Artists Daniel Plunkett

Daniel Plunkett

  • Journalist

Articles written

  • Daniel Plunkett, Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, June 1, 1997
    … a label dedicated to bringing forward some of the most compelling work of new and historic artists…
  • Daniel Plunkett, N D - Magazine, no. 20, June 1, 1997
    Impressive and recommended.

Label Profile

Daniel Plunkett, Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, June 1, 1997

The label empreintes DIGITALes has long caught our eyes and ears as a label dedicated to bringing forward some of the most compelling work of new and historic artists involved with electroacoustic music. The following interview with Jean-François Denis explores the history and exploration of new artists. 23 questions by Daniel Plunkett and Jeff Filla.


ND: Could you give a brief background of the activities revolving around DIFFUSION i MéDIA?

Jean-François Denis: Founded in 1989 with Claude Schryer, DIFFUSION i MéDIA’s first activity was the setup of its electroacoustic music CD label empreintes DIGITALes. This label was founded because that genre of music was not being “served” by any other “real” record label I knew of at the time. (I knew of the GRM and of the Cultures électroniques-Bourges collections in France, but not anywhere else.) It is while teaching electroacoustic music at Concordia University (1985-89) in Montréal, and through the call for works for its annual electroacoustic concert series that I became aware of the extensive accumulated archives of Canadian (700+) and international (300+) electroacoustic pieces. Some of them masterpieces, but not available. If you had missed the concert or the one radio broadcast — too bad! There was a need to “materialize” some of these works. No other existing local or national label would go into that field. I was left to do it by myself. Claude Schryer was also concerned about the “diffusion” of that music, so we decided to simply found a label.

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We had four projects to start the label with: Calon, Normandeau, Thibault and the special Électro clips. I wanted to have many CD plans in order not to setup yet another “One-CD” label. The funding from the Canada Council (for the Arts) for sound recording projects helped us tremendously in doing things “right:” good sound, good color covers, complete booklet, full of information and full English translation.

DIFFUSION i MéDIA is a media arts producer, since 1992 run by one person. Its main activities are two-fold:

  1. Production of empreintes DIGITALes CDs. That collection focuses on electroacoustic music, musique concrète, acousmatic, mixed works… (Another label, SONARt, was set up in 1992 to focus on “radiophonic” works, program music, sound works that “try” to tells a story — either clearly or abstractly. We have stopped development for that label).
  2. Distribution — direct mail-order of our productions and of productions by “friend” labels from abroad. LA LISTE, a “New Music” promotional mailing list database project (mostly for the Montréal area), has been active since 1992: more than 12 new music (actuelle-electro-contemporary) concert producers have merged their mailing lists into one in order to reach a larger audience.

Areas of interest are the publication of written documents (in French and in English) about electroacoustic music. (Much that is happening in Europe — France, UK, Sweden — does not reach North America.) I travel to keep up with research, ideas, composers, concerts, festivals… these books would fill in gaps in the available literature, mostly for teaching purposes.


ND: How do you select the artists which you release?

JFD: I travel a lot, meet many composers, and listen to many works, mostly during festivals. If I like what I hear or if I feel the composer’s integrity, I get in touch and try to design a string of pieces that will make a wonderful livingroom loudspeaker disc. That last point is important, I try to focus on good sounding loudspeaker music. Recordings that will sound good in livingrooms. I am not too interested in “documenting” performances.


ND: Could you pinpoint any goals or aspirations?

JFD: Well this one is hard. The goal is to make the music heard; make it available; at the most affordable price possible. Keep titles in print. Provide promo copies to radio stations (national ones but mostly college and community based stations). Make the music heard.


ND: Does DIFFUSION i MéDIA sponsor any concerts?

JFD: When I started the CD label, nobody else was serving that area. In terms of concert production, many other organizations work in that field already. So the answer is no, not directly. DIFFUSION i MéDIA has organized three concert tours called Traces électro: Canada in 1991, French-speaking Europe in 1992, UK in 1994. With composers Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil, we have founded a concert organization, Réseaux, that specialized in musique concrète concerts (projected on a large number of loudspeakers).


ND: There seems to be a healthy musical and artistic activity in Montréal.

JFD: This city is quite surprising in that respect indeed. Is there a sense of urgency caused by the French-speaking minority (6 million) in an English-speaking immediate majority (300 million)? In terms of electroacoustics: the four universities and the conservatoire have programs (from 3 or 4 course to full-fledged undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs), enrolled some 125 students yearly, and produce some concerts. Plus ACREQ is an independent electroacoustic music concert producer in town. So there is activity. Things are moving and the more they move the more exciting they become.


ND: What are some of the upcoming and planned releases?

JFD: 1996 was good for empreintes DIGITALes:

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Cirque by Paris composer Michèle Bokanowski; Zoo by Dan Lander (Toronto); Articles indéfinis by Jonty Harrison (UK); Délirantes (2 CDs of mixed works by Cuban-born Canadian composer Sergio Barroso; Kaleidos by Stéphane Roy (Montréal); Transformations by Hildegard Westerkamp (Vancouver); the opera for six singers and electroacoustic music Léone by Philippe Mion and Philippe Minyana (Paris); two releases by Montréal-based French composer Francis Dhomont Sous le regard d’un soleil noir and Forêt profonde and American pioneer Jon Appleton Contes de la mémoire.

1997-98 has more to offer: [Autour by] Claude Schryer, [Miniatures concrètes] a new Électro clips-like release with 24 new 3-minute pieces (composer from USA, France, UK, Italy, Canada, Sweden, Québec…), [Les corps éblouis by] Christian Calon, [and projets with] Yves Daoust, Ned Bouhalassa, Daniel Leduc, Jacques Tremblay, Darren Copeland, Michel Chion


ND: Where do you find the most positive reaction?

JFD: From people without prejudices: electroacoustic music has had bad press and bad reputation in many countries for various reasons, good and bad. Tape music in the USA has a bad name for instance, being called academic, intellectual, dead and these are found in the “underground-alternative” music stores. They read the specialized magazines and listen to selected radio stations. Geographically, Europe is where empreintes DIGITALes has had the most positive response so far.


ND: What is the connection between Metamkine and DIFFFUSION i MéDIA?

JFD: Metamkine is a mail-order distributor in Europe based in Rives (near Grenoble), France which also specializes in electroacoustic, musique concrète, acousmatic music and experimental music. It also produces its own CD label: Cinéma pour l’oreille. It is the main representative of empreintes DIGITALes in Europe. DIFFUSION i MéDIA helps distribute its Cinéma pour l’oreille collection in North America (and also serves as a North American address for its catalog). We have both developed our labels to serve different needs. We “share” many composers (and more to come) and consult on each other on our projects in order to coordinate events, launches, concerts, etc. Besides, Jérôme Noetinger and I are great friends, both working for the same ideals, in similar complementary ways.


ND: Many of the composers you have released, with the exception of a few, are not very well known, even within certain circles of people who listen to experimental music. It takes a long time for people to become aware of certain artists. Does this ever frustrate you?

JFD: No, being “not well known” is the norm in electroacoustic music. It is more demanding in terms of promotion (not only do I have to promote the existence of the disc, I have to promote the existence of that “musical genre” and of that one “composer”) but is absolutely normal. How many artists are well known in the circles of truly experimental music?


ND: Are there certain books or publications you could recommend to people who would be interested in knowing more about this kind of music, and the history of it?

JFD: Yes, but most of them are in French at this time. Books by authors, and most time composers, Michel Chion, François Bayle, the late Pierre Schaeffer; The LIEN collection directed by Annette Vande Gorne, and a few issues by Francis Dhomont. Simon Emmerson (UK) wrote a book 20 years ago and updated it a few years ago. Joel Chadabe (USA) recently wrote a book on electronic music which I have not seen yet. Most of the English books I know of were written over 15 years ago. But I am not a good person to ask.


ND: Electroacoustic music is usually very stereophonically dynamic and emphasizes changing environments and abrupt changes in sound sources. AMM’s Keith Rowe said “the key to understanding this music is to consider it “cinema for the ear” (this is the title for Metamkine’s 3” CD series).

JFD: The term “Cinéma pour l’oreille” has been around for many years now; I can’t trace its source though. It is also a term used by Robert Normandeau (from the intro of his Tangram CD): “the quintessence of my work during 1990-93, and exemplify the perspective which I’d embraced during that period: cinema for the ear. Basically, this consists of seeking inspiration outside of the musical context, specially in the work of cinema. Themes are inspired directly from the titles; once elaborated, they then underlie the work, becoming axes around which the composition takes shape. They serve as landmarks for the listener exploring these unheard-of spaces.”


ND: The manner in which this sort of music is “performed” seems very appropriate to the music’s character. Is performance what the composer has most in mind when at work in the studio?

JFD: Of course two (maybe more) answers are possible here. I think that composers, while composing, keep in mind that their music will be mostly heard: 1) on the radio — stereophonic sound; 2) in concert — with a sound projection system using 12, 16, or 24+ loudspeakers; 3) at home — via the compact disc — stereo sound. Some pieces work well in the concert space only, other in the living room only. Many work well in both settings. But I would say that many composers work with sound, with its texture, its position in space, its movement in space. Thus, the concert is where their music can take the full spectrum.


ND: Also, please describe the setting for these performances and the means in which the music is played.

JFD: The loudspeakers are placed in the room, many in front, some on the side, some in the back, some above, some in the audience. The master tape (stereo), via the console’s faders, may feed each speaker independently. The “sound projectionist,” using those faders, “performs” the piece by sending the sounds to different speakers, thus moving the sound in space, but also in colors (since the loudspeakers are different models, “sounding” differently.) Projectionists usually make “diffusion” scores, rehearse the pieces in each space — adapting the movement/color ideas to specific sound system installation, and perform “live” from the center of the room, and of the audience.


ND: Do these artists ever perform instruments live at such events?

JFD: There are three main kinds of electroacoustics: musique concrète, acousmatic music, tape music… (these are piece for loudspeakers only); mixed works…(these are for instrument(s) and tape); and live pieces, interactive music… (these are all live). It is also important to note that for some (mostly in the USA) electroacoustic is not a musical genre, but descriptive (such as “piano music” or “symphonic music”); for others it is a genre, a different approach to composition. So to answer your question, yes.


ND: Relatively few works in the French electroacoustic tradition are readily available.

JFD: By available you mean “in my local record shop.” Specialized music is available via specialized networks. France electroacoustic music is available on more than 60 CDs. There is basically one French label: Cinéma pour l’oreille. The GRM is a studio and has an important collection of CDs. The GMEB, with its competition, has also an important CD catalog. Most French studios have their own “in-house” label (all are available, by mail, via METAMKINE).


ND: Which works are thought to exemplify excellence in this medium? (What works do you find personally inspiring?)

JFD: Well, as a CD label director, I try to present, in varied styles, excellence. Naming is excluding, forgetting and reductionist, and I am not very good at it. There are many, many important works; some are already available on CD, many are not. But I can dive in and say that the work of French composers François Bayle, Francis Dhomont, Michel Chion, Bernard Parmegiani are “important.” Many other composers — from other countries — are also important: Åke Parmerud, Gilles Gobeil, and Jonty Harrison, but that’s only seven names.


ND: The vast majority of “20th Century” compositions that are available are for instrumentations typical of traditional classical music. Your label has tended to emphasis studio “tape music”-style works. Do you feel that there is a importance in distinguishing between the two mediums?

JFD: Yes. While mixed works and live works are extensions of the instrumental musical language, studio pieces (tape, musique concrète) may be radically different, a new approach to sound art and sound composition. This is why I was referring to the difference in the meaning of the term electroacoustic earlier. For the label I tend to focus on the work that has a footing in the sonic world rather than in the instrumental world.


ND: You mentioned earlier that tape music in the USA has a bad name. There does exist a resentment among many private enthusiasts of experimental music here toward the products of academia, often due to the fact that self-taught artists are usually ignored in academic circles (literature, festivals, etc.) How do you view composers who have been involved mostly in a University system versus those in the underground?

JFD: To me, if the music sounds good, it sounds good. While most composers come out of schools, as most filmmakers come out of schools, electroacoustic music composers do also. They have access to instruments, to knowledge, and to masters there. Why not go? But this does not mean that what comes out “sounds good” to me. Where composers come from is (to an extent) their personal life. If their music is good (to my subjective self) then that is what matters. Today, with the technology, many musicians are doing a kind of “live” tape music (so to speak) using found sounds, changing and transforming them and “pasting” them together (composition.) Some do it within the rock music genre, some in the industrial music genre… some in the form of concert music (thus less “popular” thus “less known” thus “more difficult” thus “reserved to the few” thus “elite” — I do not believe this at all but that is the general thinking here…) or even the more abstract form of musique concrète (to use one of its many names.)


ND: Is it true that electroacoustic music is almost always produced in the studios of Universities?

JFD: Well, this is not accurate. The music from the universities might be more visible (via the network of conferences, festivals and competitions), but most music in Québec is made in composers’ personal studios; most music made in France is made in (state funded) local studios, for example.


ND: Did all of your label’s artists come to electroacoustic music by way of classical music study in a University setting?

JFD: Most have been associated with institutions (this includes universities — mostly in the anglo-saxon world, the conservatories — mostly in the French world, and structures — mostly state funded) but not all: Christian Calon and Randall Smith have not, for instance.


ND: Would you say that most such composers are interested in classical music?

JFD: Many only work in electroacoustics.


ND: Is electroacoustic music seen as a form of expression tied to traditional themes to the extent that classical music is (with Western literature, religion, mythology, etc.)?

JFD: Human beings’ expression is tied to human beings’ lives.


ND: I find it fascinating that on many of your label’s releases (and similar labels) are works that had gone long unheard by willing enthusiasts — works buried in a University archives for many years, if not decades. Why do you think that these original works were never individually released? Do University policies prevent private release of works from their studios?

JFD: Once again I am swapping the word “university” for “institution.” Economics is one: In the 70s, a few commercial record labels have released LPs of (specialized) music (Subotnik, Parmegiani). Most of these were not commercially viable enough for the major labels to continue. Another reason: Producing and recording is quite easy, distributing is quite difficult. The compact disc and the home digital studio have changed the economics of production. What remains is the economics of distribution. My positions via the old debate of institutions versus the public is that it is an old debate, while superficially founded in many cases; it is irrelevant down deep. I do know that the whole funding agencies are based on institutional relationships; and I think that this is why there is so many bad feelings about government supported art. There are fewer bad feelings about government supported chemical industries. Last note: we — I, but also the CEC and most of the European community — tend to write the word ‘electroacoustic’ in one word, making it a unified genre, rather than a combination of things.

… a label dedicated to bringing forward some of the most compelling work of new and historic artists…


Daniel Plunkett, N D - Magazine, no. 20, June 1, 1997

“I’ve discovered that my work as a composer has much in common with this branch of civil engineering (stone cutting) — exploring and evaluating the behavior of material on the verge of splitting apart.” (from liner notes). This CD features work from 1985 to 1993. Much of the work is a roller coaster for the ears: dynamic shifts, sounds bouncing and then quickly turning double-takes in mid-air. There is an intensity here and a shaping of the material to the breaking point which is both inspiring and exhaustive. Impressive and recommended.

Impressive and recommended.

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