Jean-François Denis

Label Profile

Daniel Plunkett, Jeff Filla, N D - Magazine, 1 juin 1997

The label empreintes DIGITALes has long caught our eyes and ears as a label dedicated to bringing forward some of the most compelling work of new and historic artists involved with electroacoustic music. The following interview with Jean-François Denis explores the history and exploration of new artists. 23 questions by Daniel Plunkett and Jeff Filla.


ND: Could you give a brief background of the activities revolving around DIFFUSION i MéDIA?

Jean-François Denis: Founded in 1989 with Claude Schryer, DIFFUSION i MéDIA’s first activity was the setup of its electroacoustic music CD label empreintes DIGITALes. This label was founded because that genre of music was not being “served” by any other “real” record label I knew of at the time. (I knew of the GRM and of the Cultures électroniques-Bourges collections in France, but not anywhere else.) It is while teaching electroacoustic music at Concordia University (1985-89) in Montréal, and through the call for works for its annual electroacoustic concert series that I became aware of the extensive accumulated archives of Canadian (700+) and international (300+) electroacoustic pieces. Some of them masterpieces, but not available. If you had missed the concert or the one radio broadcast — too bad! There was a need to “materialize” some of these works. No other existing local or national label would go into that field. I was left to do it by myself. Claude Schryer was also concerned about the “diffusion” of that music, so we decided to simply found a label.

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We had four projects to start the label with: Calon, Normandeau, Thibault and the special Électro clips. I wanted to have many CD plans in order not to setup yet another “One-CD” label. The funding from the Canada Council (for the Arts) for sound recording projects helped us tremendously in doing things “right:” good sound, good color covers, complete booklet, full of information and full English translation.

DIFFUSION i MéDIA is a media arts producer, since 1992 run by one person. Its main activities are two-fold:

  1. Production of empreintes DIGITALes CDs. That collection focuses on electroacoustic music, musique concrète, acousmatic, mixed works… (Another label, SONARt, was set up in 1992 to focus on “radiophonic” works, program music, sound works that “try” to tells a story — either clearly or abstractly. We have stopped development for that label).
  2. Distribution — direct mail-order of our productions and of productions by “friend” labels from abroad. LA LISTE, a “New Music” promotional mailing list database project (mostly for the Montréal area), has been active since 1992: more than 12 new music (actuelle-electro-contemporary) concert producers have merged their mailing lists into one in order to reach a larger audience.

Areas of interest are the publication of written documents (in French and in English) about electroacoustic music. (Much that is happening in Europe — France, UK, Sweden — does not reach North America.) I travel to keep up with research, ideas, composers, concerts, festivals… these books would fill in gaps in the available literature, mostly for teaching purposes.


ND: How do you select the artists which you release?

JFD: I travel a lot, meet many composers, and listen to many works, mostly during festivals. If I like what I hear or if I feel the composer’s integrity, I get in touch and try to design a string of pieces that will make a wonderful livingroom loudspeaker disc. That last point is important, I try to focus on good sounding loudspeaker music. Recordings that will sound good in livingrooms. I am not too interested in “documenting” performances.


ND: Could you pinpoint any goals or aspirations?

JFD: Well this one is hard. The goal is to make the music heard; make it available; at the most affordable price possible. Keep titles in print. Provide promo copies to radio stations (national ones but mostly college and community based stations). Make the music heard.


ND: Does DIFFUSION i MéDIA sponsor any concerts?

JFD: When I started the CD label, nobody else was serving that area. In terms of concert production, many other organizations work in that field already. So the answer is no, not directly. DIFFUSION i MéDIA has organized three concert tours called Traces électro: Canada in 1991, French-speaking Europe in 1992, UK in 1994. With composers Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil, we have founded a concert organization, Réseaux, that specialized in musique concrète concerts (projected on a large number of loudspeakers).


ND: There seems to be a healthy musical and artistic activity in Montréal.

JFD: This city is quite surprising in that respect indeed. Is there a sense of urgency caused by the French-speaking minority (6 million) in an English-speaking immediate majority (300 million)? In terms of electroacoustics: the four universities and the conservatoire have programs (from 3 or 4 course to full-fledged undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs), enrolled some 125 students yearly, and produce some concerts. Plus ACREQ is an independent electroacoustic music concert producer in town. So there is activity. Things are moving and the more they move the more exciting they become.


ND: What are some of the upcoming and planned releases?

JFD: 1996 was good for empreintes DIGITALes:

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Cirque by Paris composer Michèle Bokanowski; Zoo by Dan Lander (Toronto); Articles indéfinis by Jonty Harrison (UK); Délirantes (2 CDs of mixed works by Cuban-born Canadian composer Sergio Barroso; Kaleidos by Stéphane Roy (Montréal); Transformations by Hildegard Westerkamp (Vancouver); the opera for six singers and electroacoustic music Léone by Philippe Mion and Philippe Minyana (Paris); two releases by Montréal-based French composer Francis Dhomont Sous le regard d’un soleil noir and Forêt profonde and American pioneer Jon Appleton Contes de la mémoire.

1997-98 has more to offer: [Autour by] Claude Schryer, [Miniatures concrètes] a new Électro clips-like release with 24 new 3-minute pieces (composer from USA, France, UK, Italy, Canada, Sweden, Québec…), [Les corps éblouis by] Christian Calon, [and projets with] Yves Daoust, Ned Bouhalassa, Daniel Leduc, Jacques Tremblay, Darren Copeland, Michel Chion


ND: Where do you find the most positive reaction?

JFD: From people without prejudices: electroacoustic music has had bad press and bad reputation in many countries for various reasons, good and bad. Tape music in the USA has a bad name for instance, being called academic, intellectual, dead and these are found in the “underground-alternative” music stores. They read the specialized magazines and listen to selected radio stations. Geographically, Europe is where empreintes DIGITALes has had the most positive response so far.


ND: What is the connection between Metamkine and DIFFFUSION i MéDIA?

JFD: Metamkine is a mail-order distributor in Europe based in Rives (near Grenoble), France which also specializes in electroacoustic, musique concrète, acousmatic music and experimental music. It also produces its own CD label: Cinéma pour l’oreille. It is the main representative of empreintes DIGITALes in Europe. DIFFUSION i MéDIA helps distribute its Cinéma pour l’oreille collection in North America (and also serves as a North American address for its catalog). We have both developed our labels to serve different needs. We “share” many composers (and more to come) and consult on each other on our projects in order to coordinate events, launches, concerts, etc. Besides, Jérôme Noetinger and I are great friends, both working for the same ideals, in similar complementary ways.


ND: Many of the composers you have released, with the exception of a few, are not very well known, even within certain circles of people who listen to experimental music. It takes a long time for people to become aware of certain artists. Does this ever frustrate you?

JFD: No, being “not well known” is the norm in electroacoustic music. It is more demanding in terms of promotion (not only do I have to promote the existence of the disc, I have to promote the existence of that “musical genre” and of that one “composer”) but is absolutely normal. How many artists are well known in the circles of truly experimental music?


ND: Are there certain books or publications you could recommend to people who would be interested in knowing more about this kind of music, and the history of it?

JFD: Yes, but most of them are in French at this time. Books by authors, and most time composers, Michel Chion, François Bayle, the late Pierre Schaeffer; The LIEN collection directed by Annette Vande Gorne, and a few issues by Francis Dhomont. Simon Emmerson (UK) wrote a book 20 years ago and updated it a few years ago. Joel Chadabe (USA) recently wrote a book on electronic music which I have not seen yet. Most of the English books I know of were written over 15 years ago. But I am not a good person to ask.


ND: Electroacoustic music is usually very stereophonically dynamic and emphasizes changing environments and abrupt changes in sound sources. AMM’s Keith Rowe said “the key to understanding this music is to consider it “cinema for the ear” (this is the title for Metamkine’s 3” CD series).

JFD: The term “Cinéma pour l’oreille” has been around for many years now; I can’t trace its source though. It is also a term used by Robert Normandeau (from the intro of his Tangram CD): “the quintessence of my work during 1990-93, and exemplify the perspective which I’d embraced during that period: cinema for the ear. Basically, this consists of seeking inspiration outside of the musical context, specially in the work of cinema. Themes are inspired directly from the titles; once elaborated, they then underlie the work, becoming axes around which the composition takes shape. They serve as landmarks for the listener exploring these unheard-of spaces.”


ND: The manner in which this sort of music is “performed” seems very appropriate to the music’s character. Is performance what the composer has most in mind when at work in the studio?

JFD: Of course two (maybe more) answers are possible here. I think that composers, while composing, keep in mind that their music will be mostly heard: 1) on the radio — stereophonic sound; 2) in concert — with a sound projection system using 12, 16, or 24+ loudspeakers; 3) at home — via the compact disc — stereo sound. Some pieces work well in the concert space only, other in the living room only. Many work well in both settings. But I would say that many composers work with sound, with its texture, its position in space, its movement in space. Thus, the concert is where their music can take the full spectrum.


ND: Also, please describe the setting for these performances and the means in which the music is played.

JFD: The loudspeakers are placed in the room, many in front, some on the side, some in the back, some above, some in the audience. The master tape (stereo), via the console’s faders, may feed each speaker independently. The “sound projectionist,” using those faders, “performs” the piece by sending the sounds to different speakers, thus moving the sound in space, but also in colors (since the loudspeakers are different models, “sounding” differently.) Projectionists usually make “diffusion” scores, rehearse the pieces in each space — adapting the movement/color ideas to specific sound system installation, and perform “live” from the center of the room, and of the audience.


ND: Do these artists ever perform instruments live at such events?

JFD: There are three main kinds of electroacoustics: musique concrète, acousmatic music, tape music… (these are piece for loudspeakers only); mixed works…(these are for instrument(s) and tape); and live pieces, interactive music… (these are all live). It is also important to note that for some (mostly in the USA) electroacoustic is not a musical genre, but descriptive (such as “piano music” or “symphonic music”); for others it is a genre, a different approach to composition. So to answer your question, yes.


ND: Relatively few works in the French electroacoustic tradition are readily available.

JFD: By available you mean “in my local record shop.” Specialized music is available via specialized networks. France electroacoustic music is available on more than 60 CDs. There is basically one French label: Cinéma pour l’oreille. The GRM is a studio and has an important collection of CDs. The GMEB, with its competition, has also an important CD catalog. Most French studios have their own “in-house” label (all are available, by mail, via METAMKINE).


ND: Which works are thought to exemplify excellence in this medium? (What works do you find personally inspiring?)

JFD: Well, as a CD label director, I try to present, in varied styles, excellence. Naming is excluding, forgetting and reductionist, and I am not very good at it. There are many, many important works; some are already available on CD, many are not. But I can dive in and say that the work of French composers François Bayle, Francis Dhomont, Michel Chion, Bernard Parmegiani are “important.” Many other composers — from other countries — are also important: Åke Parmerud, Gilles Gobeil, and Jonty Harrison, but that’s only seven names.


ND: The vast majority of “20th Century” compositions that are available are for instrumentations typical of traditional classical music. Your label has tended to emphasis studio “tape music”-style works. Do you feel that there is a importance in distinguishing between the two mediums?

JFD: Yes. While mixed works and live works are extensions of the instrumental musical language, studio pieces (tape, musique concrète) may be radically different, a new approach to sound art and sound composition. This is why I was referring to the difference in the meaning of the term electroacoustic earlier. For the label I tend to focus on the work that has a footing in the sonic world rather than in the instrumental world.


ND: You mentioned earlier that tape music in the USA has a bad name. There does exist a resentment among many private enthusiasts of experimental music here toward the products of academia, often due to the fact that self-taught artists are usually ignored in academic circles (literature, festivals, etc.) How do you view composers who have been involved mostly in a University system versus those in the underground?

JFD: To me, if the music sounds good, it sounds good. While most composers come out of schools, as most filmmakers come out of schools, electroacoustic music composers do also. They have access to instruments, to knowledge, and to masters there. Why not go? But this does not mean that what comes out “sounds good” to me. Where composers come from is (to an extent) their personal life. If their music is good (to my subjective self) then that is what matters. Today, with the technology, many musicians are doing a kind of “live” tape music (so to speak) using found sounds, changing and transforming them and “pasting” them together (composition.) Some do it within the rock music genre, some in the industrial music genre… some in the form of concert music (thus less “popular” thus “less known” thus “more difficult” thus “reserved to the few” thus “elite” — I do not believe this at all but that is the general thinking here…) or even the more abstract form of musique concrète (to use one of its many names.)


ND: Is it true that electroacoustic music is almost always produced in the studios of Universities?

JFD: Well, this is not accurate. The music from the universities might be more visible (via the network of conferences, festivals and competitions), but most music in Québec is made in composers’ personal studios; most music made in France is made in (state funded) local studios, for example.


ND: Did all of your label’s artists come to electroacoustic music by way of classical music study in a University setting?

JFD: Most have been associated with institutions (this includes universities — mostly in the anglo-saxon world, the conservatories — mostly in the French world, and structures — mostly state funded) but not all: Christian Calon and Randall Smith have not, for instance.


ND: Would you say that most such composers are interested in classical music?

JFD: Many only work in electroacoustics.


ND: Is electroacoustic music seen as a form of expression tied to traditional themes to the extent that classical music is (with Western literature, religion, mythology, etc.)?

JFD: Human beings’ expression is tied to human beings’ lives.


ND: I find it fascinating that on many of your label’s releases (and similar labels) are works that had gone long unheard by willing enthusiasts — works buried in a University archives for many years, if not decades. Why do you think that these original works were never individually released? Do University policies prevent private release of works from their studios?

JFD: Once again I am swapping the word “university” for “institution.” Economics is one: In the 70s, a few commercial record labels have released LPs of (specialized) music (Subotnik, Parmegiani). Most of these were not commercially viable enough for the major labels to continue. Another reason: Producing and recording is quite easy, distributing is quite difficult. The compact disc and the home digital studio have changed the economics of production. What remains is the economics of distribution. My positions via the old debate of institutions versus the public is that it is an old debate, while superficially founded in many cases; it is irrelevant down deep. I do know that the whole funding agencies are based on institutional relationships; and I think that this is why there is so many bad feelings about government supported art. There are fewer bad feelings about government supported chemical industries. Last note: we — I, but also the CEC and most of the European community — tend to write the word ‘electroacoustic’ in one word, making it a unified genre, rather than a combination of things.

… a label dedicated to bringing forward some of the most compelling work of new and historic artists…

L’art de la transformation

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no 2:7, 1 juillet 1995

Le Canada est célèbre pour son hockey, ses Rocheuses et son saumon rouge, ses recherches en médecine et ses films d’animation, et même pour sa technologie de l’ère de l’espace. De quoi étre fier!

Mais qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique? La plupart des Canadiens, selon toute vraisemblance, ne connaissent même pas ce style de musique.

Cela n’empêche pas Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, du Québec, Barry Truax et Paul Dolden, de Vancouver, et Bruno Degazio, de Toronto, de faire partie d’un groupe grandissant de compositeurs de musique électroacoustique canadiens acclamés partout dans le monde.

«Le Canada joue un rôle unique dans le domaine de l’électroacoustique, affirme le compositeur torontois Al Mattes. Il suffit de consulter la liste des lauréats des principaux prix qui sont remis tous les ans à Bourges, en France.»

Cofondateur il y a deux décennies de l’avant-gardiste Music Gallery de Toronto, Mattes est actuellement président de la Communauté électroacoustique canadienne (CÉC), le seul groupe de soutien pancanadien pour les obsédés sonores. Fait révélateur, l’adhésion à la CÉC a presque doublé depuis deux ans.

«Je crois qu’il serait légitime d’affirmer que la musique électroacoustique a été inventée au Canada, dit Mattes. Il existe plusieurs souches différentes, naturellement, mais l’idée du contrôle du voltage est véritablement issue de l’œuvre de Hugh Le Caine.»

Le Caine (1914-1977) était une personne extraordinaire et il n’est donc guère surprenant que le prix de la composition de musique électroacoustique de la SOCAN, remis annuellement, porte son nom. En tant que directeur du Laboratoire de musique électronique du Conseil national de recherches à Ottawa au début des années 40, Le Caine était habité par la motivation de créer des instruments et des sons nouveaux. Certaines de ses plus remarquables inventions, tels la saqueboute et le générateur de structures sonores sérielles, furent des précurseurs des synthétiseurs d’aujourd’hui.

On doit aussi à Le Caine d’avoir jeté les fondations des premiers studios électroacoustiques d’importance au Canada, d’abord à l’Université de Toronto et ensuite à l’Université McGill de Montréal. Les départements de musique des universités de toutes les régions du Canada constituent depuis un environnement fertile pour l’univers effervescent de l’électroacoustique. Maintenant à la retraite, des pionniers comme Istvan Anhalt (Université Queen’s) et Otto Joachim (qui a son propre studio depuis le milieu des années 50), ont été suivis par des compositeurs tels Gustav Ciamaga (Université de Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill) et Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

La CÉC compte environ 250 membres dans ses rangs, mais selon l’administrateur Ian Chuprun, «le nombre d’électroacousticiens qui ne sont pas membres est beaucoup plus élevé. La culture pop a commencé à faire davantage appel aux techniques électroacoustiques dans tous les secteurs — à la télévision, au cinéma, dans la publicité — et l’ensemble de ce domaine est du même coup devenu plus accessible.»

Kevin Austin, de l’Université Concordia à Montréal, abonde dans le même sens: «Nous ne parlons pas de musique au sens traditionnel. Dans une large mesure, il s’agit d’une exploitation du son sans l’intervention directe des notions de hauteur et de rythme telles que nous les comprenons. Mais il est beaucoup plus facile d’apprécier la musique électroacoustique maintenant qu’à l’époque où elle faisait ses premiers pas, étant donné que plusieurs des sons utilisés ne sont plus perçus comme étant très inhabituels.»

Très actif dans les milieux de la musique électroacoustique depuis plus de 25 ans, Austin a mis sur pied l’ensemble MetaMusic en 1972, ainsi que le Groupe électroacoustique de Concordia en 1982. Il a aussi joué un rôle déterminant dans la création de la CÉC en 1986.

«Dans les années 50, la transformation d’un son pouvait prendre des semaines, déclare Austin. De nos jours, il suffit d’utiliser un générateur et de raccorder une résonance vocale à l’attaque d’une guitare, et bingo! vous venez de créer un nouveau son.»

L’un des compositeurs de musique électroacoustique les plus en vue du Canada, Paul Dolden, ne partage pas cette vision des choses: «Je n’aime pas du tout le mot électroacoustique. Je préférerais dire que je suis un compositeur faisant appel à la technologie. Ce que je fais, c’est de la musique orchestrale embellie. J’aime les notes, cela est indéniable. Je suis peu intéressé aux soi-disant ‘objets sonores’ et je déteste les sons synthétisés. Mais comme je travaille sur bande et qu’aucune de mes œuvres ne peut être exécutée en direct, je suppose qu’on peut classer le tout dans la catégorie ‘musique électroacoustique’. Mais je crois sincèrement que nous n’avons pas besoin de ce terme.»

Ces jours-ci, Dolden s’est enrichi de 10 000$ en remportant l’un des deux Prix de composition musicale Jean A. Chalmers, l’autre étant allé à Jean-François Denis. Ce dernier enseigne [de 1985 à 1989] les rudiments de la musique électroacoustique à l’Université Concordia, et son prix lui a été remis afin de souligner sa contribution à titre de présentateur de concerts, d’éditeur et de fondateur d’empreintes DIGITALes, une étiquette de disques accumulant les succès. Quant à Dolden, c’est sa composition L’ivresse de la vitesse qui a retenu l’attention du jury.

«Cela consiste en 400 pistes d’instruments acoustiques, explique Dolden. Vous devriez voir la partition. Elle contient des millions de notes! Ce que j’ai fait, essentiellement, c’est réduire cinq symphonies à une durée de 15 minutes. Le but visé était d’accélérer la musique au point d’en arriver à un état d’ivresse.»

Le mois dernier, Dolden a présenté sa récente œuvre en première dans le cadre d’un concert de la Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) à Montréal. «Je l’ai appelée The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3, précise-t-il. «La portion sur bande fait appel à une grande quantité d’artefacts de la culture pop. C’est du rock pour intellectuels.»

À l’autre antipode de l’univers électroacoustique se trouve Barry Truax, de l’Université Simon Fraser. Compositeur et académicien influent depuis le début des années 70, il a reçu, grâce à sa pièce Riverrun, ie très convoité Prix Magisterium à Bourges, où se tient le plus prestigieux concours de musique électroacoustique au monde.

«Jadis il y avait la musique sur bande, la musique électronique et la musique informatique, se souvient Truax. Il y avait des regroupements distincts qui mettaient l’accent sur les technologies. Les trois factions entretenaient peu de rapports. Mais les barrières se sont mises à tomber, notamment en raison de la différence entre l’analogique et le numérique.»

Truax doit sa réputation à son travail dans le domaine de la musique assistée par ordinateur, et il fut l’un des premiers à programmer ses propres logiciels. «Cela était nécessaire dans les années 70, dit-il. De nos jours, c’est devenu un inconvénient.»

Le compositeur de la côte ouest travaille actuellement à exécuter une importante commande pour le compte de la International Computer Music Conference, qui aura lieu au début de septembre. Cet événement annuel marquant s’est tenu à Copenhague l’année dernière et à Tokyo en 1993. Cette année, c’est Banff, Alberta, qui en sera l’hôte.

Les expérimentations acoustiques de la compositrice vancouveroise Hildegard Westerkamp, une associée de longue date de Truax, ont toujours porté sur les sons environnementaux. «Il m’arrive souvent de concilier l’écologie et la composition sonore, explique-t-elle. J’espère donner la première d’une nouvelle pièce à l’ISEA95 Montréal (Symposium international des arts électroniques) en septembre à Montréal.»

Récemment revenue d’un symposium de deux semaines sur les sons, organisé par l’Akademie der Kunste à Berlin, Westerkamp est l’éditrice du Soundscape Newsletter, l’organe officiel du World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. «Le médium électroacoustique est tellement fascinant. Je trouve dommage qu’il y ait si peu de femmes qui s’y intéressent. Je crois que la technologie représente l’obstacle majeur. Méme si cela ne décourage pas tout le monde, il y a aussi le contexte plutôt difficile lié au domaine qui peut parfois aussi rebuter certaines personnes.»

Le cas de Bruno Degazio, un compositeur et concepteur de sons chevronné de Toronto, illustre bien ce point de vue: «Actuellement je travaille à l’aide d’un contrôleur d’instruments à vent WX7 et d’un VL1 de Yamaha. Le VL1 est un synthétiseur de modélisation physique qui réagit comme un instrument de musique lorsqu’on en joue. C’est la voie de l’avenir.»

Cette année, Degazio est engagé à plein temps dans des projets de films IMAX. Parmi ses récentes œuvres, on retrouve d’impressionnantes trames sonores dont celles de Titanica, The Last Buffalo et The Fires of Kuwait, un documentaire mis en nomination aux Oscars.

Comme cela se produit dans nombre d’autres domaines, l’électroacoustique se conçoit différemment au Québec. Beaucoup de compositeurs québécois ont été profondément influencés par l’école de la musique concrète en France, qui s’attarde surtout à étudier la manipulation électronique d’«objets sonores» plutôt que les sons crcés électroniquement. Par conséquent, leur approche créative tend à être différente.

L’Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), mise sur pied par Yves Daoust et Marcelle Deschênes en 1978, est l’un des regroupements importants de la province. Bon nombre de compositeurs remarquables lui sont affiliés, dont Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau et Gilles Gobeil, qui ont tous remporté plusieurs prix internationaux. Gobeil a pour sa part décroché le deuxième prix au Ars Electronica, un festival présenté en Autriche.

«Le milieu est en pleine effervescence à l’heure actuelle, dit Gobeil. Plusieurs changements sont survenus et je suis particulièrement heureux de voir que nous commençons à communiquer davantage et à écouter les œuvres de nos collègues.»

L’étiquette empreintes DIGITALes de Jean-François Denis permet de mesurer l’ampleur de ces déblocages. «Notre catalogue contient maintenant 24 compacts et, oui, il y a un marché pour eux! Je ne me contente pas de fabriquer ces disques. je les vends aussi!» insiste Denis. Je ne suis pas surpris non plus par le potentiel de la musique électroacoustique, étant donné qu’il y a beaucoup d’artistes sensibles qui ont opté pour ce genre.

Pour obtenir un aperçu du talent de ces musiciens, on peut écouter DISContact! II, une compilation récente de 51 œuvres de membres de la CÉC. Bien qu’aucune des pièces ne dure plus de trois minutes, plusieurs d’entre elles témoignent d’un développement d’idées acoustiques sortant de l’ordinaire.

… qui aurait pu croire qu’il est aussi chef de file en musique électroacoustique?

Canada’s Electroacoustic Success Story

Daniel Feist, SOCAN, Words & Music, no 2:7, 1 juillet 1995

Canada is famous for hockey, the Rockies and sockeye salmon, medical research and film animation, even space age technology. There is reason to be proud.

But could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music? Odds are, most Canadians don’t even know what it is.

Yet Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil from Quebec, Barry Truax and Paul Dolden from Vancouver, and Toronto’s Bruno Degazio are counted among a growing number of internationally acclaimed Canadian electroacoustic composers.

“Canada occupies a unique place in the area of electroacoustics,” says Toronto composer Al Mattes. “You just have to see who wins the major prizes each year at Bourges in France and other important events. Canadians are always up there near the top.”

Mattes, who co-founded Toronto’s avant-garde Music Gallery two decades ago, is current president of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), the country’s only coast-to-coast support group for the sonically obsessed. Significantly, membership in the CEC has almost doubled in the last two years.

“I think you could make a legitimate claim that electroaccustic music was invented in Canada,” says Mattes. “There are a number of different roots of course, but the idea of voltage control really comes from Hugh Le Caine’s work.” Le Caine (1914-1977) was an extraordinary figure and it’s no wonder SOCAN Foundation’s annual electroacoustic composition award, one of five categories in the society’s Awards for Young Composers, bears his name. As director of the Electronic Music Laboratory at the National Research Council in Ottawa dating back to the 1940s, Le Caine was driven by an urge to create new instruments and sounds. A number of the inventor/composer’s remarkable instruments, such as the Sackbut and the Serial Sound Structure Generator, were precursors of today’s synthesizers. Le Caine also laid the foundations for Canada’s earliest important electroacoustic studios, first at the University of Toronto and later at Montréal’s McGill University. Ever since, music departments in universities across the country have been a fertile environment for the burgeoning electroacoustic scene. Now-retired pioneers like Istvan Anhalt (Queen’s University) and Otto Joachim (who has had his own private studio since the mid-1950s) have been followed by the likes of Gustav Ciamaga (University of Toronto), alcides lanza (McGill), and Jean Piché (Université de Montréal).

The CEC has about 250 members but, according to administrator Ian Chuprun, “there’s a much larger number of electroacoustic composers who aren’t members yet. Pop culture has started to use more electroacoustic techniques all over the place — in television, in film, in commercials — and that has made the whole field more accessible.”

Kevin Austin of Concordia University in Montréal agrees: “This is not music in the traditional sense. A large part of it is the use of sound without direct reference to pitch and rhythm as we’ve come to understand it. But electroacoustic music is much easier to appreciate now than when it was first developing, because many of the sounds are no longer perceived as being so different. We’ve grown accustomed to sounds being ‘morphed’.”

Austin, actively involved in the electroacoustic scene for more than 25 years, founded the MetaMusic ensemble in 1972 and the Concordia Electroacoustic Composers’ Group in 1982. He was the driving force behind the creation of the CEC in 1986.

While the media have made electroacoustic ideas more accessible from an audience point of view, technology has made the process more approachable from a composer’s perspective.

“To ‘morph’ a sound in the ’50s might have taken weeks of computer time,” Austin says. “Today, you can sit down with a sampler, attach a vocal resonance to the attack of a guitar, and presto, you have a new sound.”

One of Canada’s top electroacoustic composers, Paul Dolden has a different point of view: “I just don’t like the word ‘electroacoustics.’ I would prefer to say I’m a composer who uses technology. My work is basically glorified orchestral music. The fact is, I like notes. I’m not much interested in so-called ‘sound objects’ and I hate synthesized sounds. However, since I do work on tape and none of my pieces can be performed live, I suppose it can all be classified as electroacoustic. But I just don’t think we need the term.”

Today Dolden is $10,000 richer, having just won one of two Jean A. Chalmers Musical Composition Awards, along with Montréal’s Jean-François Denis. Denis, who taught electroacoustic music at Concordia University [in 1985-89], captured his $10,000 award for his valuable work as a concert presenter and editor, and for launching the successful record label empreintes DIGITALes. Dolden was recognized for his composition L’ivresse de la vitesse (“Intoxication by Speed”).

“It’s 400 tracks of all acoustic instruments,” Dolden explains. “You should see the score. There are millions of notes! Basically what I’ve done is reduce five symphonies down to 15 minutes. The idea was to speed up music to the point of intoxication.”

Last month, Dolden premiered his latest work at a concert presented by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) in Montréal. “I called it The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3. It’s a piece for string orchestra and tape. The tape part uses a lot of pop culture artifacts. It’s a rocker for intellectuals.”

At the other end of the electroacoustic scene, in Vancouver, is Barry Truax of Simon Fraser University. He has been an influential electroacoustic academic and composer since the early ’70s. Two years ago, on the strength of his piece Riverrun, Truax was awarded the coveted Magisterium Prize at Bourges, the most prestigious electroacoustic festival competition in the world.

“In the old days, there was tape music, electronic music and computer music,” Truax recalls. “They were separate communities with an emphasis on the technologies. The three groups didn’t really interact a lot. Eventually, the barriers started coming down and you can certainly point to a breakdown in the difference between analogue and digital as a factor.”

Truax is acclaimed for his work in the area of computer-assisted music, and was among the first to program his own software. “That was a necessity in the ’70s,” he says. “Today it’s just an inconvenience.”

The composer is currently at work on a major commission for the annual International Computer Music Conference in early September. The event was staged in Copenhagen last year and in Tokyo in 1993; this year it will be held in Banff, Alta.

A long time Truax associate is Vancouver composer Hildegard Westerkamp, whose acoustic explorations have always focused on environmental sounds. “A lot of the time I am walking the edge between sound ecology and sound composition,” she says. “I’m hoping to premiere a new piece at ISEA (the International Symposium for Electronic Arts) in Montréal in September.”

Westerkamp, who recently returned from a two-week sound symposium organized by the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin, is editor of The Soundscape Newsletter, official voice of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. “The electroacoustic medium is so fascinating,” she says. “I find it unfortunate that so few women are in the field. I think the big stumbling block is the technology. It doesn’t discourage everyone, but the circumstances can be quite difficult.”

Just ask Bruno Degazio. “Right now I’m working with a WX7 wind controller and a Yamaha VL1,” says the accomplished sound designer and composer from Toronto. “The VL1 is a physical modeling synthesizer that plays and feels like a musical instrument. It’s the way of the future.”

This year, Degazio is booked solid on IMAX film projects. His recent work includes impressive soundtracks to Titanica, The Last Buffalo and the Oscar-nominated documentary The Fires of Kuwait.

As it is in many other areas, the electroacoustic scene in Quebec is distinct. Many Québécois composers have been profoundly influenced by the school of “musique concrète” in France, which focussed on the electronic manipulation of “sound objects” rather than on electronically created sounds. As a result, their entire creative approach tends to be different.

A key organization in Quebec is the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), established by Yves Daoust and Marcelle Deschênes in 1978. A string of outstanding composers have been affiliated with ACREQ. Among them are Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil, all of whom have won numerous international awards. Gobeil recently captured second prize at Ars Electronica, a festival in Austria.

“The scene is very stimulating right now,” Gobeil reports. “There have been a lot of changes and what I especially like is that we’re starting to communicate more and listen to each other’s work.”

One proof of that is Jean-François Denis’s label empreintes DIGITALes. “Right now we have 24 CDs on our label and yes, there’s an audience for it! I don’t just make these CDs, I sell them too,” Denis insists. “I’m not surprised by the potential of electroacoustic music either, because there are many sensitive artists working within the field.”

To get a measure of the electroaoustic talent that is out there, curious ears can explore DISContact! II, a recent compilation of 51 works on two CDs by members of the CEC. Though each piece lasts just three minutes or less, the development of acoustic ideas is often extraordinary.

… could you have guessed we lead the way in electroacoustic music?

Chalmers Award Recipients

Robert Crew, The Toronto Star, 16 mai 1995

Paul Dolden, winner of the composers’ award for L’ivresse de la vitesse, his 15-minute piece for [recorded] orchestra, Eastern instruments, choir and found sound objects, was praised by the jury for producing “an image of music for the next millennium.” A leading figure in Canada’s electroacoustic community, Dolden has had the same piece praised in London and Prague, where it won first prize in the Musica Nova ’94 International Competition.

Jean-François Denis, winner of the presenters’ award, “is central to the growth and success of electroacoustic music in Canada.” He programmed an annual concert series featuring original works and Canadian premieres as a professor of electroacoustic music at Concordia University in Montréal from 1985 to 1989 and is one of the founders of the organization Canadian Electroacoustic Community. Denis’ magazines Contact! and Flash! and recording activities have had a widespread influence.

A leading figure in Canada’s electroacoustic community… is central to the growth and success of electroacoustic music in Canada.

À la trace

Dominique Olivier, Voir, 8 décembre 1994

La musique électroacoustique, vous connaissez? Pour la découvrir, une étiquette québécoise qui s’y consacre à temps plein et qui vient de lancer sept nouveaux titres: empreintes DIGITALes.

L’automne dernier, l’étiquette montréalaise consacrée exclusivement à la musique électroacoustique, baptisée empreintes DIGITALes, sortait d’un seul coup sept nouveaux titres, une véritable bombe dans l’univers discographique québécois. On y découvrait en même temps une nouvelle formule, les “compact-compacts”, enregistrements d’une durée moindre et vendus à la moitié du prix des disques réguliers. Quatre compacts-compacts faisaient alors surface, consacrés à Roxanne Turcotte (Amore), Wende Bartley (Claire-voie), Mario Rodrigue (Alchimie) et Randall Smith (L’oreille voit). Les trois autres titres, dont deux sont des albums doubles, sont consacrés à Gilles Gobeil avec La mécanique des ruptures — qui constitue l’œuvre électroacoustique complète du compositeur à ce jour —, à Robert Normandeau avec Tangram et à Paul Dolden avec L’Ivresse de la vitesse.

Cette moisson étonnante de compositions électroacoustiques peut surprendre celui qui ne connaît pas la grande vitalité et l’extrême qualité de ce mode de création musicale au Québec. Jean-François Denis, grand manitou et directeur artistique d’empreintes DIGITALes, avait depuis longtemps senti la nécessité de faire connaître ces œuvres au public, par le biais d’une étiquette spécialisée.

Le projet initial d’empreintes DIGITALes date de 1989: alors professeur d’électro à l’Université Concordia, Jean-François Denis partageait son bureau avec Kevin Austin, électroacousticien lui aussi. Austin gardait dans son bureau près de sept cents bandes qui constituaient une magnétothèque imposante. Après en avoir fait un catalogue, Denis a cru qu’il ne fallait pas en rester là. «Je me suis dit c’est un peu débile d’avoir toute cette musique ici, qui ne soit finalement pas vraiment disponible. Les Québécois et les Canadiens gagnaient des prix internationaux sans arrêt, et c’était impossible d’entendre ces œuvres-là autrement que lors de leur unique diffusion radio, ou en concert, à l’occasion. Il fallait trouver un moyen pour que ces œuvres-là vivent plus longtemps. C’est ce qui m’a stimulé, et j’ai travaillé en collaboration avec Claude Schryer jusqu’en 1991. Depuis, je suis seul maître à bord, et c’est moi qui décide.»

Cela implique que Jean-François Denis participe à de nombreux festivals à travers le monde; écoute une quantité inouïe de bandes, reçues par la poste; et rencontre bon nombre de compositeurs. Son credo, c’est le respect des créateurs auxquels il confie le soin de concevoir un disque. «Ce qui m’intéresse maintenant, ce sont les disques à un seul compositeur. L’électroacoustique est vraiment une expression bien contrôlée. On ne peut pas présenter plusieurs univers sur un même enregistrement. Je voyage énormément, je suis exposé à beaucoup de musique, je rencontre beaucoup de créateurs; et ce qui me guide, c’est le grand respect que j’ai pour eux. Quand, par exemple, je parle avec un compositeur, qu’il me fait écouter ses œuvres et qu’il m’en parle un peu, je lui donne tout de suite carte blanche pour programmer un disque. Je respecte beaucoup ce que le compositeur perçoit dans sa musique, les agencements qu’il veut fabriquer. Quand, pour moi, ça ne va pas du tout, on en parle évidemment, mais je choisis plutôt les compositeurs que les œuvres.»

Compositeur lui-même, Denis a bien sûr sa propre opinion sur la manière de faire des disques de musique électroacoustique. Par exemple, il s’oriente de plus en plus vers de la musique conçue pour être écoutée dans un salon, sur support compact. «Je trouve que le produit disque est un produit très spécial. On met un soin immense à programmer un concert; pour faire un disque, il faut faire la même chose, penser à ce qu’est un disque, que c’est destiné à être écouté à la maison, en aveugle. Et je trouve que les musiques mixtes et les musiques en direct enregistrées et mises sur compact pour écoute dans un salon, ça ne marche pas.»

La réussite d’empreintes DIGITALes est étonnante. Mille cinq cents à deux mille exemplaires de chaque titres vendus, à un rythme de quatre ou cinq productions par année, en moyenne. Les compositeurs qu’endisque cette compagnie continuent de se mériter des prix internationaux, comme Gilles Gobeil, qui remportait récemment — après la parution de La mécanique des ruptures —, le Prix du festival de Stockholm. L’année qui vient promet encore de nouveaux enregistrements intéressants: entre autres des disques d’œuvres de Patrick Ascione, de Philippe Le Goff et de Michel Chion, trois compositeurs français. À suivre…

AVIS: Le texte reproduit ici est extrait du site de Voir et est protégé par la Loi sur le droit d’auteur du Canada. © Communications Voir Inc, 1994

… une véritable bombe dans l’univers discographique québécois.

Electroacoustic Music Flourishes: Quebec a Hothouse for Diverse Pool of Styles, Talent

Andrew Jones, The Gazette, 18 juin 1994

In the early-music debate currently all the rage in the classical world, learned musicologists are asking themselves how Mozart’s music should sound played on period instruments instead of modern ones.

If we reverse the concept, however, we arrive at an even more interesting question: What would Béla Bartók’s music have sounded like if he had had access to a modern recording studio?

The result would probably sound a lot like electroacoustic music.

Electroacoustic music is an abstract compositional form that was born in the recording studios of France’s national radio network during the 1940s.

Composers like Pierre Schaeffer realized that everyday sounds — a ticking clock, thunderstorms or even crashing Concordes — could be recorded and organized into “music” through tape techniques, in much the same way that Béla Bartók wove the folk music he recorded on wax discs into his own compositions.

Bad reputation

Like Bartók, electroacoustic music is a highly structured, tactile music reflecting the texture and rhythm of everyday sounds in our acoustic environment, only the recording studio is the main instrument rather than the piano or violin. Many of the techniques pioneered in electroacoustic music are commonplace in today’s urban pop music, from the sampling and sound collages of hip-hop DJs like Hank Shocklee to the inventive remixing of dub reggae.

Yet for years electroacoustic music itself has suffered a reputation as New Age’s inner-city cousin: a tedious, chaotic collision of found sound and synthesizer squawking that did no more to put our acoustic environment into perspective than a ride uptown on the subway.

Alain Thibault is trying to change all that. A composer in his own right, Thibault is also artistic director of Quebec’s flagship electroacoustic organization, the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), which celebrates 15 years at the vanguard of new music exploration tomorrow at Redpath Hall.

The 37-year-old Quebec City native believes that to reach new audiences, electroacoustic music needs to come out of the studio.

”I have no interest in being a purist,” says Thibault. “More and more we see a crossover between musical genres, and what I’ve been trying to do with ACREQ is get electroacoustic music out of the contemporary music closet. I want to make it more alive, more accessible, without any artistic compromise.”

With this in mind, Thibault designed ACREQ’s current season as a multi-media affair.

Recital well received

The Dangerous Kitchen, an electroacoustic homage of Frank Zappa’s work that Thibault and Walter Boudreau staged last October, was an unqualified success. Electro Radio Days, broadcast in December, was an intriguing crosscountry checkup of radiophonic art. And there is still a buzz in the air about last month’s well-received recital by the hip Kronos Quartet.

The 15th-anniversary celebrations will feature performances both inside and outside Redpath Hall by a baker’s dozen of Québec composers who got their start with ACREQ, including Yves Daoust, Jean Piché and Bruce Pennycook. Many of the works involve pairing a live performer, such as a guitarist, pianist, harmonica player or dancer, with a computer.

”I’m interested in electroacoustic music that involves live performance,” says Thibault. “We now have the technology for extraordinary interaction; the tools are so much more sophisticated. But I don’t believe in putting the performer behind the technology. The lights should be on the performers, not the speakers.”

The wide scope of styles and influences that ACREQ has showcased over the years is a reflection of the diverse pool of electroacoustic talent that has settled in Quebec. While the music has long flourished in Canada, Québec has proven to be its hothouse.

Part of this has to do with the high quality of musical education here. McGill, Université de Montréal and Concordia all have state-of-the-art recording studios and new music departments. On the air, both the English and French CBC support the music through programs such as Brave New Waves, Two New Hours, Musique actuelle, and Chants Magnétiques.

”There is something that is very unique to Québec,” says Jean-François Denis, composer and major domo of empreintes DIGITALes, a record label devoted to the genre. “We take pretentious music out of the concert hall and put it into people’s hands in bars, on the radio, on the street. By doing that it becomes much more accessible. Heard this way, electroacoustic music can be as fun to listen to as musique actuelle.”

Denis has released 16 full-length CDs so far, and his catalogue encompasses composers drawn to both the American and European schools of electroacoustic thought. The former is influenced by technology and minimalism, the latter is more esoteric and dreamlike. The goal ot both schools, however, remains the same: to open our ears to the world of music we often tune out.

Music think tank

“Electroacoustics is an innovative medium,” says composer Claude Schryer of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community, a new music think-tank with its headquarters in Montréal.

“It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world. It can tell you how acoustic environments work, how they affect you, how you can improve them, how important silence is.

”The whole spectrum is exciting when you think about it.”

It has the possibility to tell us how to better hear our world.