Snapshots That Stimulate

Robert Everett-Green, The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1990

Twenty-five composers, three minutes each: that’s the rate determined in advance for this attractive compilation from Montréal of “electroacoustic snapshots.” The shutter speed may be a bit fast for the average serious composer, but the snaps featured on this disc capture a fairly wide segment of the scene. Included are works commissioned from composers across Canada, a few Americans, and one senior trans-Atlantic figure (Francis Dhomont).

The methods and materials used in these sound-bites could hardly be more diverse. Some fabricate a world from a few sounds and timbres, a practice pioneered in Canada by the late Hugh Le Caine. Craig Harris’s Somewhere between teases a symphonic essay from piano tidbits, while John Oswald’s Bell Speeds conjures a hefty carillon from a single pea-sized bell.

Others play with language and its voices, carrying on the two-fronted assault that busies musicians and “sound artists” alike. Zack Settel’s jivey Skweeit-Chupp, for instance, is synthetic skat; as is Robert Normandeau’s dreamier, grander Bédé, in which a child’s voice is split right across the audible spectrum. Dan Lander’s rougher I’m looking at my hand is an audio equivalent of the language-laden “personal films” that turn up at alternative film screenings.

Others pick up a thread of musical journalism that has been pretty much invisible since Paul Hindemith wrote Neues yom Tage (The Daily News). Yves Daoust lards his intriguing Mi bémol collage with politically-charged clips from last summer’s Oka broadcasts, Christian Calon patches indpendentiste speeches and open-line exchanges into his Temps incertains.

Still other entries defy classification. Dhomont commits self-cannibalism in Qui est la?, plundering a decade’s work in a fiercely protean essay that whips past like a high wind. Gilles Gobeil teams up with guitarist René Lussier for the partly improvised Associations libres, by far the most aggressive item on the disc. Hildegard Westerkamp, one of only two women on the album, shapes her Breathing Room with exhalations and heartbeats, a strategy that seems more interesting in theory than in her practice. And Bruno Degazio transforms a formula of fractal geometry into the amusing Humoresque 901534, the closest Electro clips comes to danceable, pop music.

All in all, it’s a stimulating collection, with half a dozen snaps suitable for framing. The disc booklet includes a set of 25 commissioned black-and-white photographs by Quebec City photographer Joanne Tremblay.

… snaps suitable for framing.