Alain Thibault was born in Québec City in 1956. His music has been performed in Canada and abroad, amongst others, by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in Montréal, by New Music Concerts in Toronto, at Digicon ’85, the 2nd Conference on Computer Art and Creativity, in Vancouver (Canada), at the Bourges International Experimental Music Festival, Synthèse (France), and in Tokyo (Japan). In 1982 he received top honors in the electroacoustic category of the CBC National Competition for Young Composers, for Sonergie. In 1986 he won the Sound Page Competition held by the American magazine Keyboard for his Fairlight synthesizer piece God’s Greatest Gift. In the area of multimedia, he has collaborated with visual artists on: Déca-danse, ELVIS (Électro-lux, vertige illimité synthétique) and OUT. He has participated on a variety of performances, theatre productions and concerts, both as a composer and/or synthesizer programmer. Alain Thibault is a founding member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC). He studied composition at the Music Faculty of Université de Montréal where he taught electroacoustic techniques from 1984 to ’88.
Quebec City (Québec), 1956
Residence: Montréal (Québec)
On the web
SONARt / IMSO 9202 / 1992
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9003, IMED 9003_NUM / 1990
Yves Daoust, ed.
Circuit, musiques contemporaines / CIRC 13_1 / 2002
McGill Records / MR 2001-01-2 / 2001
In the press
Andrew Jones, The Gazette, June 18, 1994It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world.
Andrew Jones, Montreal Mirror, May 3, 1990… Volt, the third compact disc to be released on the empreintes DIGITALes label, which has been offering recordings of consistently high quality…
Alain Brunet, La Presse, April 29, 1990
Daniel Rolland, SOCAN, Canadian Composer, March 1, 1990
In the early-music debate currently all the rage in the classical world, learned musicologists are asking themselves how Mozart’s music should sound played on period instruments instead of modern ones.
If we reverse the concept, however, we arrive at an even more interesting question: What would Béla Bartók’s music have sounded like if he had had access to a modern recording studio?
The result would probably sound a lot like electroacoustic music.
Electroacoustic music is an abstract compositional form that was born in the recording studios of France’s national radio network during the 1940s.
Composers like Pierre Schaeffer realized that everyday sounds — a ticking clock, thunderstorms or even crashing Concordes — could be recorded and organized into “music” through tape techniques, in much the same way that Béla Bartók wove the folk music he recorded on wax discs into his own compositions.
Like Bartók, electroacoustic music is a highly structured, tactile music reflecting the texture and rhythm of everyday sounds in our acoustic environment, only the recording studio is the main instrument rather than the piano or violin. Many of the techniques pioneered in electroacoustic music are commonplace in today’s urban pop music, from the sampling and sound collages of hip-hop DJs like Hank Shocklee to the inventive remixing of dub reggae.
Yet for years electroacoustic music itself has suffered a reputation as New Age’s inner-city cousin: a tedious, chaotic collision of found sound and synthesizer squawking that did no more to put our acoustic environment into perspective than a ride uptown on the subway.
Alain Thibault is trying to change all that. A composer in his own right, Thibault is also artistic director of Quebec’s flagship electroacoustic organization, the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), which celebrates 15 years at the vanguard of new music exploration tomorrow at Redpath Hall.
The 37-year-old Quebec City native believes that to reach new audiences, electroacoustic music needs to come out of the studio.
”I have no interest in being a purist,” says Thibault. “More and more we see a crossover between musical genres, and what I’ve been trying to do with ACREQ is get electroacoustic music out of the contemporary music closet. I want to make it more alive, more accessible, without any artistic compromise.”
With this in mind, Thibault designed ACREQ’s current season as a multi-media affair.
Recital well received
The Dangerous Kitchen, an electroacoustic homage of Frank Zappa’s work that Thibault and Walter Boudreau staged last October, was an unqualified success. Electro Radio Days, broadcast in December, was an intriguing crosscountry checkup of radiophonic art. And there is still a buzz in the air about last month’s well-received recital by the hip Kronos Quartet.
The 15th-anniversary celebrations will feature performances both inside and outside Redpath Hall by a baker’s dozen of Québec composers who got their start with ACREQ, including Yves Daoust, Jean Piché and Bruce Pennycook. Many of the works involve pairing a live performer, such as a guitarist, pianist, harmonica player or dancer, with a computer.
”I’m interested in electroacoustic music that involves live performance,” says Thibault. “We now have the technology for extraordinary interaction; the tools are so much more sophisticated. But I don’t believe in putting the performer behind the technology. The lights should be on the performers, not the speakers.”
The wide scope of styles and influences that ACREQ has showcased over the years is a reflection of the diverse pool of electroacoustic talent that has settled in Quebec. While the music has long flourished in Canada, Québec has proven to be its hothouse.
Part of this has to do with the high quality of musical education here. McGill, Université de Montréal and Concordia all have state-of-the-art recording studios and new music departments. On the air, both the English and French CBC support the music through programs such as Brave New Waves, Two New Hours, Musique actuelle, and Chants Magnétiques.
”There is something that is very unique to Québec,” says Jean-François Denis, composer and major domo of empreintes DIGITALes, a record label devoted to the genre. “We take pretentious music out of the concert hall and put it into people’s hands in bars, on the radio, on the street. By doing that it becomes much more accessible. Heard this way, electroacoustic music can be as fun to listen to as musique actuelle.”
Denis has released 16 full-length CDs so far, and his catalogue encompasses composers drawn to both the American and European schools of electroacoustic thought. The former is influenced by technology and minimalism, the latter is more esoteric and dreamlike. The goal ot both schools, however, remains the same: to open our ears to the world of music we often tune out.
Music think tank
“Electroacoustics is an innovative medium,” says composer Claude Schryer of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, a new music think-tank with its headquarters in Montréal.
“It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world. It can tell you how acoustic environments work, how they affect you, how you can improve them, how important silence is.
”The whole spectrum is exciting when you think about it.”
Think of the fun Mozart would have had with a harpsichord retrofitted with MIDI ports. The musical instrument digital interface, with which one can score, arrange, and play any number of instruments from a lone trigger instrument — keyboard, drums, guitar — would have freed Mozart’s lightning-fast mind to compose works that would make complex and brilliant operas like Cosi Fan Tutte seem like child’s play.
Today, MIDI has become an inexpensive way to get an impossible orchestra sound from just a single instrument. Just ask Alain Thibault. A founding member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, the 34-year old Montréaler composes with a Macintosh mouse and music software rather than quill and quire. Thibault, who taught electroacoustic music at Université de Montréal for four years in the late ‘80s, has heard his music performed by the SMCQ, the Nouvelle Ensemble Moderne, Synthèse in France, and New Music Concerts in Toronto.
“While the syntesizers are programmed to play sounds which are familiar to orchestral ears — a harpsichord or a trumpet — the articulation is something that we couldn’t accomplish with real musicians,” says Thibault of his 1989 work Concerto a For MIDI Piano, which pits pianist Jacques Drouin against a MIDI-fied orchestra that he can control with his 88 keys.
“The advantage for Jacques is that he has the touch and feel of a real piano, and he can control an entire orchestra in real time. He doesn’t play against or inside the computer, it’s more like a dialogue between them.
“But it’s not like performing with other musicians. When you perform a concerto with a symphonic orchestra, the conductor will adjust for individual tempos. Because the orchestra was generated with a computer, the tempo is unbelievably rigid. If you miss, you’re finished.”
Concerto For MIDI Piano appears on Thibault’s new recording, Volt, the third compact disc to be released on the empreintes DIGITALes label, which has been offering recordings of consistently high quality by local composers working in the champs magnetiques of electroacoustic music.
The first release, Christian Calon’s Ligne de Vie: Récits Électriques (Lifeline: Electric Stories) are gossamer sound sculptures with silence as perhaps the most important element. Although Calon thanks Bataille, Joyce, Baudelaire, and Artaud, the corruscating prose hallucinations of those famous literary pioneers are merely the inspiration for dreamy and terrifying sonic landscapes that sound like a possessed version of Brian Eno’s ambient series.
Robert Normandeau’s Lieux inouïs, (Unheard-of-Places), on the other hand, combines the playfulness of Carl Stone and the layered sound of Zoviet France. His brilliant Jeu begins with a chant that’s split, phased, and processed until it’s completely unrecognizable. Thematically working with metaphors of game and chance, Normandeau takes pure sounds, shifting and shaping them until a juke box resembles a shower of cobalt, and wobbly fragments of sound trigger deep memories.
Thibault parts company with his label mates is in his dynamic sensibility. While many electroacoustic composers steep their work in overlapping ambience and extended atmospheres, Thibault is more interested in rhythm, something he gotfrom growing up with the devil’s music, rock’n’roll. It’s no mistake that Concerto For MIDI Piano sounds like a cyberpunk Prokofiev.
“I come from the electroacoustic boom of the ‘70s,” explains Thibault. “I was interested in the richness of the sounds I could get from tapes and synthesizers. The aesthetic at the time was to not use any parameters familiar to instrumental music, like notes or rhythm. But in the ‘80s I broke away from that, and went back to notes and rhythms. Rhythm is the most important parameter for me. I need rhythm, the propulsion of time.”
Thibault’s rhythmic arsenal is best heard in two multi-media works also found on Volt. E.L.V.I.S. (Electro-lux Vertige Illimité Synthétique) is a deliciously sly work that has the Montréal Saxophone Quartet exploring Timothy Leary’s headspace and finding The King in a Henry Cow groove.
OUT, a science-fiction video opera composed on the Fairlight CMI, won Keyboard’s Sound Page Competition for 1986. Taking place in the year 2084, OUT tells the story of hapless souls lost in the “psychic immigration spaces” of a world governed by a computer-generated simulacra of Ronald Reagan. “I was reading a lot of Philip K Dick books, and Reagan was still president at the time,“ confesses Thibault.
“I think Dick was one of the greatest writers in science fiction. His conception of the future was determined by the drugs he experimented with, the music he listened to, the religion and culture of the times he lived in. That’s not science fiction that’s reality.“
«Ça fait du bien de mettre ça à jour», lance Alain Thibault, compositeur électroacoustique. Bien qu’il n’eût pas encore endisqué depuis le début de sa carrière, son travail a toutefois été suivi par les médias. Le caractère spectaculaire et punché de ses œuvres y est pour quelque chose.
Lancé sur la nouvelle étiquette empreintes DIGITALes, le disque Volt est en quelque sorte le résumé de cette demi-décennie de création.
Disséquons rapidement. Dans la pièce E.L.V.I.S., le Quatuor de saxophones de Montréal (dont les arrangements sont signés Walter Boudreau) peut se juxtaposer à un amalgame hautement technologique. D’autre part, la soprano Pauline Vaillancourt bien connue dans les milieux institutionnels, combine ses talents vocaux à l’œuvre Le soleil et l’acier. Par ailleurs, le pianiste Jacques Drouin s’exécute dans trois mouvements d’une pièce intitulée Concerto pour piano MIDI; ce nouveau concept de liaison entre un piano de concert et des synthétiseurs sophistiqués semble très séduisant. Outre cette «bi-énergie» (humaine et technologique), des œuvres comme Volt et Out révèlent les facettes exclusivement synthétiques de Thibault. On sait qu’une portion de ces œuvres ont été crées pour des événements multimédia. Sans les images, on peut maintenant évaluer leur autonomie.
«En début de carrière, je ne jurais que par les machines. Mon souci était d’abord de faire une création avec les nouvelles technologies de studio. Maintenant, je mise aussi sur l’élément humain. Les musiciens participent à mes compositions, j’aime sentir leur présence», soutient le créateur, qui s’associe dorénavant aux instrumentistes classiques pour étoffer son travail.
Thibault a aussi collaboraé avec des créateurs en art visuel, en danse et en théâtre. Il a récemment signé des musiques pour la troupe Carbone 14.
D’entrée de jeu, le compositeur se démarquait des autres électroacousticiens, surtout par le caractère rythmique de son travail. Les références en musique pop trouvaient une niche dans une approche pourtant soutenue par les milieux institutionnels de la musique dite sérieuse.
Thibault fait partie de cette nouvelle génération de compositeurs qui n’ont aucun scrupule à mêler les enseignèments de Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Yes ou Miles Davis. L’artiste de 32 ans apprécie même le travail compositionnel de Janet Jackson!
Alain Thibault found his niche in contemporary music as others have in traditional classical music: That is to say, in a sincere and entirely natural way. Since his temperament generally leads him in a counter-current to others, the post-modern or avant garde school of composition is, for him, a comfortable mode of expression.
Thibault, 33, completed a Master’s degree at the Université de Montréal, with further studies at the same city’s McGill University. Although his principal composition instructor was Serge Garant, he attributes most of his experience in electroacoustic music to studies with Marcelle Deschênes. Thibault, whose works have been performed here and abroad, has been teaching electroacoustic music techniques at the Université de Montréal since 1984.
“At home, I naturally listen to a great deal of contemporary concert music, but also to popular music,” says Thibault. “For a simple reason: the pop music industry has the financial means to explore new electronic instruments and for me that is a way to keep up with the evolution of technology.” In his home in downtown Montréal, he has established a private studio replete with computers and synthesizers.
Last February, Thibault composed music for Rivage à l’abandon, a stunning theater piece staged in Montréal’s Musée d’art contemporain, by the company Carbone 14, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary. A setting of a text by German author Heiner Müller, the work formed part “Blickpunkte,” an event co-produced by the Musée d’art contemporain and the Gœthe Institute in Montréal. The words exert a striking power but the music, in this case, proves equally fascinating.
Listening to Thibault speak of his passion for contemporary music might give the impression that he is blindly dedicated to the genre. On the contrary, he recognizes the existence of weaker works alongside masterpieces. “The love of contemporary music,” Thibault feels, “is satisfied by a passionate need to seek out new things. For me, contemporary music should work on a physical as well as a cerebral level.”
With that viewpoint, it seems he has demonstrated well the path he intends to follow. Gilles Maheu, founder and artistic director of Carbone 14, knew that Thibault was the appropriate composer for his project from the time he heard Le Soleil et l’acier, for soprano and tape. The understanding between the two has been mutual, with each agreeing that music for the theater shouldn’t necessarily be limited to a functional role, as background, but that it should participate fully in the overall staging.
A compact disc of music by Alain Thibault, which was scheduled for release at the end of April on the new Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes, includes Le Soleil et l’acier (featuring soprano Pauline Vaillancourt), Concerto pour piano MIDI, his multi-media composition E.L.V.I.S. (in collaboration with Walter Boudreau), four extracts from the video opera Out, and a portion of God’s Greatest Gift. He is now starting work on a composition for cellist Claude Lamothe and stage director Maheu. Alain Thibault makes a modest living composing conteporary music and claims that his only mission is to make his art more widely accessible.
The series of archive films ”Rendez-vous Ina / Cinémathèque: musique contemporaine” with documentaries and short films on composers of musique concrète and electroacoustics will take place on January 28 to February 13, 2009 at the Ci…Sunday, January 18, 2009 / General
Gilles Gobeil and Alain Thibault will be at the the centre of the evening “Dedans/dehors” about immersive music. In the second half of the event, the 2 guest composers will discuss about their esthetic, formal and philosophic concerns; Loui…Friday, May 4, 2007 / In concert
The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) present “In Extremis,” on October 22, 2004. Amongst the works presented at this concert, we find to composition for tape, Beyond the Walls of Jericho by Paul Dolden and Le cauchem…Friday, October 1, 2004 / In concert