devoir, December 3, 1994

Pour souligner les contrastes du XXe siècle, la jeune maison de disques montréalaise empreintes DIGITALes, nous propose neuf albums de musique électroacoustique de compositeurs québécois et canadiens. La présentation en est très soignée; on va même, pour certains disques, proposer un disque fait pour l’écoute chez soi ou à la radio et un second, avec les mêmes œuvres, pour la diffusion en concert. Cela vous permettra de faire quelques expériences. N’ayant pas la place pour parler de tous ces compositeurs en une seule fois (il y a en un par disque), nous n’avons choisi que deux disques.

D’abord celui de Robert Normandeau, le représentant probablement le plus recompensé de nos compositeurs de musique électroacoustique.

La construction du disque est fascinante par l’ordre des œuvres présentées ici: du petit bonbon d’entrée qui n’effraiera personne (Bédé), on avance graduellement dans un univers plus inspiré par les sonorités de Stockhausen (Éclats de voix, Tropes), pour aboutir à la grande forme plus originale et ambitieuse de Tangram.

Si les citations de Tropes sont parfois assez poétiques, il nous faut admettre une certaine réticence à une petite complaisance dans la beauté des extraits de Mozart. Spleen est de loin la pièce qui a remporté la palme auprès de notre fils de 13 ans et c’est tant mieux! Osons avoir ce courage et plonger à la découverte. Comme le disait si justement Baudelaire: «Enfer ou ciel, qu’importe / Aller au fond du Gouffre, pour trouver du Nouveau.» Nous avons cependant préféré le souffle de Tangram, avec toutes ces fines variations toujours intelligentes et surtout pour le plaisir de nous délecter dans les moments de tension croissante qui trouvent leur solution en une forme toujours étonnante. Osez, par un soir de tempête, sous un éclairage tamisé.

… pour le plaisir de nous délecter dans les moments de tension croissante qui trouvent leur solution en une forme toujours étonnante…

Beckett et la musique de Normandeau

François Tousignant, Le Devoir, October 17, 1994

Mon collègue Robert Lévesque a déjà dit tout le bien qu’il pense des deux pièces de Samuel BeckettLa Dernière bande et Pas moi — à l’affiche jusqu’au 12 novembre au Théâtre de Quat’Sous. À mon tour de renchérir en mentionnant l’excellente trame sonore signée Robert Normandeau et qui constitue en quelque sorte un personnage en elle-même. Ceux qui suivent la carrière du compositeur en musique électroacoustique classique et se souviennent des merveilleuses soirées astro-musicales qu’il animait au Planétarium Dow seront ravis de le retrouver au théâtre ou encore d’acheter son dernier disque intitulé Tangram, lancé récemment sous étiquette empreintes DIGITALes. Les représentations au Quat’Sous ont lieu du mercredi au samedi à 20h et en matinée le dimanche à 15h jusqu’au 12 novembre.

À mon tour de renchérir en mentionnant l’excellente trame sonore signée Robert Normandeau

The Electronic Universe, Daring Music: empreintes DIGITALes

Luca Isabella, Deep Listenings, no. 1, September 1, 1994

Il primo, che rappresenta un notevole passo in avanti rispetto al precedente Cd di Normandeau, contiene due versioni (su due Cd) degli stessi brani, che si differenziano essenzialmente per il loro trattamento in fase di mixing. La prima versione, infatti, é una registrazione multitraccia appositamente cancepita per l’ascolto in stereofonia o per la messa in onda (chissà chi avrà mai questo ardire, almeno qui in Italia), la cui realizzazione, ampiamente descritta nel libretto accluso, rappresenta aspetti sicuramente interessanti, in quanto si tratta di una registrazione stereofonico in presa diretta da una serie di altoparlanti, ognuno relativo ad una particolare traccia del brano. La seconda versione é invece dedicata alla diffusione in concerto. Da un punto di vista più strettamente musicale e meno tecnico, siamo di fronte, come nella maggior parte delle opere presentate da empreintes DIGITALes, ad un’opera piuttosto complessa, soprattuHo a livello strutturale. Il rischio maggiore é che risulti un pò freddina per chi ama l’impatto emotivo, mentre può sicuramente entusiasmare le menti razionali e gli amanti dell’arte del tono.

Daring music: empreintes DIGITALes


Ralph Hopper, Contact!, no. 8:1, September 1, 1994

If it was possible to wear out a groove on a CD, this disc would be a prime candidate. I have had my copy of this CD for only a few days now but it is getting constant play. The wonderful complexities of the textures, the masterful structure, and the constant interplay of intriguing sounds all combine to capture my attention. All of the works on the disc are equally compelling and enjoyable.

One work, Bédé, is available on IMED 9004 [now IMED 9604], but is presented in a revised format here. Another work, Spleen, will be familiar to CEC members from its premier on the 1993 Journées Électro-Radio Days project. All five works included on the CD are representative of Robert Normandeau’s creative flow in the nineties. His direction is towards “cinema for the ear” and these works are of Oscar caliber. He gives every sign of becoming one of the most influential composers in this genre.

There are actually two CDs in this package [in the original edition, IMED 9419/20]. One is a stereo version, mixed by recording the sound from speakers, intended for home listening and radio broadcast. The other version is described as a studio mix for concert performance.

Normandeau’s musical sensibilities are such that novice ‘ears’ as well as more ‘seasoned’ ears will find numerous elements to enjoy. As a broadcaster, this is the kind of electroacoustic material I thoroughly enjoy airing and recommending for purchase.

We have come to expect quality from Normandeau but a nod should also go to the folks at empreintes DIGITALes for continuing to provide listeners with access to music such as this.

Normandeau’s musical sensibilities are such that novice ’ears’ as well as more ’seasoned’ ears will find numerous elements to enjoy.


Albert Durand, Revue & Corrigée, no. 20, June 1, 1994

Parmi ces nouveautés, il y aussi deux doubles CDs qui, précisons le, sont vendus au prix d’un simple. Tangram de Robert Normandeau, un double qui propose les mêmes pièces mais dans deux versions différentes. Il s’agit de pièces en multipistes avec une version enregistrée en studio sur 14 haut-parleurs et une autre qui est une réduction en stéréo. Il y a réellement une différence d’espace entre ces deux disques. On peut regrouper trois pièces Bédé (qui figure sur la compilation Électro clips), Éclats de voix (qui figure sur Prix international Noroit-Léonce Petitot 1991) et Spleen (qui figurera sur Prix international Noroit-Léonce Petitot 1993) qui utilisent la voix d’enfant comme matériau de base avec une idée de suivi puisque l’on passe du monde de l’enfance à celui de l’adolescence. Ces pièces font apparaitre au premier plan des éléments rythmiques, dynamiques. Tropes réalisé avec des extraits de Mozart laisse à désirer, autant pour l’idée que pour le résultat. Tangram qui donne son titre au disque est dédié à Francis Dhomont. On y retrouve le son de cette bille qui roule cher à Dhomont. Une pièce composée de grands mouvements circulaires, spiralés ou en rebonds, un éclatement permanent de roulements mécaniques, de grincements métalliques, de rythmiques ferroviaires… Même si techniquement impeccable, on regrette un manque de vécu qui humaniserait un peu cette musique et la sortirait de la simple prouesse technique où parfois elle s’enferme.

… techniquement impeccable…