TJ Norris, Toneshift, October 25, 2018

Montréal-based composer Monique Jean offers two works on Troubles: T.A.G. (2013) and Out of Joint (2009). This is her third full-length effort with Canadian imprint empreintes DIGITALes, was mastered by Christian Bouchard. Let’s get started with T.A.G. — or (trottoir, asphalte, goudron: sidewalk, asphalt, tar), watch your step as we explore this twenty-five minute mysteriously synthesized work. It opens in a dark, fragile unpopulated urban space, save for the detritus left behind, like what sounds like rustling plastic shopping bags int he wind, and the rattle or tin roofing. The airy space and continuous drone sounds as though something has caved in and is falling fast into a cavernous black hole — like two worlds colliding in space.

The composition seems so free and tactile, rubbery screetching like a terrified rodent, frenetic effects and all. The actions like those of locomotives and other machines seem to be in reverse here. Perhaps this is a comment on the fragility of the precious Earth below our feet, how we cover it in a man-made layer just above the natural surface, the tension between the layers, and the intervention of Mother Nature…..

She layers pockets of fairly silent crusty rotations and rising, then disappearing pitch. This evolves into a most pleasantly strange set of effervescent tiny explosions and motorized reverb. A very active piece that rattles the rafters with experimental shifts that are delightfully unexpected. But these shifts are deliberate, and have a paced build, but the end results are abstract in design. The quieter moments add for expectation. With each pitter-patter the listener may wonder what exactly is happening under the hood. Though only Jean holds the master key, and this piece keeps you guessing like a classic thriller. As you may feel safe in the shallow darkness, watch your head as the final few minutes become a frenzy on sonic discordance.

The literary inspired Out of Joint follows and “is an essay in sound hybridization on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the various silver screen adaptations, stagings and rewrites it inspired through time.” What starts to sound like footsteps on wet pavement suddenly becomes a dark cavern, another pocketful of mystery. This shaking, quaking sound is evocative of spray paint being readied for a proper back alley tagging, and the sudden roaring explosion leads to a distant thunderstorm. This reminds me of the weather of late in North Texas, going from a rather calm day into unpredictable, instant storm flashes. Not unlike a car crash, sudden, random. But Jean adds an uncertain panache that leaves you on edge. A distinct rumble, like she’s altering the rotation of the planet axis to move mountains. Though it’s the core of this drone that builds and froths with great control. And suddenly it stops to a simple refrain of broken microsounds.

It’s here at midpoint that the composer finds the wherewithal to deconstruct the cacophony, adding breathy billows of rolling effects that disguise the actual instruments. Instead she opts for the sounds of a ride at La Ronde (Christian Bouchard) and the brittle sounds of ice on frozen lake (Mario Gauthier). It’s a fascinating set of parameters without bounds. And flash to a whole flock of geese cackle away from fore to background. A breathtaking moment in this piece.

This is the type of work that will keep you thinking on your toes, scratching your head in observation of the wonderment of velocity and scope of imagination. In the end this crackles away into a small fire, and other daily field recording observances, perhaps even fumbling inside a pocket. This set of Troubles will leave most of you breathless.

This set of Troubles will leave most of you breathless.