Though it took her eight years to put out the follow-up, Ellipsis, the album was well-worth the wait, and O’Hara kept herself busy in the meantime doing brilliant and innovative live performances and sound installations. — Euterpe’s Notebook
Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone. — Paris Transatlantic, France
“Here, for you, a brand new edifice of sound.
Welcome to it.
Stretch and wander in the relaxed mind.
May I offer you some words to describe the experience?
Perhaps you would prefer a compound phrase.
Creepy, dreamy bounce blues!
I took the saddest parts of a stubbed heart and tossed it up with some edifying red-hot crystals. It’s not for eating! Put it on in the corner. It will console and inflame the cosy nook of your upper story.”
- ET 12 / 2010
- Total duration: 44:00
- 1Superbe regret (2010), 4:25
- 2The Stockholm Effect (2010), 3:54
- 3Ventitres (2010), 3:55
- 4A View / Of You (2010), 3:34
- 5Optimism of the Will (2010), 3:08
- 6Sleepwalker (2010), 3:37
- 7Balade gelée (2010), 2:28
- 8Butterfingers (2010), 2:15
- 9Detached love song (2010), 4:06
- 10Encantamiento (2010), 3:17
- 11Inside joke (love is) (2010), 3:12
- 12Bugs (2010), 4:10
- 13Twenty-three (2010), 3:59
CD 2.0ET 12CAD 11.95
Some recommended items
In the press
Erin Lyndal Martin, Euterpe’s Notebook, May 30, 2011
Charity Chan, Paris Transatlantic, March 21, 2011Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone.
Alexis O’Hara: elliptiqueAlain Brunet, La Presse, March 12, 2011Un travail cohérent, somme toute, où la singularité se débusque dans le détail. Où l’interprétation demeure un concept très ouvert, on l’aura deviné.
BK, Exclaim!, March 1, 2011There’s a focus on the voice here. It’s exploited in a multitude of ways. Used for beats, clicks, breathing-sounds etc.
Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy, no. 69, March 1, 2011
Steve Guimond, Hour, January 27, 2011En anglais and in French, she belts out trilogies of experimental glitch torch songs.
Frans de Waard, Vital, no. 765, January 24, 2011… Et Records operate[s] on an interesting crossroad of music styles, and these four new releases show that well. The crossroad is where pop music, improvisation, musique concrète and free-jazz meet up.
Khyro, Le Khyroscope, January 20, 2011… ce disque regorge de perles.
Stefano Isidoro Bianchi, Blow Up, no. 152, January 1, 2011
François Couture, Monsieur Délire, December 7, 2010Experimental electro-pop with bold, playful, occasionally kinky lyrics, a twisted form of humour, and acidic thinking.
Rupert Bottenberg, Montreal Mirror, November 11, 2010… she and her gathering of Mile End musical guests strike the right balance of detachment and vulnerability…
I’ve been a fan of Alexis O’Hara since 2003, when I first heard her 2002 album In Abulia. Though it took her eight years to put out the follow-up, Ellipsis, the album was well-worth the wait, and O’Hara kept herself busy in the meantime doing brilliant and innovative live performances and sound installations. Wickedly brilliant and creative, here is O’Hara discussing Ellipsis, the Speakerbox Igloo, and dreams about evil water.
AO: Do you mind if I ask you a question?
ELM: No, go on.
AO: How do you know who I am?
ELM: Years ago, my then-boyfriend gave me a copy of In Abulia. So I had to email him and tell him I was talking to you, and he had a very good question for you. He wanted me to ask you what your favorite non-musical sounds were, like if you liked the sound of traffic or washing machines.
AO: My very favorite sound is ice cubes in a glass, in a drink. Actually, a lot of my favorite sounds are related to the consumption of beverages. I love the sound when you open a bottle of wine and you’re just about to pour it and there’s a sort of suction that occurs there that’s very nice. Those are my top two. I have a couple wooden bracelets that are bangles that my sister gave me, and when I wear them they make a really fun sound cause they smash together. It actually reminds me of ice cubes in a glass.
ELM: So I noticed on Ellipsis that you switch between languages a lot more, and I wondered how you decided when you’re going to switch.
AO: Well, my first album had French and English on it because those are the two languages I was raised with. My mom is francophone and my dad is anglophone. But English was the dominant language for sure. Living in Montréal, I feel like I have to have some French on everything that I do. And then Spanish — I love Spanish — I only speak it a little bit, but I love the sound of it. On the album, some of it was actually mixed — I had a residency in Mexico, and I did some recording there, but I was mostly working on tracks that had been recorded here, and it came to me to do the “Twenty-Three” in Spanish. I have a French version as well, but it’s not as musical. Overall, it was a fun experience to translate that song into two languages, and I feel like the Spanish version is my favorite. So when I do live performances, like if I’m in Germany, I try to do a German song too. I wish I was more of a polyglot. I do my best to engage in as many languages as I could access.
ELM: What is your typical live show like?
AO: There’s not a typical live show because I do as much gigging in burlesque venues or cabaret venues as I do in music-type venues or art galleries or new media-type venues. In a way, I will adapt to the environment. The essential elements are my voice, a bunch of pedals, some feedback, some sampling, a lot of live sampling. It’s interesting because I put out this record and I am quite proud of it, but I haven’t really toured it. I did do a release party in Montréal with a full band, and that was really fun, but half the night was the full band and half the night was me solo. So I do the songs, which is different than the cabaret act, which is a lot more improvisation, more a comedy-type element, experimental-music-type element through the pedals and feedback. When I do the songs, it’s different. It’s much more girl-with-a-guitar. So I’ll play the bass and I’ll loop the bass and my voice. I’ve always had an issue with branding. It’s never really been my path to do the same show twice.
ELM: Where did you get the idea to use your voice as a backing instrument?
AO: I don’t consider it to be a backing instrument. I consider it to be the main instrument. It comes from being a kid with my family on road trips and being with my sister and me playing a game where one person makes a beep-beep-beep-beep sound and the next person goes mrow-mrow and so we’d compose little songs that way. So when I discovered the miracle of a loop station, it was like ‘Oh! This is the music I’ve been making since I was eight years old!’ And then experimenting with what is possible and what sounds I can make with my voice. I’ve always been inspired by vocal performers, everybody from Diamanda Galas to Bobby McFerrin. Throat singers really fascinate me. It’s only later on that I learned to play an instrument.
ELM: Even though my mother’s a French teacher, I have no idea what you’re talking about in Balade gelée. It sounds really romantic, but I don’t know if it is.
AO: It’s a woman talking about herself, so there’s no ‘you’ in it. It’s just ‘I. I could tell you some of the lyrics: ‘Je ne suis pas une des fideles / Ni praticante d’endurance / Ancrée ici par une ficelle / Ephémère de toute apparence.’ ‘I am not one of the faithful / Neither amateur of endurance / Tethered by a string / Ephemerally existing.’
I can tell you that when I do that song in Quebec, everyone laughs. And when I do it in front of an English-speaking crowd, everyone applauds. There’s a punchline that you have to be French to get at the end of the song. It’s basically the story of a woman saying ‘oh, I’m so damaged, and I could tell you all of my stories,’ and at the end saying ‘but that would take a very long time.’
ELM: I really like a line in a later song, the line ‘you can’t touch it and then touch your face.’
AO: That’s a rare example, because in a lot of way, Ellipsis is a surprise and a departure for people who know my live work because my live work is more character-driven. It has spoken word, but there are a lot more character-driven elements that happen in there. So that piece comes from a 20-minute performance I did in New York City, and then I did another version in the UK, a version of it that’s about five minutes. It’s where I’m this strange bug creature, and I have a dress that is a MIDI-controller dress, so if I touch certain parts of the dress, it triggers different samples. So I’m this character, this bug, and the bug being a triple-entendre of something that annoys you or surveillance and espionage or the bug, the insect, that whole fascinating species that will outlive the human species. That song is taken from that. I love the lyrics in that song. They’re so silly. ””You don’t touch it and then touch your face. But maybe those babies’ got babies too. And the babies’ babies’ve got babies too. And then what are you gonna do? You can’t kill them all.”
ELM: Do you feel like you consciously make records rather than put songs together?
AO: No. Look at my discography. I put out one record in 2002, and my next record came out in 2010. But, I suppose, given the time-lapse, I could easily follow the argument of having spent eight years crafting the vision of it. I would like to be more prolific in releasing material. I do create a lot of material, but I don’t always press record. Usually, I don’t press record.
ELM: One question that I ask everybody: who are your favorite writers?
AO: Right now, I’m reading a great book, but I’m so tired I can’t remember the name of it. I really like Nabokov, Lolita is my all-time favorite book. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn was a very inspirational book for me. I love Lynda Barry, a beautiful beautiful writer. There’s a Canadian writer, Miriam Toews. I love her writing. As a kid, e.e. cummings was really the bomb, the shit for me. And an Ontario poet, B.P. Nichols, lesser-known sort of Dadaist character. He died young. I should carry around a list: favorite writers, so when I get interviewed, I can sound intelligent, but I have a special variety of amnesia that makes me forget what kind of music I like whenever I walk into a record store.
ELM: Do you have any sociopolitical causes that you feel like are really close to your heart?
AO: If anything, I aspire to having a much smaller footprint, really being conscious about everything that I buy and the whole consumer process and how we’ve been trained, ideologically and emotionally, to be rewarded by this really vacuous system, so that is something I try to think about. When I was in my early 3O’s, I was quite conscious about my personality flaws and how self-centered I am as a human. So I was like ‘I need to be a better lover. Be better at loving people.’ And it’s a daily struggle for sure because there’s a lot of reasons to hate humanity any time you walk out the door. I feel like I’m not quite the political being I will, one day, be, because I feel more and more motivated every day to be more conscious of the way I live in terms of my actions and my beliefs. It’s still very personal and radiating only out to a smaller circumference than someone who’s trying to free prisoners. It’s hard because I definitely feel overwhelmed a lot by all the injustices and certainly the right-wing wave that is sweeping internationally. You’re calling me from the States, and you’ve got Obama in power now, but he’s got his hands tied in a lot of ways. And even his view of government still has a very individualistic approach to it, like taxes are viewed as the devil, so we have this societal breakdown in the sense of people not wanting to take care of each other. They just want to make their own money and take care of themselves, and that frightens me. There were elections in Canada recently, not sure if you’re aware of it, but our Prime Minister, who had been the minority — he was leading with a minority government, which meant that he was limited in what he could do. And it was weird because he’d been involved in all these scandals and closed down Parliament, just not wanting to work on specific issues, he closed down Parliament. How can you do that? How can you just shut down the process. And limiting access to the Information Act. So there was a non-confidence vote and an election was called, and, after months of campaigning, he won again, and this time with a majority. It was like, ‘oh my god!’ This was an interesting thing because for the first time in Canadian history — wait, is that true? I should Google it, but, anyway, and NDP, which is the New Democratic Party, they’re quite lefty, they believe in social government, in social democracy. Their color is orange, and Quebec is shaped a little bit like a goldfish, so the whole province is like an orange goldfish surrounded by this big blue shark. I get that we’re just specks. There are things that are going to occur in my life and then I will die. There are so many people on the planet and there are so many shifts that happen, and, in a way, I feel fatalistic about it. Not that I don’t try to be a better person, but I’m not railing, necessarily, because I see my place in the tide of it all.
ELM: It’s interesting to hear what’s going on in other countries because, especially being in a country like the US, we get a lot of tunnel vision when it comes to our own politics.
AO: It’s not very typical for Americans to hear what’s going on in the rest of the world. Your media doesn’t broadcast those stories.
ELM: Especially not about Canada, unfortunately. My last question for you relates to Escape Hatch, which is about a dream, and it’s my favorite song of yours. I was wondering if you have particularly interesting dreams or one you can recall.
AO: I love my dreams, and I have escaped into my dreams many times, and sometimes it’s a dangerously seductive place to live in your subconscious and have these fantasies, and sometimes the fantasies surprise you. That song, Escape Hatch was a real dream, and it was a real breakup, and I’m pretty much just telling the story of the dream. I was broken-hearted about it but it was also that this person was my heartbreak muse. It’s good to have your heart broken, actually. Write some stuff abut it. Lately I’ve had a couple of really good dreams. I’ve been having nice, hot dreams, like where things are going really well and some Hollywood movie star is kissing me. The other day, a friend of mine, Magali Babin, a sound artist here in Montréal and in the world, she’s been doing stuff with putting microphones underwater and recording underwater sounds. Right now she’s working on a series where she’s asking people if they have dreams about water, and I have this great dream that I had as a kid. It was a reoccurring dream, it was a nightmare, and I think I must have told the story of the reoccurring dream, for years and years and years, and it was only at one point that I looked at the retelling and thought ‘this was a very environmentalist dream that I was having.’ I was kind of raised on television because I had two professional parents, and I watched a lot of tv, and my dreams when I was a kid, and even now, I’d get these images that are images from childhood but it’s not real childhood, it’s like you grew up in the house from the Brady Bunch, this sort of split-level bungalow with a swimming pool in the back and a phone on the wall. We never had a phone on our wall with a long cord. So in this dream, the swimming pool is haunted, and the water is evil water. If this water touches your skin, it turns into plastic bags filled with tin cans that stick to you forever and ever. One by one, my friends are getting plastic-bag-tin-canned to death and the kitchen is just like the Brady Bunch kitchen, and I have to cross past the kitchen to get to the phone. And as I do, a wave of the evil water comes in the window from the swimming pool, and I am completely drenched, and I reach my doom moment, and I wake up.
ELM: That’s not a fabulous dream to have, but it’s pretty fantastic to talk about.
AO: Yes, it scared me a lot as a child.
ELM: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
AO: Do you know anything about my sound installation, the Speaker Box Igloo? It’s an igloo made of speaker boxes.
ELM: No, tell me about it.
AO: You should Google it too. There’s a lot of images of it online. It’s my first sound installation, and there’s two doors and you go inside, and there’s microphones hanging from the ceiling which are facing inwards and you pick up the microphone and you talk, and your voice going through delay or pitch-shift or some other effects comes out of the speakers around you. There’s four microphones, so there’s this spontaneous, ephemeral band that just jams out with their voice all effected. I did it at music festivals, and I did it in Club Transmedia, and a couple places in France, and Today’s Art in Holland. It’s really fun, and I love that project. I had a really busy touring schedule in presenting that project last year. I’m working now on developing a performance piece which is actually kind of a play but it’s more of a sound-piece. It has kind of a post-apocalyptic, post-everything vibe, cause the whole home of the characters is Speaker Box Igloo, which sounds like it’s made from the dredges of society, so that’s an exciting thing that’s going on with me. I really hope to be opening Speaker Box Igloos everywhere in the world. They’re really fun sport. Anyway, thanks for being interested!
&records is not just a record label, it’s also what you could think of as an ongoing conceptual art project, managed by two Montréal based artists: Fabrizio Gilardino and Michel F Côté. Both have been active on the Montréal music scene for many years, both releasing work on the Ambiances Magnétiques label and producing the annual “jazz sur mars” series. &records started in 2003, and has been putting out new albums ever since. 2010 proved to be one of their most prolific years, with over seven releases, spanning everything from solo recordings (Jean René’s Fammi), to noise rock (La Part Maudite), from electroacoustic improvisation (Palétuvier (rouge) ) to lush pop extravaganza (Alexis O’Hara’s Ellipsis).
What’s intriguing about the label is the concept behind it: &records is an imprint with a set end date: when Côté and Gilardino reach a total of 24 releases, the label will close its doors. It’s an interesting idea, and one that differs from the usual means of organization for a label, presenting the listener with the feeling that everything has been carefully considered and curated. The care that goes into the project is evident from the discs themselves, with each album featuring graphics by Gilardino silkscreened onto its cover. Packaging is minimal, with only the bare necessities in terms of descriptive text, but the craft and thought behind the project are obvious.
These three albums are among &records’ most recent releases, and despite their striking musical diversity, covering a gamut of musical approaches and techniques, they share a consistent atmospheric and evanescent quality. Whether electroacoustic, sample-based, purely improvised, partly composed, experimental sound art, noise or even indie post-rock style, the music makes you feel like you’ve walked into a fantastical treasure trove of sound. Blink once, and it might all be gone. Often making use of subtle and quiet electronics, these are intimate moments, further reinforced by the rhetorical understatement that seems to be the preference for all three groups / artists.
In Palétuvier (rouge) , the fourth in the Palétuvier series, Diane Labrosse (sampler), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet and saxophones) and Pierre Tanguay (drums) present a hushed yet focused series of four improvisations constructed almost purely from wisps of sound, and playing as much with silence and space as with sound itself. Even when there’s a sense of consistent momentum, or where the music appears busier, as in the opening track Miso Eratu, there’s still plenty of space left in between its pulses and grains. The beats on Dextrus Fitera feel a bit plodding and heavyhanded, but they nonetheless contribute to the impression of this album being one long composition, as opposed to four pieces related only by propinquity. It’s almost as if the musicians were slowly breaking down the component parts of the first track into shorter, quieter, and smaller elements, until, by the time the final Alvarum Macenza is reached, what remains is barely audible, forcing the listener to strain to hear what is going on. It’s as if the music is progressively slipping away, with Lauzier’s gossamer-thin threads of sound the final echoes of a barely remembered dream.
Alexis O’Hara’s Ellipsis provides a similar aesthetic of understatement, but with a quiet fortitude that imparts a greater sense of grounding and permanence, albeit one that still maintains the fundamentally translucent and soft character of her compositions. For this album, she’s joined by a coterie of Mile End/Montréal musicians, including Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la band), Alexandre St-Onge (Shalabi Effect) and Radwan Moumneh (Jerusalem in My Heart).
The first thing to strike you upon listening to Ellipsis is the seductiveness of O’Hara’s voice, whose close, whispered quality makes it seem like she’s standing right beside you, telling you sly secrets no one else knows. At times it’s overdubbed, at times layered under the instrumental accompaniment, in a process of masking and unmasking that makes listening both hard work and something to relish. It’s compelling and intoxicating, the lyrics (in French, English and Spanish) switching from playful to somber in a heartbeat, all the while retaining their mildly acerbic wit. Even when the songs adopt a marginally disturbed character (Inside Joke (love is), Twenty-Three and Bugs), they remain beguiling and enthralling. Ellipsis is a gorgeously and skillfully rendered set of pieces that calls for listening to over and over again.
If Palétuvier (rouge) and Ellipsis are dreams wearing rose-colored glasses, Ave <w> is their distant cousin in slightly nightmarish Technicolor, sonically denser, with harsher, grittier textures, more strident in character but by no means overwhelming. This is a project by one Tiari Kese, who, according to Côté, is “a world-renowned pianist and French horn player, known for his interpretations of John Cage.” In fact, Kese is actually Côté, who also credits himself on percussion and electronics and joins trumpeter Gordon Allen (a.k.a. Ellwood Epps) in a set of pieces originally commissioned by Sylvain Émard Danse. The music is a mix of live recordings and samples featuring a wide range of influences, including (as Kese names them): Satie & Cage, Tétreault & Falaise, Siewert & Brandlmayr, B Günter, Fennesz, Neina and Oval.
Côté’s fondness for noisy, distorted sheets of sound combined with sweeter harmonies penetrating a morass of grainy distortion is evident throughout, as it is on his recent Mecha Fixes Clocks (À l’inattendu les dieux livrent passage). This proclivity of Côté’s for “musical white noise” is particularly clear on Marge brute du ƒ, where “Kese” performs sharply punctuated chords (courtesy Erik Satie) on the piano, their attacks triggering a patch that distorts and augments their overtone material. This and the opening Unit Vector in Vratsa are probably the most forceful of the pieces on offer here, the rest of which returns to the bittersweet atmosphere common to all three of the albums, well in line with the general aesthetic of this fine label.
Le plus récent document numérisé de l’artiste multidisciplinaire Alexis O’Hara est un album de 13 chansons et de mots dits en mode trilingue — surtout anglais, mais aussi français et espagnol.
Sur une toile électronique incluant des instruments acoustiques ou électriques, la Montréalaise y explore les thèmes récurrents de l’intimité: amour, désir, loyauté, perte, fuite, auto-observation, auto-dérision, ironie de la situation, cynisme, joie. Pour cet Ellipsis, O’Hara a créé des charpentes et sédiments électroniques pour ensuite leur conférer un caractère organique en s’adjoignant différentes configurations d’instrumentistes. Ont été mis à contribution: les percussionnistes Michel F Côté et Stefan Schneider, le guitariste Bernard Falaise, le trompettiste Brian Lipson, le bassiste Alexandre St-Onge, la violoniste Sophie Trudeau, le joueur de saz Radwan Moumneh.
Les références musicales s’inscrivent dans le sillon chansonnier post-Laurie Anderson de par l’alternance/enchevêtrement du conte et de la forme chanson, de par la nature composite de la lutherie. Un travail cohérent, somme toute, où la singularité se débusque dans le détail. Où l’interprétation demeure un concept très ouvert, on l’aura deviné.
With Alexis O’Hara I’ve found myself in a completely unfamiliar territory. Taking the easy way out by comfortably fitting what I hear on Ellipsis into a common genre, is not an option. There’s a focus on the voice here. It’s exploited in a multitude of ways. Used for beats, clicks, breathing-sounds etc. It’s always very high in the mix. Mouths are used to create additional sounds and chests are drummed on, literally, for rhythm and accentuation.
Ellipsis is a sensual affair. Even if a song is not danceable at all, but rather creating a certain mood specifically, it is still sensual, even mysterious. The album alternates between those type of songs and weirdly danceable ones. It is hypnotic and a little bit unnerving. It’s expressive and feels improvisational at times. Lyrics are sung in English, Spanish, French and probably some other languages. Such a strange yet interesting album.
Alexis O’hara ist die Hälfte von Mankind. (Die andere ist D. Kimm.) Sie spielt Bass und singt, sehr schön, zu elektronisch frisierten Sounds und manchmal ooht oder doom-doom-doomt sie Human-Beatbox-Beats dazu oder aaht sich selbst den Backgroundchorus. In Montréals Cabaret-Szene auch als Guizo LaNuit bekannt, präsentiert sie auf Ellipsis (&12) zehn Songs, zwei Canciones und ein Chanson. Solo, aber meist nicht allein, denn Freunde aus der Musique-actuelle-Familie — Côté, Falaise, Lipson, Moumneh, Schneider, St-Onge, Trudeau — helfen den Liedern auf die Sprünge. Mit Percussion und noch mehr Bass, dazu den Klangfarben von Gitarre, Trompete, Geige und sogar Saz. Der Charme der Stimme, der uneuphorische, raffiniert ungekünstelt wirkende Tonfall und die Quirkiness der bei aller Programmiertechnik wie handgestrickten Arrangements machen O’Hara zu einer der Sophisticated Ladies des alternativen Pop, wie sie schon mal in der 80ern en vogue waren. Wer kann, darf an Danielle Dax oder Fay Lovsky denken. Bei Ventrites erinnert sie an Liaisons Dangereuses. Die Lieder sind bei aller Helligkeit der Stimme doch melancholisch angehaucht, ein süßes Seufzen und Räsonieren über eigene Unzulänglichkeiten und die Stürme im Wasserglas der Liebe (Detached love song). Hat man Butterfingers, dann fällt das Butterbrot erst recht auf die Butterseite — das hat schon Jean Paul gewusst. Zwischen Kindchenschema-Lalala und Gelächter (Inside joke (love is)) und Stockholm-Syndrom (The Stockholm Effect) ist genug Platz für Optimismus und für XX/XY-Irritation (Twenty-three). 23 pairs of chromosomes, what’s your information? O’Haras ‘Ich’ wünscht sich ein Refugium, aber mit offenem Horizont (A View / Of You). Als Sleepwalker schlafwandelt sie zum Ticktack der Saz einem Ausweg zu, den es nicht gibt. Die französische Balade gelée geht mit rauchigem Existentialismus zu rauchiger Trompete an die Nieren. Reine Solos wie ‘Bugs’ sind vielstimmig geloopt und aufwändiger und theatralischer geschichtet wie manches, das zu Fünft entstand. Es gibt Händchen, aus denen man ganz einfach fressen muss.
A mere seven years in the making, welcome to the weird and wild world of Montréal’s “agente provocatrice” Alexis O’Hara as heard on her sophomore record, Ellipsis. O’Hara has always embodied the term “artist,” a true blue multidisciplinarian who’s dabbled in visuals, theatre, film, installations and, of course, music, an avant-garde outlook on popular music played live or processed. She has amassed a local laundry list of extraordinary musicians — Michel F Côté, Bernard Falaise, Radwan Moumneh, Alexandre St-Onge, as well as members of The Luyas and Godspeed. En anglais and in French, she belts out trilogies of experimental glitch torch songs.
Canada’s Et Records are now in full active force: existing since 2003, but only last year they doubled their amount of releases. That’s great, also since they operate on an interesting crossroad of music styles, and these four new releases show that well. The crossroad is where pop music, improvisation, musique concrète and free-jazz meet up. We have to go the website for additional information (which sometimes linked from the Actuelle label — Canada seems well organized in that respect).
Let’s start with the most ‘traditional’ one — or so it sounds like. I have never heard of Alexis O’Hara, who uses a lot of human voice — her own — as well as electronic improvisation and video. She has performed on spoken word festivals all over the world, from “new music symposiums to “women & technology events”, and besides various mini CDRs, Ellipsis is her second full length CD. Now it may sound like that this is all serious sound poetry, but this release is perhaps the most ‘pop’ music based I heard from Et Records. O’Hara samples her voice, adds a bit of electronic backing, rhythm machines, maybe a synth (but then perhaps these are sampled from her own voice, who am I to tell), and she signs a song, not use her voice in some dramatic or abstract poetry-like manner. That adds a distinct pop music like element to her music, along with a cabaret/nightclub like feel in some songs — perhaps due to the fact that she uses besides English also French and Spanish. The CD closes with Twenty-three, which sounds like a pastiche of Twenty Jazz funk Greats and Hot On The Heels from Throbbing Gristle. An excellent release! Very relaxed music, very well made.
From this extreme we bounce to an opposite extreme, the free jazz improvisation of Pink Saliva, a trio from Ellwood Epps (trumpet), Michel F Cote (drums, microphones, lapsteel) and Alexandre St-Onge (electric bass and laptop). A live recording, which is edited down to twelve short ‘songs’ (again?), somewhere between one and four minutes. This music is more traditionally improvised than what I usually like, with a strong sense for jazz. That is not necessarily, of course, a bad thing, but just not so much my cup of tea, although I could envisage myself in a dark cellar smoke filled and pipe in my hand. Perhaps I should say ‘that traditional’, but I have to be careful: maybe this is all done tongue in cheek, but I am not qualified to judge on that.
More improvisation can be found on the trio disc of Diane Labrosse (sampler), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, saxophones) and Pierre Tanguay (drums). With the addition of the sampler, things become straight away more ‘modern’, ‘abstract’ and perhaps also less strictly defined as something like free-jazz. Throughout these four lengthy pieces there is a great sense of controlled playing here, with some quite intense music. This trio keeps things well under control here, with a lot of rumble beneath the surface. Meaning it can be found more in the low end than in the top end of the music, and that is what delivers a certain, great kind of tension to the music. Maybe one could wonder if four such pieces is a bit too much to be taken in at once, but nevertheless its some wonderful music, not be swallowed at once.
From a more musique concrete perspective we have a CD by one Tiare Kese, who was born in 1948 in Bulgaria, son of a resistance hero and soprano mother, who went in 1965 to Paris to study piano and horn. Later on befriended Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and Guy Debord, left the first, and then started to play music by Cage and Satie. Then he met Michel F Cote and ended up playing music on this CD, for which he plays piano, organ, mellotron, strings, French horn, electronics, samples and voices, plundering works by Satie, Cage, Tétreault, Falaise, Siewert, Brandlmayr, B Günter, Fennesz, Neina and Oval. I have no idea if this is all true, but why spoil a good story by looking up the ‘truth’? The music is good, and that is what counts. If the other three are working towards the crossroad of styles, then its perhaps Kese who is in the middle. Bits of pop/rock tunings are used, mainly when it comes to using distortion, samples of an electro-acoustic nature, treated instruments, and occasionally improvised playing on them, all mingled together into some well crafted soundtrack-like music. A bit of drone here and there, field recordings interwoven, desolate French horn, modern classical glissandi, sparse percussive sounds. Altogether this makes an excellent release. Quite intense, sparse and at times dramatic music. The best out of these four.
Alexis O’Hara fait partie de cette catégorie de femmes qui sont capable de laisser une impression profonde dès la première rencontre. J’ai eu la chance de la côtoyer pour un projet musical au dernier Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville et ces quelques moments, de répétitions, d’échanges, n’ont fait que confirmer l’impression que j’avais eu d’elle au départ.
J’avais déjà vu Alexis jouer des électroniques dans le cadre du Festival Voix d’Amériques en compagnie de Bernard Falaise et Michel F Côté. J’avais trouvé son apport très intéressant et me suis mis à penser qu’il serait intéressant de collaborer avec elle. Cette dernière est cependant nettement plus connue comme artiste spoken word et par ses installations sonores. Que ce soit par son igloo d’haut-parleurs ou ses compétitions de slam. Voilà qu’elle sort un premier album complet depuis 2002 sur l’étiquette & Records, un label de musique expérimentale dirigé par Michel F Côté. Ellipsis est un disque très pop, avec des chansons accrocheuses soutenues par une fine musique recherchée.
Alexis est superbement accompagnée tout au long de son disque; ses collaborateurs sont variés et viennent chacun ajouter une particularité qui leur est propre. On retrouve avec joie le guitariste Bernard Falaise et Michel F Côté aux percussions sur plusieurs morceaux. Mais il y a aussi le trompettiste Brian Lipson, Alexandre St-Onge à la basse, le percussionniste Stefan Schneider de Bell Orchestre, Radwan Moumneh et Sophie Trudeau de Godspeed au violon. C’est un des album que j’ai écouté le plus souvent l’année dernière en raison de son caractère accrocheur, pop mais expérimental. Alexis O’Hara nous offre une œuvre trilingue, où s’alternent une poésie anglophone aux nuances hautement maîtrisé, une prose en français naïve et un espagnol approximatif. Mais cela n’enlève rien au charme, au contraire. Seulement, les pièces en anglais sont, à mon avis, les mieux réussies.
Il fallait voir Alexis à son lancement, celle-ci jouait la carte de la naïveté, de l’inexpérience, du cocasse et du loufoque. Le charme a opéré facilement sur le public présent à cette soirée. Son album est un peu tout ça mais plus contenu, sans son humour grinçant et auto-dérisoire, du moins il n’est pas mis autant de l’avant que sur scène.
Il y a beaucoup de bonnes pièces sur le disque et à partir de la moitié du disque celle-ci s’enchaînent à un rythme soutenu. Les moments forts restent la pièce Butterfingers, avec son riff de bass rappelant vaguement le morceau de Mark Lanegan et Kurt Cobain My Girl. Balade gelée est tout simplement superbe, la trompette de Lipson et la contrebasse de St-Onge sont jouées tout en douceur, le ton de voix d’O’Hara est sulfureux, velouté, digne d’un jazz lounge enfumé. Une des meilleures pièces de l’album qui vogue sur une contrebasse free et une trompette mélodique, une référence facile serait l’amalgame de chanson et de jazz improvisé qu’est Comme à la radio de Brigitte Fontaine. Le jeu rythmique de Michel F Côté sur Detached Love Song est magique et tellement entraînant qu’il nous donne envie de le chanter. Comme je disais précédemment, ce disque regorge de perles.
Il est intéressant de noter comment Alexis O’Hara, dans sa démarche artistique, se joue de la sexualité. Elle est capable de se travestir en homme de façon convaincante, mais en même temps est capable d’assumer une féminité hautement sexualisée. Ceci se traduit dans les chansons de cet album; la plupart sinon toutes parlent d’amour, des relations hommes/femmes et d’une sexualité qui apparaît malgré tout comme incomplète. Un manque inhérent sous-tend la trame lyrique du disque. D’ailleurs, on peut se demander qu’elle est cette éllipse évoquée par le titre titre. Qu’est ce qu’elle cherche volontairement à omettre dans ce disque somme toute assez sexuel? Ce sont plus que trois points de suspension qui sont nécessaires pour masquer les préoccupations de l’inconscient féminin.
Dall’inarrestabile fucina della &records ecco saltare fuori la cantautrice Alexis O’Hara (voce, basso, drum programming, elettronica), che si accompagna con i tre Klaxon Gueule Michel F Côté (percussioni), Alexandre St-Onge (contrabbasso e basso) e Bernard Falaise (chitarra e basso), oltre a Brian Lipson (tromba), Radwan Moumneh (saz), Stef Schneider (percussioni) e Sophie Trudeau (violino). Alexis canta in francese, inglese e spagnolo con voce timida e vellutata, quasi fanciullesca (The Stockholm Effect), con risultati d’un umore pop-glitch — ma qui più pop/improv- che fa pensare ai medesimi luoghi frequentati da Juana Molina (le splendide A View / Of You, Ventitres, Bugs) o Niobe (Optimism of the Will, Encantamiento, quella piccola meraviglia chiamata Inside Joke (love is) ) e qualche sortita verso mutazioni di folk estatico-ritualistico (Sleepwalker), jazz d’antan (Balade gelée) e persino pseudo-dance (Twenty-three sarebbe già pronta per un remix). Sono canzoni che con qualche piccolo accorgimento d’arrangiamento si trasformerebbero in hit pop (Detached love song) ma che ovviamente non è lì che puntano, e restano sempre orgogliosamente oblique, sguscianti, imprendibili. Ottimo.
Performer, experimental slammer, lo-fi electronician, Alexis O’Hara has a few tricks (and tongues) up her sleeve. Ellipsis features her in a solo setting (although a lot of people pop in here and there, like Michel F Côté, Bernard Falaise, Alexandre St-Onge, Brian Lipson, and Sophie Trudeau). Experimental electro-pop with bold, playful, occasionally kinky lyrics, a twisted form of humour, and acidic thinking. I’m happy to find Twenty-three included here — it was part of Les Filles électriques’ stage performance La Salle des pas perdus.
Seven years after In Abulia, Montréaler O’Hara’s first disc of music, Ellipsis is a worthy return to a medium that strongly informs the conceptual art and spoken word that are her main callings. She likewise draws on those disciplines in her use of the human voice, both as a raw sound source and as a multilingual message system, and in her carefully harnessed intentions. Dodging pitfalls of pretension, she and her gathering of Mile End musical guests strike the right balance of detachment and vulnerability across these curious yet comfortable tunes. 7/10