Jos Smolders More articles written

In the press

  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 23, 2009
    The result is a beautiful 74 minutes of electroacoustic music.
  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 9, 2009
    Constantly moving and revolving. Beautiful.
  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 5, 2009
    … gutsy and urban electroacoustic music. Definitely a leap forward! […] This is a very strong collection of works.
  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, January 13, 2008
    … I must say it is quite something.
  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, November 11, 2007
    This definitely makes me curious to hear more.
  • Jos Smolders, Earlabs, July 29, 2007
    It’s brilliant and the world could have known as early as 1976 that Deschênes is a very fine composer.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 23, 2009

Anniversary release to commemorate the 60th birthday of concrete music. Adkins collated the contributions of 60 artists into 8 segments, not following the categorization of the originator Pierre Schaeffer.

The disc contains music that was contributed by over 60 sound artists. It celebrates the 60th birthday of musique concrète in [2008]. Mathew Adkins, a veteran at Empreintes Digitales was invited to mix the sound contributions together. The result is a beautiful 74 minutes of electroacoustic music. Adkins diligently categorized all the contributions before setting to work with a mix. That way three major sections are created, each divided into two or three different sequences, each with its own sound character. To give you an impression: the first section is based on abstract electronic sounds, the second section uses concrète and ‘anecdotal’ material. The final balances between these two extremes.

The first section is nice but at the same time a little dull; too nice and cozy. The abstract electronics offer many chances for slowly developing scapes. And actually Adkins keeps his foot on the brakes for quite a long time. Only occasionally are we served with harsh sounds, with sudden dynamical rifts. Schaeffer, the founding father of musique concrète, had quite a different approach. His musical structure often refered heavily on classical structures, like the suite, the symphony. Of course, these are different times. Schaeffer created his music from within his own personal context.

Adkins works from a different perspective in a different age. These are more democratic times. Perhaps that’s why so many different artists (Hecker, Chartier, López, Jonty Harrison, Fennesz, Roden, just to name a few) were invited to contribute. The mixes are most times blends of different layers, no juxtapositions, bumps or crashes. Well, not until track 7, that is. But that one lasts only 2’43"…

7.5 / 10

The result is a beautiful 74 minutes of electroacoustic music.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 9, 2009

Tremblay brings us three well crafted works on this cd, his first in ten years. It was well worth the waiting!

Jacques Tremblay is of the same generation as Ned Bouhalassa, whose [disc] we reviewed a few days earlier. Tremblay is a different character, though. Where Bouhalassa brings the street into the studio, Tremblay, to me at least, is more the composer who regards the studio as a laboratory where he brews and distils all kinds of sounds and then places them under a microscope and then continues with determination.

Tremblay is the kind of composer who picks up a theme and then turns it inside out, sound wise. The first work on this CD, for instance, concentrates on the word ‘café’ which in French means both ‘coffee’ and ‘pub’. This offers of course an interesting combination where on the one hand we hear ‘sound’ ground or granulated like coffee beans and then brought under heavy pressure to produce a strong ‘espresso’. On the other hand there are the sounds that we associate with a cozy pub/cafe.

The center piece of this release is Empathies entropiques. I must say, it is by far the best piece of this disc and luckily it continues to be so for more than 47 minutes. The work is divided up into eight parts. An interesting mix of field recording, editing thereof and electronics. Constantly moving and revolving. Beautiful.

Tremblay at several points uses the typical editing techniques that are common with acousmatic composers, especially the ED composers, but in general his style is personal and strong.

Rated: 8/10

Constantly moving and revolving. Beautiful.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 5, 2009

Empreintes Digitales presents new works by Ned Bouhalassa, a new generation Canadian electroacoustic composer presenting gutsy and urban electroacoustic music. Definitely a leap forward!!

This prestigious Canadian label is renowned for its high quality sound releases. 95% of its artists have a degree in composition and lecture at some place in the world. The sound quality of the releases are sublime, 24-bit recording and mastering. The best you can get. Still, in the past few years I somehow had heard enough. It was all too shiny and also the software used by the composers and their semantics became somewhat too similar. There was a rather clear cut “Empreintes Digitales” sound. This release stands out from the crowd.

Bouhalassa, in the liner notes, writes that he imagines himself a giant who plays the city with a record player needle. The composer has an impressive career in scoring for film music as well, which helps to improve underscoring real life sounds and images, of course.

Bouhalassa makes a connection to contemporary city life and so takes the music out of the state of the art high tech studio. The center piece of the disc is the 34 minutes Urban Cuts featuring the work of poet Fortner Anderson and electronics added with cello (Delphine Measroch) and drums (Christian Olsen). The feel of this work is definitely ’urban’. It’s a journey (the poem tells about it) but not in the ’conventional’ acousmatic style. No, there are parts where the drums really work a groove, together with the basses that we know from the drum ’n’ bass area. These are alternated with the recitation by Anderson (himself) accompanied by field recordings and electronics. A true adventure for the listener with a firm musical background in modern dance music (like my kids, who enjoyed this a lot as well).

The other tracks on this disc, though as lengthy as ’urban cuts’ also breathe the outdoor, city atmosphere. Field recordings of the Berlin underground at some point grow out to become massive sound walls. Bouhalassa uses slamming doors as turning points in one of the other works, Impulse. It starts with the sound of a car driving away (immediate reference to Kraftwerk) and later doors are on several occasions breaks to a new soundscape. The city is almost always somehow the general background.

This is a very strong collection of works. May be so Bouhalassa regarded himself a DJ, selecting what he likes from his large collection of recordings. His choices are well made, and I hope Empreintes Digitales will allow more of such adventurous composers to release their work.

Rated: 9/10

… gutsy and urban electroacoustic music. Definitely a leap forward! […] This is a very strong collection of works.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, January 13, 2008

MT present themselves (in their bio on the site) as experimentators. Having undergone a major education in electroacoustic composition wasn’t enough, they expanded their terrain into the visual.

Milliseconde topographie is a duo, Nicolas Bernier and Delphine Measroch. They both graduated with Robert Normandeau and have a craving for experimentation. They explore not only the musical domain but also the visual. Bernier has been reviewed before at this site. This DVD-Video is their first and I must say it is quite something.

There are three main sections on the disc, Treelogy, Le microsillon des vagues, Fossile 1, 2 et 3. Each of the pieces in itself consists of 3 parts.

It’s a bit difficult to describe each piece because there are so many aspects to the works. The audio for most part is glitchy, dreamy, electronic. Now and again there is a real instrument applied (like the bandoneon, an organ or dulcimer) but not much more than their acoustic aspects are shown. There is hardly a melody played. Sometimes the music developes a slow rhythm but only to underpin the other sounds.

The visuals are quite diverse but have a lot in common. Often we see photopgraphed objects or landscapes and if what we see is a filmed image the movement is minimal. For instance, She Under a Sherrington Tree which is part of Treelogy, presents a barn with high grass in front of it. The image is in black and white. Only after some time you notice that the grass is moving by the wind. Shortly after that we see a plowed field (also in black and white) with in the distance a row of trees. The trees move by the wind but you only see that in second instance. Often images are layered over one another and then shifted from top to bottom of the screen in different tempos. Treelogy also includes letters, words and sentences placed on the screen fading in and out or digitally scratched in and out of screen.

Absolute highlight, for me, is Le microsillon des vagues which starts with an “amateur” video (black and white, out of focus, no steady image) of a sea shore over which at first letters (flashing very shortly) and then slowly words (somewhat longer) are projected. The footage is then layered and after a while we see silhouet of a man walking along the beach pass by. The screen fades to black and a new scenery is presented. We see a dark and rainly landscape (low point of view) through a sheet of green glass. In the distance vaguely a row of trees is visible and a house and a watchtower. Raindrops move down the glass but also up. Sometimes shortly a part of the screen is lighten (as if some illuminating piece of tape is applied). The music is minimal, with doors opening and closing slowly and the sound of a storm outside. Then starts part 2 (at 2/3 of the work). A piano, organ and a bandoneon and crackling and a softly speaking woman’s voice. A whispering man. To the right of the screen a photograph of a woman (breast and head). In the background the image of a calm sea with birds and two men bathing. The left eye of the woman is a large black hole. MT play with images and abstraction. Words are written over the screen. Patches are covered and uncovered. Etcetera. To me, Le microsillon des vagues is absolutely the best part of the DVD-Video.

Tricycle refers to both triptych and cycle. The three works shown can indeed be very well be watched in a continuous cycle. Images return over more than one work (e.g. the drops of water on glass certain use of lettering) and the visual language is consistent over the three works. It’s midnight music that you watch while reading a boring book or maybe even while dreamsleeping. It has a dreamy atmosphere and you discover more small things while watching it more.

MT present themselves (in their bio on the site) as experimentators. Having undergone a major education in electroacoustic composition wasn’t enough, they expanded their terrain into the visual. They have gone quite a stretch already, but I still think that forte lies in the music. The visual is still their terrain where they are “exploring”. The balance between auditive and visual is sometimes off, and at other times the direct relation between audio and video (e.g. words come up and disappear, accompanied by a specific sound) is unnecessary or even annoying. The use of typography is sometimes pleasant and adds a quality, but at other times it is a nuisance, disturbing the concentration on other aspects of the screen.

The effort that MT makes is quite worthwhile and deserves our continuous attention.

… I must say it is quite something.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, November 11, 2007

And they call it: new electroacoustic folk. One has all kinds of associations with that. When Bob Dylan went electric in the 60s Pete Seeger tried to stop him from performing. So real folk music should not be electronic, according to the old die-hards. Still, Dylan has produced interesting works since his employment of electronics in his song. So, the decision can not have been too mistaken. I guess.

Now we have electroacoustic folk at our hands. A new move? Does that mean that electroacoustics is getting folky? Or is folk getting a step deeper into electronic country?

Nicolas Bernier and Simon Trottier are two Canadians with their roots in electronics (especially Bernier) music and folk and improv guitarism (Trottier). Their cooperation results in a 4 track ep with beautiful, maybe a bit romantic, electronic scapes and melodies. This kind of music can tip over one direction or the other. The first is the electronic and eletroacoustic domain that is fitted with folk furniture. So the basic structure and sound approach is that of the electronics, abstractism. The other direction is where folk music and its correspondent context is the basis over which electronic gadgetisms are sprinkled to give it ‘that modern touch’. This ep offers a bit of both.

The second composition (or should I say song?) for instance starts out with a wonderful bass tune (which reminds me vaguely of the Eno/Wobble coop…), then evolves into guitar picking and violin and a nice cadenza, with water, the guitar reclining into the verb, a second keyboard melody as a counterpoint to the guitar, slight distortion of the sounds, a hesitation, water, flute, crackle (glitch…), something sliding over a metal string, hesitative percussion. Then, after almost two minutes, the train starts a rolling again with the original guitar picking, bass kicking in. Guitar solo which finishes after a few minutes. But the composition is not over and a repeating sample kicks in, soon accompanied by the tunes we heard earlier; flute, cymbals, kalimba, toy piano, et cetera. This only to show that the overall structure of the compositions is not your typical folk song, but on the other hand the basics of what you hear is typically folk, furnished with glitches, crackles, field recordings.

I think this is a fine mixture of electroacoustics (overall structure, treatment of recorded material) with ingredients out of the folk context. The result is electroacoustic music that you can whistle to. Very funny experience. You don’t hear that very often. This definitely makes me curious to hear more.

This definitely makes me curious to hear more.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, July 29, 2007

Not only does empreintes DIGITALes release the music of its core composers like Dhomont, Normandeau, Calon — all acknowledged first class acousmaticians — but it also has room for lesser known talents. Marcelle Deschênes is one of the latter group with a very crafty repertoire.

This disc presents work spanning the years 1976 to 2000. Six major works, two of which are thematically connected. Her sonic language is rich (as is the case with most of the ED composers), explosive, harmonic, and at times sensual. Although the music for the most part fits the acousmatic bill, with sounds in turmoil, audiotechnological machismo and abstract structure there are definitely bends and corners inside the compositions that reveal the touch of a woman.

Deschênes studied with Schaeffer himself and Guy Reibel during the late 60s. After that she returned to her home state Quebec and worked as a lecturer and was involved in many organisations there. She has connected her work to many multimedia and theatre productions and some of these are presented on this disk.

The disc starts off with Big Bang II. This is a work that was started in 1987 and has been reworked in 1995. It is a surprisingly versatile composition. It offers very nice and subtle granulated sounds, but also a female choir, short snippets of Tuvalian throat singing and typically sampled sounds. The structure of the piece is very well paced.

Indigo, second on this disc is the first part of a diptych called Griffes (Claws). Deschênes started this work in 2000 and considers this piece still unfinished. Indigo proceeds at a slow pace. Low drones superimposed by higher pitched covers set the atmosphere until at around 4 minutes a suddenly climax lets the work take a corner and new material is entered. Voices, together with electronic sounds, build up tension several times, each time going from rest into more restlessness.

Until the Le bruit des ailes (The Sound of Wings) starts with the same low drones acompanied by the sound of wings flapping. Quite a happy scenery. This continues until a huge disruption changes things dramatically. (I was really surprised to hear harsh distorted sounds (lots of loud block waves here), which is quite unusual within the ED context.) The sound of wings takes on different forms which are not at all very nice and sweet. The theme for this piece is from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Ugly Duckling, where the wings are stretched and mutilated and mixed with the sounds of ice storms, erupting volcanoes and the sounds of nuclear bombs exploding.

Lux, the fourth composition here, starts with a voice reciting the word ‘desire’ again and again. Deformed, crying out in a whispering voice, the atmosphere is immediately threatening. This piece is the audio part of a multimedia work that was constructed by Renée Bourassa, in 1985. A very strong work this is, with craftily pronounced text by Openheimer, Shaw, Kant, Rutherford and Bourassa. Interestingly the aural part of this worksounds a bit dated because of use of so typical digital instrumentation especially in the parts approximately from the 5th until the 10th minute and at multiple occasions later in the piece. Sampler, synclavier, however modern and high tech they were in 1985, they sound ancient in 2007. As a whole a very strong work, though. The piece feels a bit like Laurie Anderson who was popular at the time.

The next work is Moll, opéra lilliput pour six roches molles. This is the oldest work, dating from 1976. this is the only piece that also involves acoustic instruments (clarinets, trombones, percussion and toys). The work is versatile, exciting and a very good mixture of electronics and fantastic craftmanship on the instruments. The booklet tells us that “this suite of 17 miniatures is the result of long, obsessive hours spent looking at the ordinary gray pebbles on the Bas-Saint Laurent beaches”. That gives it lovely exotic touch (especially when I hear the small children’s voice singing a song, while typing) but the work itself is already good enough without any exotic liner notes. It’s brilliant and the world could have known as early as 1976 that Deschênes is a very fine composer.

Alright then, the final piece: Big Bang III: an hommage to Earth. 2 minutes 38 seconds, a soundscape to accompany a 3D film at the planetarium. And that’s all I have to say about it. Well done, but I would not have entered it in this collection. Ending with Moll would have blasted me away. This is sort of a disappointment, albeit a short/small one.

It’s brilliant and the world could have known as early as 1976 that Deschênes is a very fine composer.

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