Review

Laurie Radford, Contact!, no 9:1, 1 septembre 1995

Winner of this past year’s Stockholm Electronic Arts Award and of numerous other international and national prizes over the past decade, Gilles Gobeil has established his refined and singular approach to electroacoustic composition with a growing series of works. This 1994 CD from empreintes DIGITALes brings together eight of his works from the past decade.

The disc begins with Gobeil’s most successful work to date, Le vertige inconnu (1993), a work that in a sense summarizes the composer’s preoccupations found in varying degrees of evolution in the other works on the disc. He uses visceral sound materials that are drawn from machines, industry and the urban environment; fine attention to structural detail where abrupt, screaming sequences of grinding and whining metal are juxtaposed with the relative repose of whirring gears, hissing steam and rich, throbbing drones; and new spatial environments where these industrial voices are given shape, size, and speed as they collide and combine in ever-new trajectories and textures. Le vertige inconnu is severe, and of a beautiful purity of design and balance of form and material.

Two works on the disc, Voix blanche (1988-89) and Là où vont les nuages… (1990-91), utilize the ondes Martenot in combination with tape and additional sources of sound generation and processing via MIDI (in the case of the Là où vont les nuages…). The ondes is not so much a soloist in these works but rather an equal sonic source contributing to and complementing the materials of the tape part with its crystalline, supple and haunting voice emerging from complex gestural and timbral constructs. It only predominates, like a sole survivor, in the ghostly interludes that hover softly between the main phrases of friction, collision and impending climactic punctuation.

La ville machine (1992), “an electroacoustic drama on the subject of sound ecology”, is the heart of the disc both by its duration and its breadth of expression. There is an unflagging tension between breathless voices sharing images, nightmares, a mission fraught with confusion and apprehension, immersed in an environment constantly shifting from grotesque urban punctuations to collages of human activity, the seashore, the street, the playground… and the hopeful words of children. There is an urgency to the work and its contents, unsettling, yet optimistic in its unabashed confrontation and its embrace of the very source of the destruction it alludes to: the mechanized city.

Rivage (1986) is perhaps the most blatantly visceral of the works presented here. It clearly reveals Gobeil’s early preoccupation with industrial sound materials and formal structures driven forward by the very weight of the sounds they contain. It features a more prominent use of fabricated materials in combination with environmental sources than the later works, but already maintains a darkly pensive character that finds its way into most of the later works.

The earliest work presented on La mécanique des ruptures, Traces (1985) reveals, like Rivage, the seeds of Gobeil’s gestural and structural preoccupations: the contrast between highly charged textures and large, quivering spaces inhabited by delicate shimmers of sound and the chirping of natural environments.

The reverse chronological order of the works on the disc takes us from concision and refinement back to a time of searching and discovery. Try reprogramming your CD player and follow the composer’s original journey!

… the disc takes us from concision and refinement back to a time of searching and discovery. Try reprogramming your CD player and follow the composer’s original journey!

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