There is a great delicacy in these pieces, with moments of quietness and introspection, as well as outbursts of controlled ’noise’ and ’mayhem’. All in all, this is quite a lovely work. — Vital, Netherlands
Fleur de chaos is a dive into a captivating musical universe where the unusual instrumentation — viola da gamba, harmonicas, tuba, synthesizer, alto saxophone, several objects, and voice — pairs up with a controlled and subtle approach to improvisation.
Fleur de chaos is a river of sound perpetually shifting — often in surprising and sometimes openly unfamiliar manners; its constant flowing — thanks to each musician’s intense involvement and their sharing of musical space—takes shape until the “flower of chaos” finally springs.
- Composer(s): Joane Hétu, Pierre-Yves Martel, Émilie Mouchous, Carl Ludwig Hübsch
- Performer(s): Hmmh, Joane Hétu, Pierre-Yves Martel, Émilie Mouchous, Carl Ludwig Hübsch
- Cover image: Fabrizio Gilardino
- Graphic design: Fabrizio Gilardino
- Canada Council for the Arts
CD (AM 240)
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 240 / 2018
- UCC 771028124022
- Total duration: 45:03
- Sympathique case
- 125 mm × 125 mm × 5 mm
- 35 g
Download (AM 240_NUM)
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 240_NUM / 2018
- UCC 771028124084
- Total duration: 45:03
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In the press
Recall if you will music with gestures that are, by your standards, “expressive” (anger, sadness, intense joy — any non-neutral sentiment). Here are some of mine:
- Jimi Hendrix’s Spanish Castle Magic
- Neil Young’s single pitch solo on Cinnamon Girl
- Akio Suzuki performing with a whisky bottle in a sock
- The busy middle passages of Penderecki’s String Quartet No. 2
Within these dear-and-near-to-me examples, there is a demonstration of the thing people call “heart” and “je ne sais quoi” and “they have it” and “spirit”. Despite a divisive spectrum of technical effort and complexity to modesty and simplicity, there are works that override genre, culture, race, etc. to pierce your soul in an equal way.
Though being moderately economic with notes, effects, and quantity of performance, Hmmh says and emotes a great deal. Joane Hétu (voice, numerous objects), Pierre-Yves Martel (on his usual viola da gamba plus harmonica and zither), Émilie Mouchous (a DYI electronics guru on Korg synthesizer), and Carl Ludwig Hübsch (tuba and also numerous objects) play on the physicality and length of breath to create a tense, confining, intimate ecosphere.
Hétu and Martel begin in the right channel with a duet of faint hums and gentle palmed strokes. On the other side, Mouchous conjures placid warbles, chirps, hiss, and Theremin-like bursts and glissandi. The trio often recesses and then resumes with relatively more momentum; near three minutes, they’re joined by Hubsch engaging in a low, fluttering twin to Mouchous, and the quartet begins to unravel with a small cloud of tapping, scratching, and other micro-detritus twirling about. All players lean back half-way through the work and unleash a lung emptying (or filling, like inhaling as much as possible to nearly induce a dead faint) that realizes as a great deal of shrill dragging across strings, mechanical screams and tuba emulating a volatile steam engine. It is literally the sound of screeching brakes and extreme acceleration (bonkers, I know). Effortlessly, the group slinks back into a purring drone before adopting a more percussive aesthetic on Pause innocente. Mouchous’s sine wave persists, but Hétu rattles off long series of sibilant, lippy whispers beside a shuffle of metallic objects and harmonica flare-ups. This doesn’t last long before the ensemble unites again in a lugubrious, slinking texture, though one less exuberant than the previous, and ending with a calming “wind.
Haiku with Bells and Se frotter à Brabylon are the most active of the six pieces, though they still remain more sound art than “music”; you’re more likely to hear staccato pings from items clunking around in a mixing bowl fitted as a tuba mute than melodic themes and development. From a tiny pulse of wood flicks, faint tinkling bells, creative key clacks, and blown hiccups to synthetic opera soprano to dialog between a multiple personalities sufferer to something that sounds similar to simulated engine troubles to erasing so hard your paper test is in tatters, Hmmh makes extended techniques its business.
The virtuosity of Fleur de chaos is in the creativity and collaborative meld the four musicians forge across this disc, the latter giving the impression that the recording was rehearsed, not improvised; ideas flourish and stifle and regrow and die without anyone’s ego attempting to stick out and destroy this new creature.
Apparently, Pierre-Yves Martel and Carl Ludwig Hübsch have been playing together for some years now. Martel plays ’viola da gamba and harmonica and Hübsch is on tuba and objects. Following their last tour in Canada, they decided to invite two like-minded Montréal musicians for a joint recording session. Conveniently their names lead to the acronym HMMH; Emilie Mouchous plays synthesizer and Joane Hétu plays saxophone, voice and objects. Together they recorded the six pieces in a single day session in October 2017. While this is improvised music, probably more the alley of mister Mulder, I was listening to this and found myself attracted to the music. It surely is improvised but the approach here is also within the realm of electro-acoustic music and each of the players treats their instrument in an unusual way. The way Mouchous adds her synthesizer makes for a further level of alienation. Sometimes a bit drone like (but surely also from saxophone and viola), or piercing blocks of sound, while other instruments are played with objects, next to a more regular playing of these and the fine interaction between the players, make that these six pieces are a fine joy to hear. There is a great delicacy in these pieces, with moments of quietness and introspection, as well as outbursts of controlled ’noise’ and ’mayhem’. All in all, this is quite a lovely work.
When you’re operating on the bleeding edge of music, the old rules don’t precisely apply.
New instruments, new methods of playing them, new combinations — all those characterized HMMH’s concert at IMOO on Sunday. It was not a show that one could judge based on its fidelity to a musical text — it was, after all, completely improvised — nor was there a specific style or genre that it adhered to.
It was as much visual as aural — what exactly is making that sound? And it was almost as much of a process of exploration for the audience as it was for the musicians, as one listened to and absorbed the music that was being born in the moment.
What it did have in common with more conventional music was the intensity and collaboration which the musicians brought to this performance. While only 45 minutes long, the show was very dense and multi-layered. One could never be sure one was hearing or seeing everything that was going on because each musician was doing so much.
Four musicians: three from Montréal’s active creative music scene and one from Germany, comprise HMMH. Saxophonist and vocalist Joane Hétu is best known as co-leader of Ensemble SuperMusique; strings player Pierre-Yves Martel is a prominent composer and investigator of new sonic possibilities; German tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch is a frequent collaborator with Martel; and pianist Émilie Mouchous makes electronic instruments.
For this concert, Mouchous played a vintage 70s-era KORG synthesizer; Martel primarily played his viola da gamba but also had a zither in front of him and blew into tiny, high-pitched whistles; and Hübsch was mainly on his tuba, which he muted with unconventional items which included a large metal mixing bowl, a white styrofoam hemisphere, a cylindrical cookie tin, and a white fluffy soft ball. He also had a collection of small metal bowls on which he created ringing metallic sounds; he would occasionally scrape a plastic cup along the edge of his tuba bell, or attach an uninflated balloon to his tuba and lightly strum it, letting the sound resonate through the instrument.
Hétu had the largest number of possibilities. Besides her alto saxophone and her voice, she could pick from a whole table filled with noisemakers, hand fans, bells, whistles/pipes, a small metal whisk, graters, a metal bowl, plastic balls, marbles, a long corrugated plastic tube, balloons, and more. She chose to play only some of these objects, primarily the fans, the long tube, and the noisemakers.
The audience was extremely quiet and engrossed throughout the show; the two times that new listeners opened the outside door to enter caused a noticeable stir. There was a considerable dynamic range, going down to near-silence. I appreciated, though, that HMMH, unlike some other improvising ensembles I’ve heard, carefully avoided really loud sounds or a cacophony; instead, the overall volume was controlled and the sound nuanced.
The ensemble opened with a resonant lament. Martel sang into his viola, and Hétu began chanting, letting her voice ring back and forth in a formal and invocatory manner. Over muted tuba and light zither, Hétu continued to call out and then sing wordlessly over flapping plastic percussion. Others joined in to create an ambient rush of sound, with foghorn tuba on the deep end to bright metallic clinks and Hétu’s falsetto signing on top.
While there were certainly conventional musical sounds — the underlying drone or quiet lines from Mouchous’ synthesizer, the melodic or scraping bowing of Martel’s viola, and light and dark tuba lines, even more noticeable were the non-musical textures. Crumpling paper, rattles, static, electronic whines, noisemaker squawks and flapping, tapping, and high-pitched vibrations from singing down a long plastic tube and then twirling it, all contributed to the sound. At one point, Martel bowed his viola through what appeared to be a sheet of plastic or thick cellophane, muting the sound and creating high-pitched sounds and rustles.
It was a constantly-shifting river of sound, often unworldly, and occasionally even eerie.
HMMH has just released a new album, Fleur de Chaos, and had it for sale at the show. While I couldn’t say that anything they played on Sunday was precisely from that CD, the music certainly had the same thoughtful, cooperative vibe as what I had heard from the album.
What was particularly interesting about the show was how well the musicians incorporated their unconventional sounds into the more standard melodies and rhythms they also created. The music stayed compelling because it was not just a scattershot of effects, but rather a musical conversation that built upon Western musical traditions.
It was a fascinating look at possibilities, and the music which can be created by imagining different ways to use one’s voice, different ways to play, and different methods of creating sound.