… this musical project not only succeeds in tweaking our imaginations, but also offers a welcome antiddote to the masses of nimble-fingered musical demonstrations heard in every musical style, jazz and free improv included. — Coda Magazine, Canada
A quartet born of hair-covered brawn and primeval sinew; cave music prehistoric, ageless and archaic. Casting our thinking about music back 50,000 years, perhaps to its very birth, to those first true pioneering musical experimenters, our ancestors.
- 1Enterré avec des fleurs (2001), 1:44
- 2Venus de Willendorf (2001), 3:20
- 3Danse en rond (2001), 4:31
- 4Croche de cerf (2001), 2:33
- 5Altamira (2001), 5:01
- 6Panneau du patriarche (2001), 2:28
- 7Les trois frères (2001), 9:18
- 8Bouche d’ombre (2001), 1:52
- 9Sagaie-blessure (2001), 1:05
- 10Érigeur (2001), 1:12
- 11Gros blocs (2001), 3:12
- 12Signe angulaire (2001), 1:51
- 13Homme hibou (2001), 2:34
- 14Figurines (2001), 4:37
- 15Scène du puits (2001), 1:47
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 097 / 2001
- UCC 771028109722
- Total duration: 48:14
- 125 mm × 125 mm × 5 mm
- 35 g
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In the press
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we begin this series of articles on various catalogue-related themes, why not start with the hardest artist to pin down from the Ambiances Magnétiques collective: prolific and eclectic drummer Michel F Côté.
A late arrival to the Ambiances Magnétiques roster (joining in 1988), Côté readily put himself on the fringe of various geometrically variable groups. He could be heard for the first time in the debut Bruire album, Le barman a tort de sourire, a surprise box with no less than 14 guest musicians. Bruire is Côté’s very poetic project-group, in which he plays with the language of avant-garde, song and ambient music. This album launched a trilogy which continued in an increasingly mature vein with Les Fleurs de Léo, to end with the unforgettable L’âme de l’objet. This travelling in three steps has given us the chance to hear collaborators such as Geneviève Letarte, Jerry Snell, René Lussier, Ikue Mori, Claude St-Jean and Jean Derome, all of whom helped to feed our drummer’s fertile imagination.
More than six years passed before a new Bruire project could be heard, this one a very different beast: Chants rupestres, an improv quatuor with Jean Derome, Normand Guilbeault and Martin Tétreault. In fact, during these six years, Côté had been working on other projects which were increasingly more… deconstructed. The first sequels of this could be seen in a collaboration with Diane Labrosse, a slightly obscure CD purposely entitled Duo déconstructiviste. And if the first (double) album from his new project Klaxon Gueule, Bavards, was to sport a fairly recognisable “rock” energy, this project would soon see Côté at his most abstract.
The least we can say is that the release of Muets, a shiny minimalist jewel completely at odds with Bavards, would be a surprise to most listeners. One thing was for sure though, this new CD, released in 1999, was certainly more in phase with its era than the Duo déconstructiviste which was, in retrospect, perhaps too much in advance on its time. But this change was also due to the aesthetic evolution of doublebassist Alexandre St-Onge who, from a relatively “classical” playing, was to suddenly turn to a rather more conceptual approach towards his instrument. Côté and guitarist Bernard Falaise were thrilled to follow their bandmate in this new direction. Their latest album, Grain (recorded with Sam Shalabi and Christof Migone), confirmed this tendancy while pushing it even further into sophistication, making this work one of Côté’s most accomplished of his discography.
But the drummer did not stop there and reappeared where no one was expecting him. Thus, with Éric Bernier and Guy Trifiro, he created a new group, Bob, whose new disc, Unstable Friends, just came out. Under some fairly deviant and attractive cover artwork, a return to the bizarre “pop” music from Bruire’s beginnings is taking shape! We also heard through the grapevine that a new project called Mecca Fixes Clock (in which we can recognise the composer’s initials!) which could be described as orchestral ambient. Is Côté returning to his first loves?
If it isn’t so easy to give an overview of Michel F Côté as a musician, then that might be because his work goes beyond just music. In fact, one can often hear our protagonist at the theatre and in performance art, with such creators as Robert Lepage and Catherine Tardif. This aspect of his work finds its echo on Compil zouave, so far the only disc released under the composer’s name. We should also mention Côté’s previous involvement as a radioshow host at Radio-Canada amongst others, and his writing for contemporary arts magazine Esse.
Michel F Côté may best be seen as a kind of barometer of Ambiances Magnétiques’ creative activity throughout the years: from the song-form experiments of the 1980s through the peculiar lyrical impro-composition which was the signature sound of the AM catalogue in the 1990s, to continue with a more extreme form of improvisation, based on the physical existence of the instrument.
The second disc, Chants rupestres, is quite a different proposition, because it is essentially programmaric. The titles of the 15 tracks resemble primitive-looking hieroglyphs and are virtually impossible to reproduce here. To quote the short insert blurb, this is “quartet born of haircovered and primeval sinew; cave music, prehistoric ageless and archaic. Casting our thinking about music back 100,000 years, perhaps to its very birth, to those first true pioneering musical experimenters, our ancestors.
Given much of the debate raging these days about reclaiming musics of the past, one has to commend drummer Michel F. Côte for outdoing everybody in that department, yet one has to wonder if there is some sort of underlying irony also at work in this. In this most unusual project of his group “Bruire", he produces an imaginary primitive music with the help of bassist Normand Guilbeault, reedist Jean Derome (on baritone sax throughout, an appropriate horn to capture the lumbering ways often attributed to our earliest ancestors) and Martin Tétreault (whose turntable playing blends so seamlessly into the whole). As in the first disc reviewed, it’s unlikely that there are compositions worked out in any pre-ordained or notated ways, but there are definite frameworks which allow for collective structuring and individual expression alike. In the 48 minutes of this disc, this musical project not only succeeds in tweaking our imaginations, but also offers a welcome antiddote to the masses of nimble-fingered musical demonstrations heard in every musical style, jazz and free improv included.
Sons caverneux angoissants et d’avant-garde, voici ce qui ressort du plus récent opus de Bruire, ensemble dirigé par Mlchel F. Côté et réunissant cette fois Jean Derome, Normand Gulibeault et Martin Tétreault. Par ce projet fort audacieux, ces créateurs respectés de la scène de la musique actuelle québécoise rendent hommage aux musiciens de l’âge de pierre. Une démarche musicale intéressante et qui ne laisse personne indifférent.
Bruire, formation à geométrie variable dirigée par le batteur Michel F Côté pose ici une question passionnante: qu’a pu être l’art musical de la préhistoire? Comme il est fort peu probable qu’un archéologue retrouve enfoui au fin fond d’une grotte un DAT ou un Mini-Disc enregistré il y a 100 000 ans lors d’un concert privé, l’imaginaire musicaI peut s’exer er ici sans retenue. Les improvisations ne portent pas de titre ou de numéro mais représentent des signes préhistoriques que les musiciens ont pour charge de commenter. Nulle improvisation primitive ou scénario grottesque ici (quoique la réverbération sombre de certaines plages nous transporte en plein cœur d’un abri de l’âge de pierre.) mais une improvisation qui prend le temps de, s’installer entre silence et chaos orchestral. Ecartèlemen ts, martèlements rythmiques, barbare baryton, Summertime et Evidence (celui de Monk auquel Jean Derome rend dommage au sein du trio Evidence) suggères ici et là (plages 7 & 14), frayeurs et joies ancestrales, cris lointains, autant de preuves et de témoignages imaginaires à saisir. Pochette cartonnée soignée (plusieurs versions proposées) avec signes, dessins et fins collages végétaux. Bruire ou l’art de la grotte bien temperée.