Mr. Sandman

Andrew Jones, Montreal Mirror, no. 9:29, December 16, 1993

SONGWRITERS LOVINGLY CALL their dreams muses — a vocabulary to translate the compositional process. Hip artists, such as Brian Eno and Suzanne Vega, have gone so far as to say they have even heard entire songs handed down to them while they slept.

Dreams have long fascinated composer Serge Arcuri. Yet he could never quite bring their surreal, unearthly power to the stage with orchesiral instruments that were hundreds of years old. “Dreams, like myths, express themselves in a symbolic language, communication both obscure and universal,” Arcuri writes in the liner notes to his debut CD for empreintes DIGITALes, Les méandres du rêve. “At the heart of the night, brandished against this apparent death that is sleep, the dream world is more a product of senses and seduction than one of speech.”

The breakthrough for the 39-year-old native of Beauharnois was hearing electroacoustic music. This oft-misunderstood branch ofthe musical tree was born in 1949 when Pierre Schaeffer started using a tape recorder to bulk erase the musical past and record over it the music of the future, “musique concrète.” Forged and sculpted in the multi-track recording studio with both live and synthetic sound sources, electroacoustic music has always been headphone fodder, music for our personal headspace. Like dreams, electroacoustic music offers a hot-wired short cut to the subconscious, the topology of sounds triggering something different in every listener, a soundtrack to films and visuals limited only by our imaginations.

“I like the ease with which electroacoustic music can transport yourself into many different acoustic surroundings,” says Arcuri. “That’s much more diffcult to do in a concert hall. But on the other hand, I don’t like excluding instruments. I like to have a mix of electroacoustics and live instruments, so the work is somewhere between reality of the concert stage and the ‘inouïe’.”

Arcuri studied with Yves Daoust at Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, and has an impressive list of commissioned works to his name from the SMCQ, ACREQ, CBC and The Vancouver New Music Society. It’s not difficult to understand why: Arcuri’s work avoids the studied aridity of most “musique concrète.” It’s dazzling, texturally ravishing, and propulsive, recalling the recent pop-oriented work of John Adams on Hoodoo Zephyr — only minus the minimalist pulse.

Les méandres du rêve (Dreams’ Meanders) was a long-term project begun in 1982 with Arcuri’s first electroacoustic piece Errances. Arcuri tried to keep a diary of dreams and incorporate them into the pieces as they were written, but found his dreams weren’t up to the quality of the project, so he decided to stick to themes rather than specifics. Indeed, most of the pieces here work on a visceral rather than literal level. Murmure, for example, revisits tribal myths about the origins of life and the big bang through processed and sampled breath sounds.

La porte des sables, for oboe, English horn, MIDI percussion and tape, is inspired by the fables of Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel The Sand Child. The music, while bereft of the quarter tones that permeate most Arabic music, evokes the serene, still mood of the desert through the arabesques of the horn playing. “Reading Jalloun opened my ears,” says Arcuri. “The idea of each door leading you deeper into myth, deeper into the unconscious.”

Arcuri has had the good fortune to work with intuitive and passionate soloists such as oboist Lawrence Cherney, harpist Erica Goodman, French homplayer Francis Ouellet and percussionist Trevor Tureski. “More and more instrumentalists are interested in working with electroacoustics,” Arcuri explains. “After all, these pieces were written to be included in someone’s repertory and to be easily played. I like to have open rhythm sections for the player to roam. I don’t like to be a metronome.”