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Extra-musical CDs

Kathy Kennedy, Musicworks, no. 48, September 1, 1990
Saturday, September 1, 1990 Press

A new compact-disc label called empreintes DIGITALes has come to the forefront of the “musique actuelle” scene in Quebec. The three most recently launched CDs: Volt by Alain Thibault, Lieux inouïs by Robert Normandeau, and Ligne de vie: récits électriques by Christian Calon are now being distributed throughout Canada.

The three CDs share a rich breadth of digitaliy sampled sonic language, virtuosic technical production, and a preponderance for extra-musical references (visual, spatial, or litterary elements). This is perhaps indicative of the thriving dance/theatre scene in Quebec that is so eager to integrate new and original music.

The most accessible (and already heard) of these three is Volt, which includes a work called Le soleil et l’acier (Sun and steel) featuring classical singer Pauline Vaillancourt. It was used in a theatre piece last February by the internationally acclaimed Carbone 14 company. Surprisingly traditional, the piece uses expressionistic tonalities, a meandering operatic voice through chamber textures (sampled in actuality), and the words of the German poet Heinrich Müller. It is unavoidably reminiscent of Schönberg’s Verklärte Nachte, Mahler’s 2nd and 4th symphonies, and others who have drawn upon poetry and literature for their inspiration. In fact, this piece was presented at the Montréal Musée d’art contemporain and the Goethe Institute’s Blickpunte (German cultural) event.

OUT is part of a video opera of the same name, and ELVIS (Électro-lux, vertige illimité synthétique) is a multimedia work with computer controlled visual support including a saxophone arrangement by Walter Boudreau. Concerto pour piano MIDI, however, is purely a musical piece that has very little to separate it from its traditional lineage apart from the use of electronics.

The Thibault CD often feels like a digital reproduction of more traditional sounds, sometimes relying on such steadfast elements as regular rhythm and diatonic harmony. However, there is a wholesome pleasure taken in the mastery of these sounds into an entertaining and stimulating aural event.

Robert Normandeau views the electroacoustic genre as an opportunity to express certain manifestations of the soul that would otherwise have been muted. He achieves this by exploring innovative sound colour and texture in what he calls “sonic landscapes” The sounds are truly appropriate to the CD’s title: Lieux inouïs (Unheard-of places). This kind of sound painting makes use of the listener’s set of acquired perceptual references, creating, along with the sound, a kind of spatial, texturai imagery whkh is, again, extra-musical.

Normandeau acknowledges this in his descriptbn of the piece Jeu as a kind of “cinema for the ear.” Matrechka is divided into sections thatd are entitled by colour: steel grey, cobalt blue… His link with visual imagery is longstanding: in 1985 he composed accompanying sound for an exhibition of holosculptures (sculptures with holograms) by George Dyens. Each piece contained a different soundtrack in continuous playback.

The Christian Calon CD also relies on visual metaphor but the execution is more cryptic and less facile. The 40’ piece Minuit employs a text throughout, which varies in its voice, functioning as narrator, actor, etc. The writings by the composer are inspired by, among others, Beaudelaire, Joyce and Artaud. Great care is taken on the CD jacket to explain the diverse functions of the voice and the textual and sonic writing.

It is to the credit of the empreintes DIGITALes label that the entire text has been skillfully translated. In fact, each piece on all three CDs comes with an ample description as well as a note on the composer, all fully translated. Unlike some other, more established labels, this new company represents the artist with as much detail and precision as possible.

… an entertaining and stimulating aural event.

Critique

Jérôme Noetinger, Revue & Corrigée, no. 7, September 1, 1990
Saturday, September 1, 1990 Press

Le titre général du premier CD, Lieux inouïs, se réfère à la création d’espaces virtuels inédits et inexplorés que la composition électroacoustique permet d’aborder. Dans certains cas, on pourrait même parler de «cinéma pour l’oreille,» tant cette musique est génératrice d’images. Chacun est libre de son imagination et d’apporter, si cela lui semble nécessaire, une quelconque interprétation.

Tantôt imprégnée de certains élans religieux (la pièce Mémoires vives a d’ailleurs pour seul matériau sonore des extraits de Requiem retravaillés avec des outils informatiques), tantôt marquée par des éléments beaucoup plus concrets (musiciens du métro, éléments naturels), la musique de Normandeau est très profonde mais avec une légère tendance à tomber dans le «planant» (longues trames sonores noyées dans la réverbération).

… la musique de Normandeau est très profonde…

Review

Mark Vail, Keyboard, no. 16:9, September 1, 1990
Saturday, September 1, 1990 Press

For the first few seconds of Normandeau’s Jeu, he seems to take a more familiar, “musical” approach by leading off with a choral drone. It gradually mutates, however, with an overdose of stereo-crossed amplitude modulation that kicks your head into orbit. Normandeau works digitally with musique concrète techniques, using processed and “found” train, bell, gunshot, playground, and street noises, which he stretches into unidentifiable mutations or surrounds with surrealistic environments. His music is generally more rhythmic than Calon’s, and he seems to enjoy shocking the listener with unexpected sonic events.

Review

Mark Vail, Keyboard, no. 16:9, September 1, 1990
Saturday, September 1, 1990 Press

Alain Thibault: If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it should. Co-winner of Keyboards first Reader Tape Contest (Feb ’86), Thibault focuses on a more rhythmic ancl accessible, less haughty musical feeling. His tones resemble similiar instruments (he uses drum-like timbres much of the time), but they’re played in a mechanically inhuman, fast, precise way. Le soleil et l’acier features a lovely soprano voice singing “aah,” enveloped by a sometimes subdued, sometimes frenzied and sinister sequence. Included on the CD is Thibault’s award-winning God’s Greatest Gift — complete with the sliced and diced Ronald Reagan quote, “God’s greatest gift is human life” — alone worth the price of admission.

Review

Julia Loktev, Option, no. 34, September 1, 1990
Saturday, September 1, 1990 Press

The title, meaning “Unheard-of Places,” could be misleading. Normandeau, a professor of acoustics and electroacoustics at the Université de Montréal, may not be splicing his way through terra incognita, but he is mapping out some pretty interesting soundscapes and “acousmatic” compositions, as he deems them. These five pieces include both abstract sonic arrangements and more concrete, almost cinematic or radiomatic, compositions. The abstract works, as well as another piece based on computer-processed extracts from requiems, lean towards the monotonous at times. But the two concrete compositions easily make up for the tinge of tedium. Both Jeu and Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) project a compelling “cinema for the ear” never too cluttered, never too sparse. Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) wanders through haunted halls and doorways in a drama of spaces and objects. Jeu an exploration of the different uses of the French word for game or play, skips from a quiet torest to an amusement park, with sojourns near a bulldozer and a medieval choir along the way. It is uncanny how smoothly they come together in a finely manipulated soundscape. Both compositions are exquisitely spatially mixed and ideal for headphone listening.

… exquisitely spatially mixed and ideal for headphone listening.

Wondeur Brass: Le jazz au féminin

Raymond Gervais, Parachute, no. 55, August 1, 1990
Wednesday, August 1, 1990 Press

Ce collectif entièrement féminin a édité deux disques avec un personnel un peu différent. Un autre album du trio Les Poules regroupe, de fait, trois des quatre membres de l’actuel Wondeur Brass et peut donc presque être considéré comme une troisième réalisation du même groupe.

Il y a toute une histoire fascinante du jazz au féminin qui est de mieux en mieux documentée depuis le début des années soixante-dix, à l’échelle internationale. Montréal possède aussi son histoire du jazz au féminin, de Jane Fair autrefois à Lorraine Desmarais aujourd’hui. Le récent festival international des musiciennes innovatrices en constitue l’un de ses jalons récents les plus prestigieux (orchestré par Wondeur Brass -Productions Super Mémé).

En tant que collectif féminin, ce groupe cependant reste unique dans la métropole actuelle. Il s’agit de Joane Hetu au saxophone, Diane Labrosse aux claviers, Marie Trudeau à la basse électrique et Danielle Palardy Roger à la batterie. Le jazz new wave que pratique Wondeur Brass s’appuie beaucoup sur les textes lui aussi, sur la voix donc, prolongeant peut-être ainsi, à sa manière, les porte-paroles féminins engagés d’antan, de Marie Savard avec Pierre Leduc ou Louise Forestier avec le quatuor de jazz libre du Québec à d’autres grands noms de l’extérieur, tels Brigitte Fontaine, Irène Aebi, Colette Magny et d’autres (pour la séduction moqueuse, la remise en question des valeurs établies, une certaine fascination pour l’interdit, l’expression d’un cri poétique contestataire, ludique, désinvolte)

Tel ce métronome inspiré de Man Ray qui orne la pochette de leur dernier disque, la musique de Wondeur Brass oscille entre la chanson trouble, inquiète, fendue, et une affirmation plus vitale ou extravertie de soi, où, l’humour, un certain dadaïsme post industriel côtoient l’insolite, le plaidoyer, les jeux de mots, un érotisme latent, etc. Ce jazz de fusion électro-acoustique un peu gauche parfois, inachevé, désespéré/lucide, exprime donc tout autant un malaise, une difficulté d’être qu’une liberté reconquise dans l’action, via l’improvisation, le jeu libre, spontané.

Le premier album du groupe avec entre autres, la présence d’une tromboniste avait une couleur plus jazz et fort attrayante (cf.: Free Fast and Clean). Le plus récent disque intitulé Simoneda se rapproche peut-être plus du rock progressif marginal alors que Aie collectif Les Poules est sans doute plus expérimental d’approche, plus brouillon aussi ou inachevé. En bref un travail en cours passionnant, brut, essentiel à suivre. (En ce qui concerne Simoneda reine des esclaves, Wondeur Brass précise qu’il s’agit d’une «fable anachronique sur la désuétude du progrès, une histoire d’oiseaux en cage qui raisonnent autour d’un métronome échevelé».)

Wondeur Brass oscille entre la chanson trouble, inquiète, fendue, et une affirmation plus vitale ou extravertie de soi, où, l’humour, un certain dadaïsme post industriel côtoient l’insolite, le plaidoyer…

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