Les Poules is a trio made up of Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse, and Danielle Palardy Roger. Three instrumentalist-composer-improvisers who have been working together since 1980. Their collaboration is legendary, their musical explorations always avant-garde. They mix up synthetic and acoustic sounds, the crackling and humming of samplers, the churning and chafing of percussion, vocalization, and the mouth play and hissing of saxophones. The effect of these mixtures and soundscapes is extraordinary: they weave a fabric of sound whose instrumental threads the listener will sometimes find difficult to distinguish.
In the press
Marvin, Free Albums Galore, February 6, 2008They mix well with the larger ensemble creating a well thought out atmospheric work.
Cristin Miller, Signal to Noise, no. 34, June 1, 2004A drama of highly attuned listening slowly emerged full of simultaneous starts, frequent finishing of each others’ sentences, and sudden collective laughter.
François Couture, actuellecd.com, September 16, 2003
François Couture, AllMusic, November 21, 2002Lyrics have devolved into abstract vocalizations, the keyboard licks have become treated samples, the beats have turned into textural percussion work.
Le GGRIL is that most cumbersome of all musical monsters, the avant-garde big band. The nature of the big jazz band is to allow improvisation over tightly structured arrangements. The big band is practically the opposite of avant-garde jazz which often respect freedom of sound over tonality, structure, or even rhythm.
Le GGRIL is centered in Québec, Canada and walks a tightrope between the improvised and the structured. The band’s arsenal of imaginative players borrow as much from post-classical as from free jazz. Their personnel is changeable but the unusual assortment of saxes, clarinet, accordions, violins, guitar and percussion seems to be the norm. The free self titled album has four tracks. Tracks 1, 2, 4 are directed by alto saxophonist Jean Derome with Fire + Bebelle most closely related to jazz. Tracks 2 and 4 are quieter and makes good use of long tones and well placed silence. Derome’s direction and playing is center toward exploring sounds and environment more so than totally free improvisation.
The same can be said for track 3 which is an extended 11 minute work featuring the improvisatory trio of Les Poules. Alto saxist Joane Hétu, percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger, and samplist Diane Labrosse tends to prefer long drones with free improvisation as accent. They mix well with the larger ensemble creating a well thought out atmospheric work.
The album is available from the excellent Insubordinations netlabel in 320kbps MP3.
The 19th annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival took place this winter over two week-ends in Febuary. This year brought a turning point for the festival, as the long-term orginizers turned over the reins to musicians newly very active in the scene, all of whom are directly or indirectly affialited with Open Music Workshop. Open Music Workshop (or OMW) is a relatively young entity, less than two years old, but has constitued something like a second wave in the improvised music scene in Seattle. This shift in leadership was reflected in the shape of the festival this year, which cast a wider net and included a broader range of approaches to music making.
The next weekend I also managed to catch Les Poules (Montréal) at Consolodated Works, a large warehouse-like art gallery and performance space. Les Poules have beon playing together for over a decade, and every passing minute of their long history and musical intimacy. Joane Hétu (vocals, alto sax) staked out a minimalist territory of voiceless fricatives and static noises, which she mined over the course of the performance. Diane Labrosse (electronics) explored a similarly focused territory, while Danielle Palardy Roger’s percussion poured out speechlike with orchestraly various gestures accumulating over time into a complex field. A drama of highly attuned listening slowly emerged full of simultaneous starts, frequent finishing of each others’ sentences, and sudden collective laughter. Occasionally, certain silences were allowed to move with grace to the center of the circle.
With the notable exception of sugary pop, all music styles are dominated by the male. Whether he’s grunting into the microphone, strumming his guitar, or blowing his lungs out on the saxophone, the manly man monopolizes the image of the musician, be it in corporate rock or on the new music scene. When women venture into his domain, they are often coerced into fitting the mold of the industry.
That’s why it is so surprising to find this many creative, challenging, talented women in DAME’s catalog. But one should not forget that early in its lifetime the collective Ambiances Magnétiques welcomed three artists whose musical activities, organizing minds and determination provided a force of attraction for other women. Of course, I am talking about Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse and Danielle Palardy Roger.
Our three protagonists met at the turn of the ‘80s in Wondeur Brass and pursued their association into Les Poules and Justine. First an anarchist/feminist big band, Wondeur Brass was a laboratory to Joane, Diane and Danielle. They honed their skills — Joane, self-taught, literally learned to play music while playing music in it. Their own blend of modern poetry, free jazz and rock-in-opposition already took center stage on the LP Ravir. From the sextet featured on this first effort, the group scaled down to a quartet (with bassist Marie Trudeau as the fourth member) by the time of Simoneda, reine des esclaves. This line-up soon took the name Justine for three more albums (credited to the name of the individual musicians, La légende de la pluie can be seen as a collaboration between Justine, Zeena Parkins and Tenko) and the feminist discourse got gradually subsumed, making way for a growing playfulness that reached its peak on the phenomenal album Langages fantastiques.
Soon after the release of Langages fantastiques, the three girls launched their solo careers. Linguistic marvel and a rough delivery keep singer and saxophonist Joane Hétu close to the field of outsider art. First she formed her own group Castor et compagnie (with Labrosse, Jean Derome and Pierre Tanguay) which has recorded two albums of sensual and twisted songs in direct relation to Justine’s music. Later she turned to improvisation, first in a duo with her life partner Jean Derome as Nous perçons les oreilles (We Pierce Ears) and later solo with the intensely intimate album Seule dans les chants. She recently proved her worth in large-scale composition with her marvelous Musique d’hiver.
Toward the end of Justine’s life, Diane Labrosse traded in her keyboard for a sampler. After a solo album, Face cachée des choses, a duo album with percussionist Michel F Côté (Duo déconstructiviste) and a guest spot in the latter’s group Bruire (on Les Fleurs de Léo), she wrote a piece for improvisers (Petit traité de sagesse pratique) before devoting her time to improvisation. Parasites (her ongoing collaboration with Martin Tétreault) and Télépathie (with Aimé Dontigny) show how it is possible to handle a sampler with grace and sensibility.
Since the disbanding of Justine, Danielle Palardy Roger’s discography has been growing slowly — she’s very busy organizing concerts as head of Productions SuperMusique. Her children’s tale L’oreille enflée (featuring the voices and instruments of Derome, Hétu and André Duchesne among others) speaks to a young audience with an intelligence too rarely found in such projects. And Tricotage, her improv session with French bassist Joëlle Léandre, reminds us how refined her drumming can be.
In 1986, Joane, Diane and Danielle took a vacation away from Wondeur Brass to investigate the limits of the pop song format under the name Les Poules — The Chicks (Contes de l’amère loi, freshly reissued). Recently they reformed the trio, this time pushing the music toward a form of improvisation rich in subtle textures, blending quiet noise, active listening, and lyricism. Prairie orange is the first effort from this awaited return to collective work.
The presence within Ambiances Magnétiques of these three creators has attracted to the label other female artists with similar interests. The first one to join the roaster was Geneviève Letarte, who has recorded two beautiful albums of poetic songs (Vous seriez un ange and Chansons d’un jour). Lately, DAME’s catalog has welcomed performer Nathalie Derome, guitarist Sylvie Chenard, pianist Pui Ming Lee, along with Queen Mab members Lori Freedman and Marilyn Lerner who each delivered a solo album (À un moment donné and Luminance).
So, is musique actuelle a man’s world? Listen to these few hints and you’ll see for yourself.
Les Poules began as a side project for Joane Hétu (vocals, sax), Diane Labrosse (keyboards) and Danielle Palardy Roger (drums), three members of the feminist collective Wondeur Brass. The release of their first LP in 1986 cemented the relationships and the musical approach of this trio: a partly improvised form of synthetic avant-pop. The members went on to participate in many other projects. In 2000 the trio itself was resurrected as a free improv unit and a new CD came out in 2002.
The year is 1986, the location Montréal. A group of avant-rock feminists has been active for a few years under the name Wondeur Brass. Started as a political music theatre, it has evolved into a provoking experimental pop group. At that point Hétu, Labrosse and Roger, the three most avant-gardist elements of the collective, felt the need to retract from the large ensemble (which has counted as many as nine members at one point) to work on their own small-scale project, christened Les Poules - “the chicks,” a bitter name for feminists. The music on Les contes de l’amère loi, released in 1986, shows a sharper focus than Wondeur Brass’ Ravir (1985): post-new-wave in spirit, cold and chaotic, the songs left more room to improvisation and yet packed more punch. Instead of bringing back the other members of WB, on hiatus, the trio decided to sack them and hire bassist Marie Trudeau. This quartet recorded Simoneda, Reine des esclaves under the moniker Wondeur Brass before switching to Justine and releasing two more albums in the 1990s. Hétu, Labrosse and Roger continued to work on each other’s solo projects and co-run the production company SuperMusique, but everyone believed Les Poules was a project of the past.
In 2000, Hétu, Labrosse and Roger performed in Victoria and Vancouver (Canada) as a trio again and the use of their old group name came naturally. A year later, Ambiances Magnétiques reissued Les contes de l’amère loi on CD and the trio presented a concert in Montréal. No nostalgia is involved, the old repertoire has been buried. The new Poules play quiet free improvisation. Lyrics have devolved into abstract vocalizations, the keyboard licks have become treated samples, the beats have turned into textural percussion work. Prairie Orange came out in 2002.
Critiques de disques no. 34
For the third installement of the Volapük concert series, Les Poules (the trio of Danielle Palardy Roger, Diane Labrosse and Joane Hétu) pairs up with three young innovative musicians, i8u, Magali Babin and Myléna Bergeron. The concert will…Thursday, March 31, 2005 / In concert