A maverick electroacoustic composer based in the unlikely town of Matane, in a rural region of Quebec, Marc Tremblay has worked with video artists and improvisers. His work as a tape music composer is chronicled on the 1999 CD Bruit-graffiti released by the very serious label empreintes DIGITALes. His vernacular approach and obsession with quotes from pop music and movies makes his music much more accessible than the other artists in the label’s roaster.
Born 1960, in Hauterive (Quebec, Canada), Marc Tremblay was first interested in percussion, pushing his studies to the Conservatory in Chicoutimi. He later shifted to music composition and electroacoustic music at the Montréal Conservatory, studying with Clermont Pépin, Jacques Faubert and Yves Daoust, whose sense of narrative and ability to use outsider music genres he inherited. He earns his living as a recording techniques teacher at the Matane College.
From 1991 to 1994, Tremblay was a member of the ACREQ (Quebec Association for Creation and Research in Electroacoustics). His works L’argent… toujours l’argent! (1990) and «… Ceci est un message enregistré…» (1994) won international prizes and brought him a residency in Bourges (France). In the late 1990s he diversified his activities, trying to bring tape music into unfamiliar multidisciplinary territories. He has collaborated with video artist Boris Firquet (of the Grand Orchestre d’Avatar and El Tractor), improvisers Martin Tétreault and Michel Ratté, and writer Gilles Arteau.
Vroum (1997) is an onomatopoetic word, of course speaking the sound of cars, of automobiles, of things that are automatically mobile, that move automatically. (It is interesting to see how different languages have developed their names for this object, one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 20th century. The English language thinks about carriages, just using the first three letters of that word for the invention, whereas German just shortens the word “automobile” to “Auto”, and Swedish cuts off most of the word, just using the last part of it, calling the invention “bil”.) They all sound Vroum, though, when geared up to go out there and destroy our auditive environment, as well as poisoning our air and our food… Hmmm… Some invention! At the same time, as Tremblay describes in the CD booklet, the car has forever altered our sense of time and space. In this piece Tremblay suggests a new way of hearing the car.
The piece kicks off with The Beatles, and if you’ve been around long enough you’ll instantly know what piece is sampled; Drive My Car from the album Rubber Soul (1965). After a short while this cutting up of sonic artifacts of our close past, when the pieces rain down on the kitchen table where our children will glue them into a colorful collage, Tremblay gets more inventive, arranging the banging shut of car doors into a percussive event, as the motor gears up and Beatles extracts continue their noble backlashes… and this is when the whole concrete mess is transformed into a dreamy electroacoustic soundscape of temporal manipulations of engines and inserted, sped-up Beatles clichés. Now it really starts getting fun! The stereo-image is just as definitive as it was on the first stereo recordings of The Beatles, which is especially striking if you listen through earphones! An engine in the left ear, a continuous beeping in the right, and some kind of mechanical, shining machinery glaring in the middle of your head! The echoing clangs and furies of a machine shop sends flurries of oily smells up your nostrils, as the essence of motorism smokes out your ears and fills your listening space with poisonous fumes… A car horn ensemble rehearses between your temples, and suddenly these blending horns take on the guise of a giant church organ, filling the lofty expanses under the dome with vibrating spillovers from a blessed heavenly state… until you could swear that you’re hearing Terry Riley practicing on the lowest keys of a harmonium at the time of recording Untitled Organ in New York 1966 or planning for Shri Camel 1970 in India with master carnatic singer Pandit Pran Nath – or is this a resemblance of Toot n’ Blink Chicago by Charlie Morrow, designed for boats gathered out on Lake Michigan? Whatever the case, these are splendid soundings! Even the angelic sounds of David Dunn’s Tabula Angelorum Bonorum 49 (What Next Recordings WN009) come to mind! Surely this idea of Tremblay’s would be a fitting scene for a whole CD, since the variations seem to be endless, really, and would benefit from more time, longer durations. You won’t believe it, but at times these car-related sounds take on the appearance of a harpsichord or a Swiss watchmaker’s shop at twelve noon! In this context you should not allow yourself to miss out on a sound poet’s and an automotive historian’s rendering of Tremblay’s idea; Åke Hodell’s Spirit of Ecstasy – A Racing Car Opera (1977) on Fylkingen Records FYCD 1018-1-2-3; a triple CD released 2000, containing most of late Åke Hodell’s legendary sound poetry and textsound compositions, with the unforgivable exception of “Hey, Lenin!”, which was left out by pure ignorance and lack of knowledge, but which is one of Hodell’s most outrageous and brilliant textsound compositions, with an anarchist fire that sets the pants of people in power ablaze!
Towards the end this music of Tremblay’s turns inward, in a gentle introspection fitting any cross-legged bodhisattva in the history of enlightenment. Finally the brutal sheet metal cars of stark “reality” pass you by on a wet street on a rainy weekday A.M., and you’re back in the business of daily chores…
Conte sous la lune (“Story Told Under the Moon”) (1991) was composed as a kind of reverence to Childhood, and to naivety, which is what Marc Tremblay says he has retained from his childhood. As if out of a sonic vision distant voices of small children rise, transforming into the high pitches of an organ, dancing around in a carefree series of swirling movements. The feeling of distance – in space, in time – is retained for a while. Tiny percussive sounds of brittle beauty, as of little bells or from the manipulated sound of rain falling on a barrel out in the garden, fondle your perception. Church bells join in, but the feeling is still that of a distant state of affairs. The percussive sounds of slowed-down, helicopterized insect wings (yep, that’s the way it sounds!) precede a short outburst of childly laughter, welling up like water out of a fresh water well in the forest. The laughter of children and other child vocals follow, as, I guess, the composer’s memories of his own distant childhood give way to the very concrete childhood at hand of his own children. Man, these are kindergarten electroacoustics for a while, getting franticly fun! Grown-ups are let in, but in comparison sounding like giants or trolls; nasty losers, over-weight and bald and reasonable. Ugh! A bubbly and unforeseeable event follows, maybe portraying the bubbly stomachs of babies about to throw up over your shoulder, while delivering the post-meal burp, huh? With just a few minutes to go a ritardando of a glockenspiel spreads glistening sounds, and evocative wind chimes, making me think of Denis Smalley and the windy, open slopes between the mountains of New Zealand, beautify the soundscape even more. The last minute displays a shiny, brittle, golden gamelan environment, but at the very end a music box in a nursery ends Conte sous la lune in a relaxing falling-a-sleep atmosphere.
Résidus (clip dadaïste) (“Waste [A Dadaist Clip]) (1995) is built around – and from — the sounds that we normally do not notice in a washroom, ruled out by our perceptive discrimination. The piece is also, says Tremblay, an ironic evocation of Marcel Duchamp’s Fontaine. It starts brutally (in comparison to the serene music box that ended the last piece) with a flushing toilet and the sounds of repeated droppings of faeces (excrements; shit!) into the toilet! This is nature realism in sound art! The hissing of water pipes transporting water to replace the flushed amounts of the fluid builds up to storm. The beautified sounds of singular farts resound in a counter-pointed manner on the backdrop of a more distant murmur of water pipes, as the faescal droppings that keep falling are joined by the repulsive sounds of violent vomits. The farts seem to get wetter and more diarrhea-like as they splutter out of the rectum. The combination of repulsive and nauseating sounds build up to a kind of washroom motet, until a giant, gargantuan, Armageddon flush flushes everything that is abhorrent and smelly to Kingdom come! Tremblay does not give any credit to whomever supplied the excrements, the vomits or the farts…
Cowboy Fiction (1998) utilizes the sounds from two Westerns (movies), applied in electroacoustically altered guises. The sound material thus originates in Howard Hawks’ El Dorado (1966) (French version) and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), as well as in singer Jo New York’s version of Hank Williams’s Rambling Man with the added pleasures of a few locomotives and guns… This is a pretty comprehensive audit of all the collected ingredients of “The West” and the cruel theft of the land from the inhabitants of the continent and the consecutive ethnic cleansing. Electroacoustics are oftentimes very visionary, in the sense that they induce inner pictures, but most of the time in an abstract way. This, though, is a kind of programmatic music, really giving you concrete visions of The West, as it rests in your own experience from the movies or history books, and in your political views of the repulsive way in which the indians were dealt with by the European monsters that swarmed across the land like grasshoppers, bringing in black slaves from another continent to do their hard work for them… Isn’t it a wonder, a wondrous irony, that these cruel circumstances should form the basis of so much romanticism, so much music, so many movies and fictional stories… Who are we, to be manipulated like that? Tremblay’s piece is a magnificent sonic review of those evil days, delivered with the skill and authority of a true electroacoustic visionary and storyteller. The way he handles the clips from the movie soundtracks reminds me of the brilliant workings of legendary sound artist and painter, poet etcetera, Öyvind Fahlström, who used to record sections of TV-programs while living in New York in the 1960s, shaping intriguing sound works from that secular material.
«… Ceci est un message enregistré…» (“This Is a Recording”) (1994) moves in the environment of telephones, answering machines and related forms of communicative sound worlds. The beginning of a poem by Swedish poet Sune Karlsson (b. 1946):
“In the periphery of perception
a throng of possibilities is acommodated:
The solar wind flutters Aurora Borealis
for frozen Eskimos and Lapps
while simultaneously illuminating the flora
in ultra violet arabesques
for hungry bees
The electrons rotate the nucleic acid
of the rabies virus together
while simultaneously dashing forth through telephone wires
carrying a loved voice to a thirsty ear”
The material indicated in the subject matter allows for a multitude of solutions, sound wise, and Tremblay utilizes the possibilities brilliantly, surprising at times with his imaginative handling. The concrete material gets its exposition, no doubt, but before long Tremblay’s handicraft at the machinery of sound manipulations move the original sonics into a beautiful and ear-catching enchantedness of tele-communicative imagery. Tremblay doesn’t miss out on a thing: he even engages in telephone sex, different jerk offs in both ears simultaneously… and a lot of the imagery here deals with isolation, anonymity and loneliness of the noli-me-tangere situation in which many singles of the inner cities find themselves these urban days.
“L’argent… Toujours l’argent!” (“Money… Always Money!”) (1990) is a study of money as a sound source, as well as an object of desire. Tremblay uses sounds from The Montréal Stock Exchange, TV game shows etcetera. Do you remember that Pink Floyd song on the album “Dark Side of the Moon” from the 1970s, with phrases like “Money, it’s a gas…” and so on, with the imaginative usage of the sounds of a cashier’s register? Marc Tremblay provides eleven minutes of monetary acoustics, don’t you know! Some of the sounds could as well originate in some whale fisheries, though, or on the windswept tundra of Northern Siberia, so Tremblay allows himself a lot of sonic freedom. Inserted are the upset, agitated yells of guys in ties at the Exchange, and Tremblay makes brilliant use of tumbling, rolling, rotating coins on a gambler’s table, or maybe on the kitchen table of a single father who tries hard to provide for his kids on his state employment from a position as a clerk at the local police authority…
This is one brilliant CD of electroacoustics, blending seriousness with a sometimes ill-witted humor and surprising twists and turns of the flow, bringing you from reality’s backyard into the enchanted forest in a jiffy, seamlessly, until you don’t know what’s up and down, before he dumps you in the middle of the roaring crowds of suits at The Montréal Stock Exchange. Tremblay has earned his position at the table of the Parnassus of Electroacoustics!