Seule dans les chants

Joane Hétu

Her transparent minimal approach allows the listener greater intimacy with the musician… Rubberneck, UK

Free spirited alto player and vocalist Joane Hétu digs into her inner self during a solo performance on Seule dans les chants. Cadence, USA

Seule dans les chants, Joane Hétu’s first solo album, for alto sax and voice, offers an intimate journey into her musical world, where the juxtaposition of sounds reveals an infinitely personal language out of which comes a genuine music-of-being.

Created and produced by Joane Hétu, her disturbing, resolutely contemporary album allows us to discover these songs from the mouth and from the wind. Seule dans les chants is a poetry of sound for an imaginary space.

CD (AM 077)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 077
  • 2000
  • UCC 771028107728
  • Total duration: 47:53
  • Jewel case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 10 mm
  • 100 g

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In the press

Chicks and Other Barnyard Fauna

François Couture,, September 16, 2003

With the notable exception of sugary pop, all music styles are dominated by the male. Whether he’s grunting into the microphone, strumming his guitar, or blowing his lungs out on the saxophone, the manly man monopolizes the image of the musician, be it in corporate rock or on the new music scene. When women venture into his domain, they are often coerced into fitting the mold of the industry.

That’s why it is so surprising to find this many creative, challenging, talented women in DAME’s catalog. But one should not forget that early in its lifetime the collective Ambiances Magnétiques welcomed three artists whose musical activities, organizing minds and determination provided a force of attraction for other women. Of course, I am talking about Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse and Danielle Palardy Roger.

Our three protagonists met at the turn of the ‘80s in Wondeur Brass and pursued their association into Les Poules and Justine. First an anarchist/feminist big band, Wondeur Brass was a laboratory to Joane, Diane and Danielle. They honed their skills — Joane, self-taught, literally learned to play music while playing music in it. Their own blend of modern poetry, free jazz and rock-in-opposition already took center stage on the LP Ravir. From the sextet featured on this first effort, the group scaled down to a quartet (with bassist Marie Trudeau as the fourth member) by the time of Simoneda, reine des esclaves. This line-up soon took the name Justine for three more albums (credited to the name of the individual musicians, La légende de la pluie can be seen as a collaboration between Justine, Zeena Parkins and Tenko) and the feminist discourse got gradually subsumed, making way for a growing playfulness that reached its peak on the phenomenal album Langages fantastiques.

Soon after the release of Langages fantastiques, the three girls launched their solo careers. Linguistic marvel and a rough delivery keep singer and saxophonist Joane Hétu close to the field of outsider art. First she formed her own group Castor et compagnie (with Labrosse, Jean Derome and Pierre Tanguay) which has recorded two albums of sensual and twisted songs in direct relation to Justine’s music. Later she turned to improvisation, first in a duo with her life partner Jean Derome as Nous perçons les oreilles (We Pierce Ears) and later solo with the intensely intimate album Seule dans les chants. She recently proved her worth in large-scale composition with her marvelous Musique d’hiver.

Toward the end of Justine’s life, Diane Labrosse traded in her keyboard for a sampler. After a solo album, Face cachée des choses, a duo album with percussionist Michel F Côté (Duo déconstructiviste) and a guest spot in the latter’s group Bruire (on Les Fleurs de Léo), she wrote a piece for improvisers (Petit traité de sagesse pratique) before devoting her time to improvisation. Parasites (her ongoing collaboration with Martin Tétreault) and Télépathie (with Aimé Dontigny) show how it is possible to handle a sampler with grace and sensibility.

Since the disbanding of Justine, Danielle Palardy Roger’s discography has been growing slowly — she’s very busy organizing concerts as head of Productions SuperMusique. Her children’s tale L’oreille enflée (featuring the voices and instruments of Derome, Hétu and André Duchesne among others) speaks to a young audience with an intelligence too rarely found in such projects. And Tricotage, her improv session with French bassist Joëlle Léandre, reminds us how refined her drumming can be.

In 1986, Joane, Diane and Danielle took a vacation away from Wondeur Brass to investigate the limits of the pop song format under the name Les Poules — The Chicks (Contes de l’amère loi, freshly reissued). Recently they reformed the trio, this time pushing the music toward a form of improvisation rich in subtle textures, blending quiet noise, active listening, and lyricism. Prairie orange is the first effort from this awaited return to collective work.

The presence within Ambiances Magnétiques of these three creators has attracted to the label other female artists with similar interests. The first one to join the roaster was Geneviève Letarte, who has recorded two beautiful albums of poetic songs (Vous seriez un ange and Chansons d’un jour). Lately, DAME’s catalog has welcomed performer Nathalie Derome, guitarist Sylvie Chenard, pianist Pui Ming Lee, along with Queen Mab members Lori Freedman and Marilyn Lerner who each delivered a solo album (À un moment donné and Luminance).

So, is musique actuelle a man’s world? Listen to these few hints and you’ll see for yourself.


Bruce Coates, Rubberneck, April 1, 2001

Solo improvisation has come to represent the highest expression of the improvisor. Perhaps for good reason as it takes a special imagination or careful tactician to keep it interesting for sustained periods. As a practice, it has grown progressively since Eric Dolphy’s great deconstructions of God Bless The Child in the early 60s. While not all of these three saxophonists provide great examples, they all approach the problems of solo improvisation in interesting and varied ways.

Saxophonist Lazro’s work owes much to the Dolphy model, particularly in the way that figures are repeated, elaborated and transformed. This of course has become a standard methodology for the solo improvisor, Evan Parker being the most extreme example. If Lazro’s approach provides no real surprises, it is the rigor and consistency of its application that is out of the ordinary. This attention to craft gives many of the pieces a strong inner logic and satisfying unanimity. Ironically, perhaps, it is when Lazro attempts his own deconstruction of existing material - in this case an Albert Ayler tune - that the music is at its structurally most incoherent. This nod to history is also reflected in his use of the instrument as a sound-making device. While he uses the usual range of extended techniques, Lazro also relishes the standard sounds of his instruments and there are times when for a few minutes the ghosts of earlier eras are audible.

Lacy is an example of a particularly special imagination. His ability to create in the kind of unfettered way that many assume to be the Holy Grail of free improvisation is remarkable but untypical of improvisors as a whole; there are few other improvisors that can deliver this consistent level of surprise and delightful ingenuity. Steeped in the jazz tradition, Lacy makes use of compositional structures to kick-start and then shape his imaginings but one still feels that his improvisations could go anywhere and indeed one expects it of him. Although he makes use of a range of extended techniques, like Coxhill who comes closest to him in approach, his improvisation is deeply tonal and deals with the creation of rhythmically varied melody. The variety of Lacy’s approaches to the solo makes this recording the closest thing you’ll find to a masterclass on the subject.

Hétu’s approach is not dissimilar to that of Lazro but her improvisations stand as haikus to Lazro’s sonnets. Lacy and Lazro constantly remind you that they are playing an instrument with a wealth of tradition and associations while Hétu appears to want to strip away this heritage and leave the listener with a fresh understanding; in some ways the fact that it is a saxophone she is playing is irrelevant. This is further heightened by her use of voice. This is deceptively simple music. While she has an obvious technical sophistication, she uses it to explore tiny fragments of music or sound. The music is almost never developmental and this gives it a static abstract quality. Her transparent minimal approach allows the listener greater intimacy with the musician than the grander statements of the other two. One is held in rapt attention as she coaxes and cajoles sound from her instrument.

Her transparent minimal approach allows the listener greater intimacy with the musician…


Luc Bouquet, ImproJazz, no. 72, February 1, 2001

Chant d’oubli, de perte, d’attente, de convulsion pour la saxophoniste et chanteuse Joane Hétu. Là aussi dépouillement, là aussi réflexion (Pourquoi? se demande Joane dans le livret interieur). Seule dans les chants peut dérouter de par ses extrémes. Joane cherche la note inaccessible (chant de plainte), éructe (chants de bêtes, chants de la «buzzée»), détruit, s’écoute, s’offre. Seule dans les chants, solitaire. Parfois intense, souvent bouleversante. Entendue. La solitude partagée est-elle encore solitude?


Nick Mott, Audion, no. 43, September 1, 2000

Joane Hétu is becoming both a regular producer and musician for the label these days. Her Seule dans les chants (AM 077 CD), in spite of its title “Alone in The Songs” has no songs! It’s mostly an album of squeaky sax, vocal effects, mundane laughter and such like, and is very basic. The laughter and musical phrasing is all handled rather dead-pan, though there is humour in some bits where it sounds like a miniature Joane is running around and kissing the sax from inside! Overall it doesn’t amount to much.


Frank Rubolino, Cadence, no. 26:6, June 1, 2000

Free spirited alto player and vocalist Joane Hétu digs into her inner self during a solo performance on Seule dans les chants. Using a combination of vocal utterances, verbal expressions, and interruptive or linear saxophone pronouncements, she explores a world of unusual musical and non-musical sounds. Naturally, all words and music were created by Hétu (Chant de plainte / Chants de bouche / Cris dans les champs / Chants portuaires / Chants de bouche / Chants de bêtes / Chants de brume / Chants de la buzzée. The selections incorporate her voice as an avantgarde instrument that competes with the irregular tones emerging from her alto. She makes use of mouth expressions and throat utterances often in repetitive sequences, to establish a pattern of communication that is unpredictable and extreme. Words are typically not part of her vocabulary, but all the other sounds the mouth is capable of making are. As an alto player, Hétu spews out equally unsettling sounds of either elongated or fitful nature. She bends a series of notes in lengthy analysis of their meaning or creates a jagged series of staccato blasts to dislodge any passivity that may have settled in. Often her playing and singing are merged together as one collage of sound. Hétu takes a very serious look at discourse from an instrumental and vocal stance. She pushes the envelope of creativity to achieve a unique recording of introspective sound analysis.

Free spirited alto player and vocalist Joane Hétu digs into her inner self during a solo performance on Seule dans les chants.


SM, emoRAGEi, no. 10, June 1, 2000

Un saxo qui se lamente. Des souffles, des cris déchirants, des balbutiements, des râlements et différents bruits de bouche (parfois à la limite du supportable). Et des textes archi simplistes récités à la manière d’un robot. Voilà précisément ce que comporte le premier album solo de l’ex saxophoniste de Justine, des Poules et de Wondeur Brass, réalisé et produit par la principale intéressée. Attention! Ce n’est pas de la “musique” à proprement parler mais plutôt un “trip” sonore extrêmement personnel et extrêmement minimaliste. Un exercice très déroutant a travers l’univers restreint de Hétu. Un “chant du corps” qui relève plus souvent qu’autrement du pur nombrilisme et du n’importe quoi. La musique de Justine semble pop à comparer avec ceci! Pour oreilles très averties et aventureuses à la recherche de quelque chose d’inédit. Les noninitiés s’ennuieront à mourir. Soyez prévenus! (5/10)

Pour oreilles très averties et aventureuses à la recherche de quelque chose d’inédit.


IS, Pasazer, no. 14, June 1, 2000


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 220, April 7, 2000

The title of the new cd by Joane Hétu describes exactly what it is: Seule dans les chants. It is her first solo effort for voice and alto sax. The recordings were made between 1997 and 1999. What we hear is the result of an intense process of montage and mixing that followed after the recordings. So although the music makes the impression of being improvised, it is in fact composed in the studio. The music is poetic and intimate in character. Hétu investigates the sounds she can make by her mouth. Just singing is not her interest. To this she added her favorite alto sax sounds: “I am a sax player and a singer, I am not a sax player or a singer”. A very personal document


Roberto Municchi, Blow Up, no. 23, April 1, 2000

Seule dans les chants, “un voyage à travers l’univers intime de cette musicienne”, est le premier album complètement solo de Joane Hétu, une saxophoniste et chanteuse importante (ou qui ressort) de la relève avec Wonder Brass, Justine, Castor et Compagnie et une variété d’autres combinaisons avec des collègue de la scène avant-garde canadienne et autre. C’est une musique qui broie (ou craque) composé de sons singuliers: respirations, explosions, frémissements, hurlements, souffles, jappements, cris de gorge, pleurs, éclats de rire… comme l’évoquent quelques titres; (Chants de plainte, Chants de bouche, Chants portuaires, Chants des animaux… ). L’étonnement s’évanouit cependant après quelques moment d’écoute; il sont plusieurs autres à me faire apparaître des situations que peuvent exalter ce type de projets (telle la performance sur le vif (ou live?). Imposture est un peu prévisible et une grande partie de la fascination repose dans l’obscurité. des sillons du perfide album. Pour les fanatiques de l’improvisation radicale. 6


Dwight Loop, Earwaves Network, April 1, 2000

Also, Joane Hétu Seule dans les chants is an intimate journey of alto saxophone and vocal compositions that is the composers first and hopefully not last solo effort. Hétu deserves accolades for this work of soul-bare-ing new music.

… work of soul-bare-ing new music.

Délire actuel: En bref

François Couture, CFLX 95.5 FM, March 21, 2000

Joane Hétu, saxophoniste, vocaliste, ex-membre de Wondeur Brass, Justine, Les Poules, leader de Castor et Compagnie et directrice de l’étiquette Ambiances magnétiques nous offre son premier disque solo (en près de vingt ans de carrière!), Seule dans les chants. Il s’agit d’un album à la signature hyper-personnelle (comme on parle d’art hyper-réaliste). Tellement personnel que l’auditeur se sent parfois de trop. Hétu s’y met à nue, s’y écorche vif, dans des improvisations qui combinent toutes les facettes de son jeu, autant au saxo qu’à la voix. Étrangement, cette mise à nue a pour résultat de mettre à jour les limites de l’artiste. Cela dit, on sent l’artiste dans chaque note, chaque cri, chaque son. Un disque intime et intimidant. Recommandé.

Un disque intime et intimidant. Recommandé.