Christian Bouchard moves fluidly between lush spacious environments and agitated, rough, edgy punctuations. By doing so, he makes an alliance with soundscape composition, glitch, and acousmatic art. His choices to distort sounds or to magnify normally discarded recorded artifacts are offset by his imagination for colour and his feeling for the inherent nuances of sounds manipulated from environmental sources. In summary, the worlds of glitch and a filmic acousmatic sense go hand in hand in his sensibilities. There is not a conscious attempt to construct narrative in his works like in the Gotfrit CD that I reviewed last month. However, images and vestiges of stories do peer out from time to time, products I think more of the inherent associative qualities of environmental sounds than of a conscious attempt to construct the sense of a storyline in his music. Bouchard’s early works on the CD maintain a compactness and economy that I appreciate more than in his later and more longer-form works. But then again, the use of conceptual structural models in these earlier works, such as the portrait of a soundscape from the point of view of a parking meter, is more appealing to my ears these days than the looser and more meandering structures that are more common in acousmatic art. In closing, Bouchard has a nice edge and grit to his music that I think will appeal to listeners looking for something new.
There is always a tricky balance between being open to external influence and maintaining an independent voice. Stéphane Roy shows that he does not have to sacrifice his originality in order to draw from new influences. The range of mustical sources emerging through his richly sifted electroacoustic textures vary, from bagpipes to Chinese music to Latin electronic grooves to circus music. This opens up the language of his work from what he has composed in the past. Rhythms and harmonies that were not there in his previous works have now come into the fold. Yet there are still those defining qualities - the wistful tones, the kaleidoscope of unfolding colours, the jagged changes, the overarching story and poetic sensibility - that have distinguished his music over the years.
Stéphane Roy is like a documentary maker who is not measured by the volume of his/her coverage over a specific subject (in the way that Roy portrays the multi-cultural mosaic of Montréal in Appartenances), but rather by the ability to chisel out the essence of something by zeroing in on the essential few bits. As Roy visits the diverse cultural musics on the streets of Montréal he does not include everything, but he does meld the essence of his subject with his lyrical sensibility, to create a very personalized portrait of life in a community that he is discovering anew. In the years to come, this CD will be vintage Roy.
There is a recent trend in electroacoustic music where instrumentalists with improvisational or compositional skills are collaborating with studio-based electroacoustic composers in the creation of works. Lori Freedman, Randy Raine-Reusch, and Abbie Conant are a few of names that come to mind. Another example is Colombian-Canadian guitarist Arturo Parra who collaborates on this recording with a choice group of Montréal acousmatic composers - Francis Dhomont, Stéphane Roy, Gilles Gobeil, Robert Normandeau, and from Colombia, Mauricio Bejarano.
The most successful of these collaborations in my opinion are those with Dhomont, Normandeau and Gobeil. The intense energy of Parra’s playing is well supported by those artists’ sensitive control of tension and release. They also work because the guitar and the studio parts find frequent points of intersection and dialogue. The Roy piece felt to me that the studio component was on a different plane than the guitar, although to his credit, I found the sounds Roy created to be the most original.
Cooperative efforts such as the one lead here by Parra are long overdue - the synthesis of the two encroaches on old habits and gives acousmatic music a new zest. It is nice to hear a melodic line weaving in and out of voluminous washes and thick stabs, for instance, or hearing the acousmatic component hold the main pitch interest while the guitar screeches and grinds around it. In short, a bold spark on my radar screen. I look forward to similar explorations in the years ahead instigated by Parra and others.
The title of the disc Islands metaphorically refers to islands of place, event, and community. Many places drift in and out of consciousness over the sixty-three minutes of the CD, with European commuter trains, the Vancouver skytrain, and the Canadian Pacific Railway connecting visitations to idyllic settings of quiet, natural repose. The idea of visiting places in dream-like succession is common to many soundscape compositions, due to the inherent referential qualities of real world sounds — and this CD is no exception.
Chief among the distinguishing characteristics of Truax’s work is a romantic sensibility. Sounds of industry and society are limited to transportation sounds and time signals. Also, there are absent from these soundscapes the perhaps less-desirable sounds of society, such as traffic, factory machinery, and shopping malls. And there is an implied narrative in the sequence of sound environments visited. Train rides lead to restful escapades away from the stress of the workday, an afternoon nap invites a sonic meditation with cicadas and Italian water fountains, and cicadas (again), along with other natural soundscape elements, provide the makings of a magical place of wonder and rest. Truax indeed hears the world through a different aural filter, judging by the makeup of these sound worlds.
The CD also includes Truax’s trademark granular synthesis, through which sounds from the environment are stretched out to over a hundred times their length, while their pitch is preserved. However, unlike its use in his computer music of the late ’80s and early ’90s it occurs here in conjunction with other processing techniques, such as comb filtering (in the composition Islands) and is used with careful discretion. In this case, the lines between artifice and reality blur in the same way that distortions in colour and image in photography create an ambiguity about fact and fiction. However, one can never dismiss the predilections of the artist in rendering reality in an artificial form — which makes me wonder how much our own perception of our everyday acoustic environment strays from objective truth. Although Truax is not presenting everything in the acoustic environment, his choices say something about the role sound plays in our sense of well-being in the world. I think the implicit statement of this CD is that our society is in need of islands of rest and contemplation. Certain sounds from nature present that opportunity, which is missing from a culture with an appetite for information excess and light diversionary entertainment.
The four works on this CD are each strongly compelling and immaculately produced. The production standards of recording and mixing are very high and put to effective compositional use, which is essential in any electroacoustic work. There is also a carefully conceived unity of materials and gestures that give the works a strong structural foundation.
Over that solid technical basis, Gobeil sets out to create a drama of suspended tension and release using long building climaxes, quick jump cut edits, and eerie drones and lingering silences. However, these benchmarks of his dramatic language are used so frequently from piece to piece that their desired impact is unjustly compromised by predictability. Gobeil’s unity of style and materials is so complete and unvaried that even the three diverse literary points of inspiration used for the works (Marcel Proust, HG Wells, and Jules Verne) fail to yield the potential variants in style, materials and form.
On a concert program including works by other composers, Gobeil’s music can stand beyond the rest and lead the listener on a hair-raising journey. But heard one after another in succession the impact is marginal. Therefore, I recommend listening to this CD in small concentrated doses separated by time and experience.