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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…

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.

Review

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.

Review

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…