Stéphane Roy More articles written

In the press

  • Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998
    … magistral…
  • Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998
    Like the fairy tales themselves, this piece enchants and bewitches; certain enigmatic passages show to what extent the art of sounds is able to explain the unexplainable.
  • Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998
    … evokes in a highly poetic way the idea of departure…
  • Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998
    When we listen to these pieces we discover many things about music, and something of its breathtaking vertigo.
  • Stéphane Roy, Circuit, no. 9:1, January 1, 1998
    Dans ces deux univers, texte et musique sont si bien intégrés, l’un prolongeant ses résonances dans l’autre, qu’il est impossible de les voir dissocier.
  • Francis Dhomont In Concert
    Stéphane Roy, Contact!, no. 10:1, September 1, 1996
    … one of the most beautiful acousmatic music events…

Review

Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998

In the autumn of 1996, the Montréal electroacoustic label [empreintes DIGITALes] released two new compact discs of the French [/] Canadian composer Francis Dhomont. These recordings present the two parts of a large-scale diptych, Cycle des profondeurs (“Cycle of Depths”), which the composer says may eventually expand into a triptych. The first CD is a new edition of Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (“Under the Glare of a Black Sun”), an acousmatic melodrama of more than 51 minutes in duration, realized between 1979 and 1981. The second is entitled Forêt profonde (“Deep Forest”), a more recent melodrama of more than 58 minutes in duration, composed between 1994 and 1996. For those who have followed the work of this important composer of rich electroacoustic works in the French acousmatic tradition (sometimes called “musique concrète”, though the two terms are not really equivalent), it is also worth noting the reissue of the out-of-print 1991 double CD containing his other major opus, Mouvances—Métaphores (“Mobility—Metaphors”). This work comprises two cycles: Cycle de l’errance (“Cycle of Wanderings”) and Les dérives du signe (“The Drift of the Sign”).

Sous le regard d’un soleil noir

Here, the black sun can burn the wings of those such as Icarus, who come too close. This is a tormented work, spotlighting the schizophrenic vertigo of the anguished self. It is not, however, a musical adaptation of a thesis about insanity; rather, this is true program music, extracting from its extramusical subject an expressive substance of a quality rarely achieved in acousmatic music. The probing of the depths, characteristic of psychoanalysis, has inspired this magisterial work in eight sections. The fine quotes heard throughout are taken mainly from the writings of British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Ronald D Laing.

In Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, Mr. Dhomont creates an enigmatic and dreamlike atmosphere, with the subject matter centered on the self. The drama is built up as the barrier crumbles between the self and the external world. The inner being is then invaded, or better, sucked into the black hole of schizophrenia: “One is inside then outside what one has been inside. One feels empty […] to eat and to be eaten to have the outside inside and to be inside the outside. But this is not enough […] and inside oneself there is still nothing.”

This is the worrying black sunrise, as torrid as the intensity of the drama it engenders. The drama takes many forms in the work. Among others, there is an obsessive pitch, B, whose timbre serves to express a searing anguish. There is also the breakdown of the self, evoked in the Engloutissement (“Engulfment”) of Section 2 by the immersion in fluid sonorities that are driven on to an asphyxiation of the personality, until only an inarticulate shadow remains at the bottom of the abyss. Then there is the Implosion of Section 4, and the progressive Pétrification of the personality in Section 7. The first sound of Citadelle intérieure (“Interior Fortress”), a heavy door that suddenly slams shut symholizes the walled-in isolation of the personality. Finally, there is the vocal counterpoint at the end of the same section, spread out in space as if this distant voice, fragile and almost inaudible, symbolizes the loss of contact between the self of the individual and the consciousness of its own existence.

… magistral…

Review

Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998

Once upon a time, in a deep, dark forest… Forêt profonde is an acousmatic drama in thirteen sections hased on The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. Those appatrently innocent stories that bathed our childhood are really trees that hide from us the mysterious roots of the forest the deep roots of the soul that Francis Dhomont probes in his psychoanalytical reading of fairy tales. This composition superimposes a rich counterpoint of voices, texts, and languages. At the heart of its gripping sonic material, alternatively mysterious or reassuring, like a fairy tale, we hear the thirteen episodes march by, keeping us spellbound.

Francis Dhomont plays with archetypes in Forêt profonde, not only the ones brought up by the narration (death, happiness, courage, fear, and so on), but also those that are invoked by the underlying sounds. Thus, the archetype of comforting and appeasement, suggested by tender lullabies, is brusquely broken by the tragic and anguished character of unstable sonic morphologies. Like the fairy tales themselves, this piece enchants and bewitches; certain enigmatic passages show to what extent the art of sounds is able to explain the unexplainable. “What’s happening?” murmurs a strange, anxious young voice at the beginning. An undeniable reality hides behind the words that then reassure the child “‘tis nothing…’tis nothing, dear…try to sleep”—soft comfort which, like the happy endings of the fairy tales, turns us aside from the dark morbidity that hangs over our existence.

If these tow works from a diptych, it is because deep in each forest there burns a black sun. Depth and darkness, linked in a single semantic universe, join together in this Cycle des profondeurs to evoke an existentialist anguish that is our lot to share. While Sous le regard d’un soleil noir was inspired by an affliction that turns toward the pathological, Forêt profonde touches on the imaginary world of childhood and the hidden face of the fairy tales that have peopled it. In both, text and music are so well integrated, each extending its resonanees into the other, that it is impossible to disassociate them. On many occasions, we find a narrator giving “clinical” commentary, but no such dryness is sufficient to disturb the dramatic trajectory of the musical discourse. Rather these commentaries serve to articulate the evolution of the drama, providing clues to the listener for understanding the meanings of the symbols and archetypes deployed in the music.

Both discs are beautifully packaged in newly designed cardboard cases. The well-documented, bilingual booklets run 48 pages each, and include a listing of all citations and bibliographical references, and a detailed chronology of Mr. Dhomont’s works from 1972.

Like the fairy tales themselves, this piece enchants and bewitches; certain enigmatic passages show to what extent the art of sounds is able to explain the unexplainable.

Review

Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998

Mouvances~Métaphores was first released in 1991, but has long been out of stock. empreintes DIGITALes / DIFFUSION i MéDIA has released a second edition of this double-CD set. Completed between 1982 and 1989, this work contains two large cycles, Cycle de l’errance and Les dérives du signe. The new edition includes some remixing and a complete repackaging; the discs are now sold separately rather than together, and the original booklet, which ran to over 200 pages, has been divided between the two, with the lengthy, but by now outdated, tribute celebrating Francis Dhomont’s 65th birthday relegated to the status of collector’s item.

Cycle de l’errance evokes in a highly poetic way the idea of departure, of travel—real or imagined—and the existential sadness associated with it. Three works make up this cycle: Points de fuite (Vanishing Points), 1981 … mourir un peu (… dying a little), 1984; and Espace / Escape (a bilingual anagram, “espace” meaning “space”), 1989. Here, Mr Dhomont was in part inspired by his own experiences, as witnessed by his program note: “wandering both in its proper and figurative meanings — movement, change, mobility, roving dreams upheaval, and revivals—all weave the very material of my life.”

… evokes in a highly poetic way the idea of departure…

Review

Stéphane Roy, Computer Music Journal, no. 22:2, June 1, 1998

The other cycle, Les dérives du signe, includes four works Novars, 1989; Chiaroscuro, 1987; Météores (Meteors), 1989; and Signé Dionysos (Signed Dionysus), 1986, rev. 1991. These pieces make subtle play on the ambiguity generated by shifts in meaning. We find here misappropriations of pre-existing musical sources in Novars and Chiaroscuro, the synaesthetic transfer of the sensations of speed and kinetic energy in the morphological shapes of the sound materials in Météores and the clouding of the paths that lead from natural sounds to novel, artificial sounds in Signé Dionysos.

It is evident that Mr. Dhomont has a predilection for musical eyeles. Their themes allow us to understand some of the aesthetic concerns he has wanted to explore in his art. Throughout his treatment of these subjects, however, Francis Dhomont has never tried to preseribe any specifie way to listen to his music. Indeed, there is a perpetual concern in his music to encourage different listening strategies: formal, referential, programmatic, and so on. He has even tried to create unity between those diverse dimensions that can shape the musical work during the listening process. The program note Points de fuite serves as evidence of that fact:

Audition/reading on many Ievels:

1. Technical (kinetic study: glides in tessitura, mutations of masses, of densities; modifications of timbre; energetic eruption/dispersion; spatial mobility).

2. Impressionistic (encounters, crossings, fusion of heterogeneous events which carry similar connotations; trajectories, velocities, displacements; the near and the distant; the passage)

3. Symbolic (flight: running away; departure, wandering, lapse obliteration. The horizon, Kafka: Disappearing America).

4. Ad libitum…

To sum up, in these four CDs covering almost two decades of achievement, Francis Dhomont offers us acousmatic works of real substance that transcend very well the technological orientation implied by such music. When we listen to these pieces we discover many things about music, and something of its breathtaking vertigo.

When we listen to these pieces we discover many things about music, and something of its breathtaking vertigo.

Musiques électroacoustiques

Stéphane Roy, Circuit, no. 9:1, January 1, 1998

II y a près d’un an, le producteur d’empreintes DIGITALes lançait à Montréal deux disques optiques consacrés au compositeur canadien Francis Dhomont. Chacun comporte une œuvre d’envergure qui s’inscrit dans le dyptique intitulé le Cycle des profondeurs, qui deviendra un tryptique si le compositeur donne suite à ses nouveaux projets. La première de ces œuvres est une réédition de Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (IMED 9633), mélodrame acousmatique d’une durée de 51m35s, réalisé entre 1979 et 1981. La seconde, nouveau mélodrame acousmatique d’une durée de 58m32s, composé entre 1994 et 1996, s’intitule Forêt profonde (IMED 9634).

Sous le regard d’un soleil noir

Ce noir soleil brûle parfois les ailes de celui qui, tel Icare, trop s’en approche. L’œuvre, troublante, met en scène le vertige schizoïde d’un moi supplicié. Elle n’est pourtant pas l’adaptation d’une thèse sur la schizophrénie: il ne s’agit pas d’un «programme à l’œuvre», mais d’une «œuvre à programme» qui tire d’un propos extra-musical une substance expressive d’une qualité rarement égalée, à ma connaissance, en musique acousmatique.

C’est le discours des profondeurs de la psychanalyse qui a inspiré à Dhomont cette musique magistrale en huit sections. Ce discours, Dhomont l’a puisé essentiellement dans les ouvrages du psychiatre et psychanalyste Ronald D Laing, dont la pièce offre à maintes reprises de très beaux extraits.

Le compositeur a su créer dans son soleil noir une atmosphère mystérieuse et onirique. Le propos se centre autour du thème du moi. Le drame se tisse à mesure que s’effrite la cloison qui sépare ce moi de l’univers extérieur: l’être intérieur est alors envahi, ou plutôt il est absorbé par un trou noir, celui de la schizophrénie: «On est à l’intérieur puis à l’extérieur ce qu’on a été à l’intérieur. On se sent vide (…) manger et être mangé pour que l’extérieur devienne l’intérieur et pour être à l’intérieur de l’extérieur. Mais cela ne suffit pas. (…) et à l’intérieur de soi il n’y a toujours rien.» Et c’est le lever redoutable d’un soleil noir, dont le caractère torride n’a d’égal que l’intensité du drame qu’il noue.

Ce drame porte divers visages dans l’œuvre. C’est notamment cette note si, véritable obsession, dont le timbre sert parfaitement l’expression d’une angoisse lancinante. Le drame, c’est aussi la rupture. C’est l’Engloutissement évoqué à la section 2 par l’immersion dans des sonorités fluides conduisant à l’asphyxie de la personnalité, dont il ne reste qu’une ombre inarticulée au fond de l’abysse. C’est aussi la tragique Implosion de la section 4, puis cette Pétrification progressive de la personnalité à la section 7. C’est le premier son de Citadelle intérieure, une lourde porte se refermant, qui symbolise l’isolement, l’emmurement de la personnalité. Et c’est enfin le contrepoint vocal à la fin de la même section, disséminé dans l’espace comme si cette voix au loin, fragile et presque inaudible, symbolisait la perte de contact entre le moi de l’individu et la conscience de sa propre existence.

Forêt profonde

Il était une fois une Forêt profonde, mélodrame acousmatique en treize sections basé sur la Psychanalyse des contes de fées de Bruno Bettelheim. Les récits apparemment innocents qui ont baigné notre enfance sont autant d’arbres qui nous cachent les replis mystérieux de la forêt, profonds replis de l’âme que Francis Dhomont sonde à travers une lecture psychanalytique des contes de fées. L’œuvre fait foisonner un riche contrepoint de voix, de textes et de langues. Elle intercale au sein d’une substance sonore saisissante les illustrations alternativement mystérieuses et rassurantes du conte; l’auditeur écoute défiler treize stations qui le tiennent véritablement en haleine.

Dans Forêt profonde, Francis Dhomont joue avec les archétypes, non seulement ceux que le récit porte en lui (la mort, le bonheur, le courage, la peur et ainsi de suite) mais encore ceux que peut évoquer le substrat sonore. Ainsi l’archétype du réconfort et de l’apaisement, suggéré par de tendres berceuses, est brusquement rompu par le caractère tragique et angoissé de sons aux morphologies instables. Cette œuvre, à l’égal des contes, enchante, ensorcelle par certains passages énigmatiques qui montrent à quel point l’art des sons parvient à exprimer l’inexprimable. «Qu’est-ce qui se passe?», murmure au début de l’œuvre une voix inquiète. Une réalité redoutable se cache derrière les paroles adressées à l’enfant: «ce n’est rien chérie, essaie de dormir…», doux réconfort qui, comme la fin heureuse des contes, nous détourne de la morbidité qui plane sur nos existences.

Si ces deux œuvres forment un diptyque, c’est qu’au plus profond de notre forêt se consume un soleil noir; profondeur et noirceur, associées dans un même univers sémantique, se conjuguent dans ce Cycle des profondeurs pour évoquer une angoisse existentielle que nous échoit en partage. Alors que Sous le regard d’un soleil noir s’inspirait d’un mal-être qui se transforme parfois en pathologie, Forêt profonde touche à l’imaginaire de l’enfance et à la face cachée des contes qui l’ont peuplé. Dans ces deux univers, texte et musique sont si bien intégrés, l’un prolongeant ses résonances dans l’autre, qu’il est impossible de les voir dissocier. On rencontre à maintes reprises un narrateur présentant certains commentaires «cliniques», mais rien d’asséchant, qui nuirait à la trame dramatique du discours muscial. Ces commentaires rythment l’évolution du drame en offrant quelques clés à l’auditeur sur le foisonnement des symboles et des archétypes musicaux qui s’y déploient.

Sous le regard d’un soleil noir et Forêt profonde sont des œuvres de substance qui transcendent les impératifs technologiques. Lorsqu’on se met à l’écoute de ces pièces, on découvre plein de choses sur la musique et certains de ses vertiges…

Ces œuvres sont présentées dans deux beaux coffrets orginaux. Un livret bilingue (anglais/français) bien documenté, totalisant près de 50 pages, les accompagne. On peut y trouver les extraits cités, avec référence bibliographique, ainsi qu’un catalogue détaillé des pièces réalisées par le compositeur depuis 1972.

Dans ces deux univers, texte et musique sont si bien intégrés, l’un prolongeant ses résonances dans l’autre, qu’il est impossible de les voir dissocier.

Francis Dhomont In Concert

Stéphane Roy, Contact!, no. 10:1, September 1, 1996

A superb concert took place at Montréal’s Usine C last Saturday June 8. Organized by ACREQ, this concert of music by Francis Dhomont was one of the most beautiful acousmatic music events I have attended in a long time. Thanks to the excellent acoustics of this new hall, to the high quality of the sound projection system and to the large number of speakers, the details of this outstanding music were, I believe, faithfully rendered.

In the program were three acoustmatic works: Lettre de Sarajevo, Nocturne à Combray and a recast and augmented version of Forêt profonde.

The first piece, Lettre de Sarajevo, is an acousmatic drama commissioned by the “Futura 96” Festival of Acousmatic Art in France. This work’s complex texture, composed of a rich tangle of layers that successively come to the fore before being overtaken by other soundtracks, creates an atmosphere of constant anxiety. I recognized here the characteristic sound colors, the deep sounds, sometimes guttural, used in many of Dhomont’s works. But this style of composing in large sections, in long shapes that move along until their natural end, appears to me unusual for his work, at least for the works from his “Quebec period”. Without the ruptures, the sudden interruptions, the dramatic stops or the alternating tensions and releases, Lettre de Sarajevo is dominated by constant, uninterrupted tension, and the silences between sections form so many shadow zones where the drama of the preceding sequences still resonate. Lettre de Sarajevo is a beautiful, dark and inexorable work, a tranquil cry, unceasing as it reflects the drama that endures even as the memory fades.

From another era and another sensibility, Nocturne à Combray is a radiophonic piece commissioned by Radio–Canada and is based on excerpts from Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann. Lost time is forever, and dream blends with reality. In Nocturne à Combray, the sonic material is allusive and dreamlike, dotted with nostalgic quotations (of illusory time recovered?) that evoke several errant recitals by musical instruments of the past. The work is often punctuated by fugitive images of beings and things remembered by a half–conscious narrator in the grip of an agitated sleep. The setting of the voice approaches that of earlier works by Francis Dhomont but here, it seems to me, it is more luminous so wedded to the contemplative nature of the text. This setting, generally stable and well established, is defined at the start of the piece by a melody of spatial relationships and timbres that suddenly transforms words into colorations and different spaces. At certain times, a counterpoint of voices fed by an echo lightly veils the intelligibility of the words a little like those stubbornly resonated in a mind that vacillates between wakefulness and sleep. To each their own reading of In Search of Lost Time, I certainly discovered in Nocturne à Combray a poetic, Proustian atmosphere.

Once upon a time in a deep, dark forest… Forêt profonde, an acousmatic drama based on the Psychoanalysis of Fairytales by Bruno Bettelheim, is a work in thirteen sections and forms, with Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (composed over thirteen years), a diptych that the composer entitles Cycle des profondeurs. Those apparently innocent stories that bathed our childhoods are really trees that hid from us the mysterious roots of the forest, the deep roots the soul of Francis Dhomont probes in his psychoanalytical reading of fairy tales. This composition superimposes a rich counterpoint of voices, texts and languages. At the heart of its gripping sonic material, illustrations successively more mysterious and consoling, building like a fairy tale, we hear thirteen episodes march by keeping us spellbound.

Francis Dhomont plays in Forêt profonde with archetypes, not just the ones the narration brings (death, happiness, courage, fear and so on), but as well those that can be invoked by the underlying sounds. So the archetype of comforting and appeasement, suggested by tender lullabies, is brusquely broken by the tragic and anguished character of unstable morphologies. This work enchanted me, bewitched by certain enigmatic passages that show at what point the art of sounds does know how to explain the unexplainable. “What’s going on?”, murmurs an anxious, strange voice at the start of the work. An undeniable reality hides behind the words that then wants to reassure the child, “It’s nothing, my dear. Try to sleep…” So life turns us aside with certain comforts about the morbid thought of our next disappearance.

Didactic comments here and there throughout the work perhaps don’t make for unanimity (a narrator cites Bettelheim on occasion) but, to my mind, it gives the work an extra dimension by drawing attention to the unconscious significance of fairy tales.

To sum up, I say Forêt profonde is a gripping and beautiful work that, I believe, will complement the success of Sous le regard d’un soleil noir. Both works will soon be released on the empreintes DIGITALes label.

The concert projection by the composer did justice to the quality of these works. At times I would have appreciated higher sound levels, particularly during Forêt profonde, but I know the listening situation probably varied a lot depending on where you were sitting in the hall. I can only congratulate ACREQ for having organized an acousmatic concert of such a high quality, especially since such events are all too rare in Montréal these days.

Stéphane Roy (English translation by Frank Koustrup)

Stéphane Roy royst@ere.uMontréal.ca is a composer. His pieces have been performed in many European and American countries, and he has won many national and international compositions. A PhD in Music composition, he is presently teaching auditory perception at the University of Montréal.

… one of the most beautiful acousmatic music events…

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