Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, April 1, 2002

I sincerely appreciate when empreintes DIGITALes digs into the archives and releases some historical material, which I think the content of this CD must be considered. The composer — Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux — passed into her Bardo and her next life in 1985, and most of the material herein stems from the early 1970s, even though it may sound more modern and current than that.

I suppose there must be a goldmine of archival tapes in the annals of electroacoustics, and I urge any recording company with tapes on hand to start releasing the material. Almost all historical or archival material that I’ve heard — including the pieces on this CD — has been very enjoyable and of the greatest interest.

Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux — born in the Canadian region of Lac Saint-Jean in 1938 — moved to Montréal in 1958, 20 years old and bent on a musical career. She began her studies with Claude Champagne [composition] at École Vincent d’Indy in 1960, and continued her studies with Clermont Pépin at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal in 1963, where she stayed until 1967.

Of course, these were overly interesting days in the fields of popular music — which turned poetic and even surrealistic with people like Bob Dylan, descending on New York and the world from remote and backwards Hibbing of Northern Minnesota — and contemporary art music, where creativity simply exploded at — to just mention a couple of places — San Francisco Tape Music Center (Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Donald Buchla!) and Mills College, if we’re to stay in the North American part of the world. Of course, in Europe there had been lots of things going on in electronic and concrete music since the late 1940s, with Stockhausen, Eimert, Pousseur and many others shaping audio art that flabbergasted even the hip subterraneans of the avant-garde, but in the 1960s this creativity and ingenuity practically exploded, spilling over into mainstream cultural tendencies, and Stockhausen even appeared on the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” in 1967.

In these benign circumstances Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux intensified her efforts. In 1968 — the revolutionary year of Rudi Dutschke, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the May upheavals in Paris — she headed for the French capital at the suggestion of Iannis Xenakis, to study electroacoustic music at one of the idiom’s holy shrines; Groupe de recherches musicales, where she worked with François Bayle (turning 70 in March 2002!) and Guy Reibel. I can hardly think of a better time or a better place to study mind-expanding and limit-pushing audio art than in Paris at the GRM in 1968. That certainly was the right place and the right time. The whole cultural atmosphere was permeated with the spirit of will-do, with the feeling of anything being possible, and with an exploding force of creative curiosity — and in Germany the seeds of the Rote Armee Fraktion (the Baader-Meinhof group) were sown…

However, Coulombe Saint-Marcoux’s grand tour of famous teachers didn’t end with Bayle & Reibel. She in fact when to school with the great grandfather of musique concrète; Pierre Schaeffer, at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. She also had private lessons with Mr. Gilbert Amy. As a part of a five-composer initiative she founded an electroacoustic entourage called Groupe International de Musique Électroacoustique de Paris, which traveled the horizons between 1969 and 1973. This woman had a lot of ingenuity and will.

Upon her return to Canada in 1971 she began teaching at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, where she held a position until her untimely death in 1985.

In Canada she kept very active, working to build an electronic music studio of international stature, together with Gilles Tremblay and others.

Her engagement in visual arts was intense, and she felt that she was working sounds the way painters — especially her acquaintance Marcelle Ferron — were working colors, and myself, I’ve always felt that much electroacoustic music works just like non-figurative art does, or Japanese calligraphy, or modern ballet of the touring dance companies. Coulombe Saint-Marcoux took great interest also in poetry, theater and dance.

Track 1 on this CD is a piece by the mysterious title Arksalalartôq, conceived 1970-71. The piece starts like a wild, furious and… fun sound-poetic pastime, or a street theater of sorts, voices and electronic sounds rising and falling in clear-cut shapes. The voices keep mingling with frictional rubber balloon sounds, grunting and breathing, inhaling and wheezing! The music is very irregular, amassing whatever came to mind, it seems, even adopting methods and nuances from Donald Buchla’s Buchla, as it appeared in Morton Subotnick’s early works, and I can trace some of Pauline Oliveros’ experimental, long, winding and merciless gutter gut sounds herein too, both in sounding similarities and a kinship of idea, of concept, of artistic realization.

Fluttering electronic winds merge with Thomas Buckner-like vocal expressions and earlier French sound-poetic wildman-stuff by Henri Chopin, Bernard Heidsieck or François Dufrêne! Coulombe Saint-Marcoux gets a lot — a lot! — into this comparably short piece; it’s dense, packed with ideas!

Meowing cat sounds turn on a sexy fragrance, which winds down in a silence that soon is disrupted by iron-grinding metallic audio of the kind we have experienced from Romania and its enfant terrible; Iancu Dumitrescu; spectral music right in the bubbling, boiling middle of Coulombe Saint-Marcoux’s never-ceasing exploration, which nonetheless cuts itself short by oozing down in a typical 1970s electronic echo crack of the kind you might find in works by Rune Lindblad or Gottfried Michael Koenig from that period.

Track 2 is Contrastances from 1971. Again, a frictional sound gets the lot moving, and then the fast transitions take place again, from obvious piano body sounds; lid banged shut, strings plucked (like had the composer gained access to Ross Bolleter’s outback bar piano decaying through the sunny, dusty decades of hot stuff Australia) — to gushes of steam or contact microphones attached to balloons (however that would be done) and many breathing sounds or air pillar sounds, and perhaps clarinets and flutes being played on the valves without any breath pressing through the pipe…

All kinds of “atmospheres”, i.e. different size spaces, giving off different kinds of reverberation, are passed through, and Coulombe Saint-Marcoux succeeds in getting a reverse Indian shahnai or perhaps a regular European oboe appear extremely enjoyable and interesting, almost having you wish she would have extended that one particular backwards shahnai into a full-length piece all by itself; the sounds making me feel so airy, flowing with the flow, some distances above the ground!

Slower replays of whatever source material — appearing to me to be some blown instrument — growl deep down into shamanistic vibrations of mud flows and inching giant glaciers, crevasses opening up in all directions, sucking you down into a cold world of icy walls and an assured preservation for future millennia, or maybe just a crushed, mangled trace of a human… Otherworldly, 2001 (the movie!) sounds have you dance around the monolith, and on this mysterious time-space key the piece winds down…

Track 3 is called Moustières, and it was composed in 1971 as well. It is a desolate and eerie landscape that opens up, winds tormenting you with their chilly gusts and their gullies of sharp snow, reddening your cheeks as you strive for an uncertain survival. On another plane, a psychological or spiritual, the sensation still is one of danger, perhaps to your sanity at the onset of schizoid tendencies or forced thoughts — or this could be the dark sounds out of the void that engulfs you when you’re lefty behind in a divorce, or when your child abandons you. It’s dark, it’s serious — and the nature of the sounds is sheet-steel-like, frosty, chilly, hard, rough-edged, at least up to the point when voices, not unlike the vocal haphazard of track 1, are introduced, somewhat altering the fearful impressions from before. Still, however, these are sounds from Rauschenberg paintings; frames with scratchy layers of white paint all over the rough canvas; lots of surface imperfections and a crude statement of nihilism… perhaps… and if this is a sensual perception of the Alps, I can hear the thoughts of those giants - Matterhorn, Mount Blanc — slowly twisting their unimaginable weights in eon-long movements which upset the surface tension of the whole planet over time, and Swiss maids walk up and down those grassy flower-fat slopes under the summits, under the glaciers, with goat’s milk in their buckets…

Track 4 has the title Zones, composed 1971-72. The thin line which spreads out in a timbral band, spiraling on through empty space, is the protruding electronics of Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux in one of its most intriguing appearances, wherein the timbres grow and grow and shift their spectra in myriads of little shining, glittering stars in the grayish fabric of “white” noise, and the more you listen, the more you sense particulars, details, small events inside the big scheme of things, and speeds slowing down, different sections slowing down at their own speed, turning and twisting and swaying the durations, the pitches growling, howling, meowing… as loose bits of a piano sail down in slow-motion around your listening area like fragmentary memories through voids of amnesia…

Hinges screech suddenly, a door opens on another layer of existence, another strand of thoughts commences, electric insects flutter their wings like high voltage speed freaks, and the sharp sounds tear at your hearing… gleam in your earring…

Acoustic instruments share your attention towards the end, attack-less tam tams or gongs without recession encircle the steadfast motion of the general body of sounds, eventually winding down in a stooping glissando which ends all sounds…

The last track — no. 5 — is dedicated to Françoise Barrière and Christian Clozier in Bourges, and it’s entitled Constellation I, of a much later origin than then other pieces, 10 years their junior, composed in 1981. It has the longest duration of the works presented here, with its duration set to a few seconds short of 19 minutes. Stark strokes of the paint-brush, or of the sheet-steel with a steel brush, shows the way through the successive rooms of darkness that have to be passed, into a larger room where a haywire piano plays by itself, up and down the register… and I get visions or flashbacks of staircases and attics, and staircases and cellars, the little window on top of the wall the only escape from something lurking, something hiding inside the dark cellar, or perhaps inside your closed mind, which badly needs prying open, if only this nightmarish life could open up into something less frightening, and when 15 minutes remain of this work a horse neighs loudly through the canvas of the painting on which it is portrayed, hardly visible in the comparative darkness of this house of many rooms, and the reality of the room — which feels unreal like the dress-code of a schizophrenia conference in lap-top super city at the hard end of ages — seamlessly transforms into a reality beyond this reality, but which is a consequence of this reality, and door after door opens up like in a slap-stick Beatles movie, and this music really is a magical mystery tour… Electrical charges shine in quick flashes through your cerebral cortex (this is the music!) like meteors shooting across a winter’s night, calling for the wishes of untold numbers of human beings, flocking through the darkness of the curving planet… and this is the music of Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux too, but as it continues it is molded into something else, and a fun-fair Donald Buchla, Morton Subotnick machine-joy lever-lover kicks in and hoists us upward and forward into further elegies of sexy sonics, wherein the listener surely mourns the presence of this sound artist Coulombe Saint-Marcoux and her swift mind and light hand, adjusting the pitches and the timbres in her magic tool shed under the sky of Bourges in a June so far away… Nature sounds (birds, frogs, human thoughts made audible through a process of identification) merge with instrumental sounds (flutes and what not) and all the electronic wizardry of the early 1980’s into an all-encompassing celebration of existence through sound, brilliantly loved forth, brilliantly loved along… into an electronic khoomei sequence of the high plateaus of the Tibet of your spirit, where you stand in the middle of yourself, gazing up at the stars of an unfathomable space, an irresistible life.

… an irresistible life.