Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, April 23, 2003

Monique Jean (1960) is a pupil of Francis Dhomont, residing in Montréal. Further more, she has been involved in video, experimental film, dance and installations. She has been a participant in several international music competitions and festivals.

Track 1 is 13’13 pour voix défigurées (13’13” for Disfigured Voices) (1997) Jean:“A work about helplessness and confusion in the face of destruction: that of the individual […]. We hear voices that cross temporalities, that appear suddenly like interferences, and that intrude to a greater and greater extent until they become omnipresent.[…] Texts by Hélène Cixous, in Beethoven à jamais (Des femmes - Antoinette Fouque, Paris 1993) and by Alejo Carpentier, in Varèse vivant (Le nouveau commerce, Paris 1980). […] The processed voices of Sylvio Archambault, Emmanuel Madan, Pascale Malaterre, Marie-France Marcotte and Alain Pelletier.”

An ambient space opens in the first acousmatic bar, placing the I in an uncertain sub terra, perhaps in a subway, or maybe in a hall of mighty machines, or, perhaps, in a limbo of the soul, traveling a painful void between here and there, floating in that state which some call the Purgatory, some the Bardo state, in vivid but distorted memories of past lives, coming at the traveler in shapes of scarecrows from the unconscious, as she is groping for the light.

Certainly the fragments of voices call your attention, grainy, cut-up, and later elastically extended, stretched in a temporal wizardry wherein linear time has ceased, opening up a total NOW; now in all directions, now back, now forth, now left, now right, now up, now down… even in memories; now… and it becomes unbearable when the realization hits that all places are HERE, all times NOW… and remorse builds walls of sorrow around the I, produces poison (or medicine) of sorrow that rises through the veins and arteries like the sap of aspens… as you have to be your own judge and jury at the gaze of eternity…

The voices float about like the forlorn spirits of Hieronymous Bosch paintings, and consolation is just a faint vibration at the horizon of a winter’s day. I keep getting the vision of someone unconscious on a sickbed, hearing all these voices from all walks of life soaring like a flock of seagulls around her existence, which is about to enter the spiritual realm, leaving the weight of an unnecessary body behind in the hospital like a pile of debris…

The frightful atmosphere that Monique Jean creates starts leveling out with three minutes to go, into dynamo sounds, a deep timbre of clay and electricity, of rock bottom and fluent time, at last instilling in the listener, in the I, a kind of foreboding hope of a continuation into light, or maybe into new lives, as the thin layer of oxygen circumvent the third planet in a faint display of blue… and remorse and sorrow start to thin out like the active components of homeopathy, remaining just as a lingering frequency of the rainbow colors of life.

Track 2 is called Danse de l’enfant esseulée (Dance of the Forsaken Child) (1999) Jean:“The form of this work develops around the idea of the stoppage of time. Or, more precisely, its suspension. These suspended states are of two types; that of ‘I’ve lost my footing,’ thus of falling, of a lack of air, of being engulfed in an unknown substance, and also that of a momentary pause on a sound, as much filled with tension as are points of suspension, inconclusive.”

I don’t know what to make of the title; perhaps a reference to that inward absentmindedness of total concentration that is so typical of a child playing. Maybe the work deals with the mental environment to which the forsaken child resorts - in dead serious play! - when the world is too lonely, and maybe these sounds inside Monique Jean’s work enact the sonic equivalents of the hard emotions that a child in those straits experiences; that bottomless desolation in the face of the whole, unfathomable universe and its parsimonious 2 degrees Kelvin… (The true loneliness of Man)

Starting on a searching, resounding contact call of a repeated, fumbling note on a surface of gliding noise and howling high pitches far off, a scraping motion moves past as a tighter, closer, louder machine tool expression pan right, left, right in slow sweeps as the sounding space is filled-up and overwhelmed with density…

I get the notion of heavy weights under stark pressure gliding slowly down a slightly tilted plane, ice and rocks and mud in havoc…; a mineral feeling. There are a lot of dark, gray and brown sounds, 3:31 suddenly phasing out into something else; a thinned out sweeping, as from planes very high up or winds around K2, heard from base camp, but in these environments inward, distant bell-like timbres are introduced, again moving me into a dreamscape audio which may lead me anywhere…; to Shangri-La or Ground Zero Manhattan, who knows… or to the true nature of the spirit of someone, perhaps an overthrown autocrat from Tikrit… who also was a child, in the 1930s and 40s… as was - in the 1890s and the early 20th century - the son of Alois Schicklgruber and Klara Pölzl, who was mistreated and spiritually forsaken, and who turned the whole world over from his loneliness in the face of the universe… and so I start to get a different perspective on Monique Jean’s work Danse de l’enfant esseulée, as I understand World War II and recent events around Babylon as, indeed, the Dance of Forsaken Children - and the music takes on a much more serious guise than I had anticipated, envisioning the high walls of darkness surrounding the empty place at the core of hearts of forsaken children…

Himalayan winds and elves’ bells are mixed in a soaring tenderness, eventually pitched-bent down, but moving on persistently, gathering momentum and power, as I se Abrams tanks in my vision of sounds, birds fluttering, flying up, fleeing to the sides, the horizon blanked out in sand storms and dark thoughts, the bells still ringing faintly inside our hearts… as ingenious, beautiful Medieval mosaics open up for us to tread on, into the palaces, up the staircases, into the abandoned halls of dreams of the Forsaken Child of Tikrit…

Figures du temps (Figures of Time) (1998-1999) at track 3 comes in three sections, (tracks 3, 4 & 5) titled un haut-parleur dans le désert (a loudspeaker in the desert), … et les déchets qu’on brûle (and the garbage we burn), and a farewell to S.O.S., Jean:“What to do with the real? How to create an aesthetic space that rejects amnesia?”

Crossroads and collisions of individual events and of public events. A suite that attempts to deal with “the individual human life, small, poor, defenseless but magnificent”, as Tadeusz Kantor said. “It is only in this human life that truth, sanctity and grandeur are maintained today. We must save them from destruction and oblivion, save them from all the powers of this world”.

Media flow, poetry/resistance, disappearance of Morse code: February 1999. In … et les déchets qu’on brûle the texts are by Denise Desautels, taken from Cimetières: la rage muette (Éditions Dazibao, Montréal 1995), with the processed voices of Marie-France Marcotte, Angèle Laberge, Marc Mercier, and contrabass improvisations by Joëlle Léandre.

The loudspeaker in the desert emits vibrations of audio into the emptiness of a barren landscape… or is Monique Jean trying to picture the voice of someone calling in the desert? I think she is, considering the philosophical or psychoanalytic material I’ve deciphered so far on this CD. Yes, maybe she concentrates on the outcast, the vulnerable, like she did with the forsaken child, in this piece dealing with the situation of not being heard, not being seen, not being taken seriously (a trait also of the forsaken child), but just passed-by, like the Invisible Child of Tove Jansson’s novel. Surely it has to do with communications, anyway, echoing for unhearing ears, and the intense transmission of feverish voices through telephone lines, carrying urgent messages that dissolve in the vast ocean of someone’s indifference, or simply bounces off of the armor of someone’s back, off the back of someone’s turned away attitude, someone abandoning the urgency of a fellow earthling… who in the end always is… yourself, because at the end of all roads you meet up with… yourself, realizing that YOU were the person calling in the desert, and YOU were the turned-away one, and you will have to deal with this, in your Karma, in your Bardo… come to terms with this, to go on in lighter lives down the path of eternity…

The music hits hard-on with a bang, sending rays of timbres all around, long stretching layers onto which Jean pours grainy and sharp details of glassy fragments, like grains of sand on a newspaper on the ground, drifting in the wind, alternately hiding and revealing letters, shaping new messages out of the print… sending random impulses into the brains of the perceivers, written in sand by wind…

The violence of this messaging eases out in a peaceful section in which a pitch slowly rises on a breath of a dreamed being, and the voices start falling forward through the telephone lines, passing the poles at the speed of light; a flickering experience that is imperceptible to humans… but still real…

In the second part of this piece a thudding, unstable element (an avalanche of sound) surrounds and bathes the voices that rise in fragments of sentences, morphemes floating in a violent scenery, like feverish hallucinations inside a machine hall cruelty, down the bent-in force of an interstellar star crusher, a black hole of discontinued or never even started communication, a dark, trembling halt of hope, the bridges across the forests of November burning in an altered reminiscence of Stig Dagerman’s poem of desolation, Birgitta Suite…

The Léandre contrabass, emerging in squeaking utterances, sounding more like a Malcolm Goldstein violin than a double bass, coiling in the dusty heat, in and out between more tangible lumps of audio, mix in with vox humana spurs, all in a confusing bewilderment, in a soundscape which leaves a lot to interpretation… but in an atmosphere of late, very late, perhaps forlorn, civilizations, wherein all real communication has broken down into shreds of sentences flying like torn streamers in the wind of Tibetan mountain passes… as the murmur of thoughts deep down someone’s mind come across like the soaring mumble of the monks in Dharmsala, in front of the Buddha of Compassion; Avalokiteshvara…

The last section of Figures du temps - a farewell to S.O.S. - opens in glassy vulnerabilities; shrill, thin sounds of glass and sand, allowing for the code of Morse in bell-like shrillness, bell-signals dispersed unevenly across the sounding space, distantly roaring audio wailing like permutated ambulances through downtown circuitries of ghost towns, panning slowly back and forth, painting the scene for harsher, more brutal sounds scraping and beating against our perception, triggering all sorts of dark associations, eventually echoing in clay timbres of brown and black, which in turn recede, leaving naked Morse code behind to talk to no one… as time munches away behind the passing NOW, leaving behind precisely… nothing - and I may have to rethink my position in time…

I hear the creaking of wooden ships daring dark waters, I hear thoughts of the crews of doomed space shuttles touching on the periphery of home planet atmosphere; existence ripping apart like torn newspapers, down the middle; oh Avalokiteshvara…

The ambulance mimicries inside the veil of sounds take on wolf-like qualities, and I think of the wandering flocks of outcasts hiding in the northern forests, pray to human societies’ ill-based fears and prejudice… A ripping, tearing sensation pans back and forth through my head as I listen to the last minutes of Figures du temps, winding down through rumbling glaciers and massive mudflows, through ringing glass timbres in gluey expansions, as the final seconds are left to the lonely Morse messages astray in background static…

The final piece, on track 6, is low Memory #2 (2001); a work for acoustic instruments as well as electronics; bass flute and piccolo. Claire Marchand plays the acoustic instruments. Jean:“An encounter between instrumental sound as immediacy and individuality, with voluntarily restrained sonorities, and electroacoustic sounds, with dense and profound sonorities and movement, as an overture to the otherness at the very heart of sonic structure.”

With a deep rumble, well suited for mighty sub-woofers, the piece starts, rhythmically, persuasive, in a Necropolis setting of darkness and stale air, like inside a forgotten tomb of an Egyptian pyramid.

The blowing sounds of the flutes, closely miked, amplified, remind me some of Stockhausen and his treatment of flutes, in magnificent displays by Kathinka Pasveer diligence, in, for example, Kathinkas Gesang, which is a bardo state guidance through death to life, like I feel this music is too, though nothing at all is said about this in the booklet.

Monique Jean handles her auditory material in the manner of a true maestro of sound, and I am delighted at making her acquaintance through this startling CD. She really arrives at the otherness at the core of sound, and this is much more than just an overture to that, like she humbly restrains her description to in her text about the work. Instead, this piece opens up large, dark spaces inside our minds, which we will fill with the significance and mysteries of our own lives, the many that have passed and the many that will come, sensed from our present life, from which we have magnificent possibilities of enlightenment, and I believe, like, for example, Arthur Schopenhauer and Karlheinz Stockhausen, that the vibrations of sound can transform us into enchanted realms of consciousness.

Monique Jean handles her auditory material in the manner of a true maestro of sound…

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