Paul Steenhuisen More articles written

In the press

  • Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 22:4, November 1, 2016
    … each piece celebrates the percussions and resonances of a similar, colourful palette of instrumental and digital treatments.
  • Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 8:10, July 1, 2003
    Dhomont is also a sensitive recycler, recontextualizing and reworking the sound materials he carefully kneads.
  • Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 8:10, July 1, 2003
    … her attention to the subtleties separates her work from the crowd.
  • Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 7:3, November 1, 2001
    Normandeau shows his range as a composer by weaving through an oceanic tapestry of moods and sentiments…
  • Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 7:3, November 1, 2001
    … contributing a disc of infrequently ramshackle and noisily intimate source materials sculpted with finesse.

Review

Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 22:4, November 1, 2016

On his recent electroacoustic CD Espaces tautologiques, composer James O’Callaghan takes us down the rabbit hole into a visceral, endogenous acousmatic wonderland. Although tautologies can be defined as “needless” repetitions, for O’Callaghan, they instead may be an ironic unifying premise for his vagabond auditory adventures, or append extra significance to compositional procedures such as varied repetition, imitation, and augmentation. The first three pieces (Objects-Interiors, Bodies-Soundings, and Empties-Impetus) form a triptych that “imagine(s) the sounding bodies of instruments as resonant spaces.” They contain crisp, natural, and remodelled recordings of passages through remote instrumental spaces, and at times it feels as though the listener is situated inside the instrument. From the rim to the spine of a piano (Objects-Interiors), an acoustic guitar and toy piano (Bodies-Soundings), or the surfaces and recesses of instruments in a string quartet (Empties-Impetus), each piece celebrates the percussions and resonances of a similar, colourful palette of instrumental and digital treatments. O’Callaghan demonstrates fluency with standard techniques of electroacoustic music, but it’s the impetus of the philosophical aspects that takes the pieces to their most compelling territories. The last piece, Isomorphic, is a particularly captivating jaunt through protractions of carefully ordered squealing, chattering textures. While the work shifts from one archetype to another, it’s coherently driven by consecutive, playful morphological relationships that extend from one sound to the next, despite differences of sound source and context. By virtue of the gesture, contour, pitch, and timbral coherence of his materials, O’Callaghan proposes contrasting ways to consider the ornithological chirps, industrial doors, and ambient environments. They can be heard as a perpetual flow, in which all sounds are related as one, or as a duality in which the listener simultaneously compares the ongoing profile similarities of the sounds with their wildly differing origins.

… each piece celebrates the percussions and resonances of a similar, colourful palette of instrumental and digital treatments.

Review

Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 8:10, July 1, 2003

Anyone interested in electroacoustic and acousmatic music in Canada is already familiar with the empreintes DIGITALes label and its catalogue of excellent artists and CD’s. Jalons and L’adieu au s.o.s. are no exception.

Jalons (meaning "milestones") is a collection of more obscure, less performed works from Francis Dhomont’s output between 1985 and 2001. A master of the acousmatic field he sowed and cultivated, Dhomont is also a sensitive recycler, recontextualizing and reworking the sound materials he carefully kneads. Some sources tire (the water sounds, the requisite footsteps, etc.), while others sparkle (the strings in Un autre Printemps, and the guitar-based timbres of En cuerdas). These are sounds we know, materials we hear or confront every day in the natural world, here explored in great depth. From John Cage we learned to the extreme that every sound can be music, and from Dhomont we learn that every sound is a doorway to elsewhere, an ambiguous and mysterious portal. Experts will recognize the software and processes employed on the sounds - the trademarks, icons, and (at worst) clichés of the style - all the while remaining appreciative of the special care taken by the artist, and the attentiveness of his compositional ear.

Dhomont is also a sensitive recycler, recontextualizing and reworking the sound materials he carefully kneads.

Review

Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 8:10, July 1, 2003

In a related vein, composer Monique Jean’s L’adieu au s.o.s. (A farewell to S.O.S) explores a similar technical world, and a contrasting expressive voice. The difference between the two composers is that while both are capably occupied with frenetic and colourful textures, Jean is more likely than Dhomont to extend further into quiet, into a concentrated, multi-faceted stasis. Francis Dhomont’s materials tend to be clipped in a quick, bright inhalation at the end of a phrase, while Jean allows her materials to settle, to breathe a touch longer. In the accompanying liner notes, Jean herself outlines aspects of this difference in writing that in Danse de l’enfant esseulée, the form “develops around the idea of the stoppage of time, or more precisely, its suspension… that of a momentary pause of sound, as much filled with tension as are points of suspension, inconclusive.” While her music explores similar sonic terrain as other acousmatic composers, Jean’s unhurried approach through her chosen sourdscape and greater than usual comfort level with softer dynamic levels are an integral part of her individual voice. While her colleagues may have equal or superior technical skills in the electroacoustic music studio, her attention to the subtleties separates her work from the crowd.

… her attention to the subtleties separates her work from the crowd.

Review

Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 7:3, November 1, 2001

In the late eighties and early nineties acousmatic art in Montréal captured international attention. Among the forerunners was a young Robert Normandeau whose music possessed a soulful enterprising intensity.

As a short-lived golden age began to fade after 1992 and the practice fell into some question, I was starting to feel very uneasy about the music outputted by Normandeau. Technical strides and artistic exploration were being made, the music was even developing a pop sensibility (which I admired), but somehow the youthful grit was beginning to fade. However, with his new CD release Clair de terre my fears for the worst have been quelled. He has recaptured that earlier intensity and most of all without turning back on the discoveries of the intervening years.

The pop sensibility is certainly still there. In fact, it smacks you in the face when you hear the opening blasts of a shakuhachi in Malina. In the minutes that follow Normandeau shows his range as a composer by weaving through an oceanic tapestry of moods and sentiments that journey far beyond contemporary or traditional conceptions of shakuhachi music with a subtlety and depth that confirms his maturity and artistry. The other works continue on a similar theme of playful interplay between recognition and departure. The powers of acousmatic art to push beyond common associations could never be more evident as they are with the music of Normandeau at his finest.

Normandeau shows his range as a composer by weaving through an oceanic tapestry of moods and sentiments…

Review

Paul Steenhuisen, The WholeNote, no. 7:3, November 1, 2001

Over the past 11 years, Montréal’s empreintes DIGITALes label has established itself as an important source for electroacoustic music from around the world. The recent release of Yves Daoust’s Bruits adds to their excellent catalogue, contributing a disc of infrequently ramshackle and noisily intimate source materials sculpted with finesse.

Daoust sets the tone with Children’s Corner, using the sonic landscapes of street festivals, markets, outdoor sports, and backup beeps from delivery trucks as his starting point. Amidst varied metamorphoses, the sound materials remain vestigially recognizable, yet sufficiently developed so as not to lapse into a documentarian aesthetic. While Nuits lacks the personality of its predecessor, Fête stage-dives straight back into its crowds and celebratory nature, re-establishing the light-hearted quality that defines and separates Daoust’s work. Fête reminds of the Parisian summer solstice celebration “fête de la musique,” where musicians from any background play on the street, with all of the recorded fiddles, accordions and djembe heard in a two-block venture through Place de la Republique, yet none of the pickpockets or thieves.

With the help of mutated material from Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu in C# minor, Daoust’s Impromptu engages and expounds upon its inspiration without clutching the Chopin too tightly. The final piece, Ouverture, develops the swaying crowds of previous works for more directly political purposes, exploring the subject of Québécois history. Overall, despite being somewhat uneven, Daoust’s Bruits succeeds with a boisterous playfulness and the warm impressions of community heard in the playgrounds and watering holes of old Montréal.

… contributing a disc of infrequently ramshackle and noisily intimate source materials sculpted with finesse.

More texts

The WholeNote no. 10:7, The WholeNote no. 8:10, The WholeNote no. 8:8, The WholeNote no. 7:2

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