Robert Reigle, Musicworks, no. 78, September 1, 2000

“HAAAaaa, ha ha ha,” laugh the electronicallv modified voices at the beginning of Le renard et la rose (the fox and the rose), the opening track of Figures. Normandeau calls this part of the piece “Babbling and Rhythm.” As evident from my bumbling attempt above, it is difficult to transcribe such simple and important things as different types of laughter. We use twenty or thirty thousand words to exactly specify all types of complex thoughts, but when it comes to sound we don t even have a universal transcription system. Musicians are, rightly or wrongly, the only ones given permission (and responsibility) to convey specific meanings through sound alone, without the aid of words. On this disc, Normandeau specifically deals with onotnatopoeia, rhetoric and figures of speech. His refined ear is the perfect mediator in wedding linguistic concerns with sophisticated electronic music.

Like all four works recorded here, Le renard et la rose has multiple layers of reference: 1) the title itself; 2) Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince; 3) two earlier compositions that are part of the same cycle; 4) vocal onomatopœia; and 5) five states or feelings “experienced in adulthood.” The composer bases the work “exclusively on the use of the voice.” It is a rich tapestry usually built of dense electronic layers of sound, and covers a lot of territory in its fifteen minutes.

Figures de rhétorique (Figures of Speech) is a fourteen-minute work for tape and piano. Like Nono during the composition of … sofferte onde serene …, Normandeau worked with the pianist while writing the piece, and engaged Jacques Drouin’s interpretation to such an extent that he calls the recording “his (Drouin’s) version.” In contrast to Nono’s piece, Figures de rhétorique has a much more energetic feeling, but the melding of the electronics with the live piano sound is integrated just as seamlessly and beautifully.

Guitarist Arturo Parra’s contribution to Ellipse (Ellipsis) is less clear. Parra commissioned this work, and it sounds as though Normandeau used recordings of his guitar playing as the basis for the electronic sound. Ellipse, it seems, was originally intended as the tape part of a guitar and tape duet, but the composer now treats it as a purely acousmatic piece without live accompaniment, separate but related to the tape used in the guitar and tape piece, L’envers du temps. Ellipse, the composer points out, “is the art of not saying everything, of omitting words… and of then allowing… the listener to fill in the blanks.”

The one piece on the disc that does not refer to linguistic matters is Venture. This work is named after the rock group The Ventures, and Normandeau built his electronic piece from fragments of rock music from the ’60s and ’70s. As with his modification of actors’ voices in Le renard et la rose, the composer completely alters the source sounds, leaving only occasional snippets recognizable. Although Venture is based on rock music, the isochronous rhythms that define that genre are virtually absent from the piece.

This is a fine disc. Le renard et la rose won the Golden Nica award at the 1996 Ars Electronica competition and appeared on their compact disc series, as well as on discs issued by CBC Records and by Innova. The other three works appear here for the first time. One senses the depth of thought behind these works, and I would like to find out more about how the composer turns linguistic concepts into particular sounds.

One senses the depth of thought behind these works…