Mario Rodrigue


Alistair MacDonald, SAN Diffusion, May 1, 2001

Another from the Québécois label empreintes DIGITALes, this CD was released in 1994. It’s one of their Compact Compact series — an excellent idea — about 40 minutes of music at half the price of a regular CD. This disk, however, is great value for money with five pieces by Mario Rodrigue composed between 1985 and 1993.

First impressions? I must confess never to have heard this composer’s work before. I put the CD on without looking at the cover and found myself feeling pleasantly refreshed to be in a sound world which seemed a little old fashioned. So I reached for the cover — Tilt, the first track was made in 1986, and apparently, along with Qu’est–ce concert? (1987) and Fiano Porte (1985) was made with good old fashioned reel–to–reel tape recorders, varispeed, editing and filters. Aah yes, I remember it well! Rodrigue works in Montréal and the early pieces were made in the studios at the Université de Montréal where he studied with [Francis] Dhomont and [Marcelle] Deschênes. What I enjoyed most about all of the pieces on the disc was the layering of sounds, a sense of space and movement, and an effortless movement between real and surreal imagery. But the pre–digital pieces seemed somehow richer (no, I’m not going to write about analogue warmth). Perhaps the advantage of reels of tape over synths and samplers (certainly the samplers from the early 90s) was that you could use so much more sound — long sweeping gestures, no faking of sustained sounds with tiny loops because of the lack of memory, no MIDI limitation of dynamics, no equal tempered keyboard trying to tell you how to tune your sounds, better sounding distant transpositions with varispeed… OK, I’m biased, but I really don’t think that the beginning of Tilt would have been the same had Rodrigue been using the S1000 and Atari ST he used in the later pieces. Nevertheless, all five pieces inhabit rich, vivid sound worlds, and I was no less impressed with the later works.

Tilt is an imaginary pinball machine. Rodrigue didn’t start with recordings of real pinball machines, but takes the idea and plays with it, travelling a long way from the simple initial idea and turning it into a dynamic piece of music. I was impressed by its shape and energy and loved the sounds.

The track which follows, Cristaux liquides (Liquid Crystals, 1990), gained a well deserved Mention in the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition in 1991. Stylistically it is a mixture of the abstract electroacoustic soundworld of Tilt, and a more pitchnrhythm based language. Rodrigue pulls it off, though, making a virtue out of some of the limitations of his sampler — the piece has layers made up of rhythmic loops and clearly pitched sounds (drones, chords) as well as longer sweeps of recorded sounds (particularly water). The piece is obviously his with the clarity of mixing which characterises all of the pieces on the disk.

Qu’est–ce concert? plays with the idea of ‘concert’: it tips its hat to musique concrète in its opening spinning sound (the electroacoustic concert) and real soundscapes with references to concerts make appearances, including birdsong, a city, the sound of an orchestra tuning–up, applause and a string quartet. No simple catalogue of images though — the piece really flows and theres a constant stream of surprises, soundscapes appearing unexpectedly from within each other.

I have to admit that it took a few listenings before I started to enjoy Le voyageur. Im too easily put off by notes by composers which try to explain music in terms of narrative. It seems to belittle the power of sound to suggest much more, to ignite the imagination and to suggest ideas which can’t easily be described, if a piece can be explained away so easily as a story. A personal hang–up, perhaps. Although all of the pieces on Alchimie have a narrative idea or image lurking in the background, there is always something else there, something more to listen to. But the note on Le voyageur is a short, simple narrative, and the piece seemed to realise the ‘story’ in a very literal way. However, the piece is no less skilfully composed, and once I had managed to forget the description in the CD booklet the piece started to make more sense.

The final piece on the CD is also the oldest. Fiano Porte was made in 1985. Although the technique is not so developed it is fascinating to hear strands which are carried into later pieces. The looped fragments of voices are not so distant from the world of Cristaux liquides and the sense of space is all there along with a very natural feel for mixing.

This is a CD well worth recommending, and I came away wanting to hear what Mario Rodrigue is doing now.

… a sense of space and movement, and an effortless movement between real and surreal imagery.