La marée

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay / Sarah Nicolls, Heather Roche, Peyee Chen, Jean-François Laporte

… une acuité rare dans ces compositions de musique de chambre. Présent continu, France

… the magic residing more in the frictional spontaneity of a theatre of operations […] providing some fascinating terrain for our continued exploration. The Sound Projector, UK

Prix Opus 2013-14: Disque de l’année

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is one of those artists who always succeeds in climbing to the next level. On this fourth released on empreintes DIGITALes, the composer does not present one, but two discs featuring over 80 minutes of exciting mixed music. The compositions explore the relationship between the loudspeaker and bass clarinet, soprano voice, piano, and also with invented instruments: Baschet-Malbos piano and Babel table. On this visceral release, the composer brilliantly succeeds to upturn the expectations of the listener: from simplicity to complexity, from calmness to chaotic distortion, from consonance to dissonance, the virtuoso of real-time processing brings the listener in a living tide of sound.

  • CeReNeM

2 × CD (IMED 13123/124)

Disc 1

Disc 2

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 13123/124
  • 2013
  • UCC 771028212354
  • Total duration: 85:38
  • OGpak
  • 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
  • 70 g

On the web

Download (IMED 13123_NUM)


About La marée

All the pieces on this album are mixed-music where the soloist has a complex dynamic with its antagonist, the loudspeaker: a dialogue all made of power games. This uneven relationship is reminiscent of the fragility of sandcastles and other human constructions with their daily facing of the patience of the elements. Are these ephemeral joys many revenges over the ineluctable?



I would like to thank Claudine, Maxime and Édouard Levasseur, without whom this music would make no sense, and Jean-François Denis, Sylvain Pohu, and Stewart Worthy for their unconditional support.

Obviously, a mixed-music album would not exist without the generosity of the performers throughout the composition, premiere and recording periods; an immense thanks to Peyee Chen, Jean-François Laporte, Wilhem Latchoumia, Sarah Nicolls, and Heather Roche.

I would also like to thank, for their judicious comments during the production of this album, Monty Adkins, Dominique Bassal, Nicolas Bernier, Alex Bonney, Alex Harker, Nicolas Stephan, and Dominic Thibault.

Finally, this album has been made possible by the support of the CeReNeM of the University of Huddersfield (England, UK).


Realization and Post-production

All the works were realized in the composer’s studio and the studios of the University of Huddersfield (England, UK). Once recorded, they were edited and mixed by the composer in the studios of the University of Huddersfield in June and July 2013, and mastered by Dominique Bassal in Montréal (Québec) in August 2013.


  • Jean-François Denis is receiving (on behalf of Pierre Alexandre Tremblay visible on the big screen) the Prix Opus 2013-14 “Album of the year — actuelle and electroacoustic musics” at the 18th Gala des Prix Opus at Salle Bourgie in Montréal. The hosts of the event are Pierre Vachon and Stanley Péan [Photo: Anis Hammoud — CQM, Montréal (Québec), February 1, 2015]
    Jean-François Denis is receiving (on behalf of Pierre Alexandre Tremblay visible on the big screen) the Prix Opus 2013-14 “Album of the year — actuelle and electroacoustic musics” at the 18th Gala des Prix Opus at Salle Bourgie in Montréal. The hosts of the event are Pierre Vachon and Stanley Péan [Photo: Anis Hammoud — CQM, Montréal (Québec), February 1, 2015]
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In the press

Sélection musicale #4

Kasper T Toeplitz, Présent continu, April 1, 2015

La marée est une collection de musiques de chambre d’aujourd’hui du compositeur canadien, mais résidant et enseignant en Angleterre, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: l’ajout de «aujourd’hui» à «musique de chambre» est important, dans toutes ces pièces l’instrument (oui, il s’agit à chaque fois de pièces solistes) dialogue à part égale avec l’électronique qui ne lui est pas soumise mais n’est pas non plus une sorte de divinité de haute technologie, prétexte absolu et unique raison d’être de la musique; la mention d’aujourd’hui (et on aura eu bien soin de ne pas utiliser le mot «contemporain») elle est là, dans le fait de plus considérer ou utiliser cette électronique comme un corps étranger que l’on craint ou qu’on explore, que l’on dompte, parfois, mais comme une évidence, comme part acquise du monde dans lequel on vit, ni plus ni moins fantastique ou mystérieuse que les instruments utilisés, qu’il soient clarinette basse (Heather Roche), piano (Sarah Nicolls) ou voix (Peyee Chen). Et il écrit bien, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, mais dira-t-on, c’est un peu la moindre des choses – là où sa musique devient intéressante ce n’est pas parce qu’il «écrit» bien mais parce qu’il est intelligent et que cette intelligence s’entend: on entend le compositeur nous «parler» ou du moins nous présenter une vision du monde, la sienne, et non pas seulement résoudre tel ou tel questionnement musical ou compositionnel.

Dans cette «marée», – déclinée en deux CD, bien qu’en seulement cinq pièces, ce qui suggère que le temps est pris de s’installer dans chacune d’elles, tant pour l’auditeur que le compositeur – ce qui prime après l’écoute, ce qui reste, n’est pas tant une proposition d’un nouveau style, de croisement ou fusion, d’un «truc» un peu inouï («oh, ici j’ai utilisé la synthèse concaténative par corpus!» – toutes choses que Pierre Alexandre maîtrise par ailleurs admirablement) que le fait de présenter l’ensemble comme de la musique de chambre d’aujourd’hui, sans esbroufe. Une seule pièce déroge à l’ensemble, celle écrite pour Jean-François Laporte et l’instrument de son invention, la «table de Babel» – peut-être parce que l’instrument se veut «inouï» justement, peut-être par un son très diffèrent du reste… je ne sais. Pour le reste, comme dit, une acuité rare dans ces compositions de musique de chambre. D’aujourd’hui.

… une acuité rare dans ces compositions de musique de chambre.

Review: Negotiation and Irresolution

Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, December 13, 2014

For his fourth release on the ever-exemplary empreintes DIGITALes label, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay offers worthy company to label-mates and audio-vivisectionists such as Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn, even if he is generally less incendiary across these five spacious pieces; forsaking cut ’n’ paste conscientiousousness for the full preservation and processing of performances in real time, draping over these aching canyons only the most necessary effects, to ensure the listener very gradual and genuine gratification. The momentous opener La rupture inéluctable consists of a resonant bass clarinet solo from Heather Roche, whose aerodynamic curves and low-end descents — initially foregrounded by golden slivers adrift in a vacuum — gradually succumb to a spell of more pugilistic tendencies: fits of pummelling framed by showers of feedback and distortion: mood-swings between grace and gratuitous, which, while making a fine first impression, establish a precedent of radical dynamic exchange between performer and loudspeaker that verges on war-craft.

I’d not heard of the Baschet-Malbos Piano prior to hearing Le tombeau de fondeurs (‘The Tomb of the Casters’), and it sounds nothing like what I’ve expected: a flower-headed, metal bouquet stemming from its seemingly unrelated namesake, producing sharp, undulating lines that devolve over time into pounding, dissonant clusters, which are buried alive by tolling bells and hammered metal, finally petering out in a slow, defeated descent. Mono no aware conveys greater restraint, visiting the ears in insect waves from the Babel Table (another new name to me) with the menace of approaching warplanes. Still, Again is a war of wills between fricative near-vituperation for Peyee Chen’s soprano vocals and the lurk of distortive electronics. However, the most cacophonous moments are reserved for the bipolar eruptions of piano in closer, Un clou, son marteau, et le béton (‘A Nail, Its Hammer and Concrete’), which draws more tightly the wire between the extremes of implied threat and weary indifference, heightening tension for the duration with brooding three-key ruminations alternating with petulant outbursts, a dichotomy ever averse to resolution.

Compiled very patiently across two discs, these five pieces demonstrate a different level of psychological control to the exhibitions of electroacoustic control that empreintes DIGITALes has presented thus far: the magic residing more in the frictional spontaneity of a theatre of operations than in the scientific perfection of detail, while providing some fascinating terrain for our continued exploration.

… the magic residing more in the frictional spontaneity of a theatre of operations […] providing some fascinating terrain for our continued exploration.


Cléo Palacio-Quintin, Circuit, November 27, 2014

Quatrième opus solo du compositeur québécois maintenant établi au Royaume-Uni, ce substantiel double CD regroupe cinq œuvres mixtes, composées par Pierre Alexandre Tremblay entre 2007 et 2013, dans lesquelles les solistes sont en constant dialogue avec les sons électroacoustiques. Incluant des traitements en direct et des sons fixés, les systèmes interactifs du compositeur donnent toujours corps à un discours vivant et naturel. Les excellents interprètes se fondent tous avec fluidité dans ses univers sonores audacieux et diversifiés pendant plus de 80 minutes de musique.

L’album débute par l’interprétation de la Canadienne Heather Roche, qui, avec sa clarinette basse, nous emporte dans quatre méditations raffinées sur nos «états métastables» dans La rupture inéluctable (2010-2011). Autant dans les passages plus dynamiques que dans les lentes mélopées, on ressent toujours la tension soutenue… l’impression d’être sur une ligne fragile… en extase au bord d’un précipice… près de 15 minutes avec l’impression de flotter béatement en apesanteur! Le tombeau des fondeurs (2008) met en valeur l’étrange son de cloche du piano Baschet-Malbos interprété par Sarah Nicolls. L’allégorie du fondeur de cloches est évocatrice, et tout comme lui, le compositeur sait «faire alliage, couler la forme, et peaufiner l’ébauche pour lui donner l’aura sonore rêvée», en amalgamant ses sons électroniques à ceux de ce piano particulier. L’œuvre, commandée par un des inventeurs de l’instrument, Pierre Malbos, rend un brillant hommage à «Messiaen, Stravinski, Varèse et autres fondeurs» à qui elle est dédiée. La plus récente composition Mono no aware (2013) clôt le premier CD avec un autre instrument inventé comme soliste, cette fois la table de Babel, interprétée par son concepteur québécois Jean-François Laporte qui a également commandé l’œuvre. Avec sa lente introduction plus sombre et plus posée — nous sommes bercés pendant plus de neuf minutes par de longues vagues, qui disparaissent alors pour revenir sporadiquement, transformées par diverses variations —, cette pièce au matériau limité expose clairement la maîtrise du compositeur de la grande forme. Il maintient notre attention pendant 17 minutes par la subtilité des textures qui colorent le parcours d’une grande ligne musicale presque monophonique.

Le deuxième disque met en scène un court opéra de chambre de 14 minutes pour une chanteuse. Cette histoire «d’attente en vain, d’espoir, de doute, d’impatience, de haine…», Still, Again (2012-2013), est tout en contraste avec une grande variété de sons fixés qui dialoguent énergiquement avec la voix. Cette magnifique voix chantée, parlée, onomatopée, parlée, hachurée est d’une grande versatilité et interprétée avec brio par la soprano Peyee Chen. Les sons de basse (d’une grande richesse timbrale) et de claviers, accompagnés de «glitch» nous transportent dans un univers qui évoque des genres musicaux populaires, intégrés ici avec intelligence et sophistication: du vrai travail d’orfèvre. La pianiste Sarah Nicolls clôt le programme au piano dans Un clou, son marteau, et le béton (2008-2009), œuvre qu’elle semble avoir commandée immédiatement après sa première collaboration avec le compositeur. Ici encore, Tremblay démontre la maîtrise de son art en maintenant l’intérêt de l’auditeur pendant plus de 22 minutes. La forme, beaucoup plus complexe, alterne entre des moments énergiques et de lentes progressions de basses, d’accords ou de trilles au piano. Les sons électroniques colorent toujours le tout avec tact et subtilité, qualités manifestes également dans le jeu de la pianiste.

Toutes les interprétations et les enregistrements sont d’une qualité irréprochable et chaque œuvre nous révèle de purs moments de grâce. En somme, ces musiques sont comme une grande marée qui nous emporte et dans laquelle nous souhaitons replonger à de multiples reprises.

Toutes les interprétations et les enregistrements sont d’une qualité irréprochable et chaque œuvre nous révèle de purs moments de grâce.


Robert Muis, Gonzo Circus, no. 120, July 4, 2014

De vierde uitgave van Pierre Alexandre Tremblay op het empreintes DIGITALes-label bestaat uit twee cd’s met vijf elektroakoestische composities. Hoewel de stukken in een vrij lange periode zijn ontstaan tussen 2008 en 2013 en Tremblay voor bijna elk stuk met een andere solist op een ander instrument samenwerkt, vormen de vijf composities een sterk geheel. In techniek, sfeer en uitwerking. Iedere compositie verkent de samenkomst van elektronica en een akoestisch instrument een basklarinet, een piano, de menselijke stem en de experimentele instrumenten Baschet-Malbos-piano en de babel table. Die relatie is dynamisch en direct: de akoestische instrumenten, inclusief de zangstem, worden tijdens het spel real time elektronisch bewerkt, waarop de solisten weer kunnen inspelen. Tremblay noemt het een dialoog die geheel bestaat uit machtsspelletjes. Zo ernstig is het niet: al zijn er momenten van strijd, evenzeer zijn er momenten van rust, van aanvulling en van samenvallen. Dat laat zich al horen in het eerste stuk, met Heather Roche op basklarinet. Het bestaat uit kalm gespeelde blazersnoten, die gepaard gaan met rinkelende en ruisende elektronica. Als Roche af en toe losbarst, sluit de elektronische noise daar perfect bij aan. Bijzonder is ook de combinatie van de elektronica met de Baschet-Malbos-piano, bespeeld door Sarah Nicolls, die onder andere kan klinken als metalige percussie en dan weer als een orgel. Bij tijden is hier nauwelijks onderscheid te maken tussen de instrumenten. Peyee Chen sist, krijst en zingt in Still, Again, terwijl de elektronica passend tikt, spettert, rinkelt, knort en piept. Een volgend moment echter neemt de apparatuur de stem over om haar onverbiddelijk te vervormen. Zo beweegt elk stuk zich langs de glijdende schaal tussen confrontatie en coalitie, en tussen abstract en beeldend (of verhalend). Elk op zich zijn de vijf stukken prachtig uitgevoerde klanklandschappen; als geheel is La marée van fascinerende schoonheid.

Elk op zich zijn de vijf stukken prachtig uitgevoerde klanklandschappen; als geheel is La marée van fascinerende schoonheid.


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 100, June 1, 2014
… l’auditeur appréciera les développements de la clarinette basse, s’extasiera sur les sonorités curieuses de cloches issues du piano Baschet-Malbos, l’extension sonore constituée par la table de Babel et son aura mystérieuse…


Gabriel Bélanger, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, June 1, 2014
Ce touche-à-tout nous fait découvrir ici une autre facette de son talent avec des pièces sophistiquées et pertinentes.


Guillaume Belhomme, Le son du grisli, May 2, 2014

Sur La rupture inéluctable, la première des pièces de ce double CD, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay ne raconte pas notre histoire, mais j’y vois des coïncidences. Un homme (le soliste?) seul face à des haut-parleurs. En 2011 (c’est l’année de la composition). Une clarinette basse (celle d’Heather Roche) lui lance un appel. Il ne bouge pas. Une deuxième basse, maintenant, sur la première. Cela lui rappelle un air folklorique, ou plutôt (il hésite, maintenant), une composition de Braxton. L’acoustique contre les schémas électroniques, l’homme contre la machine. Un homme seul face à des haut-parleurs qui l’envoutent.

Je remercie Pierre Alexandre Tremblay pour La rupture inéluctable et pour Mono no aware, ses pièces les plus récentes. Dans Mono no aware, je vois d’autres coïncidences. Dans ces rubans de sons qui m’encerclent et tournent. J’entends en eux la corne de brume de la table de Babel de Jean-François Laporte, mais elle est multipliée. Je cherche d’où vient l’appel et me tourne dans l’autre direction.

Comme je ne vois pas des coïncidences dans tout ce que j’entends, je passerais à côté des trois autres compositions: Le tombeau des fondeurs, où le piano Baschet-Malbos de Sarah Nicolls sonne des cloches électronique, Still, Again, où la soprano Peyee Chen fait face à un désordre électronique aussi, et Un clou, son marteau, et le béton, où Sarah Nicolls revient au piano pour un exercice romantique que mon pauvre cœur ne peut souffrir… C’est le hasard des coïncidences et le vouloir des compositions. Deux, pour moi, coïncidaient.

Je remercie Pierre Alexandre Tremblay pour La rupture inéluctable et pour Mono no aware, ses pièces les plus récentes.

Four Discs from empreintes DIGITALes

Wende Bartley, The WholeNote, no. 19:8, May 1, 2014

It’s been close to 25 years since the founding of the unique Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes (empreintesDIGITALes.com) in 1989 by Jean-François Denis and Claude Schryer. Solo-directed since 1991 by Denis, the label has produced 130 discs representing 107 composers and specializes in contemporary electroacoustic music, acousmatic and musique concrète. Although these genres of music are not the common fare for most of the concert events listed by The WholeNote, it is important to realize that the technical innovations and ways of thinking that have been pioneered by the practitioners of this music have had a wide influence on a vast array of musical forms and styles as well as media-based art forms.

One of the most distinguishing features of electroacoustic music in general is that it is composed primarily within a studio environment and is designed to be listened to through loud speakers. And although the ingredients of melody, rhythm and harmony can be an aspect of electroacoustic music, its primary focus is on the sound itself, which can originate from recordings made in a particular acoustic environment, or generated and processed through purely electronic or digital technologies. Sometimes the original sound source is recognizable – such as recordings of ocean waves or the inside of a piano, and in other situations, the sounds have been studio processed beyond recognition of their original context.

Back in 1990, empreintes DIGITALes offered its own vision of the wide array of possibilities within the electroacoustic genre. It published the groundbreaking Électro clips CD which featured three-minute miniatures by 25 different composers, each one representing a unique approach to working in a studio environment.

More recently, the label has released four new albums by four unique composers: Martin Bédard (Montréal), Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (Montréal/UK), Andrew Lewis (UK) and David Berezan (Calgary/UK). Although the pieces are of longer duration than the three-minute clips, each disc presents four unique approaches and aesthetic visions.

Each of Bédard’s five acousmatic compositions on his Topographies CD (IMED 13121) creates a sonic picture of specific acoustic environments, ranging from recordings made in restored jail cells to the soundworld of trains. He also weaves in tributes to what he calls “phonoculture” – lyrics from a Rush song or the audio heritage of a specific community. He is captivated by specific behaviours, whether those be of a night watchman or of metal under stress, and his compositions are expressions of his curiosity.

The five compositions on Tremblay’s 2-disc set entitled La marée (IMED 13123/124) are excellent examples of the interaction between live performers and a form of live processing of the solo instrumentalist. I found his piece Le tombeau des fondeurs particularly engaging with its rhythmic and timbral pulsations that create a seductive sonorous quality suggestive of the casting of a metal or bronze bell or gong. All his pieces are meditations on life, a balancing of contradictions.

The music of Lewis on his CD Au-delà (IMED 13125) is a great example of pure acousmatic music in which the original sound sources are heavily processed and the original context is predominantly unrecognizable. However, Lewis’ skill at weaving sounds together creates strong impressionistic and imaginary soundscapes. His track Cân, the Welsh word for song, takes the Welsh musical heritage beyond the traditional sounds of harps and male choirs. Short interjections of these traditional sounds are juxtaposed with more abstract sonic textures.

And finally, the music on Berezan’s Allusions sonores (IMED 13122) offers the listener a window into the places he has visited. Seeing himself as a composer who collects and “uncovers” sounds as part of his creative process, each of the five pieces reflects places he has personally visited or interacted with. Ranging from the sounds of a Balinese thumb piano to recordings made in Alberta’s badlands to the chirping sounds of temple and palace floors in Japan, listening to Berezan’s music is similar to listening to the ocean. Each piece has a very distinctive wave-like motion with the constant ebb and flow of the sound textures rising up and then falling away.

These four discs are a testament to the ongoing commitment this independent label has for a very unique and distinct genre of music. It is known and respected internationally and considered the go-to place for the keen listener and connoisseur of electroacoustic music in all its varied forms.

… known and respected internationally and considered the go-to place for the keen listener and connoisseur of electroacoustic music…


Vito Camarretta, Chain DLK, April 13, 2014

According to the words by Professor Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, La marée could be considered as a sort of collection of challenges between five different soloists and their antagonist, the loudspeaker, which trascends its possible reciprocity: “this uneven relationship is reminiscent of the fragility of sandcastles and other human constructions with their daily facing of the patience of the elements. Are these ephemeral joys many revenges over the ineluctable?” Right after you will have listened to the impressive dynamics of this “dialogues” between instrument and loudspeaker, you’ll think Tremblay’s one is just a rethorical question as the perpetual metamorphosis within each track could easily mirror the impetuosity of any kind of event, both “spiritual” or emotional and physical or natural, where the flair for real-time processing by Tremblay, who manages to move heaven and earth by quick and sometimes unpredictable sequences of dissonances and consonances, stillness and excitement, chaos and order, makes each composition really intense. The bass clarinet (played by Heather Roche) on La rupture ineluctable, the opening track of the first of the two cds, let me think about some stuff by Colin Stetson, Wade Matthews or João Pedro Viegas before the strife against loudspeakers gradually escalates over awesome electric interferences and resonant discharges, and some similaraties with other electroacoustic experiments can be perceived in the last piece of the second cd, Un clou, son marteau, et le béton, where piano tones got mingled with electric glops for an intense emotional soup by moving from vertiginous tumbles to suspenseful stagnations. The engaging soprano voice by Peyee Chen on the funny Still, Again, which performs many great stunts and a sort of artistic manifesto about the controversial concept of “okeyness” amidst bouncing balls, plastique-like noises, malleable piano tones, electronic strokes and noise interferences, could be mirrored by some precedent in the wide field of experimental music, but Tremblay’s explosive creativity culminates on the other two tracks where he also tests two invented instruments: the most fascinating integration is maybe Baschet-Malbos piano, which was extensively used on the occasion of a number of celebrative performances for John Cage centennial in 2012. This fascinating instrument and its flower-like head of stainless steel and polycarbonate cones has been played by Sarah Nicolls on the highly cinematic Le tombeau des fondeurs, while Jean-François Laporte’s Babel table elicits the labyrinthine vibrations on the tidal waves of Mono no aware.

Tremblay […] makes each composition really intense.

Love on the Bits

Fabrice Vanoverberg, Rif Raf, no. 199, April 1, 2014

Vous en doutiez? Votre Love On The Bits tient ses promesses, deux fois plutôt qu’une. Le mois dernier, on vous mettait l’eau à la bouche avec l’annonce de La Marée de Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (empreintes DIGITALes), un mois plus tard, le constat est d’une telle évidence qu’il mérite un développement. Habitué d’une électroacoustique de tout vol, la maison québécoise accueille pour la quatrième fois le compositeur montréalais, aujourd’hui prof de composition à l’Université de Huddersfield en Angleterre. Tournant complètement autour des relations entre les haut-parleurs et les instruments (une clarinette basse, un piano Baschet-Malbos ou la voix de soprano de Peyee Chen), la méthode Tremblay inscrit ses pas entre le piano préparé de John Cage, le jeu de cloches de The Bell Laboratory et l’incandescence expérimentale de la scène norvégienne (Lene Grenager ou Kjetil Møster), tout en imprimant un cap à la fois personnel et exigeant. Toutefois, la démarche du musicien canadien ne se veut pas qu’expérimentale, tant est grande sa volonté expressive, en marge totale des canevas du tout venant. Et si chaque effort mérite récompense, nul doute que les cloches de Pâques seront généreuses en chocolat fin le 20 avril prochain. Hmmm, ça fond déjà dans la bouche.

Hmmm, ça fond déjà dans la bouche.


Sven Schlijper, KindaMuzik, March 18, 2014

Hedendaagse gecomponeerde muziek? Actueel klassiek? Hoe noem je tegenwoordig wat Pierre Alexandre Tremblay doet en het label empreintes DIGITALes presenteert? Ook zonder een labeltje is wel duidelijk dat deze componist Muziek van Nu maakt; met hoofdletters inderdaad. Met La marée schrijft hij die in de vorm van gemengde muziek waarin de soloïst een complexe relatie aangaat met diens antagonist: de luidspreker, en dat leidt tot een enerverende getijdenbeweging van duw-en-trekwerk om de macht.

Tremblay wijst met zijn vijf composities voor onder andere solo piano, basklarinet en sopraan vlijmscherp op het contrast tussen de ongeduldige tijdelijkheid (en vergankelijkheid) van menselijke constructen en de gedulde voortduring (en herhaling) van de elementen. Het is onafwendbaar dat in de wisselende afstanden tussen speler en luidspreker (en microfoons) de laatstgenoemde zich bijna wraakzuchtig met de muziek gaat bemoeien. Interferentie en feedback spelen in de resonerende ruimte waarin akoestisch en kunstmatig volume op elkaar botsen de hoofdrollen.

Midden tussen sonische complexiteit en conceptuele eenvoud slaagt Tremblay erin om van La marée een suite te maken die het midden houdt tussen eeuwigheidsaspiraties en vanitas. Een stuk bovendien dat op en neer deint tussen extremen, maar als fundament de nooit stoppende golfslag kent; de polsslag van de natuur, waarin de tijd vluchtig is en alles beweegt. Het is die zekere onbepaaldheid die Tremblay’s muziek ankert in een hyperactueel en tegelijk klassiek Nu: tijdloos.

Het is die zekere onbepaaldheid die Tremblay’s muziek ankert in een hyperactueel en tegelijk klassiek Nu: tijdloos.

Listening Diary

François Couture, Monsieur Délire, March 5, 2014

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay’s fourth album for empreintes DIGITALes — do you know how many electroacoustic composers have released four albums or more on this prestigious label? You won’t need more than one hand — is a double CD set featuring five mixed works composed between 2008 and 2013. Each piece involves an instrumentalist, treatments, an interactive system, and fixed sounds. Tremblay composed for bass clarinet, piano (twice), Jean-François Laporte’s Babel table, and soprano singer Payee Chen. Each piece is complex, with many levels of meaning. The most aggressive one is Un clou, son marteau, et le béton for piano, an etude in extreme dynamics. My favorite here is Still, Again for soprano Peyee Chen, a 14-minute single-voice opera that packs a lot of punch. As for the strangest vibrations, they come from Mono no aware for Laporte, where it gets impossible to distinguish between fixed sounds, performer, and man-machine interaction.

Each piece is complex, with many levels of meaning.

Tune of the Tides

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, January 29, 2014

On La marée, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is exploring the nuances between extremes.

For Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, composer and professor of composition at Huddersfield University, tea is vital. In his home studio, next to his note books with ideas and thoughts, a keyboard and an ipad, “there will be my Taiwan kettle probably brewing oolong”. Little wonder, then, that he should dote on the miracles of the tea ceremony in the booklet to his latest double-CD La marée: “What a nice way to contemplate various life cycles at a glance! So much beauty within these infinite nuances, when one takes the time to dwell upon them”, Tremblay writes about the gradual development of sound, aroma and taste in his favourite leaves. Tea and music go hand in hand: The reflections serve as an introduction to Mono no aware, a seventeen minute composition for “processing, interactive system, multitrack fixed sounds” and the custom-made Babel table. Just like the four other works included on the album, it is a mixed composition pitting a human soloist against dynamic amplified processes and observing the results in real-time. Although Tremblay has referred to these processes as “power games”, the music is less about confrontation, as it is about the gentle gradations between extremes, about evanescence, transience and constantly changing constellations. To an outside observer, these intense games may sometimes be emotionally overwhelming and confusing to the senses. And yet, just as with a good cup of oolong, the real effects are taking place on the inside, leading the listener to a realm of pure, undiluted experience — and complete clarity.

Tell me about the challenges of meeting your personal quality standards when writing the pieces on La marée.

Each piece had its own struggles and epiphanies during the composition period. I would say that I am happy with them because I left enough time within my writing process to be able to trash everything I was not happy with. In certain cases, it was a lot of the early versions that went to the bin! I usually work with the performers a fair amount of time, doing different trial-and-errors with ideas of sound worlds, processing and interactions. This allows me to finalise a piece that I am happy with, as many ideas have been rejected at the onset.

Now, I can say that mixing the album of 5 mixed pieces was a great reality check: these works were composed over a long enough period to let me forget my mannerisms and putting them in close proximity on an album was an interesting experience: I could see clearly what constituted my approach of mixed music between 2005 and 2013. There are definitely common elements in the vocabulary, elements that I have moved away from - and elements that I did quite well but should stop doing!

The contrasts between ‘acoustic’ and electric/electronic sound sources is just one of the many polarities on La marée, but it may be one of the most exciting ones. How do you see this relationship and why does it form such a fruitful point of departure for you?

I think that dualities are interesting and potent as they are immediate and allow the discourse to move forward. I also think that, in mixed music, a listener will identify with the human agent, and again this is full of expressive potential.

Now, to nuance a little: I tend to consider every duality as extremes of an axis, of which I allow myself to explore the intermediary nuances. Acoustic/electronic is one of those axes. An example of such an intermediary position is where the electronic part is merely extending the acoustic sound, allowing me to gel the sound world as a single unified whole, bridging the gap between acoustic and electronic sounds.

You’ve described some of the interactions on the album as “power games”. What, to you, is rewarding in a confrontational approach, rather than one based on consensus?

First, let me say that I think there are always powers at play, even in consensus. So, in line with the idea of exploring the nuances between extremes, I also consider the full range of power relations, from equal-powered-consensual, to power struggles with cohabitations of contrasting ideas, to sheer domination by one part, to negotiation/seduction dance! I think that varying levels of power relation are again a very potent imagery. How it is perceived by the listener is more complex and probably equivocal; nevertheless it allows me to move the discourse forward.

What are benefits and challenges of real-time processing from your perspective?

As often as I can, I do lazy real-time processing: I will do everything I can in deferred/studio time. But, going back to my goal of making sure the performer owns the music, I make sure the music is adaptable to the performer’s interpretative decisions, in the moment: playing a section slower, more legato, louder, sharper, etc. These elements of freedom are important for them to feel that they play in a chamber music setting, and not with a karaoke track! This most probably stems from my work as performer within my bands: I appreciate the freedom and the nuances that playing with other musicians procure, and I make sure that the electronic part in my pieces is (almost) as comfortable as playing with a human counterpart.

On a more technical level, there are many different approaches to how ‘real-time’ things are in my pieces. Sometimes, the liveness is strictly in the ear of the listener, sometimes it is all live and sounds as tight as pre-recorded material… but most times it is a combination of many approaches. The only important aspect is how it works musically, both for the performer and the listener.

On La marée, questions of timbre and questions of composition are intricately interwoven. Tell me a bit about your view on these two aspects and how they manifest themselves in your writing.

Simply, I don’t separate them at all: I think of it as a multi-dimentional entity. In most music that I enjoy, the ‘sound’ and the ‘composition’ form a single unity. Pop acts, free improvisers, electroacoustic composers, all have a strong sonic signature made of preferred modes, timbres, gestures, forms, etc. And I stand by this idea in all my musical endeavours: when I was producing rap beats, the same way I do when I compose (post)-acousmatic, or when I perform with my bands, the timbre is part of the complex musical phrasing, and will induce a sound world which I hope is unique to the piece.

Over on Facebook, you wrote, “Huddersfield rocks”. In which way?

I was told to be careful about Facebook! Seriously, the music department here is amazing. First, it is department with a strong agenda of defending the highest level of practice-based research, where composers and performers push the limits of their field by proposing new ways of practicing their art. My colleagues here are fantastic, and by that I don’t mean that we all do the same things. We actually cover a wide range of positions, converging or diverging with respect, questioning each other.

Moreover, the support we get here is impressive, with great studios, well equipped, and other different helping gestures on our current projects. There are also two festivals, the world-leading HCMF, and the more modest Electric Spring, the latter which I co-curate with Monty Adkins. Both festivals bring to this lovely Yorkshire countryside town some of the world’s most inventive musicians, which is great.

Finally, we have some fantastic students, again all busy pushing their research on where music should be and go next. A vibrant environment!

What are some of the personal enjoyments of teaching music for you?

There are mainly two reasons for which I like teaching. The first is the same reason why I really enjoyed my past experiences as a record producer: you help an artist develop and give birth to a work they are proud of. Moreover: a single voice is emerging, and they discover a lot more than writing techniques. This is a moment of shared pleasure. It requests a certain amount of discipline to forget what I would do at their place and to try to find out how to help them do what they want to do. It can be exhausting, but with good students, the result is amazing! I was lucky to get such good teachers, and I hope to be able to give back what I received.

The other reason is a little more selfish. Sharing musical and intellectual space with the new generation is keeping me in touch with a wide range of music that I could not explore just by myself. Also, it keeps me on my toes: they take nothing for granted, and their questioning forces me to question myself and what I assume as obvious. This feeds directly in my music, be it composition or improvisation.

So teaching can be a win-win situation.

Does having a “day-job” feel like a compromise or does it instead give you a real independence and freedom to write exactly the kind of music you want?

Apart from the win-win situation described above, the access to resources and the salary do provide a level of freedom that none of my friends who make a living as musician/composer have. Now, reality is much more nuanced than this idyllic description: teaching the less-than-good students is definitely not a win-win situation, marking is very difficult if you want to do it properly, and the administrative burden is awful.

That said, when I was partly freelance in Montréal, I had to spend a lot of time doing admin for free, almost as much as the ‘compromised’ side of my current position… for no salary and no resources and no interaction with good students and colleagues! So in the real world where I need an income as much as freedom to pursue musical research outside of current trends of financially sustainable music, this is the best situation by far!

It has taken many years to establish music at university, awarding it a more objective characteristic. How do you personally feel about the idea of music as a science?

For me practice-based research in music is not as science… but it does not have to be to be a valid research field. I am surrounded in my family by many scientists of post-doctoral level, and I think they share my view: what imports is to push further the limits of human knowledge.

If you systematically explore a musical universe that is pushing the limits of its current existence, you are doing research. Scientists are doing the same thing. They have their own set of constraints, as musicians have theirs. If you do this systematically enough, there are elements that will be transferable to others: the works, its goals, its failures, its influences, its approaches, its techniques.

You recently shared an article — http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/feature-why-do-some-academics-feel-like-frauds/1/2010238.article — about academics feeling like frauds, indicating that it may actually be right in some points. What’s your position on the state and ongoing relevance of universities and academia for music?

I think this article is right on a lot of points. What it says is that people in my job are overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them… mostly by themselves, to be honest! But this applies to artists too.

Academic posts, and artistic careers, usually attract a certain type of person that will want to do well what they set themselves to do. I think that in our overwhelming, information-overdosed world, perfectionists are always under the pressure of self-doubt, of pushing boundaries, of exploring new avenues, of knowing everything… there is so much to do, and so little time. Books and albums are being churned out at an every increasing speed, it is just impossible to stay afloat. With a little more nuance to this dramatic view though, there is also the factor that the more you know, the more you are aware of the immensity of what you don’t know.

Couple this with academia being busy with fake accountability, it makes the job worse than ever. Artists are stuck with the same problem: they are expected to be publicists, web designers, producers, tour managers, grant application specialists… and be at the top of their art if they find the time! So I often feel that I would need a couple of lifetimes to get to do what I am credited for already, let alone what I want to do next! But I am also aware of how lucky I am in my current position… a Facebook post is quite a dangerous half-confidence!

Tea and music go hand in hand…


Gerald Van Waes, psychemusic.org, January 1, 2014

Sometimes it takes a while to grasp a composer’s own specific angle how he/she perceives the sonic reality and composes with it. Usually and compared to the older generations, a modern composer became much more like sound painter. For this, they also use a couple of tools of preferences of their own. Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is both active into contemporary jazz as well as into electroacoustic music. Having played bass guitar for most of his live, he also uses a laptop to enhance the sonic world. Improvisation remains important for the development of his pallet. He also is a member of two ensembles which further enhance improvisation, which is Ars Circa Musicæ (with a range from noise to free jazz, punk rock and contemporary music), and De type inconnu (a two-guitar and two-laptop duet based in Montreal), besides being part of Splice (LOOP Collective, London), and the L.F.O. Orchestra. He currently teaches composition and improvisation at the University of Huddersfield in England.

The improvisational pallet used in the first composition, La rupture inéluctable, is a combination of some slower notes of the basic instrument, the bass clarinet, played by Heather Roche, with a more emphasised louder and calmer playing. The bass clarinet is an instrument, which can also show such strongly emphasized bursts of air, which here and there are clear and power up the resonances. Especially the long notes become part of an extra resonance in the background, which is distorted with electric noise and electric vibration, a few times it is simply peeping or calming down in parts with a more natural or quiet echo.

The second piece, Le tombeau des fondeurs, is a favourite track of mine, because it combines certain enhanced sound pallets that work very well together. Used here are deep droning electric amplifications of drones mixed with percussive rods that sound a bit like a carillon with more emphasis on the side effects of the instrument. This enhanced instrument is the Bashot-Malbos piano, played by Sarah Nicolls. It is interrupted in sound, gets different, additional resonances. Further on it is mixed with church bells-alike sounds and with real piano. Here is audible an interesting interaction between sound enhancement and direct improvisation. Some ideas still come over with a certain random amount of effects at first listen, but makes sense.

The third piece, Mono No Aware, is played on the Babel table, which is another interesting experimental music instrument. It has horn-like electric-acoustic vibrational qualities. Clicking background effects are part of its sounds as well. These combinations of tones are growing slowly together. Also, more breathy and more fast-percussive vibrations are used in the evolution of its sonic and droning activity.

The fourth recording (on CD2), Still, again, is a combination of voice activity (breathing and operatic singing), directly recorded and re-processed with some interactive percussive echoes and marble-like rhythms and bass-like enhancements for the voice performance with a surrounding field of improvisations and a bass rhythm. It is like being surrounded by a basic living area of an echoing resonance field. Small piano drones and electronic tones, oscillating bass drones, like rhythms are giving the background a living entity that all feel like a comfortable enriched area for the solo voice.

The last piece, Un clou, son marteau, et le béton is basically piano with an additional world of electroacoustic enhancements. There’s the wilder and calmer contemporary piano playing and the droning electric vibrations of interference. I am still not sure what is directly coming from the piano resonance, as a sound reaction from it or not.

The liner notes mention that a part of the enhanced extras to the acoustic instruments come forth from the exploration of the relationship between the loudspeaker and the instrument. Let’s say that besides actual playing and resonance this could also includes the effects used in the recording, during the amplification, in the feedback, but even via the interruption and change of certain qualities.

Sometimes it takes a while to grasp a composer’s own specific angle how he/she perceives the sonic reality and composes with it. Usually and compared to the older generations, a modern composer became much more like sound painter.

More texts

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