Kevin Austin, Computer Music Journal, no 15:3, 1 septembre 1991
dimanche 1 septembre 1991 Presse

Few releases are so integrated in medium and message. Most CDs continue the tradition of simply being a medium for the storage and transport of sonic artifacts, sound recording being the twentieth-century equivalent of the Guidonian hand. Like the unjustly neglected Nonesuch recording commissions from the mid-1960s most of the works included on the Électro clips release were created explicitly for the recording medium.

Électro clips is the fourth CD from the Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes. It consists of 25 commissioned 3-minute works by 24 North American composers. The release, timed to coincide wich New Music America held in Montrcal in November 1990, carries on a centuries-old tradition of asking composers to write within predefined constraints for a specific occasion or event.

Coproducers Jean-François Denis and Claude Schryer desired to merge the 3-minute popular song form with the concept of the vidco clip. The invited composers embraced this task to varying degrees. I find the most interesting works on the CD to be those written with that goal as the original inspirational seed, rather than those that are reworks of longer, preexisting compositions.

Like most labels specializing in electroacoustic music, empreintes DIGITALes continues to lace the daunting challenge of distribution, the costs, and its vagaries. To reach as wide an audience as possible, the recording is accompanied by a 58-page booklet that is trilingually French, English, and Spanish. It includes biographies of the composers, program notes, and a series of 25 photographs commissioned from the Quebec City photographer Joanne Tremblay.

Thirteen of the composers represented were born in the 1950s, and five of them in the 1960s. Eleven live in Montréal, four in Toronto, four in Vancouver. Four are from the United States, and one is from Mexico. The compositional and electroacoustic orientations are the polyglot that is rather characteristic of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. This is part of this collection’s charm and strength, and a great part of its beauty.

As an educational tool, this CD could be a major resource. The 3-minute constraint provides a balancing framework for the study of compositional styles and schools and the works provide excellent examples for analysis.

Using the analytic hierarchy from linguistics — morpheme, vocabulary element, syntax, and semantic — these compositions can be parsed and described at each level. The following should clarify how I am applying these terms to music. By “sonic morpheme,” I mean the lowest level and smallest sonic unit; an indivisible instance of sound, that which constitutes a particular timbre’s integrity. “Vocabulary” is the set of sound sources that populate a given composition; the “orchestra.” This set may consist of one source or multiple sources (uni- or multi-family), and may include members that combine attributes of more than one source (cross-families). The term “syntax” can be applied to various units of music composition, just as it is when applied to natural language. Note-to-note transitions, phrase, section, and whole-composition structures all have a syntactic element. So, there is micro-syntax and macro-syntax. Both concern the application of transformations, transitions, constraints and procedures. Electroacoustic music often uses syntactic plans such as collage, layering and continuous transformation. “Semantics” (or what the composition “means”) may simply be the result of all the previous levels of organization. This might be the case in pure music. The semantic level is perhaps more distinct in program or other music that is based on metaphor, direct source quotation of text-sound or life-sound, or other extra-musical (personal, emotional, social, or political) statements. Each of the pieces presented exists on all of these levels, with some of them resting more solidly and completely on some subset of levels.

John Oswald’s Bell Speeds, a sampled bell played at numerous octaves, resides heavily in the area of vocabulary (simple, uni-family, predictable within the sampled-instrumental model). Syntactically and macro-structurally this work is uncomplicated, producing a memorable sonic identity with a relatively low semantic complexity John would probably point out that this structuralist approach completely fails to hear the piece (see Konybski, above). Tamed structuralism appears in the self-replicating algonthmic composition What If by Daniel Scheidt, and the tonally fractal piece by Bruno Degazio entitled Humoresque 901534.

Political statements form the basis of several of the compositions, making them semantically deep. Examples include Charles Amirkhanian’s Bajanoom (“Separation”) and John Oliver’s Marimba Dismembered. The latter contrasts and compares the violent confrontation of the Guatemalan Mayans over land claims, to the native resentment with Quebec’s nonresponse to the Canadian constitutional accord (Meech Lake). Social injustice is the fœtus in Yves Daoust’s Mi bémol and Christian Calon’s Temps incertains.

There are numerous, multilevel continua for sonic, æsthetic, and pedagogical exploration, including the problem of sonic identity, both internally within each work and across all 25 of the compositions. The obviousness of sound processing is one of the criticisms frequently hurled at electroacoustic music. Histoncally the indiscriminate slathering of sounds with reverberation has been one of this genre’s weaknesses. Several of the works on this CD have stimulated lively discussion as to whether the processing is integral or mearly decorative. This leads back to the question of sonic identity and the special case of quotation.

Quotation, in its broadest sense, is present in just about all of the pieces on this collection, from the sonic “objet réalité” tradition of musique concrète in Yves Daoust’s Mi bémol. to the quotation of traditional instrumental sources found in Craig Harris’s wonderful piano in Somewhere between.

Quotation may be clear or hidden, sonically and metaphorically. Francis Dhomont’s masterful epithet Qui est-là? retrospectively examines his own work and the works of those who influenced him. It ends with an original quotation about the unknowability of the self by others, and of others by the self.

The use of text in more than half of the pieces is clearly a type of quotation. In both Amnon Wolman’s Man-Bridge and Robert Normandeau’s sampled child’s voice in Bédé. text is used to convey information at all levels of organization, from the sonic morpheme to the complete semantic statement. In some cases, speech rhythms are preserved and the utterance is completely stripped away. Several compositions make an indirect reference to such rhythms, not in an obvious fashion, but rather as a profound underpinning for their macro — and micro — structure. Such is the case in Jean-François Denis’s Point-virgule, Martin Gotfrit’s The Machine’s Four Humours, John Oliver’s Marimba Dismembered and, in a completely unvoiced work, Simulant by the Toronto composer and sound-poet Richard Truhlar.

Some of the works on the CD obtain meaning through their reference to other media, easily recognized musical styles, or readily identifiable experiences. A few examples include the comical, horror-film qualities of Roxanne Turcotte’s Minisérie, Javier Álvarez’s Mambo à la Braque with its upbeat, boogie-woogie jazz references, and Breathing Room by Hildegard Westerkamp, with its peaceful life-force evocations.

At a practical level, an adventurous, independent producer today must explore the potential audience and consider how and where the product will be used. Possible applications for Électro clips run the gamut from personal entertainment, to radio and concert presentations, educational uses, and as material for integration with other media (e.g., dance, film, or theater).

Possibly the most commercially viable application of this material is in radio, where there are plenty of 3-minute slots calling for interesting diversity. Within an academic environment, Électro clips will prove itself of great value. Discussions of style and electroacoustic languages can be pointedly illustrated because of the diversity of the materials and the brevity of the works.

Concert venues with multiple speaker systems (8 to 16 or more not being unusual in Montréal) can reveal a hidden dimension in many of the works. Those pieces with collaged, environmental realities benefit enormously from the articulation of space. A brief list of the works in this category includes Dan Lander’s I’m looking at my hand, Christian Calon’s Temps incertains, Claude Schryer’s Les oiseaux de Bullion, and the Calon/Schryer collaboration Prochaine station. Works such as these really depend on the spacial parameter, not only with respect to acoustics, but also in terms of their extramusical content. Multiple speaker facilities can make the difference between an intimate and an aloof performance.

Few releases are so integrated in medium and message.


Scott Lewis, Option, no 39, 1 juillet 1991
lundi 1 juillet 1991 Presse

Scheidt is a composer who has created software that responds to the input of acoustic instruments. On this album the instruments are percussion, clarinet, trombone, and voice. Obeying the Laws of Physics Trevor Tureski’s percussion into shimmering webs of metallic sound. Scheidt uses four timbres, some of which sound like chimes or synthesizer rather than drums, almost making Tureski the composer and Scheidt the musician — Tureski is deciding the rhythms and Scheidt the nuances of the sound. At first some of the pieces bothered me; I focused on the computer modifications, seeing them as sometimes annoying add-ons. After a couple listens the acoustic origin and the electronic mutations seemed more integrated, sometimes creating evocative landscapes, sometimes electroacoustic duets, as in Norm ’n George, which uses the ever-fine tromboning of George Lewis. Still, the most effective moments are those where the sound of the original instrument is audible but modified, rather than those where all one hears are the generic computer-generated sounds that creep in from time to time.


Steven McDonald, Online Digital Music Review, 1 juin 1991
samedi 1 juin 1991 Presse

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.

Volt is cause for astonishment indeed […] close to baffling…


IS, Vital, no 20, 1 juin 1991
samedi 1 juin 1991 Presse

The Scheidt CD presents us works composed for instruments and interactive computer. The first composition is percussive. Here the computer produces sounds that are related to the ‘pads’ that the percussionist hits. The work is lively, and brilllantly played. The 2nd and the 5th work feature computer and bass-clarinet. The computer closely follows the pitch-directions that the clarinet points out. Third is a composition for soprano voice and computer. An unintelligible computer-developed language is spoken, the computer here reacts to the way the words are pronounced. There are five sectlons, each with a different sound that is produced by the computer. Number 4 features George Lewis on trombone, and computer. The computer, NORM, follows the fast melodic lines of the trombone, and Scheidt coordinates voice-changes.

So far the very brief description of what happens on Action/Réaction. It made me thlnk more about interactlve systems. I know people who think that this is the future of computer music. I hear a lot of good things on this cd; the computer generated language of #3 really ‘works’ and the sounds that the computer produces in the first, percussive work are very interesting. But I have not heard many impressive, firm moves coming from the computer itself. For the most part it’s a follower, reacting according to no doubt very intrlcate schemes. Still, the human performer does so this much more subtle and intelligent than this software brain. I don’t hear an equal relationship, but man playing the major role and the computer as a dumb follower.


Devin Hurd, Musicworks, no 50, 1 juin 1991
samedi 1 juin 1991 Presse

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…


Alan Freeman, Audion, no 18, 1 juin 1991
samedi 1 juin 1991 Presse

This CD certainly collates some of the most revolutionary and inventive electronic music composers in Canada today along with a few such explorers of other nationalities.

Of course, a collectfon of 25 pieces on any other medfum other than CD would be most troublesome, especially, as is often the nature with electroacoustic music, spaces within tracks may be part of the music, and wlthout much melodic structure one track can seem to flow into another, even when subsequent tracks may be very different. The track index on the CD player makes it plain who you are listening to all the time. Thus a-part from being an excellent compilatfon it ls also a good sampler/reference tool for checking out the various artists featured.

To review the individual tracks would be of course pointless — if you’re at all interested, let the music and informative collection of inserts do their own talking by introducing a world of music that certainly deserves wider recognition.