Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, 29 octobre 2006

31 in 2006, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay belongs to a new and to me unknown and untried cadre of composers in the electroacoustic discipline; a generation that has grown up with weird sounds and a massive availability of hard- and software. In my generation, looking towards 60 or beyond, we saw the coming of the roads, the emergence of studios and gear, analog and much later digital, and we always marveled and rejoiced at each new means of making sounds, compositions of electric impulses or concrete sounds. Maybe a greater respect for the sound as such was instilled in us because of the almost mystical unavailability of means to begin with; the studios that were fortresses for a very few initiated sages, and later the costly – and therefore unavailable – equipment that slowly filtered into the consumer market – but I just speculate. Perhaps the younger composers’ hands-on and disrespectful attitude towards the wonders of computers is healthy, making the creative process less tense and more relaxed, more natural, and… more focused on results.

Reading through his credentials, I find that also this Canadian musician and composer (who has arrived out of a mix of classical guitar, bass guitar and composition in Montréal) has been molded in the UK sonic workshop of The University of Birmingham, receiving tuition from none other than… Jonty Harrison! This has been the case as well with the other two composers with new DVD-Audio’s on the empreintes DIGITALes label: Pete Stollery and Mathew Adkins. I see a whole tradition expanding out of Birmingham! Tremblay teaches composition at The University of Huddersfield, UK, and he also runs a contemporary jazz ensemble – iks – which has released six albums so far and toured the globe.

autoportrait (2001)

I don’t know quite how to relate to autoportrait. I have to free myself and my listening a bit, I think; not to demand something, but just to take in what comes. Tremblay says that he’s “rummaging through familiar images”, and calls the self-portrait as a genre “an act of introspection for renewed consciousness” – but there is a generation gap here, that I have to try to close or bridge, because I have a problem with the beginning of the piece; these very sprawling and stretching incompatibilities – but that’s not Tremblay’s problem. That’s my problem! Besides, I lose this feeling of incompatibility further into the piece, where – to my ears and my frame of references – many very exciting events start happening.

The piece starts with a resounding bang and some wobbly, watery, weary statements. Things are cut short but then allowed to soar a while. Hectic, cut-up soundings appear, half whistling or chirping, half munching and chopping, and a plastic piano tinkles, at regular speed and also at Nancarrow speed squared, until the piano layer is kind of folded back like a table-cloth. Aggressive, frantic synthesizer sounds are layered as well as spatially spread and panned, exploring a space of moving objects at all kinds of levels, confusing but quite interesting, perception-wise, like watching those computer animations of future urban civilizations with vehicles moving at different levels and in various directions! Deep, dark sub-rumbling events echo out of ships’ hulls at the dark end of time, all human aspects deported deep into an unforgiving oblivion. The world is loud, but nobody is there to listen.

About midway resemblances of voices of wrath echo out of the anonymous sounds, like remaining imprints of people lost in time, as the whole nature of the music turns towards a deepening drone situation, winding down and disappearing in an extended and manipulated factory whistle likeness. At this point, suddenly, a beautifully spun oboe winds and sways, completely unexpected, forcing the thought in an unforeseen direction of orchestras of the Romanticism; large halls with lots of heavy textiles and brown hardwood.

Deep tones keep grounding the music in clay, while soaring, sliding moments high above the heavier time begin glowing and breathing like minds lost in dreams, bringing you farther out on a planetary plane of painless bliss. The music gathers coherence as it lines up its many layers of fundamentals and overtones in a vibrating plane of trembling colors, the Al Margolis way. Sincerely beautiful!

Heavy sonic weights are being shifted. They appear like dark shadows in the foreground, pushed inch by inch over a marble floor, the friction oozing with acrid rock dust. The frictious sonorities begin to take on a radio interference guise; like jagged static on the shortwave band, not unlike what’s heard in Gilius van Bergeijk’s Over de Dood en de Tijd; a remarkable homage to Franz Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen: a startling mix of the vulnerably beautiful and the violently harsh and crude.

A kind of machine type chanting appears in the distance, in two separate pitches, very dry and toneless, while the ominous rumble continues like an ongoing quake or the base drone of consciousness connecting to the everlasting and unchangeable Rigpa at a crucial moment.

au Croisé, le silence, seul, tient lieu de parole (2002)

Consciousness is littered with rising and descending thoughts, with electric sparks of remains of former experiences and compromised with elusive hope and vain expectations – with clinging to the unreal and the unhealthy… in the long run… and with a desperate panning from the past tense to the future tense, and back, and again, and so forth. Here is a piece that has lowered its microphones into this unfocused mind of man, into the condition in which it usually exists, incoherent, disparate, pulling in all directions, ducking away, hiding – and boasting, rudely! In fact, Tremblay, involuntarily, perhaps, describes the chaotic state of mind of most of us with this music – and isn’t it a wonder that cities and motorways and nuclear plants still work pretty good most of the time, in spite of this… not to talk about jails and hotels and the forest industry…

A short repetitious signature gradually increases in volume; a sound of an old-timer sharpening his scythe with a whetter… well, probably not, but letting my associations free, that’s what this beginning sounds like: I’m a country boy, with a country boy’s frames of reference! Electric music arriving in the shape of splintering rocks destroy my harvest picture, and soon we’re in that flock of roustabout voices mumbling unintelligibly; those different shades of the I inside me. Decipherable sentences in French do emerge, only to deviate into Tremblay’s permutations, some bleak sound-poetic offspring of sorts… Event change fast, a clockwork kind of percussion, systematically progressing, rhythmically hitting left right left right left right, then relieved by slower shortwave signals or their mimicries… but up close they sound like clarinet threads… falling trajectories of flying-by low-pitch sounds, dipping deeper into unknown space, slowed by opposite solar winds grinding the hull of the vehicle…

As the piece almost reaches halftime, the audio gathers more coherence; a more defined minute compositional expression, with brittle glass flybys that curl up in the gravity of yourself and swirl around you in glistening spirals, encasing you in the manner of electron shells. The music catches up with the old man, who bows and expresses his gratitude. This is where this particular piece, in my ears, gets somewhere, inches across the threshold of fine arts and blooms in triumph! Many things happen on the way – much too many to mention, really – but towards the final few minutes a drone of might and sonic compassion grows on you like a Lakeland District wool sweater, and for the first time on this DVD-Audio I feel cozy and relaxed, riding this roaring density of beauty towards the end of the I and the Thou.

Binary (Virtual Rapper Remix) (1998)

Antonin Artaud? Sounds like his Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947). Insanely shrieking voices… but also the talkative electronics of Paul Lansky’s SmalltalkTremblay reaches into a more vivid art of expression here, in a plunderphonic kind of way. Not that I think he stole any source sounds or anything, but the way he mixes this wildly disparate materials reminds me of John Oswald, and the fierce way he does it makes me think of John Oswald. Remember though, these are my immediate associations, which may not be fair to Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. I’m sure he’s done this funky mix on his very own accord: I’m only trying to make sense of this weird wilderness, by sort of thinking aloud, like someone talking to himself. Of course (see title) there is a rapper in here too, but he seems pretty real, not at all virtual… I think I’ll leave this track and move on to the next one…

fugue; qui sent le temps? (1997)

Tremblay starts his introduction with quotes from Virgil and Ovid: “Fugit irreparaible tempus” and “Tempus edax rerum” (“Irrecoverable time glides away” and “Time, the devourer of all things”). Tremblay – as a rule – doesn’t provide a logical or reasoning presentation of his works, but more poetic, elusive, haphazard. I like that. It’s more in line with this art as such, isn’t it? There is nothing sensible to say about electroacoustic music, really, unless you want to be super-grounded and state, matter-of-factly, what machines were used, how software was applied and so forth – and maybe a chosen few benefit from that, but most of the time those pieces of info are just provided to fill the space allotted… Then it’s better to be a little poetic, like Tremblay.

The beginning of fugue; qui sent le temps? Sounds just like the current weather where I live, where s fall storm is brewing, gathering strength out there. I had to look out for falling branches when I biked home through the forest this afternoon. Here the sighing and soughing wind appears again, on Tremblay’s DVD-Audio, in a piece that starts off promising. It immediately strikes that note of desolation and huddling vulnerability; that sense of early dusk, flying leaves and hedgehogs creeping into the leaf-mounds in the corner of gardens to hibernate. The whining and wheezing gets ever stronger, powered with a wrath that could blow all things to kingdom come, but at this moment I get a feeling of the bardo of dying, i.e. one of the stages of dying that is described in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, for example in Sogyal Rinpoche’s celebrated book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, where it says on page 257 of the updated and revised 2002 printing (ISBN 0-7126-1569-5): “The internal experience for the dying individual is of a great wind sweeping away the whole world, including the dying person; an incredible maelstrom of wind, consuming the entire universe”. The music, the drone – spread out and wide at first – tightens and gathers more power, soaring relentlessly right through your skull, making impossible each and every thought about anything else. But… is it an angered bee swarm recorded from its midst? Wow, this is my cup of meat!

Suddenly, like a wonder, this streaming, soaring, Beaufort force 12 wind is transformed, ever so slightly and gradually, into an orchestral tutti, shining with golden brass and the polished hardwood of celli and contrabasses! Again, my cup of meat!

A quite sophisticated percussive element gets a growing attention in the sound, eventually taking up the rhythms of a samba on some southern beach, itching with testosterone and estrogen in a fertility rite under the stars. The tempo is increased considerably, and grainy, scratchy Bergeijk interference is added, like nails clawing the back of your hands bloody! The percussion, the interference and a layer of embellished metallic audio begin to boil like a hot well in Iceland, bubbly and steamy and nicely noisy! Lots of other things happen along the way, as we’ve grown accustomed to in Tremblay’s compositions. Towards the end, stretching, pulling bee swarm audio is delivered like racing cars speed-freaking by in hasty Doppler effects. A magnificent copper drone brings us to the conclusion, in carelessly sprinkled shreds of percussion. A mighty piece; in fact the one I like the best so far, satisfying even this old-timer who was electroacoustically raised on Parmegiani and Bayle!

la cloche fêlée (2004)

Tremblay applies a quote from Charles Baudelaire’s (1821-1867) Spleen et Idéal / Fleurs du Mal as a motto for his composition la cloche fêlée, and of course, the title is identical to one of Baudelaire’s poems, quoted below. In fact, the final version of Fleurs du Mal was published posthumously, in 1868.

Charles Baudelaire, La cloche fêlée [The Flawed Bell]

Il est amer et doux, pendant les nuits d’hiver,
D’écouter, près du feu qui palpite et qui fume,
Les souvenirs lointains lentement s’élever
Au bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume.

Bienheureuse la cloche au gosier vigoureux
Qui, malgré sa vieillesse, alerte et bien portante,
Jette fidèlement son cri religieux,
Ainsi qu’un vieux soldat qui veille sous la tente!

Moi, mon âme est fêlée, et lorsqu’en ses ennuis
Elle veut de ses chants peupler l’air froid des nuits,
Il arrive souvent que sa voix affaiblie

Semble le râle épais d’un blessé qu’on oublie
Au bord d’un lac de sang, sous un grand tas de morts,
Et qui meurt, sans bouger, dans d’immenses efforts.

It is bitter and sweet on winter nights
To listen by the fire that smokes and palpitates,
To distant souvenirs that rise up slowly
At the sound of the chimes that sing in the fog.

Happy is the bell which in spite of age
Is vigilant and healthy, and with lusty throat
Faithfully sounds its religious call,
Like an old soldier watching from his tent!

I, my soul is flawed, and when, a prey to ennui,
She wishes to fill the cold night air with her songs,
It often happens that her weakened voice

Resembles the death rattle of a wounded man,
Forgotten beneath a heap of dead, by a lake of blood,
Who dies without moving, striving desperately.

Church bells and a rustling, as from someone treading the dry grass of a forgotten garden… These bells are such strong cultural markers that you’re transformed instantly into memories and expostulations deep down the centuries of Western traditions and faiths. Jackdaws fly up and flutter around those barren maples as night falls; stirring crowds of the night; restless souls of sturdy confessions. As the bells keep ringing, a standing wave of overtones is created, while your attention shifts from the attacks of sound to the vibrant wave, just like it does when you listen to La Monte Young hammering away at his Bösendorfer Imperial in certain passages of The Well-Tuned Piano. The sound fulfils itself, somehow, resounding to its fullest measure; permeating the tiniest crack in the rock face façade of existence.

Then, aha! Complete silence for a few breathtaking seconds, and then… a cat purring, closely miked! This is Pierre Alexandre Tremblay! He has no problems with shifts like that. To him, it seems, the traditional associations of sound mean nothing, since he appears to be able to use the sounds just as sounds, as a certain color or timbre or rhythm – but its harder for listeners to rid themselves of the learned significance of such very well-known entities of audio as church bells and cats purring! Then again, maybe he doesn’t play sounds for what they are. Maybe he still uses them this ruthless way, for the fun of it – and the surprise is fun! After these sections of bells and purring, the two join up and ascend to a higher quality, into another dimension, where some properties are retained, while others are left out, leaving us traveling a sphere of dreamy remains and perhaps essence of the merging sources. Beautiful! Everything changes, arch upon arch opens in the sound, and all that remains are whitewashed walls and red roses and a trickling precipitation of dainty thoughts… the landscape behind Mona Lisa.

A single strong bell attack suddenly marks a brutal end to the aforementioned. The ringing of the attack is extended a long while, until it slowly, slowly dies away, replaced by another enormous attack, and a third – and after the third a pitched-down bell talks, after which it gradually starts to stoop in a downward glissando. More, sparse and strong downward bells occur, and Tremblay utilizes these ringing bells in many different electroacoustic ways, still retaining a basic bellish quality of sound and association as the faces of the known are distorted and blurred… like the well-known becomes strange and threatening and anonymous in an attack of anxiety…

I had some problems with Tremblay at the very beginning of track 1, and I had some further objections at a few other places, when I though he was too unstructured, too uncomposed, too… random – but this hesitation was completely erased by other sections of the disc, and this final work - la cloche fêlée – as well as the preceding one - fugue; qui sent le temps? – persuaded me totally, and as I leave this text I bow and bid farewell with great gratitude to Pierre Alexandre Tremblay for an amazing sonic journey!

… I bow and bid farewell with great gratitude to Pierre Alexandre Tremblay for an amazing sonic journey!