Ensemble SuperMusique (ESM)

… a glorious piece of music… Vital, Netherlands

Prix Opus 2020-21: Album de l’année

Data sharing — transfer — succession — transmission — change — replacement — renewal… Commutation

Ensemble SuperMusique continues its exploratory adventure through the vast universe of graphic scores. For the occasion, Joane Hétu and Danielle Palardy Roger have gathered an ensemble featuring winds, electronics and percussion to play scores from the 1920s until today. A century separates the pieces by Luigi Russolo and Émilie Girard-Charest, do you hear it?

  • Canada Council for the Arts • SODEC

CD (AM 255)

On the web

Download (AM 255_NUM)


About Commutation

Featuring compositions that were presented in concert in Montréal on November 22, 2018 in collaboration with Le Vivier / Carrefour des musiques nouvelles, Commutation is yet another leg of Ensemble SuperMusique’s adventurous journey exploring graphic scores from the beginning of the last century to our present day. What have yesterday’s music innovators passed on to those of today? What do cultural explorers pass on from generation to generation? What have we done with their precious legacy, and how did this legacy develop? These very broad questions — and their just as broad answers — addressing the fundamental issue of how cultural inheritances are passed on to new practitioners are at the very core of Commutation. One thing is certain, however: it seems that this peculiar way of “writing” music is still firmly established, and actually has been on the rise for the last twenty years. It also seems quite clear that the main objective of most of the composers who have been — and still are — writing graphic scores has always been, and still is today, to offer improvisers the possibility to openly interpret their scores with a high degree of variability; and that their scores indeed allow instrumentalists to always become full-fledged creators themselves. For this project, we selected five graphic scores created between 1914 and 2018 by Luigi Russolo, Anestis Logothetis, Fred Frith, Émilie Girard-Charest and Maxime Daigneault. Each of these scores is like a treasure hunt or a new path to follow; and each composer has developed his or her own language and aesthetic sensibilities. Joane Hétu and Danielle Palardy Roger thoroughly analyzed each composer’s set of codes and introduced the members of the ensemble to their peculiar ways of “mapping” music. The instrumentalists then found their own way to navigate these charts and bring life and colour to these scores.

Danielle Palardy Roger [English translation: Fabrizio Gilardino, x-20]

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In the press


Nick Roseblade, Vital, no. 1277, March 22, 2021

Despite the way it’s being dressed up Commutation is a cover, or reinterpretations, album. Each of the eight tracks is a graphic score written by different composers. This means that the composer used visual symbols to create the notation, rather than traditional musical notation. The five composers, Luigi Russolo, Emilie Girard-Charest, Anestis Logothetis, Fred Frith, Maxime Daigneault, span 100 years of music and culture. What is remarkable that Ensemble SuperMusique plays them in a way that you can’t really tell what era they are from. This is down to the ensemble using a collection of winds, electronics, and percussion to make them sounds contemporary. A prime example is Pour l’heure, one of the standout moments. Instead of using strings, Ensemble SuperMusique re-score it is using electronics, as well as organic sounds. The playing is sparse but forthright. The horns give Pour l’heure a sinister vibe that might have been missing on the original score. The final third, with its bellowing horns and scratchy field recordings, really define the mood of the piece and act as a bookend to how it starts.

In the middle of the album is a suite of Fred Frith’s four Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire compositions. This is the most important section on the album. On this the album hangs. Original a live double album by Frith these performances take his ideas and run with them. Ensemble SuperMusique’s versions have the same vibe, slightly wonky and eerie, but they ramp up the tension in the way that Frith’s versions don’t. Underpinning all the songs is this junk table aesthetic. Throughout assorted things are being rattled, shook, and jingled. The effect is unsettling, but you can’t look away. Just like in a horror film you have to watch the gruesome imagery; despite being warned by the music. The same is true here.

The albums downside is that it is all a bit oppressive. There is no space between the notes being played. Now, I can’t work out if this is down to the way Ensemble SuperMusique has decided to play the pieces of music or if they purposely picked music that would give them the ability to reinterpret the music this way. Given that these are graphic scores it’s hard to know. The only downside to this is that these versions might lose some fluidity to what the originals had. Saying that Commutation is a glorious piece of music that makes us think about how technology is used and what happens with the data after our task has been completed.

… a glorious piece of music…