Si vous vous intéressez à la musique électroacoustique et que vous ne savez où commencer, voici une visie en 25 courts montages de compositeurs d’Amérique du Nord, d’ici et d’ailleurs. Chaque création se présente comme une porte ouverte sur l’imaginaire de chaque musicien, où abondent des extraits sonores de la vie courante. En prime: pour chaque auteur, une biographie et un résumé de leur démarche. Intéressant et accessible. Sur CD seulement.
La digne Société de musique de contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) a comme directeur artistique depuis deux ans celui qui fonda l’Infonie, dont les musiciens entrèrent un jour en scène des chaussettes aux oreilles. Le chef d’orchestre Walter Boudreau, de surcroît, dirige toujours chaussé de rouge.
Si l’univers québécois et nord-américain de la musique nouvelle n’échappe pas à des éléments plus traditionnels, les signes d’ouverture ne trompent pas. Le festival Montréal musiques actuelles (du 29 octobre au 11 novembre) vient confirmer la tendance. À l’affiche de ce chapitre montréalais du New Music America: une «symphonie guitaristique» pour 101 guitaristes rock, trois œuvres pour chœur, petit ensemble et le clocher de l’UQAM, ainsi qu’un quatuor à cordes réputé, le Kronos Quartet, de San Francisco, surtout connu pour sa version endiablée de Purple Haze de Jimi Hendrix. Plutôt qu’à la salle Claude-Champagne ou à la Place des Arts, la majorité des concerts se déroule au Spectrum et aux Foufounes électriques.
Il y a 20 ans, le structuralisme européen dominait le monde de la musique contemporaine québécoise: dodécaphonisme à la Webern, sérialisme pur et dur à la Boulez, calculs d’ordinateur à la Xenakis. Les compositeurs étaient peu nombreux et les auditeurs encore moins.
«Cette époque a eu ses chefs-d’œuvre, dit Walter Boudreau, mais souvent, c’était bien plate! Surtout les explications et les titres ‘scientifiques’ dans le genre Diaphonie I… Tout ça pour sonner comme un vieux sofa!»
Sans provoquer d’émeute aux guichets, créateurs et organisateurs de concerts tendent aujourd’hui la main au public. «Notre génération n’est pas puriste: tous les moyens sont bons pour se faire entendre», poursuit Walter Boudreau, nommé récemment compositeur résidant de l’Orchestre symphonique de Toronto.
Ce courant doit beaucoup aux Événements du Neuf, société qui vécut de 1978 à 1989, fondée par la pianiste et chef d’orchestre Lorraine Vaillancourt. Avec des thèmes comme «Musique et mysticisme» ou «Jazz de Stravinski à Guy Nadon», ces événements nocturnes se promenaient de salle en salle selon le contenu, rejoignant sans cesse de nouveaux publics. «Nous voulions sortir le concert de son ghetto», explique Lorraine Vaillancourt.
L’ascétisme cédait à l’invention voire à la fantaisie, et les musiciens tournaient le dos aux querelles de chapelles.
«La musique pop a été importante dans mon cheminement», dit Denis Gougeon, un des membres des Événements du Neuf, compositeur résidant de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. «J’ai subi l’influence du rock», admet Alain Thibault, adepte des instruments électroniques MIDI. José Evangelista, lui, a puisé dans les musiques d’Orient et le minimalisme américain.
En fait, les compositeurs québécois et canadiens croient que l’Amérique du Nord est une terre d’avenir pour les nouvelles expériences sonores. «Nourrissant un complexe culturel envers l’Europe, l’Amérique a créé ses propres outils d’expression, dit Denis Gougeon. John Cage et Steve Reich n’auraient pu venir d’Europe: il fallait un territoire vierge.»
«Les compositeurs québécois sont en pleine floraison, dit Lorraine Vaillancourt. Nous tiendrons peut-être le gros bout du bâton pendant la prochaine décennie: les Européens se plaignent qu’il n’y a plus de place pour la spontanéité chez eux.»
Jean Piché, compositeur et directeur artistique de Montréal Musiques Actuelles, affirme sans détour que la musique européenne, «sclérosée, n’ayant pas réussi à se débarrasser du post-sérialisme, se meurt». D’un même souffle, il ajoute qu’il est «hors de question de jouer Webern à mon festival!». Son menu est donc typiquement nord-américain: jazz d’avant-garde, rock de pointe, théâtre musical, performance et musique électroacoustique.
Au carrefour des mouvements européens et américains, la musique québécoise cadre bien dans cette programmation. À preuve, Trois airs pour un opéra imaginaire (donnée par la SMCQ), une œuvre du regretté Claude Vivier, marqué par Stockhausen autant que par une simplicité d’expression américaine.
Fondé par Lorraine Vaillancourt, le Nouvel ensemble moderne est un des rares ensembles «permanents» de musique contemporaine dans le monde qui se réunit chaque semaine pour polir son répertoire. Après seulement six mois d’existence, il donnait un concert à New York et recueillait une critique fort louangeuse du New York Times.
Les initiatives abondent: deux jeunes, Jean-François Denis et Claude Schryer, ont fondé empreintes DIGITALes, seule compagnie de disques nord-américaine consacrée à l’électroacoustique. Elle s’ajoute à Ambiances Magnétiques, créée par les improvisateurs Jean Derome et René Lussier, alias Les Granules.
Signe des temps, on soigne les titres. Donné par la Société des concerts alternatifs du Québec, le premier concert officiel de musique contemporaine cette saison s’intitulait «Biding Badang». Une soirée de percussion…
René Lussier is Québécois. His language, his culture, and his music are all part of that identity. He needs to be near his history, to be able to talk about issues, but also to be able to make fun of them. How? Through improvisarion, his main idiom, and by taking songs from Québécois folklore, religion, and pop culture and reinventing them. Lussier’s recent studio recording, Le trésor de la langue (The Treasure of Language), features songs whose source material is interviews with people in the streets.
A growing inrerest for Lussier since Le trésor de la langue has been the radio theater format: writing 1O-minute pieces about different trades, using interviews with carpenters, barmaids, politicians, and ice cream plant workers. He has also composed for several documentary films and for whar he calls “live interventian cinema." He shares the strength of his convictions and his musician ship both with fellow Québécois and with composer-performers around the world. He also helped found the record label Ambiances Magnétiques in 1983 and has since curated series of collaborative improvised music ventures.
Perhaps Lussier is in the wrong place at the wrong time: a Francophone hemmed in by an Anglo nation; an improviser in a music scene that caters to composers; a folklorist hell-bent on experimentation; a vanguard artist with a working-class sensibility; he did not set out to be a political artist, but politics fills his art. With irrespressible wit, daring, and originality, he stakes his claim among these turbulent currents.
• You use Québec traditional music in your work, often with humor. Why?
I started to stamp my feet when I was playing reels with Conventum. That band has a Folk flavor with its acoustic instruments: the guitars, the violin, its own dances but it was not traditional music. Conventum belonged much more to movements close to Henry Cow, or the Incredible String Band…
That was at the time of the 1976 nationalism growth, during the last stretch to the 1980 referendum that I was discovering traditional Québec music. I was thrilled by it, for was it was. I even build an electric footboard so the stamping can be amplified.
The defeat of the referendum caused the death of traditional music. It was dropped quite violently. A total reject. So I was learning to play that music at a time when the majority in Québec was renouncing its musical origins which were associated with the independence movment. When the referendum was lost, tradional music was representing a failure and it went down the drain.
In the case of the duo with Robert Marcel Lepage, and also with the Les Granules, I always stump my feet (a usual accompaniment in Québec traditional music). When I started to do Free music, the board was somewhat pushed aside but with Robert Marcel Lepage, the board became a permanent instrument offering rhythmical or asymmetrical percussions. It give our music a Folk flavor, a kind of Free-Rock-Reel-Jazz or Reel-Free…
• In those cases, it is a Folk “flavor” but the Granules play Folk “songs”.
It continued to develop. I met Jean Derome who’s a fan of Soldat Lebrun, of French Canadian songs from the beginning of the century. One day he said: “Why don’t we play ‘Le marchand des rues’ (The Street Vendor) by La Bolduc?”, a song we still perform today.
We naturally came to look into that repertoire. But we don’t play that many songs. If we were doing any at the time, if we were inspired by them, it is because we like them. It was somewhat against the current since most Québécois were pushing that music away. I felt it was strange to disregard our roots, our origins, the stuff we’re made from… so I still play Folk songs.
• There are also originals songs that are “ Folk”. I am referring to the song about unemployment insurance (on the Absolute CD)… It’s in the style of a fun fair.
•… where the lyrics are part of the “contemporary folklore” of Québec, of Canada…
The text was written by the Department of Employment of the Government of Canada.
• But is Folk music only another sound source? Isn’t it also a way to re-create a national identity?
It is one sound source amongst many others. I’m interested in Folk music as much as I am in contemporary music, progressive rock or Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz. I equally like Messian—in the right context—Louis Tipou Boudreau, Johnny Winter, or Naked City. It’s the idea to not refuse anything. Æsthetically, I do not reject anything. It is quite clear that by playing those pieces we are making a link with folklore. But we somewhat stay off-mainstream. Instead of trying to have the same sound as everybody else, we have our own material and background, our own references. It is attached to our national identity. Somewhere we’re still for the independence. We were born in that environment; we can’t change all that much. We’re made from that stuff—I say that a lot.
• And politics?
The work we do is to compose, to perform and to improvise our music which deals with a large variety of issues. This being said, there is a political side if one wants to see one. We talked about political issues in our music with humor, with Folk, with out of control things and incontrollable things too. There are pathetic moments as well. We have fun when playing the song about unemployment insurance with the polkas… but it also has its moments with incredible chaos. I never considered myself as a politically involved musician. I feel more involved now, but that is because I am hired more. But I was never given any gifts. If we made albums, shows and tours, it is because we created our own gigs. We made a lot of music for film, making our living for a while.
What’s special in Québec, because we’re French speaking, is its isolation both on the cultural and geographical levels. The door isn’t that open to go to the USA (where we have performed because we were playing with other musicians). In Canada, we just started to play there.
So you either stay in Québec or you go a little bit in Europe (and that’s every time a big thing). The musicians who write and perform are obliged to renew/refresh themselves quite often. You cannot play the same show a large number of times here. It isn’t like in the USA or in Europe. Thus the musicians have written a lot and been through all kinds of musical experiences.
Elsewhere in America—and that’s very surprising—it isn’t as strong culturally. Not because they don’t have any talent. It is rather because their cultural environment has not put as much pressure on them as our own has here. It think that’s important, I may be wrong…
• When you perform Folk flavored songs (such as the unemployment insurance one) in French in… Winnipeg, what is the reaction of the public?
When we play in places where they don’t speak French, we try to make ourselves understood. I don’t want to be cut from anyone. I want the people to be concerned with what we’re doing, when we’re there, with them. We’ve succeeded in bringing them in the room, that’s already something. So we take care of them. In the case on the song on unemployment insurance, we tell them that, anyway, it’s the same thing. We’re singing in French, but it is the same thing in English. There’s enough people on unemployment insurance in Manitoba for them to know what we’re saying. The questions are also in French on their cards.
• What about humor in your music?
It is a key. We don’t prepare jokes. We places ourselves in a humorous mood, just like we place ourselves in a improvisation mood or in a performance mood. Humor is used also to have fun and to reach the public. Sometimes we really need all of our resources, including humor, but not only humor. It is like Eugene Chadborne who uses humor to make his music reach out. I, too, don’t do stand-up comedy, I do music.
• And with the Granules?It’s delirium sometimes. We want to have fun in this world which is quite severe.
The so-called alternative music and improvisation sphere is quite a harsh environment. For many, being a musician it’s dealing with career plans. We don’t care much about our careers. We continue to play. We’ve been on our own since the beginning… We did get support, at times. We’ve always done our music our way, without compromise and trying to have fun doing it.
• Le trésor de la langue (The Treasure of Language) is one of your pieces which has had the most media coverage and public exposure (the recordings have been selling very well). It was awarded the French Language Public Radios Community Paul Gilson Prize last year. What is Le trésor de la langue?The question is “Is it important to speak French in Québec?” and the answer is “Yes”. That was my starting point. The idea was also to generate music from my language. In the process, I’ve been digging into the political and social history of Québec. People have caught on the politics in Le trésor de la langue. Some said it was politically very clear. Politically, I quite confused. But at the same time, I question what is going on. Here and elsewhere, be it the Mohawks’ crisis or the war in Eritrea. I don’t see the situations in black or white. Because I do not have the historical background to discourse upon on that, I go by intuition, as I’ve done with Le trésor de la langue, as I do everyday with music. I’ve learn to do music on the spot; I’m learning to reason about the society I live in on the spot. I’m learning not to see life in black or white.
But there is something that is clear: there is poor people and rich people. They may be English, Russian or Mohawks… Next to the internal war in Ethiopia, the small troubles in Châteauguay… I am not saying it’s not serious, it is serious, but we must see thing in perspectives. I’m not a political musician: I’m a person who’s sensitive to what’s going on, who’s questioning himself, and who’s outrageous too, at times… I am looking for, I am learning, I am adjusting to, I’m changing, I’m evolving… My involvement is underground. I am not offered to do the music for large fiction films. I’m asked to work on documentaries and live intervention cinema. We’re involved in a milieu which is more sensitive to human misery and to injustices. But this doesn’t make us politicians.
• Where do you place yourself in the musical panorama of Montréal?
Between four chairs… I ’ve never associated myself to the world of Jazz music because I don’t know how it’s made. I don’t have neither the background nor the ability as a performer for Jazz. I listen to it… Mingus, Ellington, Dolphy… and I appreciated it too, but without associating myself to that style.
But I’ve improvised with Jazz musicians. I think that improvisation is a common ground for many styles. Musicians interested in improvisation may eventually work together. The common ground is the liberty, the maximum of openness.
In Montréal, I fell like an “illegitimate” musician: a hybrid of a Folk musician, a Free musician, a composer of so-called contemporary music, new music. I consider myself as a musician, with his characteristics. I associated myself more to nothing and everything. We’ve always had difficulty in defining our music mostly because we didn’t want to be categorized…
• How do you see Montréal’s music panorama?
The Jazz becomes more and more sophisticated. There are very clever and skillful Jazz composers, very solid musicians in Montréal (such as Pierre Cartier, Jean Baudet, Michel Ratté), super musicians who are associated to Jazz because it’s the style that resembles most what they do. There’s the new music community, with composers, which has certain similarities to Rock or improvisation (to name three: André Duchesne, Justine, Martin Tétreault… ). And in the so-called new music, there is more and more sound manipulation and processing: that’s similar to electroacoustics. There is a bridge between those two styles. And electroacoustics has a door with contemporary music. It’s interrelated.
For example Alain Thibault fills in the gap between contemporary music, electroacoustics and… pop. With the Granules we’ve work a lot with processing and tape… Le trésor de la langue, for me, is close to electroacoustics, to contemporary music, to Rock, and to semipopular music…
There are many musicians and there is a lot of music created in Montréal. As I say earlier, musicians are forced to compose more because of the small size of the community and to renew their material a lot to be able to live. The musical community in Montréal is in good health but the industry didn’t follow (and that’s not unique to Montréal). In Canada, outside Québec, there are not as many musicians working in free improvisation. Jazz is quite strong in Canada. But I don’t know everybody. Most of the interesting people are hidden. Hidden because the industry is to impermeable/impervious to them or because they’ve abandoned the idea of making themselves heard and have preferred to continue to do what they want to do.
• What are the differences in support from the governments, the institutions or the concerts societies for the “composers” and the “improvisers”?
There are all of the differences. The composers are a lot more supported. It’s always been a management anarchy for the improvisers. Usually, improvisers don’t play in a band on a permanent basis. Musicians get together to share a language which is improvisation. There has been sporadic projects, but none were ever “institutionalized.”
On the other hand, composition—we know—is a lot more supported. Another difference is that composers work alone. The solitary composer; the improvisers in bunches.
Furthermore, the performing rights societies don’t give anything to improvisers because they consider that on an eight minute piece there is about 30 seconds of composition.
• So, economically speaking, improvisers are on their own?
We’re on our own. It’s a sideline. I don’t make a living with it, but it makes me alive. It is with composition for film, for the concert that I make a living. Improvisation brings in a little bit of money, but never as much as film music does.
Puis une idée neuve, le collage de clips sonores que l’étiquette empreintes DlGITALes lance le 2 novembre dans le cadre du festival. Il y en a 25, de 25 compositeurs des quatres coins de l’Amérique du Nord: un feu d’artifice, une excellente introduction à la musique actuelle.
It’s tough to get modern composers to think small. Encapsulating a grand artistic statement in the space of two minutes and 45 seconds is usually Phil Spector’s bag. Yet a new CD from the Montréal-based DIFFUSION i MéDIA label does precisely that Électro clips invites 25 North American electroacoustic composers to contribute a miniature electroacoustic work, three minutes or less.
“We simply asked composers to make a three-minute tape work, not 3:45, not 3:20, but three minutes exactly,” says Jean-François Denis, who, along with fellow composer Claude Schryer, is DIFFUSION i MéDIA. “The main idea was to set a challenge to composers. Electroacoustic works are usually 10 to 20 minutes long. Forcing them to do it in three minutes, and make sense, was a challenge. And they all told us so.”
The sounds that become music range from the simple to the complex. John Oswald’s gentle Bell Speeds is a straight recording of a bell in eight octaves, while Daniel Scheidt’s anarchic What If has an interactive software program that listens to itself, rather than a live performer. The source material can be environmental or empirical. Claude Schryer’s Les oiseaux de Bullion is built up from unaltered and unprocessed nature sounds, and Christian Calon & Schryer’s Prochaine station is a ride through the Montréal Metro, while Bruno Degazio Nino Rota-like Humoresque 901534 is composed with the aid of fractal geometry.
This is not to say these electroacoustic miniatures sound like a bunch of professors sitting around in skinny ties firing funny sounds at each other. Zack Settel’s dada Skweeit-Chupp is a side-splitting processed voice-percussion duet. Mexican Javier Álvarez deconstructs the mambo musique actuelle style in Mambo à la Braque. And Stéphane Roy’s sensual Résonances d’arabesques, while created entirely on digital interactive hardware and software, shifts and shimmers with an unusually sensitive touch. Two of the most powerful works, John Oliver’s striking dirge for Guatemala, Marimba Dismembered, and the closing, sombre Bajanoom, by respected composer Charles Amirkhanian, evoke moods that stay with the listener long after the song has evaporated.
“We were borrowing from the pop music format, trying to make the music very condensed,” says Denis. “We were trying to democratize electroacoustic music so that more radio stations will play it, more people will hear it. You don’t even hear it on Brave New Waves.”
Listening to Électro clips’s big chunk of electroacoustic miniatures may seem a daunting task to some. Denis and Schryer recommend the listener choose the track sequence at home. “For Claude and I, putting together an compilation of 25 artists was a big enough problem,“ he says. “Finding a running order was worse. We listened to the pieces, came up with one sequence, which is the one you hear on the CD. But it is only one way of hearing it. With programmable CD players, you can create your own sequences at home. The booklet that comes with the CD is 25 separate pages. A booklet that is stapled would freeze an order of listening.”
Électro clips is illustrated by Quebec photographer Joanne Tremblay in much the same way the music was composed — in the dark. “It was the same idea — try to stimulate an artist to do something unusual,” Denis says. “We asked her to shoot 25 polaroids, no subject matter, no constraints.”
Électro clips was an expensive project. DIFFUSION i MéDIA’s first four releases were funded by the Canada Council for the Arts, but this one wasn’t. Schryer and Denis invested money they didn’t have, and the 24 artists waived an up-front payment. DIFFUSION i MéDIA will launch Électro clips with a free live performance of the composers manipulating their taped works on a new, 40-speaker sound system installed at Bar-Théâtre Les Loges.
According to Denis, sales are going well for the company’s small catalogue, yet it’s difficult to gauge as theirs is the first to specialize in electroacoustic music in Canada. “We’re like missionaries in a way.”
[…] Troublant, émouvant, fascinant, Lux nous avait révélé, en 1985, le potentiel immense du travail multimédiatique. […]