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Review

Frans de Waard, Vital, no 1153, 15 octobre 2018
lundi 15 octobre 2018 Presse

Since more than twenty-five years Empreintes Digitales is probably the leading label when it comes to computer based electro-acoustic music, mostly composed and performed by conservatorium skilled composers. Oddly enough I don’t see a reference to those in the short biography that is printed on the cover of the album by Monique Jean. She was selected by several competitions (which I think is THE thing in this musical area) and played international concerts and festivals. She has here two pieces of which the first, T.A.G., which stands for ’trottoir, asphalte, goudron’ (sidewalk, asphalt and tar) is inspired by “crowds of demonstration” and she says that sounds are “mainly synthesized”, which I found hard to believe. I was more thinking about heavily processed field recordings, certainly in the opening section of the piece that sounded like car tyres screeching. I might be wrong of course. As the piece evolved it became more obvious that there are indeed synthesized sounds used and even some more orchestral ones towards the end. It’s a massive piece, crowded with many sounds, as crowded as the pavement of the inner city perhaps. This is quite a powerful piece of music. The other piece here is Out Of Joint, and it is a “sound hybridization on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the various silver screen adaptations, stagings and rewrites it inspired through time” — whatever that means but “what I am trying to do instead is to develop a form that operates through grafts of time, interpretations, meanings and references”. Which I guess wasn’t helpful either. Here the piece is also computer based I would think as well as dense, slightly distorted from time to time, a massive narrative perhaps; again I could have been fooled it included field recordings as I distinctly heard some birds. Both pieces are quite good and seemed removed from the more usual glissandi approach that was common with releases on this label some years ago. Either the composers have moved on, or the label did. […]

This is quite a powerful piece of music.

Trouver la beauté dans les sons sauvages

Philippe Papineau, Le Devoir, 15 octobre 2018
lundi 15 octobre 2018 Presse

Le compositeur, explorateur du son et pionnier de la musique électroacoustique Francis Dhomont a toujours voulu faire des opéras, «mais sans chanteurs, sans instruments. Des musiques qui, néanmoins, racontent une histoire. Pour moi, c’est évident: tous les éléments techniques du son et de la musique que je peux connaître et que j’ai approfondis n’ont qu’un but: traduire une pensée, une émotion.»

Un homme modeste, Francis Dhomont, à qui on parvient néanmoins à soutirer ceci: «J’étais moi-même très convaincu d’avoir quelque chose d’intéressant à dire, et donc je l’ai dit avec assez de conviction pour convaincre d’autres personnes, professeurs et étudiants, qui ont fait croître cette musique. À ma manière, et avec plusieurs autres, j’ai contribué à faire de Montréal — enfin, du Québec en général, mais de Montréal en particulier — un centre important de la musique électroacoustique.»

Et c’est pour cela que le festival Akousma lancera au Gesù ce soir sa quinzième édition, avec d’abord une causerie dirigée par le directeur artistique du festival, Louis Dufort, puis un concert durant lequel le compositeur français, pionnier de ces musiques pour orchestre de haut-parleurs, présentera en première nord-américaine une sélection de ses œuvres récentes – qui ne comprendra cependant pas Le cri du Choucas, terminée il y a deux ans, dernier volet d’un triptyque amorcé en 1982 avec Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, possiblement sa plus importante composition. «C’est une œuvre qui a beaucoup compté pour moi, explique Dhomont. Comme Forêt profonde et Le cri du Choucas, elle a pour base des écrits de psychanalyse; ce sont les œuvres qui, je crois, me représentent le mieux.»

Retour à Montréal

En vérité, c’est comme si l’organisation dédiait la quinzième édition d’Akousma à Francis Dhomont, de retour au Québec après neuf ans d’absence. «Ça me fait très plaisir, d’abord parce j’ai beaucoup d’amis ici, beaucoup d’anciens étudiants, beaucoup de souvenirs de la Faculté», explique celui qui a enseigné la musique à l’Université de Montréal de 1980 à 1996. Le compositeur, qui aura 92 ans le 2 novembre prochain — «Naître le jour de la fête des morts!» souligne-t-il en riant —, continue d’enrichir son œuvre de nouvelles explorations dans cet univers sonore qu’il a largement défriché, celui des musiques sur support pour orchestre de haut-parleurs.

Lorsqu’il est arrivé à Montréal en 1978 après être passé par le célèbre Groupe de recherches musicales de Paris fondé vingt ans plus tôt par le père de la musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, il a vite fait connaissance avec les fondateurs de l’Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec, parmi lesquels la compositrice et pédagogue Marcelle Deschênes.

«À la Faculté, on venait d’ouvrir une classe de musique électroacoustique. Marcelle m’a demandé quelque temps après si j’accepterais de donner quelques cours, puis quelques autres, et j’ai fini par en donner beaucoup. Et c’était très bien. J’ai eu beaucoup de plaisir parce que j’ai eu affaire à des étudiants très motivés et très sympathiques», dont son ami Robert Normandeau, compositeur chevronné devenu professeur à la Faculté de musique de l’UdeM et grand spécialiste de l’œuvre de Dhomont, dont l’influence sur le développement des musiques acousmatiques et électroacoustiques au Québec fut déterminante.

Donner vie à la musique

«J’ai apporté une chose, ici, et c’est [la notion de] la spatialisation de la musique, qui était une technique essentiellement française», abonde le maître, vif et généreux malgré le décalage horaire. La spatialisation sonore, où l’art de travailler le son pour «donner l’impression de décrire des trajectoires dans l’espace, de se situer dans un univers sonore en relief», pour reprendre le mot du compositeur français Edgard Varèse, un autre pionnier dans le domaine.

«Dès mon arrivée, j’ai commencé à donner de petites présentations, avec un petit nombre de haut-parleurs; on commençait avec pas grand-chose, mais c’était déjà un début, poursuit Dhomont. Ça permettait de donner à cette musique de haut-parleurs un aspect moins statique, une vie. Et progressivement, cette façon de projeter la musique électroacoustique est devenue très actuelle ici, alors je suis très fier d’avoir semé cette petite graine qui a poussé.»

Et qui a même réussi à pousser hors du registre des musiques dites savantes, estime Francis Dhomont. «Il y a une chose dans certaines musiques populaires, notamment dans la musique techno: c’est que ces musiciens utilisent des instruments et des équipements qui ressemblent beaucoup à ce que nous utilisons nous-mêmes dans nos studios. Donc, on a tendance à retrouver certains sons qui nous sont communs. Mais il y a aussi certains compositeurs de ces musiques qui connaissent le travail des créateurs électroacoustiques. Ils n’en font pas eux-mêmes, mais ils connaissent les œuvres et s’en inspirent, quelquefois.»

«Dans la musique électroacoustique, comme on prend tous les sons qui existent dans la nature, autant ceux qui existent que ceux qu’on peut créer avec des appareils, tous ces sons peuvent se rapprocher de ce qu’on appelle le bruit. Certes, ce sont des sons un peu plus sauvages, mais on peut les organiser pour qu’ils soient plus agréables à l’oreille, ou plus agressifs, si c’est bien l’intention. Donc, il faut évacuer l’idée de départ que c’est du bruit. Il faut arriver à admettre que l’on peut faire de la musique avec autre chose que des instruments d’orchestre. Si on arrive à franchir cet obstacle, alors je pense qu’on peut vraiment trouver de la beauté.»

À ma manière, et avec plusieurs autres, j’ai contribué à faire de Montréal […] un centre important de la musique électroacoustique.

Review

Kevin Press, Badd Press, 15 octobre 2018
lundi 15 octobre 2018 Presse

Montréal-based composer Monique Jean’s take on electroacoustic music has been described as “engaging a present that happens now.” Credit François Couture with that sharply written phrase. Indeed, there is an abrasiveness to her work that feels urgent and forceful. Her new release Troubles features two vivid examples.

The first is T.A.G. The title is an acronym for trottoir, asphalte, goudron, which translate as sidewalk, asphalt, tar. The 2013 composition is a study of demonstrators and the dynamics of crowds.

Unlike Amethyst Seer’s excellent 2017 work Protest, this doesn’t feature an actual recording of a demo. Instead, Jean interprets the subject matter. In doing so, she delivers a more accessible piece of music.

All the tension and fluidity of motion you’d expect from a protest-themed work is there. But its relatively vague reference points encourage appreciation of the work on a more emotional level. This is a consequential, timely effort — one that resonates even more deeply four years after its composition.

The second half of the album features Jean’s 2009/2011 piece Out of Joint. In the album’s notes, she describes it as “an essay in sound hybridization on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the various silver screen adaptations, stagings and rewrites it inspired through time.”

Again, her decision to avoid a literal interpretation serves to broaden the work’s appeal. Yes it is about Macbeth. But it also works as a piece about iterations or interpretations.

Big themes. But they’re all within Jean’s reach. Her work has an outsized quality that — with a bit of promotion — could have influence beyond the confines of electroacoustic fandom.

Her work has an outsized quality…

Review

TJ Norris, Toneshift, 6 octobre 2018
samedi 6 octobre 2018 Presse

Mistpouffers is a selection of three compositions completed between 2014-16, composed by French artist and improviser eRikm. Each piece runs approximately 17-18 minutes in length with two based on 8-channel fixed medium and one in stereo. Opening with Draugalimur where, poof like smoke, the setting is a quiet distant storm, some electronic squiggles and free-floating static. This is eRikm working in an atmosphere where a pin could be heard dropping, that is until a narrator like a public radio host, in French, reads from a text. The wind howls and electro-waves are emitted. While listening I gaze upon the cover image of a cliffside that starts to resemble a human skull. No you are not seeing things, like a mirage — it’s an in-situ illusion, only emphasized by a military jet flying past, from ear to ear as someone gasps for air. This dichotomy between air space and breathlessness is likely key to the narrative. The eerie unexpectedness here is quite palpable.

Sonic boom? By occupying the space with layered field recordings, simple thing like chewing, and rummaging — with a silky drone and changing percussive parameters eRikm has developed a psycho-social space that is as inventive as it is cinematic. The whispers, the hive drone, the bouncing punctuation, all make his acoustic theatrics rife for live presentation, and perfect for visual listeners. Moving on to Poudre, which opens in darkness to creaking of chairs, or perhaps thunderclap or is it fireworks, or gunfire? The question mark here is the tension. With even the slight laughter heard int he mostly engaged crowd scene it would be menacing one way, and exhilarating another. But it seems to walk that fine line. The title translates to powder (and in gun powder) and this work does seem to float on air with the spirit of a nighttime curfew. It’s singular shots are disarming so to speak — “the bombs bursting in air” and so on. In wartime these echoes have a cerebral resonance that is unmistakable.

Just after midpoint this layered field recording sounds like either a grande finale or a full-on battle. It’s actually quite disturbing, it’s chaotic imprint, relentless. At one point it’s literally just a wash of savage white noise. But the reverie switches up its candor on L’aire de la Moure 2. There are shadows of a dark kingdom interrupted by a happily chirping winged beast. The intermittent grey drone casts and draws as these treated bird samples are deployed like abstract illusions. eRikm has concocted a blend of granular electronics, a female narrator and low flying planes that zoom from air shot. The tingling microsound invades as though it’s evaporating over the spoken word.

It’s an atonal radio play that seems to be collecting data in a laboratory. Small actions like pulling a topper from a cask, as well as elongated high tones create a focused format for deep listening — all ears on the speaker, and though I do not speak much français my ears can translate this as a scanner of the mind. Static like fire, and a series of slingshot thwapping are a peculiar combination alongside a deep bird caw. With so many constant variables you’d think this recording would be a schizo delusion but it’s not at all, it keeps your minds ear constantly pricked within this composer’s cosmic adventure.

The tingling microsound invades as though it’s evaporating over the spoken word.

Review

Kevin Press, Badd Press, 5 octobre 2018
vendredi 5 octobre 2018 Presse

Sweden’s Åke Parmerud has assembled four acousmatic works dating between 1990 and 1995 on a must-have collection of out-of-print recordings. (Acousmatic is an electroacoustic subgenre composed for presentation with speakers rather than live instruments.)

These powerful, sometimes disturbing recordings all date back to the mid-1990s. Thematically and artistically, each has maintained extraordinary relevance.

Grains of Voices came out of an invitation to produce a piece of music drama for Swedish Radio. “I decided to make a composition concerning the human voice, its symbolic implications and its musical applications,” writes Parmerud in the album’s notes. “The sound of the voice is a striking symbol of the unity of mankind.”

He recorded the voices in-person, inviting speakers and singers to share anything they wished. “This way I did not (with a few exceptions) control what went into the composition, only what came out.” Parmerud describes the 31-minute work as “a multilayered, cross-cultural hybrid piece of sonic art.”

Jeux imaginaires (or Imaginary Games) was inspired by the 1992 World Chess Championship match between Anatoli Karpov and Garry Kasparov. Aside from a middle section that sounds like a frenetic game of park chess, the work is a study of the parallels between the game and composing music.

“Every night after ending my composing session in the studio I played the game (or maybe only a few moves) on my portable chessboard. Apart from it being a nice way to turn my attention away from pure musical problems for a while, I found that playing the game made me more and more aware of the likeness between chess playing and composing. … [P]laying the game as a small ritual every night released new musical ideas and composing energy without necessarily creating detectable parallels between the music and the game itself.”

Les objets obscurs (Hidden Objects) is a musique concrète piece in four parts. Or more precisely, a meta-musique concrète piece.

We’re presented with riddles (in French) having to do with the source of the sounds used. The answers are offered musically. “In the end of the last movement the ‘solution’ of all the riddles is presented. These answers, however, set up a new ‘inner’ riddle, to which no answer is given.”

Finally, Alias explores “the duality of outer and inner existence, here interpreted through the life, music and destiny of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1560-1613).”

Gesualdo is a controversial 16th/17th century figure. As a composer, he’s considered to have been hundreds of years ahead of his time. As a human being on the other hand, he’s remembered for the gruesome double murder of his wife and her lover.

Alias is not, however, an attempt to illustrate the shifting identities of Gesualdo,” writes Parmerud, “but is rather, in a wider sense, inspired by thoughts on the relationship between the artist and the work of art.”

That being said, it’s difficult not to let the mind wander over the course of these two dramatic movements. Like the others on this important new compilation, it is a powerful work.

… it is a powerful work.

Tampura Timbres

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 29 juillet 2018
dimanche 29 juillet 2018 Presse

Last heard from English composer Manuella Blackburn with 2012’s Formes audibles, apparently her debut release, where Stuart Marshall was very taken with her “fresh and authentic… manner of articulation.” Today’s excellent release on the same label is Petites étincelles (empreintes DIGITALes, IMED 17147), and surveys five works dated from 2012 to 2017, each one evidence of a very sensitive and intelligent approach to sound manipulation and highly respectful of the source objects she’s captured them from.

Take Javaari, based on samples from sitar playing. She’s homing in on particular details of the physical instrument (the bridge, the buzzing sound of the strings), and creating a kaleidoscopic arrangement to highlight these aspects that interest her. This is based on her understanding of the culture of the instruments and the musicians that play it, even if the results are so heavily re-ordered to sound like no sitar music ever heard before. It’s a bold coup to create such a radical reinvention of Indian music, yet without once departing from its core truths.

Ice breaker, derived from the sound of ice cubes dropping into water, is likewise founded on a firm understanding of physics and what actually happens, scientifically speaking, for the ice to create that cracking and popping effect. Starting from these basic facts, Blackburn is very clear about what sound she wants to capture, what phenomenon she wishes to demonstrate. The overlays of bubbling and fizzy liquids are used to underscore this fact, and are not simply there for decoration. Net result, one of the most “realistic” sound-portraits of ice and water yet to be heard; which takes some doing, given how over-used this trope has been in the field of electro-acoustic composition.

Then there’s Snap happy, the most recent piece on this set, created from the sounds of cameras. One of Blackburn’s interests is in “the miniature”, by which she means small sounds and events which are barely perceptible; she doesn’t boast about the power of her microphones or the technology needed to capture such things, but she does discourse like an expert about different makes of vintage cameras, in one compacted paragraph of notes. The old Kodak Brownie from the 1940s had “much heavier clicks and clunks” than more recent cameras, and she seems to be very conversant with these internal mechanisms. You get the feeling she could understand any given device by opening it up and examining it, probing with inquisitive fingers. She likes the way old cameras used mechanics to wind on the film, and these sounds feature heavily here. This piece also muses on the way that modern digital cameras use sound effects to mimic these old sounds, even though there’s no need for them to do so (Come to that, why don’t word-processors imitate the sounds of a typewriter?).

Also here, Time will tell, derived from clocks and continuing the theme of miniatures, Newtonian mechanics, and interest in common domestic objects; and New Shruti, another composition starting from knowledge of classical Indian music and this time exploring the shruti box / tampura. Here, as throughout the entire album, Manuella Blackburn’s skills in assembling microscopic fragments of sound into a coherent whole are evidence of her genius; there’s craft and skill in her mosaics, but also much instinct, and the aim is to create beautiful music rather than simply demonstrate digital techniques. Blackburn seems to have a profound understanding of things, of objects; is able to apprehend their inner workings with precision and accuracy; and this skill may in turn help her to decode other signs, to understand something about the workings of the world. A truly excellent set which I recommend.

Manuella Blackburn’s skills in assembling microscopic fragments of sound into a coherent whole are evidence of her genius…

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