One of a series of discs from Canada’s DIFFUSION i MéDIA, the organization behind the empreintes DIGITALes label. The basic thrust of the two recent series is the continued exploration of sound via electronics, and an effort to bring real electronic music into the present day. Which means, of course, that everything from MIDI to the kitchen sink gets involved, with sometimes astonishing results.
Volt is cause for astonishment indeed, partly in its immediacy and listenability. The latter effect is close to baffling when you consider that the opening piece is the thirteen minute Concerto pour piano MIDI in which pianist Jacques Drouin is faced with the task of keeping pace with a wildly programmed array of synthesizers and samplers — it’s a piece that takes the tack Frank Zappa has taken with his Synclavier work on albums such as Jazz From Hell, but with a slight but important difference: here there’s a live performer working in response to the programming. As the liner notes mention, that introduces an element of danger and an element of tension. Fortunately, Drouin is up to the challenge involved.
In Le soleil et l’acier soprano Pauline Vaillancourt is the human element balanced in a desolate vocal balance against the electronic instruments and racketing percussion. The piece suggests narrative, strangely enough, possessing the resonances of a good movie score for a thriller. Instruments float in and out of the mix, swirling about the pinned voice and dissipating again. It’s an oddly exciting piece, all tension and danger, remarkable, immediate and clever.
OUT, on the other hand, an abbreviated version of a video opera exploring the idea of virtual reality as a way of life, is somewhat less successful. Much of the piece is dependent upon Fairlight sampling and trickery, so that the sections of the piece often sound like Art Of Noise run amok, particularly in the opening section, built around a quote from Ronald Reagan. There are some interesting sounds and ideas, but it doesn’t quite get all the way through, the piece falling prey to its own facility for flexing in any given direction.
ELVIS (Électro-lux, vertige illimité synthétique)> on the other hand is structured for electronic instruments and saxophone quartet and has an air of deep dark mystery about it, rather in the way of jazz turned on its head and then warped out to some other place. Here Thibault takes to long tones, electronic vocals, staccato overlays from the saxes, galloping percussive sections that seems almost normal at moments, before whirling off to some other time, space and meter. As much of a pun as the title is, the music also manages a few puns here and there, ricocheting from musical ideas that are comfortably familiar. It’s a very dynamic piece.
Volt manages tc conjure up the image of electricity, though in the context of a mad scientist’s lab (the synthesized harpsichord voice and the Simmons tom tom samples may be responsible for this image). It spends most of its ime leaping about between ideas and variations on those ideas; often with a sense of computers out of control as pieces of the music suddenly speed up, slow down, speed up, slam to a stop. At first it seems as though it is never going to connect the dots… and then, one by one, the dots start to blend out and together, making a coherent sense. It’s musical illumination by machine, of course, hung on a popping, growling bass and tinkly, flashing marimba sounds, sort of a dance mix from hell. There’s more than a little of that Zappa connection again — there are sections of this piece that have the same sort of clean-edger lunatic avant-jazz sense to them, especially with the marimba going full tilt.
If exploring modern electronic music is something you want to do, I can recommend this album as an excellent starting place — it’s out far enough that it’s fascinating and fresh, but connected enough to the real world at odd points that it will not drive away the curious looking to see what all the noise is about.