Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, November 12, 2009

When I heard the name Jacques Tremblay, I was sure I’d reviewed CDs by him before, but that wasn’t so. It seems the name Tremblay is common in electroacoustic realms, or maybe in the French-speaking world, because I had reviewed Marc Tremblay and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay before, not Jacques…

Jacques Tremblay was born in Jonquière, Québec, in 1962. He is a composer and a classical guitarist.

Tremblay explains that the main theme through his three works here is otherness. He goes into exemplifications, like a moment of reminiscing disturbed by a noisy neighbor, or a radio station reaching him from somewhere outside his private space, or an Arabian song panning by, from inside a passing car, and so forth. His own attitude towards these external intrusions into his privacy also pan, from resistance to interest and even pleasure.

Track 1. Espresso espressivo (2003 — 04) [12:30]

Jacques Tremblay, at the end of his CD cover introduction to the piece, expresses his regards to the “expressiveness of [his] espresso machine”. We fall right into an up-tempo urbanism in this work; hectic, caffeine-speedy, nervous; in the spastic motion of modern day moneymaking. Furthermore, it is a motion from the outside to the inside; from a street scene into the obscurity of a bar — or something. These are the first few seconds of the caffeine piece.

Then a peculiar thing happens, as this everyday atmosphere all of an electroacoustic sudden changes into another sonic and mental realm. Tremblay, like an escaping hare, jumps sideways into something else, pulling the listener with him into a thoughtful, slow motion suspension in space, which somehow is made up of all these familiar street-and-bar sonorities, although pulled and stretched in rubber band heaven.

I can appreciate that many of these wheezing sounds are derived from Mr. Tremblay’s espresso machine, and perhaps the cathedral bells that resound, seemingly, through the wall, come from the rattling of porcelain in the bar / café? The mix of white noise wheezing and slithering with hushed and muffled church bells, anyhow, makes for a highly interesting piece of electroacoustic poetry!

Of course there’s got to be some bubbling effects in a piece of espresso machine music, and here they come; first just hinted at, at a natural pitch and speed, but then slowed-down and low-pitched, in shiny, glary concave surfaces of sound, alligator back-like. Nice!

It’s not that the sounds are obvious at all. I don’t think I’d make the immediate association, if I hadn’t been told. With that piece of information, though, you don’t have to look hard!

The “real world” is gradually mixed back in with the extended electroacoustic aspects, in the shape of people chatting across their coffee cups… but soon Tremblay zooms in on some of the sounds in this wide awake environment, like the dropping of some sugar cubes into the coffee, and the subsequent stirring of a spoon in said cup — while the rest of the environment; chatter and all, seems to be sucked up around the walls and the ceiling, leaving ample sonic room for the details focused on. Brilliant!

The wake and extremely present moment is sometimes diluted and warp-sped into the field of a common consciousness that spreads across the vast distances between the galaxy clusters, in an action of non-locality that dizzies, eventually ending up as a standing wave of energy clear across the universe. Jacques Tremblay shifts perspective and aspect in a jiffy inside his sound art, from the stirring of a spoon in a cup to the horizon of events at the brink of a black hole.

With an eye on the stars passing by in a stretched silence, Tremblay opens a bag of coffee and fills his machine. The ambience of spiraling thoughts swings the moment around, as some steam rises. A bubble of here and now, containing that pleasant chatter of the coffee shop, sails by, while other bubbles with other moments — of there and then, perhaps — bounce off.

Reflections of even-surfaced singing hang like meandering serpentines through time, while chopped-up, permuted, sliced and rolled-up Bach quotes fall away like shiny, colorful candy wrappers out of a toddler’s Christmas Day hands.

The pressurized and moist air passing through Tremblay’s coffee machine makes me think of passenger jets streaming by high up, leaving trails across the sky, and that far-off, curving sound of power, speed and distance, high up in the dressed-up atmosphere of inter-continentalia! The coughing and squirting of this coffee commodity, pitched-down, evoke visions of dark thunderclouds across a summer’s lake, the claps resounding back and forth between the shores. Reflections of fluorescent tubes in spoons provide the lightning.

Later on Tremblay’s coffee music turns liturgical, as it nears the South East Asian Gamelan ensemble expression, although, simultaneously, this passage awakens memories of small herds of cows with cowbells around their necks, moving across a Swiss slope in the fragrance of spring flowers and the vibrancy of bumble bees.

Wonderfully percussive spurs fall by like the rattling of bamboo sticks, also resembling a steam locomotive struggling up a hill in the Rockies — and somehow these visions of sound all stem from a coffee machine under the spiritual influence of sonic wizard Jacques Tremblay from Jonquière!

Track 2. L’énigme anima (1997, 2001) [9:22]

There are two sides to L’énigme anima; Persona and Anima. Tremblay explains that Persona represents the outer personality, while Anima, then, constitutes the inner one. The composer refers to Carl Gustav Jung (1875 — 1961). Jacques Tremblay lets Persona express itself through guitar sounds, while Anima is heard through a counter tenor. I suppose Tremblay provides the guitarisms, but there is no way to guess the counter tenor, so I guess — before listening — that the identity of this voice is so far removed that dropping a name is useless.

The music — the moment — the present… starts with a breath, a rasping ripple of dust and iron, a voice gliding between evening clouds… a dream… A speedy velocity pans the premises, while toy horseshoes clatter up-tempo. The guitar arrives on a slow-down note, breaking to a halt, almost falling over forwards. The female voice rattles down; comes to a standstill. A breath is being breathed. Guitar slaps you in the face, like a Zen master might do, recited by Lucien Stryk. And yet, we have only reached 50 seconds into L’énigme anima. This means that Jacques Tremblay works hard with his compositions; studies time in detail, grain by grain, second by second, though he never loses sight of the overall impression. He knows his trade.

Lots of things happen; many details are formed and de-formed, rising through your mind, sliding out of your perception — and there’s no way to collect all of Tremblay’s expressions in one impression. Deep, drone-like sounds carry the moments, while high-pitch patches are let loose higher up in your mind. Suddenly melodious shreds of tunes are hinted at; a kind gesture inside the poisonous moment.

This is a piece drenched in fragments, over-loaded with sprawling and straggling auditive thorns; not a very harmonious sonic adventure, and, I must say, a pretty laborious work to hear…

Tracks 3 — 10. Empathies entropiques (1998 — 2001) [47:08]: La petite Camille; L’enfant d’Afrique; Ganga is Divine; Lolita corps et âme; Polonaise; Tryptique russe; Rêve libanis; Haïti troubadour (dedicated to Yves Daoust)

The last work on the CD is much longer than the preceding works, containing of no less than eight parts, all together forty-seven minutes.

Jacques Tremblay quotes Martin Buber, from his book I and Thou, in connection with this extended work:

“This is the eternal origin of art: a shape appears to a man and demands to be fixed in a work. That shape is not the product of his soul, but an outside apparition that manifested itself to that soul and asked from it an efficient force. This is an essential action. If the man realizes himself, if he says, with all his might, the fundamental word I-You to the shape that appeared to him, the efficient force flows, and the work is born”

Tremblay also says that this piece is “an inner odyssey […] in praise of multiplicity.

He further explains that this long electroacoustic work features a series of snapshots with otherness-character, from various cultures. The languages that the voices that he features are clothed in are Russian, Italian, Creole, English, Arabic, African [I don’t know which of the many African languages he means] and a made-up language. However, he uses these languages blindly, without consideration to the inherent meaning of the words, since he doesn’t speak these languages. He was aiming at a sense of strangeness.

However, the first voice I hear is that of a French-speaking toddler — La Petite Camille -, whose happy exclamations fly up and flutter around like a swarm of butterflies in the sun.

Strange, estranged… ripples of drone-like character are laid out like bracelets on a desk at a jeweler’s store, while the little child plays in the soundscape, talking happily to himself, and then to a parent, who replies. It’s a mix of the apparent, the obvious, the well known — and a visualization of an inner world, like so often in modern electroacoustics. The breathing of a busy child playing is the cement that makes for a kind of coherence when all these strange dreams and visions are blended into the so-called reality.

The breathing of this child is slowly spilling over into another world of sounds, where the rhythm of these inhalations, exhalations turn dark, slow, deep — like was it the soil that expands and retracts under your feet. In the middle of a sound-poetic permutation of the French-speaking people at hand, the audible and comprehendible voices appear, but soon in a language that nor I or the composer understand. This means that the voices then Are used as just another sonic ingredient, although the vibrations of human voices always are biased in such a way that you never really can regard them solely as sound, without the attached irritation/pleasure/ indifference of a person.

The original child’s voice returns, but bathed in a bell-like ambience, Jell-O-like, wobbling, moving like huge soap bubbles in the wind. An English-speaking man of non-English origin talks about salvation. The ample usage of various languages reminds me of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Engel-Prozession (2000), in which he utilized languages from India, China, Spain, The English-speaking world, the Spanish-speaking world, Africa (Kiswahili) and Germany for his choirs and soloists.

Jacques Tremblay grabs an instance of a child’s voice and stretches it electroacoustically into elastic bands of catcalls, very illusionary! Adult voices are also permuted and pitched-away, so as to take on the guises of trombones and drowsy cows — or the desperate rubbing of wet balloons, like in Sune Karlsson’s 12-hour work Phonia Domestica (1988).

Tremblay’s ingenuity is almost limitless in this extended work, which has an extremely rich soundworld; opening up to the listener, layer after layer. Empathies entropiques honorably takes its place in the glorious tradition of worked-through, programmatic or semi-programmatic French electroacoustic grand works by composers like Bernard Parmegiani, François Bayle, Michel Chion or Francis Dhomont.

Tremblay’s ingenuity is almost limitless in this extended work, which has an extremely rich soundworld; opening up to the listener, layer after layer.

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