Exquisite acousmatica

Steve Benner, Amazon, August 15, 2000

This 1990 release from DIFFUSION i MéDIA (on the empreintes DIGITALes label) represents the first disc entirely devoted to the works of Canadian acousmatic composer Robert Normandeau. The five works presented here span Normandeau’s output from 1985 thru 1989 and represent, in the composer’s own words “[virtually] the only [works] I have chosen to present publicly after more than ten years of full-time work.” That statement attests more to Normandeau’s humility and modesty, than to any shortcomings he may have as a composer.

Indeed, there is not a single uninteresting moment on this disc, which is absolutely captivating from start to end.

Its title, Lieux inouïs, (“Unheard-of Places”) is a reference to the unique aural landscape that Normandeau’s pieces inhabit and the surreal imagery they evoke. He calls his particular approach to acousmatic ‘Cinema for the Ears’ and so it is no surprise that the works on this disc — derived entirely from computer-processed real-world sounds — are constantly conjuring up dramatic moments in the mind’s eye of the listener. And the composer handles it all with such consummate mastery. Who else but Normandeau could so seamlessly join massed choirs singing Pérotin’s Viderunt Omnes with the sounds of pneumatic drills; or mix the chatter of children playing with the clatter of railroad trucks?

For ears unaccustomed to this genre, probably the most easily approached work is the 12-minute acousmatic masterpiece Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) (1987). This work constantly oscillates “between pure sound and meaning, without ever resolving to one or the other,” thus providing endless suggestions and hints but no solid facts (rumours, in fact!) of life around the Place de Ransbeck (home of Annette Vande Gorne’s studio Métamorphoses d’Orphée, where the piece was produced).

The slightly longer Matrechka (1986) is a more abstracted work, with its complex sound-world (of largely undiscernible origin) unfolding by degrees, each of its sections revealing another within it, like the nest of Russian dolls of its title. The 15-minute Mémoires vives (“Vivid memories,” 1989) provides another mostly abstracted vision, this time of the composer’s musical heritage, evoked by the reworking of (recordings of) fragments from other composers’ music for the Requiem Mass. The sparkling 24-minute work Jeu (“Play,” or “Game,” 1989) that opens the disc is ample testimony to Normandeau’s ability to exploit the inherent punning (i.e. ‘play on words’) connotations that his source material offers. Finally, Le cap de la tourmente (1985), which closes the disc, is a dark and brooding 7-minute ‘movement’ from the much longer Musique holographique, which accompanied an exhibit of sculptures with holograms (holosculptures) by Georges Dyens.

… there is not a single uninteresting moment on this disc, which is absolutely captivating from start to end.