AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, May 16, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021 Press

I recently revisited the six albums I have from Gilles Gobeil and for the life of me, couldn’t decide which one to single out for a write-up. I consider all of them excellent with a few of them reaching the “beyond excellence” level for me. So instead of agonizing about it, I decided to spout some words about the three in the “beyond” category.

Gobeil was influenced by (among others) Francis Dhomont and works primarily in the Acousmatic sphere. His music fits the cinéma pour l’oreille (cinema for the ear) genre, a phrase coined by Dhomont which encourages the attentive listener to visualize their own personal virtual environment or mood from the sounds they are hearing, irrespective of the tools and gestures used to create those sounds. Gobeil’s style is instantly recognizable because he frequently revisits sound objects and events that include (and this is not an exhaustive list)… jarringly loud, explosive passages lasting only moments and coming from seemingly out of nowhere, automated heavy machine-like sounds, huge dynamic build-ups providing at times unbearable tension (sometimes without release), sweeping sonic drone vistas that range from the beautiful to the downright sinister and… an occasional element of humor. (Although that last one is few and far between.) Gobeil’s skill at organizing the patchwork of sounds at his disposal is exemplary, making the final result a tactile listening experience that beckons many repeat visits.

Trois songes, the 2008 release is available in stereo and also 5.1 surround. As per empreintes DIGITALes standards, both sound sonically pristine and quite excellent. The surround version is mixed conservatively, i.e. there isn’t a constant swirl of sounds flowing through the room. This subtle use of 5.1 compliments the music perfectly… it’s there at the “right” time, and when it does become noticeable, it adds a very satisfying aural dimension to the music. To be clear, the stereo version sounds phenomenal as well, in fact the rest of these comments will be based on a stereo listening using my preferred earbud rig.

Trois songes stands apart from the rest of his catalog as its much more drone based. For the most part, the three pieces give us more of an introspective, nature based look at the big blue sphere we live on. A look that is untethered from the mechanical automations of everyday urban life.

On Trois songes, Gobeil paints a vast and sweeping portrait of barren, earthly landscapes, rocky vistas, white sands. Places untouched by the trappings of modern living… mostly devoid of life other than the occasional nomadic wanderer. We are witness to the sacred liturgical chanting of now shallow praises from a long forgotten religion. The devout believers confined to a walled garden, crying out to an unhearing demiurge. An earth that time has left behind. A dying earth perhaps?

This celebration of nature’s grandeur is soon disrupted… like a velvet curtain, night falls and Gaia departs, leaving us to grope our way through an alien desert. The crawling, unsightly sound of the Daxophone (a recurring appearance throughout many of Gobeil’s pieces thanks to his association with René Lussier) worms its way into our listening space. An ugly, dying, but at the same time beautiful sound… perhaps giving us a window into our eventual end. All the while, the greater gods churn and seethe above us… uncaring.

Trois songes is an evocatively gorgeous work. A work that beautifully demonstrates Gobeil’s singular style of cinéma pour l’oreille and one that I revisit often.

Trois songes is an evocatively gorgeous work.

AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, May 16, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021 Press

On Trilogie d’ondes, Gobeil collaborates with ondes Martenot virtuoso Suzanne Binet-Audet. Like an earlier empreintes DIGITALes release that marries the classical guitar with various Aousmatic composers (see my write-up here), Trilogie d’ondes achieves the same great synergies between Gobeil’s tape generated maneuvers and the most disparate instrument you can think of, the ondes Martenot. As you can probably guess by now, it works!

The following quote by Binet-Audet may give some clues as to why this partnership sounds so great (bolding mine):

“More electronic instruments have been invented since and are now omnipresent in our musical universe. Because of its sensory approach closely linked to the performer’s nervous system and its flexibility that allows it to respond to the performer’s slightest musical intention, the ondes Martenot remains unlike any other. It is often considered a forerunner of today’s electronic instruments, but it is actually somewhat of a slightly eccentric colleague: the rationale behind its creation keeps it closer to the great instrument-making tradition. That is probably why it made it through the 20th century and is still being included in new compositions. Thanks to its 80-year history and large and rich repertoire, the ondes Martenot has obviously secured itself a spot in music history.”

Like all the great acousmatic composers, Gobeil’s ability to organize sounds into a cohesive whole that allows the participant (you) to create their own visual / virtual / visceral narrative demands that these sounds interact with your limbic system. Being a disinterested outsider really doesn’t cut it when you listen to this music. Engagement, on a mental, and as stands to reason, a physical level is key. My bolded part above plays into what may have been the reason this pairing sounds so good. Doubting that both musicians were in the room at the same time, I’m going to hazard a guess that Gobeil supplied Binet-Audet his material, and she composed around that. I can very well imagine, as Binet-Audet was contributing her parts, the soundscapes that Gobeil created tapped into her Limbic system allowing her to “bring the music” to the ondes Martenot by way of the sensory approach that she mentions above. I can also imagine a live performance which would be a very interesting juxtaposition of her gestures on the ondes Martenot triggered off the synthetic material created by her partner. So, instead of machine triggering machine, the approach would be human triggering machine (Gobeil), triggering human, triggering instrument (Binet-Audet). In a live improvised (or not) setting, the permutations could be endlessly fascinating! Additionally, the dichotomy between what is traditionally thought of as a non-gesture form of music (Gobeil’s Acousmatic sections) is now organically attached to a human element that can change with each performance. In a case like this, the ondes Martenot sounds like the perfect tool to achieve this. (I wonder if they ever thought of taking this on the road?)

The music on Trilogie d’ondes is much more dynamically busier than Trois songes. Gobeil’s soundscapes have a rough and tumble attitude and the mood is quite a bit darker because of it. The ondes Martenot adds a celestial/cosmic element, usually when Gobeil is laying out. At times it sounds like a lonely pedal steel guitar that slowly builds in pitch and intensity. During periods like this, Gobeil brings in a slowly escalating, manic tension that succeeds in goosing the music into the stratosphere.

For the most part, Trilogie d’ondes is more of a Gobeil showcase for his acousmatic stylings with the ondes Martenot adding just the right amount of unique textures, so the pairing is not exactly equal. For me, the ondes Martenot uplifts this record from being a “great” Gobeil record to being a “special” Gobeil record, and that’s the primary reason I’ve included it in this write-up.

… the ondes Martenot uplifts this record from being a “great” Gobeil record to being a “special” Gobeil record…


Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, July 25, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 Press

The Obsolescence of Memory

Like Smalley, Annette Vande Gorne’s compositions probes sound sources such as water to dissolve the walls between inner and outer worlds. As a former student of Pierre Schaffer, and devotee of François Bayle and Pierre Henry, she discovered in electroacoustic music the revolution that her extensive conservatory training had failed to provide, and has since gone on to promulgate it in universities and installations around the world. Illusion epitomises many of the above tendencies, but draws musical performance and spliced sound into tense proximity from the first piece. Driven by the manipulation of what Vande Gorne terms a ‘sound body’, with a seemingly organic flow of disparate sources triggered or mined by the attentive ‘musician’, Au-delà du réel is a polyphonic narrative in which internal and external events become homologous: a freeform current of bells, running water and percussion, swished around the inside of an inverted hippocampus till rinsed of the human artifices of time and logic. Bells are used, not to evoke spatiality, but for their traditional function as a summoning device, for the listener to attend to the quickly changing currents of memory.

Déluges et autres péripéties continues the poetic bent of Vande Gorne’s previous release, Haïkus, by showcasing the work of Belgian poet Werner Lambersy. However, where once drawn to the playfulness of the fixed structure Japanese poems, here Vande Gorne is compelled by the horror of Lambersy’s poem, and its claim that ‘death is the only way for our civilization to be reborn under different auspices’ acting as a troubling reminder that as bad as the present day seems to be, things can still get worse. Thus, Vande Gorne projects onto the droning background of this multi-stage, epic psychodrama a mood of visceral horror in which every manifestation of the human voice is collaged into a multi-vocal sound salad of screams, cheers, cries, shouts, narration and more, like Mike Patton’s Adult Themes spray-painted over Michel Chion’s Requiem.

Finally, Faisceaux appears in two versions, the first fully ‘acousmatic’, the second adding ponderous piano chord progressions that might set ears of Anthony Pateras / Oren Ambarchi fans twitching. The first uses gentle oscillations to pull the ears through viscous air in which a distant piano reverberates into forehead in variations that insistently probe the combination lock to the dreaming mind. The ‘version mixte’ assumes a more dramatic scale, shifting between dense atmospheric dynamics to a point of chaos in which the ‘fixed’ piano enters what sounds like full-blown improvisation, closing with a dissonant, post-Feldman syntax. The complexity of the pianist’s (Ana Cláudia de Assis) challenge of accompanying the electroacoustic section till becoming, as Vande Gorne sees it, a soloist, is belied by the apparent linearity of this trajectory, but Vande Gorne assures us that it is anything but.

Annette Vande Gorne’s compositions probes sound sources such as water to dissolve the walls between inner and outer worlds.


Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, July 25, 2021
Monday, July 26, 2021 Press

The release schedule of Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes — electroacoustic music specialists — continues apace. Keeping up pace and penchant for excellence, this pair from 2020 arrive in empreintes DIGITALes’ customary card wraparound, but subtly differentiated by colour scheme and subject matter, spanning everything from abstract philosophy to concrete studies of instruments. Fascinating as these documents often are though, they are not above criticism. For one thing, given how standardised the tropes, techniques and themes in circulation, there is a risk of uniformity between practitioners, although on a good day it’s easy to lose oneself in the dynamic vortex. The tension between these positions informs my listening to today’s CDs.

Another problem, specific to releases of multi-channel music, is that they are better suited to live settings than the home, so these CDs can only hint at the mind-boggling experience of listening in situ. That said, the recordings are resplendent in their own charms. Denis Smalley‘s Portail makes for particularly immersive listening as it deep dives into the waters of Claude Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie (‘the submerged cathedral’) in the second part of its centrepiece, Fabrezan Preludes (2015-16). In the custom of many diverging interpretations of this piece (Isao Tomita and John Zorn among these), Smalley deftly repurposes the source material by setting some of the piece’s ‘resonant chords’ adrift in an underwater realm of ‘Debussian intervals and scale patterns’, where even the dim performance of an organist (Smalley, presumably) assumes a naturalistic character.

The hazy image of the organist originates in Smalley’s early musical training in New Zealand and in 1970s Paris, when he studied church organ under no less an authority than Olivier Messiaen. The same period saw him learning the tools of the fixed medium composition trade at GRM studios, and was followed by a move to computer composition — and the UK — in the ’80s, wherein the seeds of Portail could be said to have been planted. Since then, Smalley has released only sporadically, but the respectable quality of his work as well as his prestigious associations attest to the kind of pedigree that distinguishes practitioners in this field.

The other Fabrezan Preludes exhibit similar preoccupations with water and meteorology (vapour clouds, storms, rainfall, tidal currents), evoking parallels between numinous inner spaces and those of nature, and a similar act of ‘engulfing’ occurs in the other highlight, Sommeil de Rameau (‘Rameau’s sleep’; 2014-15). Herein, faint, sunlit memories of Smalley’s church organ studies glimmer through another undulating, underwater dream in glistening modal phrases. So hazy and dreamlike are its slow, lilting lines of ‘airy instrumentation’ that I actually mistook this for the Debussy piece on my first few listens.

By contrast, the 12-minute closer (The Pulses of Time (1978)) could pass itself off as a lost cousin to Aphex Twin’s Bucephalus Bouncing Ball. Preceding the preceding pieces by over four decades, Portail ‘s outlier is an ever-shifting flux of pulses, plucked and percussive, from a battery of incognito sound sources, alongside ballistic shards of atonal matter from clavichord, EMS Synthi and such. Smalley categorises these pulses into 3 types: slower ones to establish pace; those more accelerated to accentuate iterative variation; and finally ‘compacted pulsing grains’ for texture. While standing out like a sore thumb from the rest of the collection, this shuffled deck of rhythmic variations adds a wild card element to proceedings, lest the listener become too complacent in the sacred confines of Debussy’s cathedral.

… the recordings are resplendent in their own charms. Denis Smalley‘s Portail makes for particularly immersive listening…

Valorizing Nature: Sound Ecology and the Climate Emergency

Wende Bartley, The WholeNote, no. 26:8, June 1, 2021
Tuesday, July 6, 2021 Press

Although there is a lot of focus these days on the pandemic, we are all at some level aware that lurking in the background is a much bigger issue for which there is no vaccine – the climate crisis with the threat of rising seas, worsening storms, runaway fires and more. These issues are increasingly becoming the focus for many artists of all disciplines, myself included. How do we continue working as creative people with all the impending disasters just around the corner? What relevance does the next orchestral composition or sound improvisation have in light of the issues we’re collectively facing?

I recently approached one of my composer colleagues, Claude Schryer, whom I originally met when we were both graduate students in composition at McGill University in the 1980s, for his thoughts on all this. Schryer has been involved for years in issues related to the relationship between sound, listening, musical composition and the environment, an area that has become known as “acoustic ecology”. This particular field of ecological awareness, encompassing both artistic practice and academic scholarship, was originally born on Canadian soil out of the work of composer R Murray Schafer and his colleagues in the World Soundscape Project (WSP) during the 1970s.

Later, in 1993, a conference was held at The Banff Centre for the Arts called The Tuning of the World, the title of Schafer’s influential book published originally in 1977. Schryer was instrumental in behind-the-scenes organization of the conference, but, as he points out to me, it was a group effort that brought about a watershed moment: the birth of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) and its Canadian spin-off called the Canadian Association for Sound Ecology or CASE.

Soundscape composer Hildegard Westerkamp was one of the key members of the World Soundscape Project (WSP) in the 1970s, and during the 1980s had often mentioned the idea of a conference to Schafer, as a way of following up with all the contacts they had made over the years. It took until the 1990s, though, at the initiative of Michael Century, director of The Banff Centre’s Media Arts Division, to finally get the ball rolling. At initial planning meetings a few years prior to the festival, Westerkamp took on the creation of a Soundscape Newsletter to help bring together the far-ranging community and create an audience for a potential conference. Sent to the large mailing list that had grown over the years, the response to it was very enthusiastic, and a conference date was set for August 1993, with Calgary-based composer Tim Buell getting involved in the organization of it, along with Schryer.

Birth of the World Forum

Throughout the conference, daily early morning meetings, facilitated by both Westerkamp and Schryer, were held to discuss the idea of creating a structure that would provide continuity and connection for those present after the conference was over, as well as for others on the mailing list. With people having travelled from the USA, Europe, Australia and of course from Canada, enthusiasm was riding high, and by the end of the week the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology had been created.

Being in the midst of a national park in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, the Banff Centre is surrounded by an abundance of wildlife. As Westerkamp recalls, just as the vote was completed to create the Forum, a knock was heard on the window. It was an elk. Everyone laughed and agreed: “We have confirmation.”

Schryer took on the initial role of coordinator of the World Forum. Part of the vision was that different countries would create their own individual chapters, but with Canada already having a lot of momentum via the WSP, it wasn’t until 1996 that CASE, the Canadian sound ecology chapter came into being. Fittingly, the vision took shape during a world soundscape workshop held at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve, the wilderness location where Schafer created his annual collaborative Wolf Project.

Schryer became the founding president of CASE, with composers Gayle Young, Tim Knight and Schafer as collaborators.

Canada has been uniquely positioned as a leader in the field of acoustic ecology and soundscape composition, Schryer says, with many Canadian sound artists and academics taking a leading role in the further evolution of the field. In 2018, during a conference in Germany celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Forum, many participants remarked on the great impact that the WSP, The Tuning of the World and the subsequent WFAE has had internationally.

The Carry-Over

Our conversation shifted to the topic of how Schryer has taken his involvement in these organizations and awareness of environmental sound into his creative work. During his studies at McGill he learned and developed his craft of electroacoustic and instrumental composition. However his passionate interest in the combination between art and environment has been there from day one. “With my music training, I just kept expanding further into sound-related fields that were more and more broad, expanding into acoustic ecology, radio, interdisciplinary work and cross-sectoral work like arts and health. Sound has always been my base and a way for me to enter other fields and to collaborate, either with other artists or with practitioners in other fields such as scientists.”

His career as a composer and sound ecology activist temporarily came to a standstill in 1999, he says, when he took a job at the Canada Council [for the Arts], leading the Inter-Arts Office where he became involved in developing policy for this new artistic practice. However, in 2016 he felt the need to go back to creative work and integrate it with his practice in Zen Buddhism.

Based on his passion for meditation and stillness, he created a series of 175 three-minute audio and video portraits called simplesoundscapes (www.simplesoundscapes.ca). “I just loved doing that. I was recording interesting moments from places all around the world, three minutes of a moment that were often interesting in very minute ways.”

When that project came to completion in July 2019, Schryer decided to become more involved in the climate change movement “because of the obvious need for us all to be involved,” he said. He began spending more of his time, both the Canada Council and in his personal life, working at a social level on the production of environmental projects. “We need to change the way we live so let’s think about how we produce artistic events,” he says.

Then, in May of 2020, he started the conscient podcast, and during its first season he was “hungry to explore the relationship between awareness, art and environmental action.” With the second season beginning in March 2021, the conversations are now focused on accepting reality and ecological grief. “I call it a shared learning journey, educating or re-educating myself and sharing as I go.”

The first episode of season two is called reality and mixes quotations from various authors, recordings from his simplesoundscape collection, and excerpts from a 1998 soundscape composition titled Au dernier vivant les biens. Calling on his skills as a composer, this new direction has become “a journalistic project that’s about raising awareness and looking at how artists can play a larger role in what we’re calling climate emergency. It’s not just climate change, it’s a climate emergency which is part of the larger ecological crisis that includes biodiversity.”

In September 2020 he chose to leave the Canada Council so he would have time and resources to invest in projects of this nature. With conscient, he says, he can give a voice to artists and climate workers to speak about the ideas they’re developing, the concepts, theories and actions being taken. “That seems very concrete to me, and is what I’m planning to do for the rest of my life.”

Currently he’s also involved with an emerging national project called SCALE – Sectoral Climate Arts Leadership for the Emergency, a coalition of arts and climate workers doing projects internationally, exploring how the arts can play a role. “People are doing similar things in different parts of the country and now we can align our efforts and put some pressure on the decision makers, inform artists on tools that are available to reduce their footprint, and create a series of activities that will help advance the arts and cultural sector’s contribution to the climate emergency.”


And so we come back to the question that prompted me to contact him in the first place: What relevance does the next orchestral composition or sound improvisation have in light of the issues we’re collectively facing?

“There are all kinds of ways that artists, including musicians and sound artists, can contribute and it’s up to those individuals to see where they want to put their energies and where they think they’re most useful to society. Sometimes it’s in their art practice, and sometimes it’s more about the way an arts organization operates and the environmental footprint that is created. We should not be wasting anything, such as one-time use theatre sets, but we should be focusing on what’s important – connecting with people and getting the artwork out there. It doesn’t have to be about touring around the world the way that we used to. Maybe there are other ways to get the word out there. That’s where we’re at now.”

“So how do you approach the issue of our deep alienation as a society from nature and the environment?” I ask. He replies by speaking about how deep the disconnect is, “going back hundreds of years through the different doctrines and European ways of seeing the world and the idea that we control nature.”

The way we have been educated in the Western world is to take nature for granted, that it’s there to be exploited, he says. “We have to change that. We have to see ourselves as part of nature. Trauma comes up a lot in my conscient interviews. The Western world is so traumatized in its relationship to nature. It’s lost touch, it’s flailing.”

So how do we re-engage with nature? “I don’t think there’s an easy solution, other than valorizing nature, rethinking who you are, re-educating yourself, changing the systems on the longer term; and listen to Indigenous voices who have always had a relationship with nature that has been symbiotic as opposed to oppositional or exploitive.”

Take the time to listen to the people he has featured in his conscient podcasts, he suggests – “to what they are saying and the struggles they are engaged in.”

Part of the task ahead, as musicians and sound artists, is to help cultivate new artistic forms and practices that deal with the issues and require action, as we collectively face the ever-growing climate emergency ahead.

Canada has been uniquely positioned as a leader in the field of acoustic ecology and soundscape composition…

AMN Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, February 9, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021 Press

This write-up was just going to be about Francis Dhomont’s latest, Images nomades, but then it occurred to me that since I detected some changes in his overall sound from the 80’s material, of which Les dérives du signe is primarily comprised of, it may be of interest to look backward and examine the earlier album as well. This would leave the door open to say a few words about some differences my non-professional / non-practitioner ears have heard. Without a doubt though, both albums are nothing short of brilliant, and why wouldn’t they be coming from one of the genre’s most accomplished professionals?

Les dérives du signe was originally released as the second disc of a two-CD set called Mouvances-Métaphores in 1991 but later released as a stand-alone disc in 1996. To quote the composer regarding the four pieces on this album, “These four works play with diversion. The diversion: of musical discourse in Novars, of sound sources in Chiaroscuro, of sensory perception (synesthesia) in Météores (Meteors), and of nature in Signé Dionysos.” He then further ties things together by saying that the “works are united around the common theme of movement as with virtual displacement of sound in geometric space, or metaphorical transferences of meaning into the realms of imagination”.

That last quote is telling because I consider both of the “movements” he references germane to all Acousmatic music. The most obvious example would be in the piece Météores. Dhomont’s use of panning techniques as well as volume manipulation and dead silent space is masterful here. The whole sound field is used as a stage, and this stage is as big as the night sky itself. The sense of constant movement is palatable, and the rising, and subsequent falling intensity in this work creates a sense of wonder and awe that acts as a key to unlock whatever celestial vision your mind can conjure.

Signé Dionysos, the longest excursion on the album (28 minutes) brings you back down to earth, at least for a little while. This piece exudes a sense of the organic. Here we have recognizable sounds such as chirping birds, children running/playing and, in a prominent starring role, frogs… possibly many frogs doing whatever frogs do down at the local pond. All this is augmented by longer, more processed sounds of indeterminate origin (or quite possibly of the natural sounds referenced above… but does it matter?) which serve as a darkened pathway towards realms more mystical. Suddenly the pastoral mood of nature morphs into something substantially more menacing. Dhomont’s talent for stitching disparate moods together in a biologically pure way is on full display here.

Novars, which is actually the first piece on this album consists primarily of two sound sources; a quotation from Pierre Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets and, what was surely a big hit in ’64 (and I’m talking about 1364 here) Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame. There is also a guest cameo appearance of Pierre Henry’s famous creaking door from Variations pour une porte et un soupir. To me, Novars is a great example of organizing sounds within a traditional musical structure. I hear reoccurring themes coming back to act as a prelude to another (usually lengthy) passage of dark and somewhat disturbing sound mutations only to resolve themselves back to the “safe” bridge of what occurred earlier. The surprises happen after these short interludes and it’s these long passages that free the mind to wander within unfamiliar landscapes.

The piece Chiaroscuro is my favorite of this set. As the title suggests, it’s the play between shadow and light. Dhomont might be asking the question of what happens at the murky borderline where the two meet? Using sounds plundered from some of his earlier compositions but processed in ways preventing any recognition on the listener’s part, he creates a stunning sound world that I would suspect even the most imaginative person would find challenging to navigate. For me, every listen (and there have been many) yields a new, fresh, and completely mind-expanding experience. Dhomont’s ability to creatively (an understatement) organize sounds leads the listener on an endless journey of changing moods, landscapes, and emotions… one that is not soon forgotten!

Dhomont’s ability to creatively (an understatement) organize sounds leads the listener on an endless journey of changing moods, landscapes, and emotions… one that is not soon forgotten!