The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Wrong — at least when it comes to electroacoustics, the beautiful province of Quebec compares very well to any other region of the world. Call me chauvinistic, I don’t care: Quebec is home to several composers of tremendous talent and influential professors.
My goal is not to turn this article in an analytical essay, but, as a music reviewer and unstoppable listener, I am convinced that there is such a thing as Québécois electroacoustics. Despite the stylistic variety among our composers, I detect a Québécois “sound,” something that sounds to me neither British nor French or German; something that calls to me and speaks to me in a language more immediate and easier to understand.
This “unity in diversity” is probably, at least in part, due to the lasting influence of a small number of key composers whose academic teachings have shaped our younger generations. I am thinking first and foremost of Francis Dhomont and Yves Daoust. So let’s begin this sound path with a Frenchman so Québécois at heart that he was awarded a prestigious Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. I can sincerely recommend all of Dhomont’s albums: his graceful writing, his narrative flair and his intelligence turn any of his works into fascinating gems. I have often publicly expressed my admiration for Forêt profonde (including in my first Sound Path, so I will skip it this time), but Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, his first large-scale work, remains an international classic of electroacoustic music, and his more recent Cycle du son shows how close to perfection his art has grown — the piece AvatArsSon in particular, my first pick for this Sound Path.
If Dhomont’s music is often constructed following large theoretical, literary and sociological themes, Yves Daoust’s works lean more toward poetry and the anecdote. Most of his pieces betray his respect for the abstractionist ideals of the French school, but his seemingly naive themes (water, crowds, a Chopin Fantasia or a childhood memory) empower his music with an unusual force of evocation. His latest album, Bruits, also displays a willingness to grow and learn. One is tempted to hear the influence of his more electronica-savvy students in the startling title triptych.
To those two pillars of Quebec electroacoustics, I must add the names of Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau is a very good example of what I consider to be the “typical” Québécois sound: a certain conservatism in the plasticity of sounds (the result of the combined influence of the British and French schools); great originality in their use; and an uncanny intelligence in the discourse which, even though it soars into academic thought, doesn’t rob the listener of his or her pleasure. My favorite album remains Figures, in part because of the beautiful piece Le Renard et la Rose, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince – and also because of Venture, a tribute to the Golden Age of progressive rock (a pet peeve I share with the composer, might I add). As for Gobeil’s music, it is the wildness of wilderness, the turmoil of human passions, the sudden gestures, the copious splashes of sonic matter thrown all around. If La mécanique des ruptures remains an essential listen, his most recent album Le contrat, a collaboration with guitarist René Lussier, stands as his most accomplished (and thrilling!) work to date.
These four composers may represent the crème de la crème of academic circles, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog counts numerous young composers and artists whose work deeply renew the vocabulary of their older colleagues.
I would like to mention Fractures, the just released debut album by Christian Bouchard. His fragmented approach seems to draw as much from academic electroacoustics as from experimental electronica. Thanks to some feverish editing and dizzying fragmentation, Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 evoke avant-garde digital video art. I also heartily recommend Louis Dufort’s album Connexions, which blends academic and noise approaches. His stunning piece Zénith features treatments of samples of Luc Lemay’s voice (singer with the death-metal group Gorguts). I am also quite fond of Marc Tremblay’s rather coarse sense of humor. On his CD Bruit-graffiti he often relies on pop culture (from The Beatles to children’s TV shows). His piece Cowboy Fiction, a “western for the ear” attempting to reshape the American dream, brings this Sound Path to a quirky end.
Serious or facetious, abstract or evocative, Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere. Now it is your turn to explore its many paths.