Artists Gilles Gobeil

Following a bachelor’s degree in compositional techniques, Gilles Gobeil undertook a master’s in composition at Université de Montréal under Serge Garant. In the final years of his studies, he was introduced to electroacoustic practices by Marcelle Deschênes and Francis Dhomont. This discovery stimulated in him a desire to commit entirely to the exploration of unfamiliar forms and original timbres that the mastery of the tools availed by the electroacoustic studio offered. Since the completion of his studies, he has directed his creative interests almost exclusively to the creation of acousmatic and mixed works. His practice falls within what is known as “cinéma pour l’oreille” (cinema for the ear). Many of his compositions are inspired by literary or cinematic works and seek to “visualize” them through the medium of sound. Although his catalogue is comprised mainly of acousmatic and mixed works, he has also made forays into the fields of dance and film. Oftentimes traces of his experiences with instrumental music can be discerned.

His work has been recognized internationally and has earned him a number of prizes and distinctions, among them Ars Electronica (Austria), Bourges (France), Ciber@rt (Spain), CICEM (Monaco), CIME, CIMESP (Brazil), Destellos (Argentina), Luigi Russolo (Italy), Métamorphoses (Belgium), Musica Nova (Czech Republic), Música Viva (Portugal), SOCAN (Canada), and Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden).

He is regularly invited to undertake residencies abroad in order to create new works (Belgium, Brazil, Luxembourg, France, Portugal, Sweden). Between 2005 and ’17, a close relationship was developed with the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe (Germany) through a string of residencies. In 2008 he was guest composer of the DAAD — Berliner Künstlerprogramm (Artists-in-Berlin Programme, Germany). Starting in 2011 Gilles Gobeil has gone on several tours in the UK, Germany, Canada, and the USA with ondist Suzanne Binet-Audet in order to present his trilogy of works for ondes Martenot and fixed sounds.

He has received commissions by groups and institutions such as Codes d’accès (Montréal), DAAD (Germany), empreintes DIGITALes (Montréal), Groupe de musique expérimentale de Bourges (GMEB, France), Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM, France), Musiques & Recherches (Belgium), Société Radio-Canada (SRC), Totem contemporain (Montréal), and ZKM (Allemagne), as well from individuals such as Uli Aumüller, Folkmar Hein, Camille Mutel, and Oscar Wiggli, and from performers such as Suzanne Binet-Audet, Yves Charuest, Arturo Parra, and Rick Sacks.

An amicable collaboration with guitarist and composer René Lussier led to the album titled Le contrat. Among his six solo releases, all published on empreintes DIGITALes, three were finalists in the Conseil québécois de la musique (CQM)’s Prix Opus for Disc of the Year and his disc Trilogie d’ondes won the Prix Opus 2004–05.

From 1991 to 2017 he was a professor of music technology at Cégep de Drummondville and has also been guest professor at the Université de Montréal and at the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique de Montréal.

Gilles Gobeil is a member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre (CMC), and co-founder of Réseaux, a presenter of media art events.

[English translation: jef chippewa, shirling & neueweise, ii-20]

Gilles Gobeil

Sorel-Tracy (Québec), 1954

Residence: Drummondville (Québec)

  • Composer
  • Improviser

On the web

Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, March 26, 2006]
Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, March 26, 2006]
  • Gilles Gobeil, René Lussier [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Lyette Limoges]

Selected works

Main releases

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 15134, IMED 15134_NUM / 2015
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0892, IMED 0892_NUM / 2008
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0576, IMED 0576_NUM / 2005
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0372, IMED 0372_NUM / 2003
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0155, IMED 0155_NUM / 2001
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9421, IMED 9421_NUM / 1994


Various artists
Productions Totem cotemporain / PTC 2013 / 2013
Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 09100, IMED 09100_NUM / 2009
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0898, IMED 0898_NUM / 2008
Various artists
Musiques & Recherches / MR 2002 / 2003

In the press

Cinema for the Ear

Suzette Chan, Randomia, November 18, 2015

At Holy Trinity Anglican Church on Friday night, New Music Edmonton presented an evening of electronic music by Gilles Gobeil, the award-winning Quebec composer. Joining him on this, the final date of a seven-city Canadian tour, was Suzanne Binet-Audet, who was featured in the program’s first half, playing three pieces, composed by Gobeil, the ondes Martenot.

The ondes Martenot is an electronic instrument invented by French cellist Maurice Martenot in 1928. Martenot made seven sets of the instrument. He made the instruments by hand until 1974; it was this last unit that Binet-Audet brought on tour.

I had never seen an ondes Martenot, so seeing it before the concert started was like a bonus pre-show. The player sits at a small electronic keyboard built on a hand-crafted wood stand that had the clean, unfussy lines of early 20th century modern furniture. The unit is wired to two speakers, one that looks like a traditional floor speaker, and a second one that looks like a hexagonal cabinet. This second unit is called a gong and provides resonance.

The set-up looked compact and quiet, but when Binet-Audet started to play, we were engulfed in a huge, sonic experience. Binet-Audet’s live performance incorporated sounds programmed by Gilles Gobeil, who was at the soundboard throughout the evening. Sound was all around us, emanating from the speakers of the ondes Martenot, as well as speakers set up all around the perimeter of the sanctuary.

The first notes from the ondes Martenot reminded me of many different sounds: a Theramin; a songbird holding a note for too long; music made with air, like an accordion, a saxophone, or human breath. Later, wholly original sounds were interleaved with sounds that recalled running water, rotating metal blades, pumping pistons. These were noises associated boiler rooms, waterworks, light industry and utilities – that is, common settings for film noir and dystopian movies.

In fact, the ondes Martenot has been used in many movie soundtracks. Gobeil describes his own music as “cinema pour l’oreille” (cinema for the ear). We fully entered Gobeil’s cinema pour l’oreille in the second half of the program, when the lights were turned off. We were officially in cinema mode, although there was no projection. The only screen was our imaginations. During a passage that reminded me strongly of airplanes and trains, I reflected on the irony a roomful of people sitting quietly, riveted by the sounds of transportation, but going nowhere, yet feeling transported.

After the concert, Binet-Audet and Gobeil stayed to answer questions. Binet-Audet gave a demonstration of how the ondes Martenot worked. What I was not able to see during the concert was a modulator housed in a drawer of the ondes Martenot and a string-and-ring system that was responsible for the Theremin-like aural effects.

The engagement with the audience after the formal concert was a rare treat, and particularly generous as this performance marked Binet-Audet’s retirement from the stage. Thanks to both Suzanne Binet-Audet and Gilles Gobeil for sharing their artistry and experience.

Concierto electroacústico en 5.1

Josep Lluís Galiana, Levante-EMV, May 10, 2008

El ciclo de conciertos Primavera Electroacústica a València 2008 continuó su programación el pasado jueves en la Galería del Palau. Organizada por la Asociación de Música Electroacústica de España (AMEE), la selección de composiciones que, bajo el título genérico Obres de Llarg Hàlit, se pudieron escuchar tenían como mayor aliciente su presentación en el sistema de grabación y por tanto de difusión Surround 5.1 Dolby Digital. Este sistema proporciona sonido digital mediante seis canales independientes: tres canales frontales (izquierda/centro/derecha) que posibilita claridad y nitidez y una ubicación precisa de los sonidos, mientras que los canales envolventes gemelos (trasero izquierda/trasero derecha) rodean al público sumergiéndolo en un verdadero océano de materia sonora.

Este placer se hizo tangible durante la escucha de las tres obras seleccionadas para la ocasión. Tres importantes compositores del actual panorama internacional en este género y procedentes de diversos países. La compositora belga Annette Vande Gorne (Charleroi, 1946) mostró su vertiente más expresiva y detallista con su obra Figures d’espace (2004). Espacializada por el compositor valenciano y miembro de la directiva de la AMEE Vicent Gómez, la pieza conjuga con transparente y eficaz contrapunto los sonidos de la Naturaleza con los producidos mecánicamente en una suerte de Rondeau. De auténticas dimensiones épicas se podría catalogar la obra aportada por el histórico compositor canadiense Gilles Gobeil (Québec, 1954). Ombres, espaces, silences… (2005), inspirada en la polifonía más temprana (Ars Antiqua, Ars Nova), revisita el universo sonoro de los primeros siglos de la Era Cristiana. La resultante es una música de texturas brutales como si se tratase de grandes placas tectónicas de ricas y ancestrales sonoridades a la deriva. Finalmente, la joven compositora británica Natasha Barrett (1972) presentó su Prince Prospero’s Party (2002), basada en el relato corto de Edgar Allan Poe, The Mask of the Red Death. Se trata claramente de una música programática. Narra con gran fidelidad la acción del relato, dividiendo el discurso sonoro en siete secciones y pasando de las risas al grito más aterrador de los personajes de esta insólita composición electroacústica.

Este placer se hizo tangible durante la escucha de las tres obras seleccionadas para la ocasión.

Rien à voir II - Music for Loudspeakers

David Fujino, The Live Music Report, January 15, 2007

Understand — it’s an evening of electroacoustic music.

At centre stage there’s a chair and table. A box sitting on the table emits a pinpoint red light. Cables sprawl from the box onto the floor and lead off stage.

Both the stage and the audience sit in the dark, for there’s nothing to see, and there are no musicians on the stage.

The sound technician, Paul Hodge, stands with his control boards and monitors in the middle of the audience. Hodge will end up being as much a performer as each of the composers who work at his side to control and alter their pre-recorded electroacoustic music, music which is not produced by musical instruments.

For its part, the audience has comfortably huddled together in the centre of their rows in order to sit in a sound universe produced by four strategically placed speakers. The audience sits, waiting for ‘playback.’

Ann Southam’s Fluke Sound (1989), with its mysterious, late night mood, was a composition of measured and well-placed sounds recorded from three Revox open reel track tape recorders and two Synthi AKS voltage control synthesizers. Southam’s piece was largely characterized by a ringing telephone sound that continually rang and rang as a connecting motif through the criss-cross and layered waves of new sound that kept dropping in and later faded out entirely. The ‘fluke’ in the title refers to the lucky coincidence of making a new composition by putting two separate compositions together.

The historical part of electroacoustic music was beautifully represented by György Ligeti’s pioneering pieces, Glissandi (1957) and Artikulation (1958). This ‘historical’ reference does not mean to say that the recently departed Ligeti (1923-2006) is anything but startling, original, and always exciting to listen to. Glissandi — with its opening sensual sound like a steel guitar glide — is a beautifully imagined exploration of all manner of glissandi — the short, long, burpey, and longer. Artikulation is all about the tissue of sound that results when new sound elements meet. It starts with the sound of huge water gurgles as they mutate into electronic droplets and then become highly animated, electronic atmospheres.

Meanwhile, the symphonic dimension (or the grand gesture) of electroacoustic music was represented by Gilles Gobeil’s often exciting and occasionally nervous-making Ombres, espaces, silences… (2005) and by Robert Normandeau’s more intellectually planned out (or so it seemed) composition, Palimpseste (2005, 06).

Palimpseste — with its recorded and manipulated vocal sounds — was crafted by Normandeau into five sections, each with a different rhythm, timbre, dynamic, emotional quality, and space. At times it was unclear when the piece was finished, but what touched the audience was the audible scope and ambition of this inter-layered composition, whereas Ombres, espaces, silences… by Gobeil — which started with a loud wind storm and a vast scale ‘THX sound’ — grew dramatically and surely into a true ‘cinema of the ear.’ ‘Cinema of the ear’ is Normandeau’s phrase to describe his composition Palimpseste, but to these ears, ‘cinema of the ear’ better describes Ombres, espaces, silences…. Notable were its quick jabs of violence and loud cosmic door slams; plus its adventurous mixing of tones with noise in startlingly forceful ways that made Gobeil’s composition stand out as one of the more expressive compositions played this evening. The sounds seemed to emanate from deep space.

John Oliver’s Nylong Symphony (excerpt 2005) was a composition of electroacoustic music with a solo guitarist, Oliver himself, on stage. A drone established itself — and over and against it, Oliver played Flamenco and Middle Eastern styled passages, then he moved into an extended sequence where he rapidly ping-pong-ed single notes inside a vibrating framework that was like a suspended Flamenco guitar strum. While playing his guitar, Oliver was kept busy looking back and forth between the music on his stand and the computer screen, but despite all this activity, the music increasingly began to sound the same.

The most engaging compositions this evening were surely those with a clear sense of form — a holistic sense of form, perhaps, but nonetheless a sense of form — something which open-eared audiences intuitively respond to.

[January 13, 2007, Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto]

The most engaging compositions this evening were surely those with a clear sense of form […] something which open-eared audiences intuitively respond to.

Gilles Gobeil: la force tranquille

Guy Marceau, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no. 13:2, June 1, 2006

«La vie est plus riche que l’imagination.» Gilles Gobeil, compositeur et électroacousticien parle de son rapport à la création dans un médium où musique et technologie vont de pair. «L’électroacoustique est fascinante parce que le matériau sonore est partout et accessible, poursuit celui qui relègue la technologie au deuxième rang, et privilégie l’émotion et l’expression d’une idée. À mon sens, c’est la musique de l’avenir. Je crois que toutes les musiques du passé ainsi que les interprètes subsisteront, mais ces derniers seront de plus en plus jumelés aux technologies en temps réel, dans de nouvelles interfaces gestuelles permettant ainsi d’élargir la palette des timbres et des expressions. L’idée n’est pas de robotiser l’homme, mais d’accroître son humanité à l’aide d’une technologie qui deviendra de plus en plus simple et transparente. Mais qui peut bien prédire? Paul Éluard affirmait “il n’y a pas de modèle pour celui qui cherche ce qu’il n’a jamais vu”, et la création est justement ce processus de recherche.»

Calme et posé, volubile et articulé, Gilles Gobeil résume ainsi sa pensée et, par extension, l’état des choses dans le milieu pointu et somme toute restreint de la musique électroacoustique au Québec. Compositeur actif depuis plus de 20 ans des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, il figure parmi la petite communauté d’acteurs importants de la scène électro au Québec avec notamment ses collègues Robert Normandeau et Jean-François Denis, tous co-fondateurs de Réseaux (Rien à voir, Akousma), une société de concerts dédiée à la musique électroacoustique. Pourtant rien ne le prédisposait à cela.


Jeune, il a d’abord appris la flûte traversière qu’il amplifiait dans une veine pop et jazz expérimental aux côtés du guitariste et improvisateur René Lussier, avec qui beaucoup plus tard il accouchera du projet Le contrat, inspiré du Faust de Goethe. Deux esprits libres. Il faut savoir que Gilles Gobeil est autodidacte et qu’il a appris les rudiments de la musique en étudiant deux partitions d’orchestre, L’Oiseau de feu de Stravinsky et la Symphonie du Nouveau Monde de Dvorak! «J’ai compris là beaucoup de choses.» Après des études collégiales en sciences humaines qui l’ont peu stimulé, Gilles Gobeil plonge vers la création à l’Université de Montréal, où il étudie la technique d’écriture instrumentale avec Serge Garant qui lui présente Marcelle Deschênes, professeur d’électro avec qui il a fait ensuite sa maîtrise. «Garant m’a transmis cette rigueur intellectuelle où chaque son, chaque note doit avoir sa raison d’être. Aujourd’hui, j’applique encore ce processus et là-dessus, je suis un peu despotique! Mais j’ajoute l’importance de privilégier l’émotion à la raison. C’est ce qui caractérise mon travail.»

Gilles Gobeil a choisi le monde de l’électro pour l’immédiateté du geste. Et parce qu’il n’a pas à se formaliser des contingences reliées à l’écriture instrumentale et notamment son interprétation. Sa musique est à son image: calme en apparence, mais forte et bouillonnante d’idées. Ses envolées musicales sont évolutives et contrastées, souvent abruptes tels des électrochocs, mais toujours incarnées, organiques et prenantes dans ses ruptures de ton. Il trouve notamment dans la littérature (HG Wells, Jules Verne, Proust…) l’inspiration, le déclic, l’image poétique. «Je suis assez près du cinéma pour l’oreille, avec l’idée de toujours raconter quelque chose.»

Un prix Opus

Pour le néophyte, qu’est-ce qui fait une bonne pièce électroacoustique? «C’est une pièce qui supporte la réécoute. Au fil des auditions, et c’est similaire en composition, des “couches d’intelligence” s’accumulent et renforcent le sens de la pièce. Le support sur disque devrait permettre une plus grande pérennité aux œuvres électro. Parce qu’en musique instrumentale contemporaine, comme disait Garant, les premières ressemblent souvent à des dernières.» En 2004, Gilles Gobeil a réenregistré trois de ses pièces pour ondes Martenot (avec Suzanne Binet-Audet) et bande, et gravé Trilogie d’ondes, son troisième album solo chez empreintes DIGITALes, et qui a été couronné Disque de l’année - musique actuelle, électroacoustique au gala des Prix Opus 2005. Cet honneur s’ajoutait à une longue liste de prestigieux prix nationaux et internationaux remportés depuis 1983 (dont des prix de la SOCAN en 1984 et 1993), et dont les derniers en date, en 2005, furent une mention d’honneur au Prix Ars Electronica de Linz, et une place en finale au Concours international de musique électroacoustique de Bourges.

Toutefois depuis août 2005, Gilles Gobeil n’a pas eu le temps d’écrire une seule note. C’est qu’il remplace, pour une année, son collègue Robert Normandeau à l’Université de Montréal dans les souliers de professeur en composition électroacoustique. Cette charge de cours s’ajoute à celle qu’il tient déjà au Cégep de Drummondville, où il enseigne la musique et les technologies sonores depuis plus de 10 ans. «Cette année, c’est à mon tour de m’offrir une demi-année sabbatique. À partir de juillet, je serai compositeur en résidence durant six mois au ZKM à Karlsruhe, en Allemagne, où j’ai déjà fait des stages de création. J’en profiterai pour travailler sur mes pièces pour la réalisation d’un DVD en Surround 5.1.»

À mon sens, c’est la musique de l’avenir.


  • Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, March 26, 2006]

    The Foundation Destellos announced today the results of the 8th edition of its electroacoustic composition competition. The first prize of both categories were not awarded. Thus, in the acousmatic category, two ex æquo second prizes were aw…

    Monday, August 17, 2015 / General
  • The 16th Concurso Internacional de Composição Electroacústica Música Viva has awarded its Prize to Counterattack by Adrian Moore. The jury also decided to recognized with honourable mentions Sibylle by Gilles Gobeil and Ventriloquy by Andre…

    Sunday, May 24, 2015 / General
  • Works for ondes Martenot by Gilles Gobeil and performed by Suzanne Binet-Audet will be presented at five concerts during a tour of Germany from October 26 to November 8, 2013. Acousmatic works will complement the programs. The tour will sto…

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013 / In concert