In the press
Ned Bouhalassa, CEC, Sur le vif / Quick Takes, August 1, 1999… reconnue mondialement et reçoit régulièrement des éloges de la part des critiques
Ned Bouhalassa, CEC, Sur le vif / Quick Takes, March 1, 1999
Ned Bouhalassa, Contact!, no. 8:2, June 1, 1995
Ned Bouhalassa, Contact!, no. 8:2, June 1, 1995… merveilleux exemples du «cinéma pour l’oreille».
Ned Bouhalassa: In January 2000, the empreintes DIGITALes label will celebrate its tenth anniversary. It is recognized around the world and its catalogue receives rave reviews from the critics. How do you explain this success?
Jean–François Denis: In 1990, there were no independent record labels specializing in electroacoustic music. There were labels of course, but these were parallel activities of studios or organizations. We were a ‘fresh’ idea. Also, from the start, empreintes DIGITALes developed an artistic ‘policy’ (regarding both sound and graphics) and became very visible in the electroacoustic and experimental circles (due to its large publicity and the many mailings of catalogues). So there was a will to develop a signature, to be recognized. Of course, the quality of the works was always a priority.
NB: What inspired you to set up your own record company?
JFD: No one else wanted to do it. I went around to the other existing record companies (of this country) to offer to develop an electroacoustic sub–division, but returned unsuccessful. I also talked to several composers about a record production project: all were very interested… that someone else do it. When I spoke about it to Claude Schryer, he mentioned that he had been thinking about setting up a label as well. So in August 1989, we founded DIFFUSION i MéDIA (today a distributor) and the label empreintes DIGITALes, and we conceived the first 4 projects of the collection (Calon, Normandeau, Thibault and Électro clips).
NB: Starting a new business is always risky, even more so in the case of a serious music record company. Did you have many doubts in the beginning?
JFD: The risks? We were ready to work and, with the indispensable help of the composers, we faced only beautiful risks: to produce decent, superb, lavish CDs of music that we like. I believe that we need risk in order to constantly redefine ourselves, to question ourselves (even if it may mean going back to the starting point). The doubts? I wondered then what I would do with 1000 copies (the minimum at the time) of the same disc in my home: how do I get them out there to be heard? what about distribution? sales? We almost had to invent ways to reach our public! (We didn’t even know where to really find this public!)
NB: The first Francis Dhomont double–cd, with its large booklet, was launched with pomp and circumstance before two exceptional concerts. Was this one of your most memorable launches? One of your wildest projects?
JFD: The Montréal launches have always been a little special: in a Planetarium; disguised as a party–concert; café–croissant at 7 AM; in disco or punk bars. Of course the Dhomont box–set launch was important, though, if my memory serves me right, it was but a small part of a night which was celebrating Francis Dhomont’s 65th birthday. There was also a collage–homage piece from his students, assembled by Gilles Gobeil. There have also been other launches in Vancouver, Norwich (UK), Toronto, Birmingham (USA), and Paris…
NB: The image of your label is immediately recognizable. What is always obvious is the attention that is given to the quality of the graphics. How would you describe Luc Beauchemin’s role?
JFD: Luc Beauchemin conceived of the first design overhaul in 1991 (with the Daoust), as well as the second in 1996 (with the Harrison). (The OPAK cardboard box, used since 1996, is a collaborative effort.) As for the cover art, the composer is the one who suggests a work or commissions an artist (since Luc Beauchemin is also a graphic artist, some of the covers feature his work).
NB: The only CDs on your label that feature works by different artists on the same release are the clips CDs (Électro clips and Miniatures concrètes). Why don’t you combine normal length pieces by different composers on one cd?
JFD: Because I find these (mixed composers) CDs uninteresting to listen to. Each individual empreintes DIGITALes cd represents a unique musical ‘idea’; as a listener, I find that extremely enjoyable. The only exceptions stem from a very strong and original ‘concept’ (especially in 1990): that of the 3–minute electroacoustic clip. That, to me, is what makes it ‘possible’ to listen to these kinds of CDs.
NB: How do you choose your cd projects?
JFD: It usually starts with the music (heard in concert, during festivals — but very rarely from ‘demos’ received by mail) and follows with the composer’s approach, the integrity of their artistic approach.
NB: How can a composer interest you in a cd project?
JFD: It’s not easy actually, since I’m already drowning in daily mail in which I occasionally find a ‘demo’ – and I’m somewhat overloaded with work. But I can say that when a composer is recommended by a colleague, it usually helps (one should not forget as well that the production of a cd depends greatly on it being somewhat funded).
NB: What do you think of distribution via the Internet? Do you intend one day to allow your clients to buy works that can be downloaded?
JFD: The cd is only a medium. The advantage that it offers over previous formats is its sound quality specifically in the case of electroacoustic music duration and durability. As soon as there exists another support which offers similar sound quality, we’ll offer music in that format. It’s pretty obvious. So my answer is yes.
NB: You wrote many works during the 80s. Do you think that you might one day make a cd featuring your own works?
JFD: A few pieces have withstood the test of time (ten and fifteen years later). I really haven’t thought seriously about this. What do you think?
Ned Bouhalassa: You’ve been composing for nearly ten years pieces for multi–track diffusion. What was your original set–up?
Robert Normandeau: It was very simple: a Mac IIx computer, an Akai S–1000 sampler, a 16–track analog Fostex recorder and multi–effects units. I also used the same monitoring system as today, with 8 speakers placed around me in the studio.
NB: How would you compare your present compositional method with that which you used to create Éclats de voix?
RN: Clearly the biggest difference lies in the format (support) of the completed work. With analog tape, the recording levels of the individual tracks had to be worked out in advance. I had decided that during concert presentations, I didn’t want to play with the levels or the eqs. Today, with a digital format such as Pro Tools, I can set the levels as I go along, and make changes when I add new elements. When I used analog tape, if I perturbed the balance of a mix by adding a new element to a track, I would have to re–write the other tracks that had already been recorded.
NB: If I compare the works that you realized in the 80’s with those that you composed for a multi–track diffusion system, I find that the later seem to be more abstract, less anecdotal, and that these contain many examples of sound in movement. Would you agree?
RN: It depends on the Cycle. Tangram, my first real multi–track piece, has referential qualities, and it belongs to a cycle of “Cinema for the ear” works, like Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) or Jeu. Other cycles, like the Onomatopoeia Cycle (Eclats de voix, Spleen and Le renard et la rose) and the Citations Cycle (Mémoires vives, Tropes, and Venture) are more abstract. As for my use of movement, to appreciate it fully you have to be in a multi–channel listening environment. The stereophonic collapse of the tracks takes away a great deal.
NB: Do you think that the ability to hear 8 individual sound sources in your studio increases the polyphonic aspect of your writing?
RN: Completely. It is essential to true multi–track composition. This aspect of the compositional process is not just an extra element. Otherwise, anyone who transfers a Pro Tools session onto ADAT is realizing a multi–track composition. It’s more complex than that. I’m referring to a specific way of composing that extends the musique concrète way of writing by adding an additional dimension, that of a real space, not the simulated one like the stereophonic soundstage. Stereo was a good idea, a good simulation of our binaural hearing, but this process has reached its end.
NB: In what other ways has your compositional writing been affected by your set–up?
RN: The writing itself has changed considerably. When everything has to be thought out with the final format in mind, when mixing technique is no longer part of the writing, the way in which of our intentions are permanently presented becomes a determining factor during the realization of the work. In the course of composing, since nothing can be left to chance or to a latter stage, I must find the proper place for each sound element as I go along. As paradoxical as this may seem, this brings the work of an electroacoustic composer closer to that of an instrumental composer, in that one has to write the definitive musical elements as they come to mind. One aspect that remains different is that the studio composer hears what he or she is doing while composing; a composer writing a score will only get this opportunity in the rehearsal hall, with the musicians present, and only once the work is completed.
NB: Your works are regularly presented in concert around the world. Do you often have the opportunity to present multi–track versions of your works?
RN: More and more. Tangram, a work which dates from 1992 and which has rarely been performed, had three multi–track presentations last year alone! I think that this has to do with the fact that this kind of diffusion is now accepted, particularly because the equipment is readily available. I remember that in 1994, the GRM had invited me to present Tangram during their Acousmatic Cycle. When I proposed the multi–track version, they replied that it would be too complicated. This year, five years later, their entire Cycle is called Multiphonie (Multiphonia)!
NB: With the growing popularity of the DVD format, the average listener will soon be able to hear multi–channel versions of your work in their living room. What do you think of this technology, and do you intend to realize a surround version of one of your works?
RN: The DVD format is very promising. We’re only waiting for the companies to agree to an audio standard. When that’s done, you can be sure that I’ll be on the front lines, preparing my pieces for this format. It’ll be great when the average listener, as you’ve named him or her, can appreciate multi–track pieces – this presents us with an incredible opportunity to have these works presented in conditions that are even better than those found today.
The second disc, Turcotte’s Amore, contains the six parts of a single piece (with the same title as that of the CD) that necessitated four years of work (1988-92) in various studios. Featuring the spoken and sung voices of Judith Bergeron, Daniel Leduc and the composer herself, Amore is an electroacoustic tale, ‘seasoned with passion, humor and… love’ (CD booklet notes). Though Turcotte’s approach to storytelling brings to mind the work of other francophone composers, like France’s Pierre Henry and Michel Chion, she does not shy away from pop-influenced composition and timbres. While some of her instrumental writing suffers from the limitations of her tools (RAM-limited samplers), the spoken texts are witty and focused on the main theme (love). Relating the telephone dialogues and subsequent preparation rituals of two would-be lovers planning a date at the movies, T’es le fun téléphone is unquestionably the strongest section of Amore.
Undoubtedly, the period beginning in 1985 and ending around 1991 will certainly go down as the ‘golden age’ of electroacoustic composition at the Université de Montréal. That six-year span would see a cluster of future internationally-renowned composers like Gilles Gobeil, Robert Normandeau, Stéphane Roy and Alain Thibault walk the same corridors and share studio time. Other composers like Michel A Smith, Denis Saindon, and Daniel Leduc would also realize outstanding works in their respective specialization (Multimedia, Live Electroacoustics, and Radio Art). Why, come to think of it, Christian Calon, though not a student, was working in the music library during some of those years!
The fact that this was indeed a unique period is confirmed with the release of Alchimie (alchemy) and Amore (Love), two short-duration CDs (+/- 40 min). Mario Rodrigue and Roxanne Turcotte were also part of that illustrious group, and though there names may not be familiar to readers of Contact!, their work is as rich and polished as that of their former classmates.
Rodrigue’s Alchimie contains 5 acousmatic (solo tape) works covering an 8-year period. The first piece, Tilt (1986), is a short, dynamic ride in an imaginary pinball game. Chosen as best overall work in the 1986 CBC National Competition for Young Composers, it contains most of the elements that one finds in Rodrigue’s latter works: rich inharmonic tones (bells); tonal chords (pads) and progressions; short repeated rhythmic patterns; and most of all, lots of movement (dynamic stereo panning, montage). Of the remaining four works, it is Cristaux liquides (1990) that stands out, with its very colourful blend of anecdotal and abstract sound objects. Like Calon, Gobeil and Normandeau, Rodrigue’s work has been influenced by cinema, and virtually all of the works on Alchimie provide the listener with finely-crafted, vivid examples of ‘cinema for the ear.’