Alain Thibault: Music That Works Physically and Cerebrally

Daniel Rolland, SOCAN, Canadian Composer, March 1, 1990

Alain Thibault found his niche in contemporary music as others have in traditional classical music: That is to say, in a sincere and entirely natural way. Since his temperament generally leads him in a counter-current to others, the post-modern or avant garde school of composition is, for him, a comfortable mode of expression.

Thibault, 33, completed a Master’s degree at the Université de Montréal, with further studies at the same city’s McGill University. Although his principal composition instructor was Serge Garant, he attributes most of his experience in electroacoustic music to studies with Marcelle Deschênes. Thibault, whose works have been performed here and abroad, has been teaching electroacoustic music techniques at the Université de Montréal since 1984.

“At home, I naturally listen to a great deal of contemporary concert music, but also to popular music,” says Thibault. “For a simple reason: the pop music industry has the financial means to explore new electronic instruments and for me that is a way to keep up with the evolution of technology.” In his home in downtown Montréal, he has established a private studio replete with computers and synthesizers.

Last February, Thibault composed music for Rivage à l’abandon, a stunning theater piece staged in Montréal’s Musée d’art contemporain, by the company Carbone 14, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary. A setting of a text by German author Heiner Müller, the work formed part “Blickpunkte,” an event co-produced by the Musée d’art contemporain and the Gœthe Institute in Montréal. The words exert a striking power but the music, in this case, proves equally fascinating.

Listening to Thibault speak of his passion for contemporary music might give the impression that he is blindly dedicated to the genre. On the contrary, he recognizes the existence of weaker works alongside masterpieces. “The love of contemporary music,” Thibault feels, “is satisfied by a passionate need to seek out new things. For me, contemporary music should work on a physical as well as a cerebral level.”

With that viewpoint, it seems he has demonstrated well the path he intends to follow. Gilles Maheu, founder and artistic director of Carbone 14, knew that Thibault was the appropriate composer for his project from the time he heard Le Soleil et l’acier, for soprano and tape. The understanding between the two has been mutual, with each agreeing that music for the theater shouldn’t necessarily be limited to a functional role, as background, but that it should participate fully in the overall staging.

A compact disc of music by Alain Thibault, which was scheduled for release at the end of April on the new Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes, includes Le Soleil et l’acier (featuring soprano Pauline Vaillancourt), Concerto pour piano MIDI, his multi-media composition E.L.V.I.S. (in collaboration with Walter Boudreau), four extracts from the video opera Out, and a portion of God’s Greatest Gift. He is now starting work on a composition for cellist Claude Lamothe and stage director Maheu. Alain Thibault makes a modest living composing conteporary music and claims that his only mission is to make his art more widely accessible.