Chemin de fer

Magali Babin

Her methods are simple, but her music is exquisitely rich in detail and variation. Bagatellen, USA

Grattage de la surface rouillée pour lui redonner son éclat. La Médiathèque, Belgium

Chemin de fer is Magali Babin’s debut CD, though she is already well-known as one of the key players of improvised music and sound art in Montréal.

A prominent live artist, Magali has performed in Montréal (Casa del Popolo, Silophone, SuperMicMac…), Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia,. She is a favorite of the respected Radio-Canada radioshow Le navire Night where her performances are regularly broadcast. Magali has played alongside Michel F Côté, Martin Tétreault, Alexandre St-Onge, Ian Nagoski (US), Jon Rose (UK), to name a few.

The 9 pieces on this CD were recorded in the studios of Radio-Canada with Mario Gauthier, executive producer and host of L’espace du son. Citing financial constraints, Radio-Canada cancelled the programme before the music could be heard on radio, but the recording was thankfully salvaged. It is now finally available on CD for everyone to hear.

  • Société Radio-Canada
  • Canada Council for the Arts

CD (IMNT 0203)

  • Label: No Type
  • IMNT 0203
  • 2002
  • UCC 771028020324
  • Total duration: 50:58
  • OGpak
  • 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
  • 55 g

On the web


A Few Words about Chemin de fer

Iron road…

Multiples, plurishapes, ductiles.

Alkalis and cleavages.

A rather small electrical object: touching, rubbing, nearly eroding another one from daily life.

Wherever there’s a cavity and a game, something is generated. Wiredrawn, enameled voices are born. Rustling, hissing, shining, screeching, tinting, trembling, growling alloys…

A guitar pick-up; a paella; or a rope, or an aluminum cone,
or…                 or…

One might say: chisel and mineral.

The rest, i.e. the studio work, recording, mixing, only serves as cage, hammer, anvil and foundry; and then as a pedestal, or a frame where to place these carved shapes, in order to see them in a new light…

Metallurgy? Scupture?

Yes, in a sense.

But not strictly, because despite the presence of matter and mineral, they “have more than one way to them. Out of inertia they yield but appearances and false testimonies…”

So there’s a road; but one with many lanes.


“All that is infinite between sounds and ideas (…)”

Quotes: Daniel Oster, Dans l’intervalle, P.O.L 1987. First quote used freely and from memory; p.33 for the second one.

Mario Gauthier, executive producer [iv-02]

Credits and Thanks

Most of the sounds and noises (from the subtlest to the most gruesome) which you will hear on this recording have been made from metallic instruments and objects, which have been made, recycled or reinvented by Magali.

All pieces have been improvised by Magali Babin, except Jogging dans la maison hantée which has been crafted in joyous collaboration with Alain Chénier and Mario Gauthier, and Pluie de homards which has been mixed with the piece Rain from the CD Warm Coursing Blood by Ian Nagoski. The mixing work is the result of a close collaboration between Mario Gauthier and Magali Babin.

Thanks to Mario Gauthier and to… Alain Chénier, Éric Létourneau, Ian Nagoski, James Schidlowsky, Alexandre St-Onge, John Berndt, Hélène Prévost, Jenya, Michel F Côté, No Type, David Turgeon, Aimé Dontigny and Jean-François Denis.

To Nico, Ugo and little Romy. xxx

Cheers to all handywomen and handymen, musicians or not, who fiddle with noises, sounds, sonic objects or organs (and sometimes even musical instruments), thanks to all those who ensure that sound experimentation is forever alive.

Chemin de fer was recorded and produced at Studio 12 of Société Radio-Canada for L’espace du son radio program. Executive Producer: Mario Gauthier. Recording (October 2000) and mixing (November 2000): Alain Chénier. Mastering (May 2001): Denis Frenette, Studio 30. (p) 2001, Chaîne culturelle de Radio-Canada.


Some recommended items
In the press


Thomas Beck, Odradek, no. 4, September 1, 2005

Record of the Week

Michael Anton Parker, Bagatellen, July 17, 2005

The first time I heard the music of Magali Babin was in an evening that included, among other rather distinctive ploys for my attention, two men shoving a few dozen sticks of butter into their mouths and letting it dribble down their chins and onto an amplified table, beneath which John Berndt was crouched on four limbs stark naked uttering animal sounds. It was the touring Québécois performance trio of Babin, Éric Létourneau, and Alexandre St-Onge. In total contrast to the perplexing conceptual extremes of their two pieces and the utterly disgusting, abominable, shameful attempt at music-making by the trio of Donald Miller, Jack Rose, and Ian Nagoski that began the non-festivities that evening, Babin performed a solo set that gave me an unequivocally sublime experience I still fondly recall some five years later. Instead of indulging a sado-masochistic obsession with loud volume like Miller, et al, she presented an impeccably focused improvisation on a sound vocabulary of her own creation at a medium volume that was ideal to draw the listener into careful and comfortable attention to the nuances of each passing moment without the slightest hint of pretension or bombast.

Babin used a modest array of small metallic objects with pickups and guitar pedals, gently amplifying the hidden world of complex sound as metallic objects touch each other in sundry ways. Her methods are simple, but her music is exquisitely rich in detail and variation. A year or two after that memorable performance I saw in Philadelphia, her solo masterpiece Chemin de fer was released by the Canadian label No Type, and if you listen to the very first track, Triturations, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the delicate electroacoustic sound sculpture I heard that evening. As the album artwork suggests, however, Babin’s array of equipment is quite a bit more extensive than what she’d brought on that tour. In her native recording environment she explores the microscopic idiosyncracies of a much wider array of metallic objects, especially pots, pans, and kitchen utensils. The notes accompanying the disc report that Babin created this music by improvising, a simple fact that becomes meaningful when I recall the live performances I’ve enjoyed from her.

Triturations is nine minutes of electroacoustic micro-timbral heaven. Some layers of the piece sound like heavy breathing muted and compressed into a detached, nonreferential, yet still vaguely biological texture. With its evenness of texture and density amidst the cornucopia of crackling, rustling, and rubbing details, it feels like a warm cloud of gentle, unpatronising sound that envelops and comforts me.

When Steve Roden coined the phrase “lowercase sound” in the mid-90s he was expressing an incredibly elegant and timeless concept that both echos and splits away from the Cage/Oliveros paradigm. The sounds sought were simply the ones usually hidden or masked, the details that don’t call attention to themselves. The phrase went on to be widely misunderstood as having specific implications about volume, velocity, and density, but all of this is extrinsic to that jewel of aesthetic crystillization Roden proffered. Triturations and so much other work by Magali Babin stands as an eminent prototype for lowercase music in my mind. It’s worth noting that there’s nothing especially quiet, nor loud, about it. In fact, it’s rather medium-volume, medium-velocity, and medium-density music as a whole. It’s at just the right volume so you can hear everything clearly, which seems like the point to me. It’s simply the sonic microscopy of moving metal, sounds heretofore unknown and otherwise inaudible. I happen to find most of them sublime and intoxicating.

The second track, Petit jardin, is methodologically continuous with Triturations but the soundworld is fresh. Two sounds complement each other: a beautiful, softly resonant gong-like sound (probably obtained via a pot or pan) and the tinkling of small metal objects (perhaps something like paperclips?) being dropped against a metallic surface. It’s the hidden world of an ad hoc metallic idiophone. Monsieur et madame Watt is another track based on lucid juxtaposition, this time between some faint Erstwhilian amplifier hum and some indistinct rubbing (suggesting to me the sound of a microphone’s metal grating moving against another metallic object). I found something ecstatic in these humble sounds, though my feeling dissipated later in the piece as the hum began modulating and assuming greater prominence in the mix; it became mundane.

For more years than I can recall I’ve had this perversely cherished Kevin Drumm CD listing neither a title nor release date, but it has a solid green cover and says it was recorded to tape in 1996; the label is Perdition Plastics and it’s catalog number per007. I don’t know much about Drumm’s discography and have only lightly sampled his other work because I really hated this CD. In fact, I probably never made it all the way through. But it’s always persisted in my thoughts because it’s so rare I have a such a strongly negative reaction to any music. It symbolizes something for me, the very extremes of harsh and difficult music. I have no problem with conventional harsh noise; heck, it’s just a twist on new-age music in a way, but this Drumm disc is mostly silence sporadically and irregularly interrupted by loud, screeching, painful sounds made by fucking with an electric guitar and amplifier. It was just too much for me and the thought of playing it still scares me. The reason I mention it is that some of Babin’s music sounds like the precise opposite—gentle and smooth—yet draws from the same dangerous sound vocabulary of conductive surfaces and amplifiers operating at the threshhold of functionality. It’s a fascinating contrast.

This disc is studded with jewels, but it’s time to report on the rarest, Jogging dans la maison hantée, which was “crafted in joyous collaboration with Alain Chénier and Mario Gauthier”. Its seven minutes are filled with some fairly generic electronic interjections, but they comprise fairly neutral background to one of life’s greatest pleasures: extremely clipped squeaks. A major piece of background information is required here. If there’s one piece of music I’ve played most often in my life, probably upwards of 2000 times by a rough estimate, including a six-month stretch where I played it at least once per day and typically a good handful of times, it’s Bluebird by Judy Dunaway and Yasunao Tone, from Dunaway’s seminal Balloon Music. A piece that should stand in the public consciousness of the current era as an analog to Duke’s Take the A train or the like, it is in fact unknown to virtually every person I’ve broached it to among the relevant demographic. Without attempting to account for its unyielding grip on my aesthetic relationship to sound, I’ll describe it here for you. It’s a seven-minute excerpt of a recording made by Tone applying his standard technique to a CD of solo tenor balloon improvisations by Dunaway. In other words, it’s glitching balloon sounds. So to account for my experience of Babin’s Jogging dans la maison hantée I need to make it clear that there is a thrilling resemblance in these clipped and irregular squeaky sounds that flit across the piece’s uncluttered canvas (mingling marveously with the many birds outside my open windows this lovely hot summer afternoon I might add). Further, I don’t want to mince any words here: Bluebird is by far my single favorite musical composition among all I’ve heard in my 28 years so far. It’s the pinnacle.

A non-squeaky moment in this piece demands special mention. Among self-contained musical events I’ve heard of roughly one to two moments in duration, [6:22-6:27] is exceptionally exciting, a kind of split-second burst of somewhat ordinary electronic sound that merges with a sine-wavish tone that evenly decays across four seconds. It’s not that there’s anything special about these two sounds, just like the greatest moments of violin music are made with essentially the same notes that appear in countless other contexts, but the timing and the dynamic contours combine these two gestures into a single unified event that functions as a higher order version of the note, where I’m referring to the familiar category of sound events prototypically represented by a short episode of relatively constant pitch and timbre. It’s as if an impossible decay pattern suddenly occurred for an unruly burst of noise. This is a kind of sound event I often fantasize about, but rarely encounter in the external world. It is part of my objection (with respect to individual aesthetic desiderata, aka taste) to the typical high levels of density found in so-called noise music that these kinds of momentary shapes are masked. In the brave new sound world of the technologically-facilitated explosion in timbral possibilities for music in recent decades, I perceive a bifurcation in the way new aesthetics are derived from the new sounds. In one direction, exemplified by the sound event being discussed presently, the new shapes and internal structures of the sounds justify a topology of gesture. In the other direction, the sounds are maximally and continuously generated to create texture and immersion in their brute timbres. I’d argue that because the latter aesthetic can often be achieved with such a lack of technical refinement or effort that it has become undeservedly ubiquitous, regrettably displacing the former aesthetic.

Three of the pieces on the disc — La corde, L’entonnoir, and Pluie de homards — don’t go much beyond pleasant for me. L’entonnoir is instructive in its contrast with the main thrust of Babin’s work. It feels a bit ugly and overbearing, with a sound palette and approach close to conventional textural electronic noise music. The key word here is “electronic”. The distinction between electroacoustic sounds and electronic sounds is fascinating and truly central to contemporary music, a topic I find myself returning to again and again, always winding up in a theoretical quandary. Concretely experienced distinctions like that provided by L’entonnoir are surely the key to sorting this out. In the pieces I’ve praised from Chemin de fer there is a resonance and spatiality I associate with acoustically derived sounds. There’s also a wealth of odd non-repeating details. These are qualities that I’d cite to account for enjoying Mikrophonie vastly more than any other work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, most of which suits me well. Thinking about the metal objects Babin patiently manipulates, I’m driven to speculate that perhaps the true musicological antonym of “electronic” is not “acoustic”, but rather “mechanical”. In fact, it’s the similarities I feel between Babin’s work and Howard Stelzer’s (arguably prototypically electroacoustic) abstract hissing and crackling cassette vocabulary that inspired me to revisit this disc recently after being immersed in Stelzer’s art. Surely it’s not trivial that the monumental Stelzer-curated Intransitive Twenty-three features Thermidor, a work by Babin that I would cite among her best.

The placement of Pluie de homards as the final track here was wise. An album of moderation concludes with some annihilatory extremes. Babin created the piece with Mario Gauthier’s assistance by mixing some of her characteristic sounds with Rain by Ian Nagoski, a track from Ian’s drone classic Warm Coursing Blood, a 1998 recording released by Colorful Clouds for Acoustics. As Ian recounted to me recently in a chance encounter that allowed me to broach my recent revisitation of Chemin de fer (recorded in 2000 and released in 2001), he created the piece by recording the water from a shower striking a huge metal pot designed for cooking lobsters and subsequently layering the recording on top of itself more than a few times. When Babin learned of this kindred metallophonic endeavor, she enthusiastically sought to adapt it to her world. Rain was already an extremely thick and static slab of sound; with Babin’s additions it’s that and a lot more sound. I took this review as an opportunity to revisit Warm Coursing Blood, a truly brilliant album in a style of music I have only a nominal attraction towards. One of my listening sessions was a breakthrough for me. One day I somehow found myself in the mood to lay down for a bit and see if I could enjoy being enveloped by Ian’s music played at room-filling (but not biologically irresponsible) volume, something I’d not actually tried before. Ian’s textures opened up for me and I was mesmerized for two long pieces, Feather and Rain. It was a smashing success. Comparing this to my experiences of Pluie de homards, I’ve concluded that Babin’s augmented version of Rain is a pleasant and novel whole, but her distinct vocabulary actually subtracts from the eminently cohesive power of the original, which relies on the shading revealed by an extremely narrow and focused range of sound.

Her methods are simple, but her music is exquisitely rich in detail and variation.

La bricoleuse de sons

Stéphane Martel, P45, no. 16, April 2, 2004

La mystérieuse Magali Babin, ancienne guitariste du quintette féminin punk/improvisatoire Les Nitroglycérines, travaille le son et le métal depuis fort longtemps. En réalité, sa fascination pour les instruments et objets métalliques remonte au tout début des années 90, immédiatement après la phase fuzzée des Nitros. Son premier album Chemin de fer, paru sur l’étiquette No Type il y a deux ans précisément, présentait une musique définitivement non-conventionnelle, différente, aventureuse, ingénieuse et parfois même vaguement sensuelle. Une musique de silences et de bruits, d’espace et d’écho. La quincaillerie métallique de Magali se veut large et variée: casseroles, ressorts, écumoires, batteurs à mains, archets, cordes de guitares, table-tournante, roches… Tout y passe. Une démarche singulière et étonnante qui aurait certainement plu aux Berlinois d’Einstürzende Neubauten. Active sur la scène locale de musique actuelle depuis une dizaine d’années, la jeune femme aux longs cheveux noirs, coupe Louise Brooks, a partagé la scène avec, entre autres, Martin Tétreault, Éric Létourneau, Lori Freedman, Alexandre St-Onge et James Schidlowsky et offert des performances à Philadelphie, Baltimore et New York. De quoi rendre jaloux bien des musiciens. Rencontre avec la pétillante bricoleuse de sons.

Depuis quand travailles-tu avec les objets métalliques?

Depuis que je joue de la musique. Même en 86, quand j’étais guitariste dans un groupe punk, mon instrument était avant tout un objet qui servait à amplifier six cordes métalliques.

On a déjà qualifié ta musique de «sculpture sonore» et de «cinéma pour l’oreille». Éventuellement, serais-tu intéressée à créer de la musique pour un projet filmique ou pour la télévision?

On m’a déjà approchée pour le cinéma. C’était pour un film mi-science-fiction, mi-horreur, parfait pour moi! Malheureusement, le projet ne s’est pas concrétisé; un rêve parti en fumée. J’aime créer des ambiances sonores inquiétantes, hypnotiques et mystérieuses. Ce qui provoque chez les gens des images en écoutant ma musique vient en grande partie du fait qu’on ne reconnaît pas l’instrumentation, on imagine d’où proviennent les sons. Pour certains, ce sera un bruit d’eau, pour d’autres un bruit de feuille, etc. Mais pour revenir à ta question, les propositions pour le cinéma reviendront peut-être, je l’espère. Mais pour ce qui est de la télévision, ça me semble un domaine difficile à atteindre.

Comment procèdes-tu pour la «composition» de tes pièces? Dans quel environnement travailles-tu?

Avant, le geste improvisé était pour moi un bon canevas mais de plus en plus ma musique commence par une idée. J’intellectualise beaucoup ce que je recherche comme son, comme geste. J’écris, je dessine, je cherche des références. Quand l’idée devient trop vivante dans ma tête, je la concrétise en son.

Parle-moi de la collaboration studio de Jogging dans la maison hantée avec Mario Gauthier et Alain Chénier. Comment s’est-elle produite?

Cette pièce a été créée tout simplement grâce à un heureux hasard. En fait, nous nous sommes amusés avec une des pistes déjà enregistrées. Nous l’avons jouée à l’envers et manipulions la vitesse manuellement grâce à un logiciel de son. Chacun à notre tour, nous avons fait un tour de piste.

Certains ont comparé ton travail avec celui de Seth Nehil, Alexandre St-Onge, Jupitter-Larsen. Des comparaisons dérangeantes ou flatteuses?

Les comparaisons, comme les étiquettes, je n’y fais pas très attention. Je travaille avec Alexandre depuis plusieurs années. Je pense que nous avons la même qualité d’écoute pour jouer de la musique improvisée. Nous avons également travaillé avec Éric Létourneau sur des œuvres plus complexes au sein de notre trio de performance sonore, Mineminemine. La relation que nous établissons entre le son et la performance est sûrement un élément commun entre le travail de Larsen et le mien.

Tu travailles déjà sur un prochain projet d’album? Tu as une idée à quoi cela ressemblera?

Oui j’y travaille, mais j’aime dire paresseusement. Ce prochain album aura comme thématique l’intimité.

Sur Pluie de homards, on retrouve la pièce Rain de Ian Nagoski en fond sonore. Pourquoi ce choix?

Je dirais que c’est le concept de la complémentarité des contraires qui m’a une fois de plus inspirée. Lorsqu’on écoute Pluie de homards, on entend deux univers sonores qui ne sont pas vraiment fondus l’un dans l’autre. Il s’agit de deux sources indépendantes et jouées parallèlement l’une à l’autre. L’une est loin, l’autre est proche. L’une est claire et répétitive, l’autre et saccadée et énigmatique. L’une a été produite à partir d’un objet en acier inoxydable, très lisse, l’autre est le son cru de la rouille que je gratte. La rencontre des extrêmes est un leitmotiv important dans ma démarche.

Quel genre de musique as-tu l’habitude d’écouter chez toi?

J’ai la chance de vivre avec un collectionneur de musique. Nous écoutons (et faisons connaître à nos enfants) vraiment plusieurs genres de musique. Mais, étrangement lorsque je suis seule, je n’en écoute pas. J’aime les bruits de fond. Les sons organisés de mes appareils électroménagers. Les bourdonnements confus provenant de chez mes voisins. Les sons de ma vieille maison qui craque de partout. Les sons anecdotiques provenant de l’extérieur. Je suis une auditrice contemplative, parfois je pense même que j’aime écouter l’herbe qui pousse (rires).

Quelle expérience auditive particulière désirais-tu faire vivre à celui qui tend l’oreille à Chemin de fer?

Si expérience il y a, disons peut-être celle des possibilités.

Comment envisages-tu l’avenir de la musique dite «bruitiste», «abstraite» ou «avant-gardiste»?

Je pense que la création sonore sera toujours en marge de «l’industrie» de la musique. Par contre, elle est et restera une partenaire indispensable aux autres formes de création. En ce qui me concerne, j’aimerais travailler davantage avec les dimensions qu’apportent par exemple la danse, le théâtre, le cinéma et pourquoi pas l’art web, les nouveaux médias. Ce que j’ai à offrir, ce sont des ambiances, des textures, des lieux, des personnages sonores. Comme je le disais auparavant, depuis trois ans je travaille au sein d’un collectif de performance sonore. Avec Mineminemine, le son est un accessoire, tout comme l’espace, l’éclairage, la présence. Ces éléments composent une action performative qui peut être narrative ou non. Je pense que la création sonore, qu’elle soit «bruitiste», «abstraite» ou «avant-gardiste», a tout intérêt à se produire autrement que sur les supports conventionnels et dans les circuits de la scène dite musicale…

Manipulation d’objets en fer

Bertrand Backeland, La Médiathèque, May 1, 2003

Magali Babin se fraye un chemin à travers la matière grise. Matière froide, sans âme, elle tente de lui donner vie. D’une lame en acier trempé à un couvercle de casserole, Magali Babin explore tous les alliages du métal. Fonte de l’enregistrement. Elle forge les sons. Torsion, martèlement, étirement, soudure, cisaillement. Les voix se multiplient et bientôt se perdent dans la grisaille d’une pluie de limaille de fer. Corrosion. Le rythme s’oxyde progressivement. Les enregistrements (tels des photographies) sont punaisés au mur en guise de souvenir. Estompage de la mémoire. Grattage de la surface rouillée pour lui redonner son éclat. Donne à réfléchir.

Grattage de la surface rouillée pour lui redonner son éclat.

Off the Spine

Darren Bergstein, e/i magazine, no. 1, March 31, 2003

Babin, for all intents and purposes, is a sonic metallurgist, warping surface alloys into soft, pliable mica. Chemin de fer is rank experimentation: corralling her aluminum cones, steel pots, guitar pick-ups and wirewheels, Babin strums, rubs, massages, and fondles them with fingers, bows and additional implements, then runs him through her spirited banks of software. More often than not, she settles for some basic improvising, producing sounds at random, basking in the natural feel of the materials; E is as ambiguous as its title, Babin picking, plucking, prodding and poking her metallic foils to produce disconnected tonalities hovering in the soundheld — they share little in the way of common coin, symptomatic of the disease improv’s critics have warned infects too much of the genre; they’re not necessarily wrong. L’entonnoir allows the laptops’ discreet parameters to work its magic by transforming the composer’s acoustic language into a more tactile wall of sound. Jogging dans la maison hantée beckons glitch into the arena, mouse-clicks and keyboard strokes distorting what little decay there is into a full-on occupational accident. No reason to fault Babin’s choice of soundmaker; however, the ‘rank experimentalist’ ethic has dampened many an improviser’s pursuits, and Babin is far from immune. Chemin de fer is a textbook example of concept overriding execution; great on paper, feckless in resolve. Spread out over 50 minutes, the disparate motions of the metallurgist’s noises fail to cohere. Okay to be avant provided you don’t drop your garde.

… a sonic metallurgist, warping surface alloys into soft, pliable mica.


Christopher Murphy, %Array, November 3, 2002

No Type are probably best known for their quality back catalog of (free) mp3 / gif offerings at www.notype.com which are, without exception, worth downloading in their entirety. Their welcome move into hardware territory has resulted in a number of releases since 2001’s excellent 2CD The Freest of Radicals. Magali Babin’s Chemin de fer features a collection of digitally massaged textures - simple, yet seductive, the crisp recordings feature the magnified sounds of everyday objects placed within spacious soundfields. Opening with the breathy textures of Triturations, Babin sets the scene perfectly for a series of pristine studies, each one mesmerising. Petit jardin features five magnified minutes of razor sharp textures which throb and sparkle, pulsing through repeated patterns. La corde - the sound of a cord pulled taut before sounds are wrenched from it - is childlike in its simplicity, but anything but simplistic. The very ordinariness of the sounds Babin favours mask a delicate ear and deft touch: Monsieur et madame Watt glistens with high frequency electricity underpinned by low frequency murmur; while E resonates like a digital gamelan. It’s perhaps best to close with No Type’s own, apt, ‘file under’ categorisation of Babin’s work:

File under: microsonic poetry.

… simple, yet seductive, the crisp recordings feature the magnified sounds of everyday objects placed within spacious soundfields.


François Couture, AllMusic, August 30, 2002

Did you ever stop in your tracks while cooking dinner to listen to the sonic possibilities of this pot or that pan? Well, you should. Magali Babin acted on this impulse and has since developed an art form out of kitchen utensils and discarded metal objects. Chemin de fer is her first album. The title means “railroad” but is more accurate when translated literally: “road of iron.” This is not bang-on-a-can noise. Babin studies metallic sounds up close, using close miking to capture all the subtleties of her tappings and scrapings. Her approach bears similarities with lowercase and microsound esthetics — indeed, she puts her “instruments” under the microscope. Looping, filtering, but most of all exploring all the sonorities contained in them, she improvises strange, captivating pieces. However odd they sound, they remain vaguely familiar. Triturations and Petit jardin stand out, simply because they take a form more constant and eventful than the other pieces. Jogging dans la maison hantée was created with producer Mario Gauthier and sound engineer Alain Chénier taking part (although their roles are not specified). Pluie de homards is an improvisation over the noise piece Rain by Ian Nagoski. Ma tribu begins with a simple sound (what?) and builds up to an abrupt end, Francisco López-style. L’entonnoir is the noisiest track, recalling some of GX Jupitter-Larsen’s experiments, but without the macho “subliming violence” vibe. Even in her harsher moments, Babin keeps her art under a feminine touch. Impressive.


Earpeace: Audio Review

B Wildered, Desiderata, no. 11, July 1, 2002

This CD consists of a series of compositions created by handling various found metallic objects and recording the results, then “extracting” the results thru the “anvil or forge” of the studio. The results are akin, yet different from, the work of Seth Nihil, in that you are brought into an interior environment. As if your ear were pressed up against the objects and hearing their resonance as they are stroked, struck, used as sound and electrical conductors in various ways. Which makes for a very intimate audio setting, not immediately accessible as “music”… It is more of an artificial ambience, a created introjected universe.

Now the question becomes is this of value to you as a listener, to spend your time listening either intently or distractedly to these scrapings, buzzings, etc. I would have to presuppose that you have listened to a lot of recordings, and have become bored with various regurgitations of pop muzak formuli, & have embarked on a search for new ways to appreciate the possible worlds of organized sounds. If so, there are very few more original and thoughtfully-considered works than this one. The 6th track, L’entonnoir, stood out in its building of heavy motive-type sounds which resolved into a small rolling trickle. The collaboration Jogging dans la maison hantée appears to represent a step in the microsound electronic motif i have become somewhat familiar with, in its electronic chirps & extended heavily-reverbed metallic sounds, and its more extreme dynamics. “Pluie de homards” concludes this cd with a caustic, cutting series of sounds, effectively building to a tangled jungle of a resolution.

… there are very few more original and thoughtfully-considered works than this one.


Brett McCallon, Splendid E-Zine, June 4, 2002

Magali Babin is a performance artist/live sonic experimentalist whose focus is the sound that can be drawn from subtle and not-so-subtle interactions between metallic objects. The album’s title, which in English translates to “Rail Road,” literally means “road of iron.” That translation is apt.

Babin wants her listeners to imagine the objects she is manipulating, and therefore emphasizes their differences. Triturations is grounded in the scraping sound rasped by what sounds like two rough steel blocks, while Petit jardin is tiny metallic beads undercut with an occasional deep, bell-like resonance. La corde uses what sounds suspiciously like the pickup of an electric guitar to scrape some interesting patterns; L’entonnoir engages a ride cymbal to back up the strange, roiling hum in the foreground.

Granted, this music is not for everyone, and even for those willing to go along with Babin’s program, there are moments of needless repetition . Babin is, of course, an artist who will inevitably remain on the fringe, but the iron road that leads to that fringe can definitely be rewarding.

Babin is, of course, an artist who will inevitably remain on the fringe, but the iron road that leads to that fringe can definitely be rewarding.


Nicola Catalano, Rumore, no. 125, June 1, 2002

Abbondanza di accostamenti di tal tipo la si trova nella doppia compilation The Freest of Radicals edita dall’etichetta canadese No Type, finora attivissima come label online con eccellenti MP3 scarcabili dalla rete (www.notype.com). In oltre due ore e mezza questa sorta di manifesto della nuova elettroacustica casalinga (con digressioni più o meno prevedibili: i contributi di Idmonster e Kanovanik flirtano, ad esempio, con la ballata rocks) allinea soluzioni di ispirazione quanto meno variegata, passando dal dub soffocato e soffocante del genietto Tomas Jirku alle croccanti textures di chitarra preparata, onde radio e strumenti non ortodossi di James Schidlowsky, passando per la proto-electronica di Camp, le delicate melodie di clicks di Claudia Bonarelli e gli intoppi microsonici di Dick Richards. Per la stesso marchio di Montréal esce anche Chemin de fer dell’autrice elettroacustica Magali Babin. Trascorsi nel gruppo femminile d’improvvisazione Les Nitroglycérins e collaborazioni con nomi del calibro di Tétreault e St-Onge, la Babin edifica pregnanti sculture sonore, pellicole acustiche contrappuntate da dettagli e risonanze timbriche ottenute con l’impiego esclusivo di oggetti metallici riciclati o reinventati.


Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, June 1, 2002

Magali Babin is active on the Montréal sound art scene. Mr Dontigny of the No Type label lets on that it was almost by chance that this CD became the third (or second; the previous one was a double) issue with the No Type logo. Mr Dontigny happened to hear – just days prior to the label’s birth – that Magali Babin’s audio project at the CBC had been cancelled, and that she was looking for other venues of diffusion. As Mr Dontigny says; “the timing could not have been better,” and No Type signed Babin on.

The booklet – displaying the regular high-quality fold-out magnificence that is has in common with empreintes DIGITALes proper – explains that most of the sounds we hear on this set are derived from metallic instruments and objects (instruments being objects made with the specific purpose of being… instruments, while objects were made for other reasons, but demonstrating instrumental qualities as a by-product of their humble object existences… and the third alternative is the case of found objects which could be just natural findings like rocks and ice, which weren’t designed – I suppose… to act as sounding objects, much less instruments… but sound persistently anyhow and anyway!)

Most of the events herein are improvised by Magali Babin, with the exception of track 7, which was “crafted in joyous collaboration with Alain Chénier and Mario Gauthier”, and track 9, which has been mixed with the piece Rain from Ian Nagoski’s CD Warm Coursing Blood.

That said, on to listening!

The beginning is a start, but there is no actual beginning or end to this piece; Triturations… The sliding of rocks over rocks, granite across gneiss, or boulders over rock bottom expanses keeps on keeping on, and to me this sound world is the murmur of Time itself passing through these lonely worlds. The sounds are subdued but grave, humble but terrible – and these minutes of Babin time rubs off on your own calendar, making it obsolete in this vast void of minerals and millennia…

Track 2 – Petit jardin – is more French, more detailed, more microscopic, tingling, trickling and seeping… as little elves and fairies hover in the shadows over at the garden pond – and it makes me recall some worlds by Finnish guru electroacoustician Kaija Saariaho. There is a fair amount of deep wood enchantment in Finnish culture, you bet, and this property shines and shivers inside Petit jardin. Masterly, how Babin builds this dense atmosphere with sparse means in but a few minutes!

La corde is chordal in its attributes, you would have guessed! This comes close to some latter day guitar improvisations by the likes of Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth, even though I’m certain Babin did not use any guitar. The chordal elasticity and picking pluck feel is ever present, anyhow, and close mikings enhance the experience. It is indeed very nice, almost pick-pocketing, fingers moving about around those mashed up remains of chewing gum wrappings…

Number 4 – Monsieur et madame Watt – sports a thin, droning current of electricity, making me think of Joni Mitchell’s Electricity from For the Roses: “input, output, electricity…,” maybe for the lines that go: “she don’t know the system, plus she don’t understand, she’s got all the wrong fuses and splices, she’s not gonna fix it up to easy, the masking tape tangles, it’s sticky and black…” and so forth, and simply because of this humming current that could easily start emitting sparks and charges all over the room, and Babin’s very peculiar and amiable picking keeps up, like some old maid of the 19th century nervously picking and picking her apron while she waits for a secret lover or hell from her master. Babin’s piece once again gives rise to many fantasies and visions, which in my world is one of the best things I can say about music! Towards the end the electricity gets dangerous! Suddenly I wake up inside a power plant, the electromagnetic force field overwhelming…

5 – E – talks at me through the jerky and stiff jaws of tinplates or slabs of sheet metal, revealing some of the inner psychology of such materials. The metals are like drugged and just recently awakening ants on the inside of the hard matter. It has got to be the atomic jitter I’m sensing in this piece. On the other hand, sometimes this could appear to me like the slow motion rendition of tin can talk; all those truckloads of tin cans traveling all over the Americas, all over Europe, to reach those super market shelves… Is this their small talk in the road?

Havoc is administered on track 6 – L’entonnoir – in the manner of barrels rolling down endless slopes in some painting that Chagall never got around to do… but his age is the time of these events. It might even be winter, and black craws are flying up and fluttering around as the battalion of barrels roll and tumble on down like friendly but helplessly dangerous metallic speed freaks, in vain hoping – yes, thirsting! – for a valley which never comes, since this is the world of never-ending slopes… and the religion of tumbling barrels aims at the valley at the end of barrel existence…

Track 7 –Jogging dans la maison hantée - opens in a tweeting, tweaking manner, elastically, rubbery, forcefully seeping through cracks, emitting molten or mashed matter like hot rubber through the cracks of wooden horizons… The shrill sounds, which are rare here, sort of escape the tough goings-on behind and beyond those coniferous horizons, and the events that are hinted at and revealed in traces and remnants can’t be anything else but creation per se, or maybe a human mind finally at work with changing his views, trying to understand something else, and if so, it’s that something else that keeps tweeting and seeping through those wooden cracks, and I can already smell something; don’t know exactly what. Babin’s imaginative sound worlds are excellent mind tumblers!

Piece number 8 – Ma tribu – indeed conjures up pictures and archetypical memories of village get-togethers down the millennia of the African continent, rising in volume and presence to an almost painful drum dance across the dry, beaten piece of ground in the center of village and ceremony. A wheezing character of the drumming lets on its shamanistic, dream-like state, far on the inside of any real-time here-and-now occurrence, summing up the force and strength om the good medicine of thousands and thousands of years in one, wild, intense drum-beat, lashing out at you from the true state of Time…

The last entry on Magali Babin’s CD is Pluie de homards. First it appears like some early electroacoustic – or rather electronic – piece of ingenuity, but soon it travels into the realm of timelessness that seems to be the breathing air of the composer. The watery property is clear, but it’s massive, as if a closely miked gush of water at high pressure down a tin bucket! The force is magnificent and the speed immense! Overtones and obscure timbres swirl around the running water like a thick layer of gleaming, gleaning grains of sound and light. You name it, we like it!

This No Type release of the sound artist Magali Babin has is a true sonic adventure, revealing true ingenuity and artistic splendor!

… a true sonic adventure, revealing true ingenuity and artistic splendor!


GP, Nightlife, no. 35, June 1, 2002

Le label No Type est d’abord une enclave dans l’internet pour une circulation libre de la musique, une musique faite sans concession doit-on spécifier. Le saut sur support physique est accompli avec le premier album de Magali Babin (et aussi une double compilation). Babin bricole et rafistole des instruments métalliques et des objets inusités pour ensuite extraire des sons par divers moyens. Adepte de l’improvisation, elle génère des bruits amplifiés qui forment une musique non-conventionnelle. Exploration plutôt réussie, mais longue et hermétique aussi.

Exploration plutôt réussie…


Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera, no. 2002_7, May 20, 2002

Following the No Type compilation, three new disks from the real world collaboration between David Turgeon and DIFFUSION i MéDIA arrived at Ampersand Etc.

Magali Babin improvises her sounds on “metallic instruments and objects, which [she has] made, recycled or reinvented,” which go beyond the tin things pictured on the cover, as the notes also mention “a rather small electrical object… guitar pick up,” the mike placement has also had an important impact, as has “the studio work.” However, created originally for a radio show, the pieces here demonstrate the range of her constructions.

It opens with a more tentative, less structured piece that like many improv albums, tests the listener straight off. Triturations is an amalgam of shimmers pops scrapes twangs voicey-noises shakes subtleties and crackles that twists and changes adding thuds and winds in a complex electroacoustic weave of sounds of unusual colour and timbre. Petit jardin is more straightforward, alternating periods of a strumming with the sound of pebbles dropped in a bowl, with an overall chime, adding a scooping sound near the end. With my french, La corde is appropriately named – scraping and some plucking of a stretched wire accompanied by a percussive thud that sometimes sounds like a ruler being twanged. Monsieur et madame Watt has two components: an electronic buzz with becomes a wave and then a pulse over which there is a light percussive rumbling and scrabble. A tapping rolling scrape in E sounds like the microphone was inside a pipe being played, gradually speeding up, and into the big rolling percussion of L’entonnoir that forms a full-on assault over droning base and light playful tappings over. Jogging dans la maison hantée – was composed with Alain Chenier and Mario Gauthier (from the radio station): sighs and clicks run through as little noises explode over – scrapey rumble, high wail, rubbing noises – that ebb and flow returning wit stretched decay for a little big finale.

Dramatic flourishes of tapping and a fast rubbing increase in volume and speed in Ma tribu, eventually pulsating. And then the finale, Pluie de homards (which has been mixed with an Ian Nagoski piece apparently) a fabulous conclusion, verging on electro-noise as big hollow resonances whoosh over a light crackling clatter. And nicely completes the trajectory the album has created from its more finely grained opening.

An unusual and engrossing album. As you read the reviews of the others that make up this first batch from IMNT, it will be obvious that David Turgeon has maintained the unique eclecticism that made/makes the on-line label so fascinating. I hope that there is enough interest in the real world to allow the label to continue this musical exploration. For those in the know, the IMNT releases are packaged in the same card sleeves that are a little like upmarket cigarette packets. This allows for some interesting artwork and extensive liner notes, and maintains the tradition.

An unusual and engrossing album.


Jean-François Perreault, Convergence, no. 2:6, May 15, 2002

Magali Babin, c’est une «patenteuse», une vraie. Plus jeune, dans la cuisine de ses parents, elle ne devait pas être un cadeau, probablement prête à taper sur tout ce qui fait du bruit. Plusieurs années plus tard, elle ne démord pas et fait de la musique avec tout ce qui lui tombe sous la main. Dans Chemin de fer, elle utilise une multitude d’objets métalliques fabriqués, recyclés, réinventés; la très belle pochette de son disque nous l’indique clairement, d’ailleurs. Fait intéressant: sept des neuf pièces sont improvisées, proposant des œuvres très personnelles et sensibles. Ça démarre en grande avec Triturations, une paisible pièce qui semble nous glisser dans un costume de scaphandrier, mille pieds sous l’océan. Dire qu’en réalité, la musicienne ne fait que frotter des casseroles et autres trouvailles à côté d’un micro! Le tout est réalisé avec la joyeuse complicité de Mario Gauthier et ca paraît.

… des œuvres très personnelles et sensibles.


James Coleman, lowercasesound, May 10, 2002

From: “JC JC” <james_39@h…>
Date: Fri May 10, 2002 4:12 pm
Subject: Magali Babin

I first became familiar with Magali Babin’s work when she performed in Baltimore, USA’s High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music in 2000, and was immediately attracted to her work. Magali is very active in Montréal’s vibrant experimental music and sound art scene, and primarily works with amplified metal/objects and transducers.

Acoustic/amplified/contact mic’d metal materials and metallic found objects have had an interesting history in experimental music/sound art/electroacoustic music, ranging from, for example, Harry Bertoia’s “Sonambient” sound sculpture recordings, Xenakis’ “Orient-Occident,” and Einstürzende Neubauten, among numerous others.

So i was looking forward to her new CD, Chemin de fer, on No Type. I got it a couple of days ago, and it’s been living in my CD player since then. In the face of the aforementioned history, I have to say that Magali’s take, approach, and resultant sonorities and sounds from her chosen sounds and objects are utterly unique and new. She manages to disclose small, mostly quiet, magical, mysterious little universes of sound. Another thing that emerges from listening to this work after enjoying the beauty of the pieces is how literate and articulate Magali is with her chosen materials and tools - there is a very broad language of sound in these recordings that will reward careful listeners. Added bonuses include the piece Pluie de homards which was mixed with the piece “Rain” from the CD “Warm Coursing Blood” by Ian Nagoski, one of the more interesting people working in drone these days, and beautiful packaging. I have a strong feeling that this disc is going to be one of the few releases each year that really speaks to me, and I’m already hooked.

Another thing that emerges from listening to this work after enjoying the beauty of the pieces is how literate and articulate Magali is with her chosen materials and tools…


Brian Lavelle, Vital, no. 323, May 10, 2002

Nipping at the heels of the gripping and fugue-state-inducing eclecticism of the first No Type compilation, The Freest of Radicals, comes this incredible debut CD release from Montréal sound artist Magali Babin. Born in 1967, Babin combines linear yet sculptural metal-based sound pieces with a true flair for dynamism, abstraction and otherworldliness. Although Chemin de fer is the first appearance of material of this nature by her, she has apparently worked with soundscapes featuring the recording of metals for more than a decade now and, possibly as a result of this time-served honing of her skills, her utter control of the proceedings here is totally compelling. The constructions on this album were originally recorded for a radio show in Canada but shelved prematurely and, it would seem perhaps, unfairly. I have to admit I expected some element of coldness and isolation from this disc; but warmth, confusion, playfulness and apprehension all combine in Chemin de fer’s 50 minute journey and prove me wrong. At times, as on the opening Triturations and on E, the musical palette is of some vast, partly steam-driven and partly clockwork organism, respiring and shuffling at the limits of exhaustion; elsewhere, the album title is interpreted near-literally, as with the seemingly endless electrified rolling stock effect of L’entonnoir. These are impressive, intimate soundworks that cross the boundaries of acousmatic music, free improvisation, the pure sound of the gamelan, and early electronic composition methods, and yet retain a recognisable fingerprint that appears to be Babin’s alone. Let’s hope another decade is not allowed to elapse without more from this unique talent.

… a true flair for dynamism, abstraction and otherworldliness… her utter control of the proceedings here is totally compelling.


Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review, April 29, 2002

For the recordings of Chemin de fer, Montréal based sound explorer Magali Babin found inspiration in metallic objects of all shapes and sizes. Through improvisation, she brings out their sonorous qualities and created a series of dynamic sound sculptures; “sculpture” is a good term for this music (or, at least it’s a convenient term) because of its concrete qualities and strong textures. From deep gongs to light rustling, strange scrapings and various clamourous sounds, Babin keeps things dynamic and interesting, pursuing new ideas and sounds from different objects in each track. Very little, if any, digital processing was used in the making of these recordings. An intriguing buzzing drone pulses through the piece Monsieur et madame Watt. A beautifully rich scraping texture can be found on L’entonnoir, a relatively short piece with such an intense character. This is followed by short “chirps” dominating the following track. The diversity of sounds and intriguing arrangements notwithstanding, the listener is able to understand from the first couple of tracks the general tone and approach to the work as a whole. This is not to say that the music is predictable; but one picks up its “language” quickly. As a result, I found myself more interested in the first twenty or so minutes of listening, finding my curiosity and attention gradually waning after a while. Still, it’s an intriguing release, full of unusual tones, resonances and strikes; in short, a compelling introduction to Babin’s unique world of sound.

From deep gongs to light rustling, strange scrapings and various clamourous sounds, Babin keeps things dynamic and interesting…


Réjean Beaucage, Voir, April 25, 2002

On se souvient de Magali Babin à la guitare ultra-fuzzée avec le groupe Nitroglycérine. Il s’agit ici de tout autre chose. S’il y a de la guitare, on l’écoute à travers l’équivalent d’un télescope: on est à l’intérieur de la guitare et on entend davantage les craquements du manche ou les crépitements des pick-up que le grattement des cordes. Magali va «au son des choses», au cœur des bruits, des micro-bruits en fait, lesquels, amplifiés à l’extrême, deviennent les objets d’une expérimentation méditative et «bruissent, chuintent, brillent, crissent, tintent, tremblent, grondent…», comme l’écrit le réalisateur Mario Gauthier. Des méditations qui sont courtes et sans véritable développement cependant.

Magali va «au son des choses», au cœur des bruits…


Catherine Perrey, Ici Montréal, April 25, 2002

La Montréalaise Magali Babin a presque le don d’ubiquité et est une véritable artiste bruitiste. Chemin de fer est sa première galette. On imagine bien sa collection de cossins sonores: batteur à mains, écumoire, immenses chaudrons, gros ressorts. On entre dans ce disque par une plongée en abysse, mêlant adroitement les sons de basse continue et les petits cliquetis. Le léger et le lourd sont opposés. La pièce suivante nous propose un travail autour de l’archet, frotté et manipulé dans tous les sens. Changement d’instrument, ensuite, pour nous amener sur un parcours aiguille de table-tournante. Variété de propos, intentions claires, loin du fouillis sonore ou de la surdose, les sons proposés par Magali Babin ont tous une définition de texture précise, claire, nette et sans bavure.

Variété de propos, intentions claires, loin du fouillis sonore ou de la surdose…


Chris Twomey, Tandem News, April 19, 2002

From the strange new plugged-in world where musicians don’t have to pay their dues in the club scene or deal with deceptive business types comes the debut CD compilation by the Canadian on-line “label” No Type. Since 1998 No Type has offered free MP3 downloads of work by new producers of electronic, post-rock and experimental sounds. Currently hosting 60 plus on-line “albums” and “EPs” with more scheduled to be posted, No Type is now venturing into the perilous world of distribution and the physical commerce of music products with this survey of 40 of their artists and a companion release by Montréal sound artist Magali Babin (who improvises with metallic objects on Chemin de fer, recorded by Radio-Canada). Rising stars amongst the No Type alumni are Torontonians Tomas Jirku and Dick Richards, who have had their minimal techno tracks signed to significant European labels, and here are among the more accessible contributors to this generous collection containing many difficult listening moments. Also among the artists featured are several from Montréal’s happening improvising and electronic scenes, and small label owners from the States including Books On Tape aka Todd Drootin, who makes production music for MTV spots.