When you peer into the electroacoustic antecedents of Gilles Gobeil you encounter the names of well-known as well as more obscure organizations throughout the genre which have all rendered him awards; Biennal Acousmatic Composition Competition (Belgium), International Electroacoustic Music Contest (Brazil), Ciber@rt (Spain), Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition (France), Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden), Ars Electronica (Austria), Luigi Russolo International Competition (Italy), Newcomp Computer Music Competition (USA), Brock University Tape Music Competition (Canada) and so on and so forth. Impressing! Undoubtedly, this wizard of the electronics, spinning all around his hat, is amply worthy of all this havoc, because he is one of the most talented and sensitive jugglers of sounds we’ve heard.
His new CD is one of a batch of new issues from the prolific empreintes DIGITALes of Canada, wherein we can monitor the present vibrancy out of his creative act. The works presented were conceived between 1995 and 2001, so we are provided with new music, which is always very interesting, since all acts of creativity, throughout the arts, are mirrors of our present day life and the position and state of humanity and affairs of the moment! The similarity between visiting a modern arts gallery down the street and listening to a new CD with electroacoustics is striking. It is often about shapes, shadings, light, movements, contours – and… associations. The richer one’s own scope of references and the wider our frames of reference, the richer and more rewarding our experiences of art. That experience, in its more evolved stages, doesn’t come for free. It takes initial time and effort, but as Pete Seeger once sang in a song called Maple Syrup Time: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time”. The electroacoustic village is pretty sparsely populated, even though worldwide – interconnecting through the Internet – we’re a growing bunch. For the newcomer it’s all about finding a way into the soundscape, and it might be all too easy for someone completely unaware of the electroacoustic goings-on to just bump off the surface, on hearing these weird sounds… However, in later years there seems to have been an up-surge of the idiom, hopefully indicating a wider public interest too, and an uncanny assortment of very good electroacoustic releases have helped pave the way. empreintes DIGITALes constitutes one of the main outlets of high quality sound art, and this CD by Gilles Gobeil is no exception.
Derrière la porte la plus éloignée… (“Behind the Remotest Door…”) (1998) presents a few images from a journey through Italy. A deep murmur opens the piece, harboring sounds as of a deep, slow breath. Jingle jangle wrenchings are inhaled, exhaled, as if you were deep inside the belly of the monster, or maybe hid away on an old wooden bench in a dark corner of a cathedral or age-old church… The liberating sound of running, trickling water refreshes for a while… but suddenly the echo of the sounds indicates a much smaller space, and you hurry in flight down stinking sewers. A sound as of an elevator maybe means that you’re reaching safety, but an enormous, dense factory wall of noise holds you back… A richness of timbre and of millions of grains of sound suddenly halts, as a distant propeller airplane sound is detected from a distance, in the sudden silence. Once again the sounds hit head on, like someone just pushed a button or pulled a lever, but then again this music could be an illustration to the travels after death, through the bewildering landscapes of Karma that are described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead… so just aim for the Light, and fear not these grim faces staring at you from the walls, these murky hands reaching out at you from the slimy corners, because they’re just remnants of bad deeds, manifestations of ill thoughts… so hold on to the best within yourself and aim fearlessly ahead…
Projet Proust (1995, 2001) is “a personal reading” of the first pages of Du côté de chez Swann (“Swann’s Way”) (1913) by Marcel Proust. The narrator is Marc Béland. In a classical electroacoustic manner, the voice of the narrator is heard as from inside soothing spheres of bliss, whereas the sound web in which those spheres of French morphemes are expressed is ominous, spatial, dark, threatening, as from a furnace of destruction or the core of energy on the verge of exploding into a supernova of the intellect, spreading your desperate identity in a dissipation of fragmented thoughts and remnants of words throughout the abyss within… Like in the first piece on the CD the sounds at times start behaving in an inhaling/exhaling manner, indicating Time through Breath, Life through moving Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide. Chanting of angelic choruses are hallucinated through the whining of bee swarm timbres and the occasional occurrences of grinding machines in a large, smoky hall of a steelworks on the Baltic coast, into which diagonal rays of sunlight through semi-transparent windows on high cut through the rising smoke and hovering dust of iron particles, producing rhombs and squares of light on the dirty brick walls and the littered floor, and on the hell-like machinery of industrialization… Minuscule binary progressions of grains of sand wisp back and forth in the panning of the artisan’s tools, as cut up blisters of cries and hollers are ground down to oblivion, until one short second of a real-life scream plummets into water and relative silence… and the softness of speech continues… Nocturnal atmospheres are introduced, from silent Mediterranean nights of dark heat, wherein insects talk to themselves… but is this also a regression of evolution, back to dinosaur pastures of plenty, where the grass is green and where the giants of the earth rule…? … because I hear growlings of primeval forests and plains… or is it just the Unconscious in fast reverse, down the branchery of evolution inside the halls of mirrors of my mind…?
Point de passage (“Crossing Point”) (1997) is, says Gobeil, “a free adaptation of ‘The Time Machine’ (1895) by HG Wells (1866–1946)”. It begins in a furious speed, accelerating in volume, but dissipates into – once again – a “breathing” state of relative silence… Anyone who has read the book by Wells knows and remembers the story, so this is supposed, then, to be programmatic music, re-enacting the story of the British scientist who invented a time machine and went to a distant future - 800 000 years ahead! - where humanity was divided into a naïve and innocent breed (the Eloi) living on the surface of the planet like we do, and a dark, evil and intelligent breed (the Morlochs) residing beneath the ground, in tunnels and halls deep inside the earth, appearing on the surface only to abduct the fair and gentle ones, tearing them apart for the sake of their flesh. Of course, the plot is inspired by the findings of Sigmund Freud and his concept of the Subconscious and the Unconscious, and particularly the sexual and creative implications for the individual, who has to balance the surge and might of millions of years of evolution – tucked away in his unconscious – on a razor’s edge of civil varnish.
There is a lot of movement in this piece; rushing sounds as from haywire subway trains, and I can feel the cold steel of the evil subterraneans’ machinery, and the smell of oil and fuel… A cold rain is falling over the steel dome into which the scientist has pulled his time machine… These sounds from Gobeil’s fantasy are immensely lonely, as from a god who has given up his supremacy… A slow breath, on the verge of snoring, pictures this god asleep in his loneliness.
Nuit cendre (1995) is the last piece. Again Gilles Gobeil has turned to a classical science fiction novel; Voyage a centre de la terre (“A Journey to the Center of the Earth”) (1864) by Jules Verne (1828–1905), the originator of modern science fiction. Initial sounds are abrupt indeed, but soon you are taken into watery, descending swoops of motion, apparently inside some hollow place or craft, and the grinding force of a landslide or dark matter being shoved aside grows into a relentless noise of lithophonic qualities. Lighter metallic rings of timbres sooth for a while… Unusually withheld nuances of sound lurk in the crevasses of the passage… There is an ominous apprehension inside this music… and the tubular rhythms of machinery once again grows in intensity, albeit in softer, brownish timbres of clay and wet slices of soil, seeping down the outside of your listening sphere like venomous honey… It is undoubtedly a crude environment, dark with clay, granite and bedrock strata. The music moves in this environment with diamond edge and boring vibrations… but the sounds of air through vents or steam through pipes transform the event into a softer impression, and suddenly it feels as though the space opens up, perhaps into a giant subterranean hall, so large and extended that you cannot see the roof up there in the dark, even though you point your torchlight upwards… and then you see it; a low-intensity, bluish light that sort of hovers inside the giant subterranean cathedral… Later on sounds of what appears to be thousands of winged creatures flapping about – maybe giant bats – sends fear down your spine, or are these sounds the stumbling feet of shadowy beings skipping towards you in your vulnerability, towards the core of the planet…?