Devin Hurd, Musicworks, no. 50, June 1, 1991

The new CD Électro clips from the young Montréal label empreintes DIGITALes is a potpourri of twenty-five electroacoustic compositions. This is not a sampler compilation — that is, it does not contain excerpts of works found on other releases. These twenty-five pieces were commissioned specifically for this CD to represent twenty-five different artists working in the electroacoustic medium.

The careful consideration of the concept and packaging of this CD help it succeed. Each piece is exactly three minutes long and the compact disc comes with a set of numbered, loose pages for each selection: a black and white snapshot is on one side and information about the composer and his or her piece is on the other. The numbers on the pages refer only to the program number on the CD. One may shuffle the pages and the order of pieces on the CD player to eliminate any sense of hierarchical ordering. The equal length of each piece combined with clear documentation gives each artist equal representation.

Some of the pieces that interest me most are Mambo à la Braque by Javier Álvarez, Somewhere between by Craig Harris and Marimba Dismembered by John Oliver. Javier Álvarez is a Mexican composer whose Mambo à la Braque offers a more whimsical atmosphere that contrasts with the prevailing sombreness of the rest of the CD. Álvarez creates a “sound mosaic” using segments of a recording of Caballo Negro, a well-known mambo by Damaso Perez Prado. Álvarez preserves the recognizable sounds of mambo music while giving the piece a definite electronic slant.

Craig Harris’s Somewhere between uses piano sounds for its source material. Different timbral variations on piano sounds are used freely to create a remarkable piece. It opens with the scraping of various strings and lowpitched sounds. Later, more melodically oriented material appears that is soon integrated into the initial texture.

John Oliver’s Marimba Dismembered is described as “a dirge for Guatemala’s national instrument: a cry for an end to the genocide of the Mayan people”. The music alone does not make the same impression as the liner notes. It is not especially dirge-like and the political references are abstract enough that they wouldn’t exist without the liner notes. The music itseif is a fascinating study of marimba timbres. The slowed-down backward marimba sounds are easiest to identify and they run through most of the piece. The other sounds are electronically manipulated to such extremes that one is freed from any sense of their initial source.

Électro clips represents a wide variety of aesthetic approaches to electroacoustic music. There is a healthy eclecticism of sonic experimentation, political statement, audio cinema, sound journeys and studies of sound sources that are both obvious and abstracted.

The most successful pieces on this CD are the ones that used the limited time frame to their advantage. Pieces like John Oswald’s Bell Speeds or Daniel Scheidt’s What If made effective use of the time constraint by setting up a process that was followed throughout the course of three minutes. Another way composers made effective use of the time frame was by structuring the dynamic shape so that the dramatic material unfolded in effective proportions. This was achieved in Gilles Gobeil’s Associations libres by building toward a climactic section near the end. Since these pieces were specifically commissioned to be exactly three minutes long there was seldom a sense that these were simply short excerpts of longer pieces.

The empreintes DIGITALes label is clearly dedicated to the needs of its artists; each composer on the Électro clips CD receives a full representation. I am pleased to note that this label plans to release other works by some of the artists found on this collection, and that a second pressing of this release has been made; the initial pressing sold out in less than six months.

The empreintes DIGITALes label is clearly dedicated to the needs of its artists…