Francis Dhomont In Concert

Stéphane Roy, Contact!, no. 10:1, September 1, 1996

A superb concert took place at Montréal’s Usine C last Saturday June 8. Organized by ACREQ, this concert of music by Francis Dhomont was one of the most beautiful acousmatic music events I have attended in a long time. Thanks to the excellent acoustics of this new hall, to the high quality of the sound projection system and to the large number of speakers, the details of this outstanding music were, I believe, faithfully rendered.

In the program were three acoustmatic works: Lettre de Sarajevo, Nocturne à Combray and a recast and augmented version of Forêt profonde.

The first piece, Lettre de Sarajevo, is an acousmatic drama commissioned by the “Futura 96” Festival of Acousmatic Art in France. This work’s complex texture, composed of a rich tangle of layers that successively come to the fore before being overtaken by other soundtracks, creates an atmosphere of constant anxiety. I recognized here the characteristic sound colors, the deep sounds, sometimes guttural, used in many of Dhomont’s works. But this style of composing in large sections, in long shapes that move along until their natural end, appears to me unusual for his work, at least for the works from his “Quebec period”. Without the ruptures, the sudden interruptions, the dramatic stops or the alternating tensions and releases, Lettre de Sarajevo is dominated by constant, uninterrupted tension, and the silences between sections form so many shadow zones where the drama of the preceding sequences still resonate. Lettre de Sarajevo is a beautiful, dark and inexorable work, a tranquil cry, unceasing as it reflects the drama that endures even as the memory fades.

From another era and another sensibility, Nocturne à Combray is a radiophonic piece commissioned by Radio–Canada and is based on excerpts from Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann. Lost time is forever, and dream blends with reality. In Nocturne à Combray, the sonic material is allusive and dreamlike, dotted with nostalgic quotations (of illusory time recovered?) that evoke several errant recitals by musical instruments of the past. The work is often punctuated by fugitive images of beings and things remembered by a half–conscious narrator in the grip of an agitated sleep. The setting of the voice approaches that of earlier works by Francis Dhomont but here, it seems to me, it is more luminous so wedded to the contemplative nature of the text. This setting, generally stable and well established, is defined at the start of the piece by a melody of spatial relationships and timbres that suddenly transforms words into colorations and different spaces. At certain times, a counterpoint of voices fed by an echo lightly veils the intelligibility of the words a little like those stubbornly resonated in a mind that vacillates between wakefulness and sleep. To each their own reading of In Search of Lost Time, I certainly discovered in Nocturne à Combray a poetic, Proustian atmosphere.

Once upon a time in a deep, dark forest… Forêt profonde, an acousmatic drama based on the Psychoanalysis of Fairytales by Bruno Bettelheim, is a work in thirteen sections and forms, with Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (composed over thirteen years), a diptych that the composer entitles Cycle des profondeurs. Those apparently innocent stories that bathed our childhoods are really trees that hid from us the mysterious roots of the forest, the deep roots the soul of Francis Dhomont probes in his psychoanalytical reading of fairy tales. This composition superimposes a rich counterpoint of voices, texts and languages. At the heart of its gripping sonic material, illustrations successively more mysterious and consoling, building like a fairy tale, we hear thirteen episodes march by keeping us spellbound.

Francis Dhomont plays in Forêt profonde with archetypes, not just the ones the narration brings (death, happiness, courage, fear and so on), but as well those that can be invoked by the underlying sounds. So the archetype of comforting and appeasement, suggested by tender lullabies, is brusquely broken by the tragic and anguished character of unstable morphologies. This work enchanted me, bewitched by certain enigmatic passages that show at what point the art of sounds does know how to explain the unexplainable. “What’s going on?”, murmurs an anxious, strange voice at the start of the work. An undeniable reality hides behind the words that then wants to reassure the child, “It’s nothing, my dear. Try to sleep…” So life turns us aside with certain comforts about the morbid thought of our next disappearance.

Didactic comments here and there throughout the work perhaps don’t make for unanimity (a narrator cites Bettelheim on occasion) but, to my mind, it gives the work an extra dimension by drawing attention to the unconscious significance of fairy tales.

To sum up, I say Forêt profonde is a gripping and beautiful work that, I believe, will complement the success of Sous le regard d’un soleil noir. Both works will soon be released on the empreintes DIGITALes label.

The concert projection by the composer did justice to the quality of these works. At times I would have appreciated higher sound levels, particularly during Forêt profonde, but I know the listening situation probably varied a lot depending on where you were sitting in the hall. I can only congratulate ACREQ for having organized an acousmatic concert of such a high quality, especially since such events are all too rare in Montréal these days.

Stéphane Roy (English translation by Frank Koustrup)

Stéphane Roy royst@ere.uMontréal.ca is a composer. His pieces have been performed in many European and American countries, and he has won many national and international compositions. A PhD in Music composition, he is presently teaching auditory perception at the University of Montréal.

… one of the most beautiful acousmatic music events…