Musique d’hiver

Joane Hétu

… at times engaging in a Satie-like sense of melancholy isolation… Rubberneck, UK

… such a tranquillity that it becomes almost immortal music from past ages with a dada attitude. Sztuka Fabryka, Belgium

A recent release from the ever-prolific Joane Hétu, the work “Musique d’hiver” (winter music) pays tribute to the frisky Nordic winds, the blinding luminosity of winter, the February moon, and the craziness of March, in order to communicate the emotional effervescence of winter.

A 66-minute piece in four scenes (La chute, On se les gèle, Lumière de février, J’ai perdu le nord), “Musique d’hiver” is arranged for acoustic instruments — piano, voice, flutes, alto sax, accordion, percussion — and electric instruments — synthesizer, sampler, and tape manipulation.

It is an invitation to a music ritual for a season of frost and high winds; nakedness, white light, slowness, silence, white noise. A meditative piece, spatially textured, high-pitched, minimalist in words but rich in sonorities blending composition (themes, harmonic structures, shapes) and improvisation (ambient sounds, sound textures, free interpretation), all delivered in a sober, elegant atmosphere.

You will be charmed by the freshness of this winter poetry and by this picturesque scene highlighted by acoustic and metaphorical sonorities.

This item is also included in the Tryptique musique d’hiver box set (AM 904).

CD (AM 091)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 091
  • 2001
  • UCC 771028109128
  • Total duration: 66:06
  • 125 mm × 125 mm × 7 mm
  • 50 g

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In the press

Modern Folklore

François Couture,, March 16, 2004

When I was asked to dive into DAME’s catalog in search of intersecting points or recurring themes that would sketch discovery trails, the trad connection stood out immediately. Not only because of the importance of traditional folk music in the development of avant-garde music in Quebec, but also because the albums belonging to this line usually speak to us in a more immediate way and are easier to grasp.

It may seem a bit paradoxical, but tradition and innovation often go together hand in hand. When a culture’s avant-garde artists look for ways to overstep the rules of the music industry, they often turn their attention to roots — theirs and others — to find new paths to explore. Traditional folk music often holds at his core treasures of stylistic freedom and improvisation. Furthermore, its festive outlook can make it easier for an audience to accept and appreciate the introduction of new rhythmic, melodic or improvisational parameters. That’s what happened and continues to happen in Quebec. Here’s a listening trail in three parts, three original ways DAME artists approach the tradition: revisited, reinvented, and made-up folk.

Revisited folk

Late 1970s: a trad folk revival is sweeping the Province of Quebec, thanks to a new generation of musicians (groups like La Bottine Souriante, Le Rêve du Diable, and L’Engoulevent). Among these groups, many of which recording for the label Tamanoir, is a collective of crazy youngsters, guitarists who deprave reels and folk tunes with their melodic inventions and post-modern poetry. Among Conventum’s regular members are André Duchesne and René Lussier, who will later rank among the founding members of the collective Ambiances Magnétiques (sadly, Conventum’s two albums, À l’Affût d’un complot and Le Bureau central des utopies, are out of print).

In Ambiances Magnétiques, René Lussier has continued to explore a rereading of Quebec’s music history. His discography is peppered with folk tunes stripped naked and dressed anew. On his three albums with Les Granules (a duo with Jean Derome) he exaggerates the Dionysian character of the music (Le Boudin de Noël - or The Christmas Blood Pudding - on Soyez vigilants, restez vivants and La Chicaneuse on Au Royaume du Silencieux rank among the finest examples). With Le Trésor de la langue, he focused on our historical folklore, turning the words of René Lévesque, the FLQ, and people on the street into a new “Cahier de la bonne chanson” (a music book of old folk tunes that rested on the piano of many Quebec families in pre-television days). His recent collaboration with American guitarist Eugene Chadbourne signals a return to these roots — their CD L’Oasis released on Victo presents many revisited tunes from both sides of the border.

Reinvented folk

The folklore of a nation is not limited to a body of songs, it is also a state of mind, a substratum from which many artists in DAME’s catalog dig to reinvent our traditional folk music (and others too). On La Boulezaille, Pierre Tanguay and Pierre Langevin (masters of many European folk music in the group Strada) mix up traditional and modern instruments in search of a new, “actuel” folk freed from the cage in which all kinds of traditionalists would like to preserve it. Groups like Interférence Sardines and La Fanfare Pourpour shape their original pieces in ways that bring to mind the Devil’s fiddler or street fair music (music of the people, the prime definition of “folk” music). Joane Hétu’s Musique d’hiver doesn’t have that festive side to it, but it nevertheless redefines the folklore of our Quebec winters with much more precision and evocative strength then Nelligan’s famous poem.

Made-up folk

Traditional folk music refers to an instinctive form of music-making, music created outside the institutions and their codes, everyday music. And what if one wants to step out of the everyday? There is always the possibility to create folk out of nothing, to make folk-fiction. René Lussier and Robert Marcel Lepage establish their “musique actuelle” - a blend of free improvisation and reminiscences of trad - as the folk music of the future, the last enigma of a dehumanized world. The same goes for André Duchesne’s Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar, the band being presented as trad rockers from the future (a post-apocalyptic future, mind you). And with Bruire’s Chants rupestres, Michel F Côté and his friends attempt to recreate through free improvisation the folk music of prehistoric men. We may have ventured far from the falsely naive tunes of Conventum, but this music still stems from a desire to go back to the roots of music expression. And in the end, there are many ways to call a square dance.

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.


Jim Barker, Rubberneck, September 23, 2002

More interesting noises from the excellent French Canadian label, Ambiances Magnétiques, this time a concept album about winter. Each of the four tracks is intended to represent one of the four months of winter (December to March) and all the various guises of cold, ice, snow, social interaction, isolation and visual imagery that this entails. The usual crew of the AM company are here with Joane Hétu: Pierre Tanguay, Jean Derome, Diane Labrosse and Guillaume Dostaler, and the music is both accomplished and imaginative. The group really do move through every possible aspect of winter, at times engaging in a Satie-like sense of melancholy isolation, which reminds me of that Scandinavian feeling known as ‘Heikko valo’, which means ‘weak light’. That early morning/late night transition from day to night and back again that never quite gets there, never gets dark enough. There are also elements of folk dancing, fairgrounds, children at play, and wrapped up families trudging through brightly lit snowscapes. This snow is fun too. Moments of isolated anguish are broken by a bunch of giggling children shooting across your path. The French vocalising is strange to non-Canuck ears, adding a misleading European slant to the North American feeling. Luckily, the vocals are imaginative and not intrusive like so many other CDs that would be perfectly fine if people didn’t feel the need to stick poetry all over them. These are song moments in large pieces, and they work fine. This CD really covers every aspect of winter in Canada, from the cheerful harshness of the daylight or the majestic power of a mighty landscape to the deceptive warmth of the deadly cold and the true warmth of hearth and kin. File under Baked Alaska.

… at times engaging in a Satie-like sense of melancholy isolation…


Geert De Decker, Sztuka Fabryka, January 1, 2002

Joane Hétu (alto saxophone & vocals) is assisted with 4 other musicians who plays several instruments. This resulted in a very intimate CD. The music is a combination of improvisation music and contemporary classical music. The large compositions are build on tunes and melodies repeated several times, with in between short interruptions of sounds. All in such a tranquillity that it becomes almost immortal music from past ages with a dada attitude. The piano and the vocals are the main instruments which gives to the music its atmosphere. In the enclosed booklet you find the text of the vocals. Vocals in French language which fits very carefully with the music highlighted with the same intimate atmosphere as the music is.

… such a tranquillity that it becomes almost immortal music from past ages with a dada attitude.


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 49, September 1, 2001

Joane Hétu nous avait plutôt habitués à des pièces fortement expressives, tant par le travail instrumental que par les textes et chants. Sans renier tous les aspects de cet expressionnisme (contenus surtout dans les textes), Musique d’hiver use aussi de touches plutôt impressionnistes, en particulier les deux premières pièces La chute et On s’les gèle. Avec leurs sonorités suggestives, les timbres colorés et variés des différents instruments, Joane Hétu et ses partenaires créent, tel un Signac abandonnant ses paysages maritimes, un quadriptyque d’espaces hivernaux marqués aussi bien par la rigueur du climat que par la chaleur des rapports humains.

… espaces hivernaux marqués aussi bien par la rigueur du climat que par la chaleur des rapports humains.


Noah Wane, Splendid E-Zine, August 13, 2001

Musique d’hiver (winter music) is an evocative four-movement work intended to portray various aspects of the coldest season of the year. It is imaginative stuff, more delicate than Ms. Hétu’s usual spastic fare. The music is made by a small group of musicians playing a bevy of instruments (among them accordion, saxophone, Jew’s harp, prepared piano, foot tapping and “soundscapes”), with Hétu covering sax and vocals. Her vocal style is as affected and mannered as ever, consisting of growls, whistles, shivering, screeching etc — bel canto it is not! In the context of this piece, she controls herself pretty well, though, which allows the music to take on a magical, ethereal quality more fitting its theme than would be, say, monkeys squabbling over scraps of food. I haven’t been overly fond of some of Joane Hétu’s past work, but Musique d’hiver is just restrained enough and moody enough to win me over.

Musique d’hiver is just restrained enough and moody enough to win me over.


Julie Tassé, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no. 8:2, June 1, 2001

Les Scandinaves ont leur étiquette de Jazz ECM pour rendre hommage à l’hiver, ici nous avons Joane Hétu avec Musique d’hiver. Son plus récent album présente une seule pièce comprenant quatre mouvements (La chute, On s’les gèles, Lumière de février, Perdu l’nord). Joane Hétu s’y est entourée d’excellents collaborateurs qui ont fait la marque de l’étiquette Ambiances Magnétiques, soit Jean Derome, Pierre Tanguay et Guillaume Dostaler. Des compositions signées Joane Hétu qui nous rappellent les rafales de neige, entremêlées de sa poésie hivernale, à déguster maintenant qu’il fait chaud.

… à déguster maintenant qu’il fait chaud.


François Couture, AllMusic, March 1, 2001

This album stands aside in Joane Hétu’s discography. Even though the lineup is similar to the one in her avant rock group Castor et Compagnie (Jean Derome, Diane Labrosse, Pierre Tanguay, plus Guillaume Dostaler), Musique d’hiver (Winter Music) showcases a very different approach. Pianist Dostaler was brought in so that usual samplist/keyboardist Diane Labrosse could concentrate exclusively on her accordion. Alto saxophone (both by Hétu and Derome), flute (Derome), percussion (Tanguay), vocals (Hétu), and various tapes (situational recordings) complete the all-acoustic instrumentation. Musique d’hiver is a cycle of four pieces, one for each month from December to March, each about 16 minutes in duration. They are delicately crafted, slow-paced compositions for improvisers and include short sections with lyrics in the middle. Themes and melodies are spartan, slow, and reminiscent of Phillip Glass, and mostly played on flute and/or accordion. The atmosphere of snow, ice, and cold always remains tangible. La chute (“The Fall”) opens on a light, serene cascading motif announcing the arrival of winter, while Perdu l’nord (“Lost the Way”) is the craziest piece, with themes running into each other and free improvisation taking more room, picturing the relentlessness of one’s soul as spring (and with it deliverance) approaches. The maturity found in Musique d’hiver recalls the softer passages on Mets ta langue, Hétu’s second CD with Castor et Compagnie. But here her approach takes a whole new dimension as she eludes any extremes, taking the listener on a one-hour trip into Québécois winter, music that oscillates between sound art, minimalist songwriting, and composition for improvisers. Strikingly beautiful, this CD could very well become Joane Hétu’s finest hour. The booklet includes English translations of the lyrics. Very strongly recommended.

Strikingly beautiful, this CD could very well become Joane Hétu’s finest hour


Francine Charrette, Club-culture, March 1, 2001

Voilà certainement un album pour les initiés. Joane Hétu nous présente une œuvre poétique sur le thème de l’hiver. Une poésie musicale hivernale sans parole, un tableau pittoresque pigmenté de sonorités acoustiques et métaphoriques. Une musique actuelle explorative. Une pièce en quatre mouvements qui rend hommage aux vents du nordet, les bourrasques de neige, la luminosité étincelante de l’hiver, la lune cristalline de février, les grands froids, l’ennui et la folie de mars, pour laisser transparaître l’effervescence émotionnelle de l’hiver.

Elle s’est entourée de Jean Derome au saxophone alto, flûtes, ambiances sonores, voix; Guillaume Dostaler au piano; Diane Labrosse à l’accordéon et voix; Pierre Tanguay à la batterie, guimbarde, pieds et voix.

Ce n’est certainement pas une musique aux harmoniques traditionnelles et aux constructions mélodiques auxquelles nous sommes quotidiennement conviées. L’univers sonore et musical de Joane Hétu provoque, suggère des ambiances, des couleurs et des sentiments. Dissonances, explosions, sons, amalgame complexe. Voilà ce que vous propose Musique d’hiver.

Bonne écoute!

Dissonances, explosions, sons, amalgame complexe.

Ambiances magnétiques:triple lancement!

Nicolas Tittley, Voir, no. 728, February 22, 2001

L’infatigable Joane Hétu, l’une des artistes les plus productive d’un label qu’elle doit aussi gérer, présentera quant à elle Musiques d’hiver, une œuvre pour cinq musiciens (Hétu, Derome, Dostaler, Labrosse, Tanguay) qui avait été présentée il y a un an au Centre Calixa-Lavallée. Au programme: un paysage de vents frisquets, crissements de neige et craquements de glace. Madame Hétu est aussi une grande voyageuse, puisque Nous perçons les oreilles, le duo qu’elle forme avec Jean Derome, se rendra en Australie dans quelques semaines.

Au programme: un paysage de vents frisquets, crissements de neige et craquements de glace.

Musique d’hiver entre deux bordées

Alain Brunet, La Presse, February 17, 2000

On vous l’a déjà dit, les Productions Super-Mémé roulent cette année sur des quatre saisons. Les Musiques d’automne ont été un franc succès au Centre culturel Calixa-Lavallée, on enchaîne ce soir et demain avec Musique d’hiver, gracieuseté de Joane Hétu.

«Craquement et sifflements. Tempête, souffles et froidures, dépouillement, lumière blanche, lenteur, silence, bruit blanc. Cérémonie musicale pour une saison de frimas et de grands vents», annonce le communiqué. Le Canal Météo confirme, Joane Hétu ne pouvait mieux tomber: deux tempêtes ont précédé ses concerts, une autre bordée risque de leur succéder.

Musique d’hiver est une pièce comportant quatre mouvements: La Chute évoque la première chute de neige de l’année, On se les gèle est un tableau de froid et de vent, Lumière de février s’inspire du blanc resplendissant et du bleu métallique qui illuminent nos paysages d’hiver, Perdu le nord se veut l’expression sonore de cette perte d’énergie, voire cette déprime généralisée au terme de la saison froide.

«J’ai choisi une instrumentation acoustique pour une une musique très épurée»! amorce Joane Hétu. «Les mélodies y sont simples, les rythmes y sont lents, j’y greffe des matières sonores étonnantes et des paroles assez directes.» Joane Hétu jouera du sax alto et chantera, Jean Derome jouera les flûtes (alto, basse et piccolo), Guillaume Dostaler s’occupera du piano, Diane Labrosse de l’accordéon, Pierre Tanguay des percussions.

Il y aura peu d’improvisation au menu de Musique d’hiver. «Mes partitions, dit la musicienne, ne comportent peut-être pas les nuances qu’on retrouve dans la musique contemporaine; elles sont plus simples mais elles s’appuient sur des interprètes avec qui je travaille depuis longtemps, dont je sais exactement le jeu et les possibilités. Ma musique repose sur des artistes qui connaissent ma musique et qui savent en faire quelque chose.»

Autodidacte, Joane Hétu a construit son affaire lentement. Au fil des ans, au fil de Wondeur Brass, Les Poules, Justine, Nous Perçons les oreilles, Castor et compagnie, elle a fait sa petite bonne femme de chemin pour atteindre une certaine maturité.


«J’ai l’étrange impression de toujours recomposer la même affaire, avec chaque fois un peu plus de maîtrise, une meilleure connaissance du médium. J’arrive de mieux en mieux à faire passer ce que j’entends dans ma tête. «Ma progression n’est pas rapide, admet-elle néanmoins. J’ai de plus en plus confiance en moi mais je n’ai pas encore le sentiment d’avoir atteint ma vitesse de croisière. Mais je suis fière de Musique d’hiver qui, je crois, est la plus achevée de mes pièces.»

Joane Hétu présente Musique d’hiver

Manon Guilbert, Le Journal de Montréal, February 17, 2000

Année après année, les productions SuperMémé défendent leurs visions de la musique actuelle. Un nouveau projet, Les Saisons, se poursuit avec Musique d’hiver les 17 et 18 février.

Joane Hétu signe cette œuvre en quatre mouvements. Elle y décrit le dépouillement, la lumière blanche, la lenteur, le silence, le bruit blanc inhérents à cette saison nordique.

Depuis plus d’un an, Joane Hétu avait cette musique en tête. Elle a passé plusieurs mois à composer la pièce. «J’avais besoin de ce nouveau défi, explique-t-elle lors d’un entretien téléphonique. Mon écriture s’est améliorée. c’est tout à fait cette pièce que j’entendais. En 70 minutes, quatre blocs sont développés. La Chute. On se les gèle. Lumière de février et Perdu le nord, dans cette musicale description de l’hiver.»

Cette œuvre sera interprétée par Joane Hétu elle-même, Jean Derome, Guillaume Dostaler, Diane Labrosse et Pierre Tanguay au Centre culturel Calixa-Lavallée au cœur du parc Lafontaine. On y accueillera les gens à compter de l9h avant chaque concert. Un feu de foyer extérieur y sera allumé sur le parvis.

En première partie, trois D. J. feront une démonstration de «platinage artistique». «Nous courons certains risques, commente Joane Hétu. Notre musique ne suit pas les mêmes règles que la musique populaire. On travaille à développer le public.»

La semaine prochaine, quelques jours après les exécutions publiques de l’œuvre, les musiciens entreront en studio, profitant du momentum, à Radio-Canada, pour l’enregistrement de Musique d’hiver.

Tempête de sons

NM, Montréal Campus, no. 10:11, February 9, 2000

En deuxième partie sera créée Musique d’hiver, une œuvre de Joane Hétu pour voix et instruments acoustiques: saxophone, flûtes, piano, accordéon et batterie. Joane Hétu, Jean Derome, Guillaume Dostaler, Diane Labrosse et Pierre Tanguay sont tous des artistes éclectiques, actifs et reconnus sur la scène de la musique actuelle, qui ont trempé dans les milieux de la danse, du théâtre et du cinéma. Un feu de foyer extérieur sera allumé chaque soir, avant le début du concert et à l’entracte. Chaleur en perspective pour musique de froidure.

More texts

  • Euro-Rock Press, no. 12, January 1, 2002
  • Henryk Palczewski, Informator “Ars” 2, no. 31, September 1, 2001
  • Maurice Dielemans, KindaMuzik, June 8, 2001
  • Le Devoir, February 14, 2000