Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, November 1, 2001

It’s with a certain nervous apprehension and an expectant joy that I listen to very new music, and any piece of art stamped 2001 has got to be considered within that framework. It’s NOW! music; telling tales about the present and the recent. Even if the subject matter should happen to be antique stuff, the way it is expressed is now, simply by its placement on that timeline. I’m very curious about things like these; new expressions of art; art providing one of the finest and most refined essences of human life, reflections on human life.

Robert Normandeau’s name is mentioned with respect by connoisseurs of electroacoustic music. He is a founding member of the CEC (Canadian Electroacoustic Community), and he has a number of very good CDs to his credit, for which he has been amply praised and awarded.

Malina (2000) (for Brigitte Haentjens) is the first track on this factory-fresh CD from empreintes DIGITALes. The piece is developed on the contents of a play, which in turn is based on the 1971 novel Malina by Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) – an example of how the arts may spill over into each other’s domains in a fruitful way. The stage adaptation of the text is a poetic reading of it, which, says Normandeau, “makes use of the unsaid, silence, and atmosphere in a way that allows the music a place that it seldom enjoys in theatre.” Indeed the soaring beginning is a lone but husky shakuhachi, which immediately moves into a layer behind a sonic film of moist weather and soft caresses of oriental erotism, wherein blowing mouth-sounds whisk the rushing air around the corners of wet words, unspoken and silent, just hinted at by the bulging oral cavities which form soundless atmospheres of unheard echoes and immobile gestures towards the heart and the stars. The sometime choo-choo train sounds call up visions of Vietnamese rice fields, through which an elevated embankment with a rail runs, while on high the falcons circle, certain to spot their pray, remaining in these Normandeauisms in patient spirals of restful movements, eyes gleaming with the intense gaze of birds of prey. The squeaks of un-oiled carriages, dragged along mud roads by small people in large hats, rise out of Malina, and even if these associations were in no way intended by the composer, he has no power over them when the music has left his workshop. The associations stirred by his electroacoustics inside somebody else’s brain, way across the Atlantic Ocean, in a Scandinavian rural outpost, whirl as they will, and all I can do is jot down these notes of the fleeting images passing on the inside of my eyelids…

Erinyes (2001) (for Anne-Marie Cadieux) is centered around the voice, springing out of the voice, a voice carrying no morphemes of meaning, solely offering onomatopoetic mimicries, shadowy movements of subconscious intentions, disappearing in the mist of amnesia and the defensive act of mental repression. The vocal sounds used herein were taken from a production of Sophocles’ Electra set up by Brigitte Haentjens in Montréal in April of 2000, for which Robert Normandeau provided the music. The Erinyes were “the keepers of the shadows” in Greek mythology, and their chief purpose was to punish evildoers, but they put a scare on anyone… Normandeau puts the voices through a number of treatments, but he likes to focus our attention on the method of “freezing”, i.e. stopping the sound and investigating it inside out. I don’t suppose there is much need of scientific explanations into this. The main thing is the result, the experience - the creative flow – and it’s at play here! As a demonstration of the fast flight of the frightening creatures of the ancient Greeks, this way of casting the shadows of sounds down a vocal fast-track is ideal, filling your listening night with eerie notions and creepy feelings of guilt and remorse; too late, too late… Violet clouds are gathering, and darkness falls from on high… “Mama, put my guns in the ground; I can’t shoot them anymore…” – and could I clear my conscience of guilt I’d be a saint or a god, but being but a human under these cold stars, they could be coming for me; the Erinyes…

In Clair de terre (1999) Robert Normandeau makes use of his collection of sounds, gathered during the passage of ten Earth years. In his introduction Normandeau lingers on the peculiarity of humans to historically always place themselves or the world in which they live at ground zero, at the center of the universe. This has been the case, as when the humans believed that Earth was the center, around which the rest of Creation was revolving. Later they thought that their local star was the center. One peculiarity which remains till this day (which Normandeau doesn’t mention) is that the humans of today – especially Western Man – honestly believe that this life is the one and only life, but of course it will in time be obvious even to westerners that we’re passing through a chain of lives, which no one really can estimate the length of – and life in itself does not end; it’s our perception of Time; of beginning, of end, which is wrongly perceived. Normandeau points our attention towards the more practical and widespread cosmic awareness – on the materialistic level –, which began with the first photographs of Earth taken from space, clearly – in a very brute way – placing our home among the stars. Subsequently the camera and its artistic or scientific terms determine this piece. Clair de terre – after an overture – is divided into twelve section, which all “systematically explore the grammar of cinematography”, transposed into the language of electroacoustics. The titles are Cadre étroit (espaces clos) (“Narrow Frame [Close Space]”) – Couleurs primaires et secondaires (“Primary and Secondary Colors”) – Mobilité des plans (“Camera Mobility”) – Montage rythmique (“Rhythmic Editing”) – Montage métaphorique (“Metaphoric Editing”) – Durée des plans (“Duration of Shots”) – Clarté (éblouissement) (“Brightness [Dazzling]”) – Taille des plans (“Proportion of Shots”) – Couleurs ternaires (“Ternary Colors”) – Micro montage: Obscurité” (“Micro Editing: Darkness”) – Cadre large (espace ouvert) (“Wide Frame [Open Space]”). Each of the twelve moments of Clair de terre is “composed of a soundscape, an object’s sound, the sound of a musical instrument and vocal onomatopoeias.” The “Overture” introduces a blipping sound, as from a scientific instrument or probably some monitoring instrument at Kennedy Space Center, because you hear the nervous conversation of people intensely involved in something in the background. The basic rhythm of the blips keep on resounding, but in the bass, in deep, rhythmic waves pounding the shore of the mind, the beaches of human understanding – as sweeping, soaring trebles bore away into deep space, extending our conception of the Universe and ourselves… Other sections of the work are quite different, though, with crunchy micro sounds nibbling at our sleeves, falling like bread crumbs around our kitchen tables, blowing up like sharp dust in our faces, half blinding us as we head for fresh water… In yet other sections deep drones rumble through our conceptions of Time and Space, in a post-romantic delusion of Wagnerian tragedies and large-scale intrigues, involving all the Nordic deities of old. One soundscape has the Doppler effect of a passing train move by in – perhaps – a Pierre Schaeffer homage. There really is no end to the ingenuity of Normandeau at setting these collected sounds of his at work in elaborated, colorful images of imagination. His sonic palette has many colors, many timbres, many surprising – and beautiful – evolutions.

… deep, rhythmic waves pounding the shore of the mind, the beaches of human understanding — as sweeping, soaring trebles bore away into deep space, extending our conception of the Universe and ourselves…

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