A Creating Fringe Keeps Electronic Music Alive and Compelling

Arthur Kaptainis, The Gazette, May 12, 1990

Artistic trends seldom evolve according to plan. The 1980s, for example, should have been the decade of electronic music. Computers, synthesizers and digital components simultaneously became more powerful and less expenslve.

Grumblings about the “irrelevance” of the symphony orchestra were rampant, as ticket-buyers turned increasingly to their stereos for satisfaction.

Now it is 1990, and buzz-tinkle-hum-crash-chuggachugga music attracts no more attention than it ever did. If there has been any expansion of interest, it has been in the genre’s insidiously commercial manifestations, most notably New Age material.

Yet a sincere creative fringe remains, huddled in campus collectives and nurtured there by the Canada Council. Sometimes the aims of these composers are serious, and sometimes their works are compelling.

That recommendation may sound hopelessly compromised, but it reflects the genre’s chronic inconsistency and tenacious resistence to analysis.

There are no grammatical rules to be broken in electronic music, therefore few standards of rhetorical excellence to which to aspire. Evaluation is necessarily informal and subjective.

Yet there are different styles, tones and approaches. [Two] recent discs on Montréal’s empreintes DIGITALes label make an interesting survey.

Christian Calon’s program is classic welcome-to-my-nightmare stuff: non-harmonic, non-referential, hallucinatory, unpredictable.

It is fitting that Minuit, a 40-minute poetry-plus-music extravaganza, devolves at the end into psychotic laughter.

This is the music of the id, and its appeal lies in its capacity to externalize our own disorderly mental interiors.

Brief invocations of wilderness sounds are like intrusions of outdoor reality on a very uneasy sleep.