Gilles Gobeil has completed a master’s degree in composition at Université de Montréal, after studying writing techniques. He has been focusing his work on acousmatic and mixed music since 1985. His works fall close to what is called ‘cinema for the ear.’ Many of his pieces have been inspired by literary works and attempt to let us ‘see’ through sound.
Gilles Gobeil has won over 20 national and international awards including the Ars Electronica (Austria, 1995, 2005), Black & White (Portugal, 2009), Bourges (France, 1988, ’89, ’99, 2009), British Design & Art Direction (UK, 2002), Brock University (Canada, 1985), Canadian Music Council (1985), Ciber@RT (Spain, 1999), CICEM (Monaco, 2014), CIMESP (Brazil, 1997, ’99, 2001), Destellos (Argentina, 2011, ’12), Luigi Russolo (Italy, 1987, ’88, ’89), Métamorphoses (Belgium, 2000, ’02), NEWCOMP (USA, 1987), SDE Canada (1984), SOCAN (Canada, 1993), and Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden, 1994, ’97) competitions. His DVD-Audio Trilogie d’ondes has won the Conseil québécois de la musique (CQM)’s Prix Opus for Best Album in 2004-05; his CD Le contrat was nominated in the same category in 2003-04.
Gobeil has received commissions from Codes d’accès (Montréal), DAAD (Berlin, Germany), empreintes DIGITALes (Montréal), Groupe de musique expérimentale de Bourges (GMEB, France), Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM, France), Musiques & Recherches (Belgium), Réseaux des arts médiatiques (Montréal), Société Radio-Canada, Totem contemporain (Montréal), Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM, Germany), from Folkmar Hein, Uli Aumüller, Camille Mutel, and Oscar Wiggli, and from performers Suzanne Binet-Audet, René Lussier, Arturo Parra, and Rick Sacks.
He has been composer-in-residence in Banff (Canada, 1993, ’95), Bourges (France, 1991), EMS (Sweden, 2013), GRM (France, 1993, 2012), Franz Liszt Academy (Weimar, Germany, 2010), Miso Music Portugal (2012), Musiques & Recherches (Belgium, 2012), PANaroma (Brazil, 2014), and ZKM (Germany, 2005, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, ’12, ’13), and guest composer at DAAD (Germany, 2008).
Gilles Gobeil is a member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), and co-founder of Réseaux, an organization devoted to producing media arts events.
[English translation: François Couture, v-15]
Sorel-Tracy (Québec), 1954
Residence: Drummondville (Québec)
On the web
In the press
Wibke Bantelmann, Computer Music Journal, no. 29:3, September 1, 2005… it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities…
Bernard Girard, Aligre FM, Dissonances, April 6, 2004… on a parfois le sentiment d’être comme devant la coupe d’un son que le compositeur nous ferait voir au travers d’un microscope.
François Couture, electrocd.com, March 22, 2004Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere…
François Couture, electrocd.com, October 15, 2003
The trans_canada festival of electroacoustic music by Canadian composers at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe was certainly no everyday experience for the interested German public. A festival of acousmatic music—and acousmatic music only—is quite unusal. The German avant-garde music scene is still uncommonly lively, but most composers prefer either instrumental music (with electroacoustic elements) or multimedia works. The idea of invisible music seems not to touch the German musical sensibility.
Despite this, 460 visitors found their way to ZKM. During 10-13 February, 2005, they experienced a four day-long plunge into the Canadian way of composing, and had the opportunity to learn more about the “Canadian Example” as Daniel Teruggi of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) called it in his paper. According to Mr. Teruggi, the liveliness and outstanding quality of the electroacoustic music scene in Canada is the result of good composers but also of academically sound research and training and a wide range of philosophical approaches to music. The opening of the festival showed another aspect of this “example.” Paul Dubois, the present Canadian ambassador to Germany, came from Berlin to open the festival—cultural policy in Canada apparently knows and supports the electroacoustic scene intensely, quite contrary to German policy.
Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau, Gilles Gobeil, Nicolas Bernier, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Louis Dufort took part in the festival and presented works (Ned Bouhalassa was invited but for health reasons was unable to attend). Nine pieces were commissioned by ZKM and received their world premieres at the festival.
trans_canada not only offered an occasion for Germans to learn about Canadian acousmatic music; apparently, it also connected the Canadians themselves. “It seems we had to come to the ZKM in Karlsruhe to get together,” said Robert Normandeau at the last concert. And so, the Francophone composers from the east, rooted in the Paris school of “musique concrète,” met the Anglophone soundscape composers from the West coast. “I was very much surprised when Francis Dhomont told us that he does not like the original sounds to be changed so much that you can’t distinguish their origin any longer,” said Hildegard Westerkamp. “We are not as far away from each other as I used to think.”
This proved to be quite true, as could be heard. The parallels between their new works, Brief an den Vater by Mr. Dhomont and Für Dich—For You by Ms. Westerkamp, were striking. Both compositions were not only inspired by but also formally based on literature and the structure, the sound, the rhythm of the text. The work by Mr. Dhomont, with the scraping of a pen as a sort of leitmotif, was no less abstract than Ms. Westerkamp’s music with its sea-sounds (gulls, wind, waves). And her fantasy land called “home” is not more “real” then his world of inner struggle. Both works showed an extreme sensitivity for subtle, delicate sounds which were spread in many layers, throwing shadows of sound, and constantly and slowly developing into new shapes and shades. The differences between the works seemed after all (to this listener at least) to be ones of personal style and expression than of basic principles.
Another new work with words came from Darren Copeland. I don’t want to be inside me anymore was quite singular in the festival due to its definite focus on content, on a “real story.” This fact gave the piece a strong dramatic quality leaving hardly any room for imagination. The intention of the sounds to build around the absorbing, sometimes even vexatious, words seemed to force the listeners to constantly keep their full attention on the meaning of the text. It was a deeply impressive piece, even if it was to a certain extent more dramatic than musical. (Although other listeners might experience it differently if they do not understand the German text.)
In a way, this work resembles a compositional style of a very different kind, that of Barry Truax. The connection may be found in the very sense of reality in both composer’s works: the reality of the feeling of isolation on one hand, and the reality of an existing landscape (streams, peaks, caves) on the other.
Even Gilles Gobeil’s magnificent medieval drama, Ombres, espaces, silences…, followed roughly this direction. This piece was not about feeling or landscape, it was about reality, too, in this case the reality of history, only by far more sublime, sensitive, and imaginative. Not “cinema for the ear” but a “novel for the ear” (something like The Name of the Rose?)! However, the form and structure of this work is by far more of a narrative nature than strictly abstract-musical.
It was Robert Normandeau and the youngsters of trans_canada who were most abstract, and therefore the strongest advocates of a true “invisible music.” It was not only not to be seen, it was not to be imagined. There was nothing real, nothing you could get hold of, it was more or less a complete deconstruction of sounds, ideas, narration. They appeared not to start from any landscape, be it imagined or real, inside or outside the head; they started from ideas, ideas of sound, ideas of form. Even the antique Writing Machine in the work by Nicolas Bernier was more a (slightly exotic) sound than a sense, more a historical reminiscence than an element of form.
Coincidence shows her unaccountable face, experiment and surprise follow. You could hear experience and mastery in the work of Robert Normandeau, of course. You were always sure that it was him who played with coincidence and not the other way round. His world premiere, ZedKejeM, was highly dynamic, with the energy and rhythm from a dancefloor, but still showed the deepness, density, and versatility of a deep-thinking organizer of energy and fantasy. Every single sound seemed well calculated, the effects carefully set.
The music of his younger colleagues, Mr. Bernier and Louis Dufort, was more spontaneous, wandering dreamily through all the possibilities of technique and sound, to find out what would happen. Mr. Dufort spread a richness and variety of colors in a free, open structure that simply followed the beauty of the sounds created. In contrast to that, Mr. Bernier followed an intellectual plan, he set his rules and let them work. One always sensed the will behind the music, one always tried to follow and understand the experiment instead of just enjoying the result. But, on the other hand, this method produced a certain strong energy in the work. This composer had the power to raise and hold the intellectual interest of the listener.
All in all, it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities, and to learn a little about their methods.
trans_canada also provided the chance to meet the composers in person. Each of them delivered a paper about their work. They could only give a rough survey, of course, in a 45-min talk. Rather than concentrating on techniques or software, most composers just tried to acquaint their colleagues and the small number of other interested people with their sources of inspiration, their opinions, their philosophy. Remarkable was the clear delivery of all the composers and the relaxed atmosphere of these sessions. There seemed to be no need to impress anyone, and not so much need to discuss, let alone debate. Everybody was open-minded and respected the others, as if trying to learn and understand, not to question fundamentals.
It was like a good talk between colleagues and friends. Mr. Normandeau provided insight into his large archive of sound and his permanent work on the human voice. Mr. Gobeil expressed his preference for the sound of exotic instruments (like the Daxophone) and his dislike of techno music (inducing him to write a techno-piece). Mr. Dhomont talked about the relation between accident and control in his work, marking his own position somewhere between Pierre Boulez and John Cage: “Boulez would say: ‘This is incidental, throw it away;’ Cage would say: ‘This is incidental, so I take it;’ I say: ‘Look, there is an interesting incident, but should I take it?’” He also used the opportunity to call for more polyphony in electroacoustic music instead of the exclusive concentration on creating the most original, most exotic new sound: “In an orchestra, you mix different instruments, but the single instrument becomes not less beautiful.”
The exceptional environment of ZKM supported this beautiful richness of sounds and the inventiveness of the composers immensely. The two concert venues offer exquisite acoustics. They were equipped with 70 concert loudspeakers, placed in either circles or in a kind of “acousmonium surround environment.” This, in conjunction with the timbral and spatial qualities of the works, created an extraordinary musical experience.
Nous achevons aujourd’hui notre découverte de l’école de Montréal. Nous avons vu que n’ayant pas, une fois leurs études terminées, accès au studio de l’université, les compositeurs doivent créer leur propre studio, un peu à l’image de ce qu’ont fait en France Pierre Henry ou Luc Ferrari. N’étant pas rémunérés par des institutions comme le sont leurs collègues français, ils doivent, pour vivre, multiplier les travaux alimentaires, faire des musiques de film, des bruitages pour des publicités, s’associer à des compagnies de danse, des troupes de théâtre. Ils doivent profiter de chaque occasion qui se présente, ce qui explique sans doute qu’ils aient tant développé le genre radiophonique. La plupart des compositeurs de cette école ont écrit pour la radio, des œuvres d’un genre un peu particulier qui se prêtent à une écoute qui n’a pas grand chose à voir avec ce qu’elle peut être dans une salle de concert. Un exemple, une pièce de Roxanne Turcotte, Micro-trottoir, composée en 1997 à partir de reportages faits dans la rue.
On retrouve, d’ailleurs cette réflexion sur l’écoute dans à peu près toutes les œuvres de l’école de Montréal. Un certain nombre de compositeurs ont résolu le problème en composant des musiques à programme, souvent basées sur des textes littéraires qui guident l’auditeur, qui donnent un sens à ce qu’il entend.
On retrouve cette démarche chez Francis Dhomont, dans des œuvres comme Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, mais aussi chez Gilles Gobeil, qui a réalisé plusieurs adaptations musicales de romans célèbres, Du côté de chez Swann de Proust, de La machine à explorer le temps de Wells, du Voyage au centre de la terre de Jules Verne.
Je voudrais aujourd’hui vous faire découvrir une pièce qu’il a composée avec le guitariste et compositeur René Lussier. Son titre, Le contrat, fait allusion au contrat implicite que ces deux amis ont signé avec le Conseil des arts du Canada qui leur a commandé une pièce d’après le Faust de Goethe . Cette pièce, dont ils commencé la composition en 1996, n’a été achevée que tout récemment, en 2003. On remarquera dans cette pièce la combinaison de la guitare et des bruits électroacoustiques. À l’inverse de leurs collègues français, les compositeurs de l’école de Montréal pratiquent peu les musiques mixtes. Ils ne les ignorent cependant pas complètement, comme en témoigne l’œuvre de Monique Jean, une compositeure, comme on dit au Canada, qui mêle souvent musique et art vidéo et a réalisé des murs de haut-parleur qui incitent à écouter la musique comme l’on regarde une sculpture. low memory #2 que nous allons maintenant entendre a été composé pour flûte picolo et bandes à quatre pistes. À l’entendre, on a parfois le sentiment d’être comme devant la coupe d’un son que le compositeur nous ferait voir au travers d’un microscope.
Louis Dufort, un des compositeurs les plus prometteurs de cette génération, paraît plus tenté que d’autres parce que l’on pourrait appeler la musique pure en opposition à ce cinéma de l’oreille pratiqué par beaucoup de ses collègues. Zénith, une œuvre écrite en 1999, rappelle, par certains cotés, les musiques expressionnistes du début du 20e siècle.
Spleen est également composé à partir de voix, il s’agit de quatre voix adolescentes et le projet du compositeur était de décrire cet état de mélancolie propre à l’adolescence. Ce goût de la voix, du texte n’est pas propre à Robert Normandeau. On le retrouve chez beaucoup des musiciens de cette école de Montréal. Chez Francis Dhomont, bien sûr, mais aussi chez Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau, Gobeil appartiennent à la génération de ces compositeurs qui ont été formés par Francis Dhomont et ses collègues: il y a, de fait, chez tous ces musiciens de l’école de Montréal, un goût de l’éclectisme qu’on ne retrouve pas forcément chez leurs collègues et, notamment français, souvent formés dans un cadre plus académique.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Wrong — at least when it comes to electroacoustics, the beautiful province of Quebec compares very well to any other region of the world. Call me chauvinistic, I don’t care: Quebec is home to several composers of tremendous talent and influential professors.
My goal is not to turn this article in an analytical essay, but, as a music reviewer and unstoppable listener, I am convinced that there is such a thing as Québécois electroacoustics. Despite the stylistic variety among our composers, I detect a Québécois “sound,” something that sounds to me neither British nor French or German; something that calls to me and speaks to me in a language more immediate and easier to understand.
This “unity in diversity” is probably, at least in part, due to the lasting influence of a small number of key composers whose academic teachings have shaped our younger generations. I am thinking first and foremost of Francis Dhomont and Yves Daoust. So let’s begin this sound path with a Frenchman so Québécois at heart that he was awarded a prestigious Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. I can sincerely recommend all of Dhomont’s albums: his graceful writing, his narrative flair and his intelligence turn any of his works into fascinating gems. I have often publicly expressed my admiration for (including in my first Sound Path, so I will skip it this time), but , his first large-scale work, remains an international classic of electroacoustic music, and his more recent shows how close to perfection his art has grown — the piece AvatArsSon in particular, my first pick for this Sound Path.
If Dhomont’s music is often constructed following large theoretical, literary and sociological themes, Yves Daoust’s works lean more toward poetry and the anecdote. Most of his pieces betray his respect for the abstractionist ideals of the French school, but his seemingly naive themes (water, crowds, a Chopin Fantasia or a childhood memory) empower his music with an unusual force of evocation. His latest album, , also displays a willingness to grow and learn. One is tempted to hear the influence of his more electronica-savvy students in the startling title triptych.
To those two pillars of Quebec electroacoustics, I must add the names of Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau is a very good example of what I consider to be the “typical” Québécois sound: a certain conservatism in the plasticity of sounds (the result of the combined influence of the British and French schools); great originality in their use; and an uncanny intelligence in the discourse which, even though it soars into academic thought, doesn’t rob the listener of his or her pleasure. My favorite album remains , in part because of the beautiful piece Le Renard et la Rose, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince – and also because of Venture, a tribute to the Golden Age of progressive rock (a pet peeve I share with the composer, might I add). As for Gobeil’s music, it is the wildness of wilderness, the turmoil of human passions, the sudden gestures, the copious splashes of sonic matter thrown all around. If remains an essential listen, his most recent album , a collaboration with guitarist René Lussier, stands as his most accomplished (and thrilling!) work to date.
These four composers may represent the crème de la crème of academic circles, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog counts numerous young composers and artists whose work deeply renew the vocabulary of their older colleagues.
I would like to mention , the just released debut album by Christian Bouchard. His fragmented approach seems to draw as much from academic electroacoustics as from experimental electronica. Thanks to some feverish editing and dizzying fragmentation, Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 evoke avant-garde digital video art. I also heartily recommend Louis Dufort’s album , which blends academic and noise approaches. His stunning piece Zénith features treatments of samples of Luc Lemay’s voice (singer with the death-metal group Gorguts). I am also quite fond of Marc Tremblay’s rather coarse sense of humor. On his CD he often relies on pop culture (from The Beatles to children’s TV shows). His piece Cowboy Fiction, a “western for the ear” attempting to reshape the American dream, brings this Sound Path to a quirky end.
Serious or facetious, abstract or evocative, Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere. Now it is your turn to explore its many paths.
Electroacoustic music is an acquired taste. Like it or not, radio and television have conditioned us from an early age into accepting some musical (tonal and rhythmical) molds as being “normal.” Therefore, electroacoustics, along with other sound-based (in opposition to note-based) forms of musical expression like free improvisation, is perceived as being “abnormal.” That’s why a first exposure to this kind of music often turns into a memorable experience — for better or worse. Many factors come into play, but choosing an album that offers an adequate (i.e. friendly and gentle) introduction to the genre will greatly help in letting the initial esthetic shock turn into an experience of Beauty and mark the beginning of a new adventure in sound.
My goal with this sound path is simply to point out a few titles that I think have the potential to encourage instead of discourage, titles opening a door to a new musical dimension. Of course, this selection can only be subjective. But it might be helpful to new enthusiasts and to aficionados looking for gift ideas that would spread good music around. After all, Christmas is only a few weeks away!
We usually develop new interests from existing interests. What I mean is: we explore music genres that are new to us because a related interest brought us there. That’s why when it comes to electroacoustic music, mixed works (for tape and instrument) or works related to specific topics are often the best place to find a bridge that will gently lead the listener into the new territory. For example, people who enjoy reading travel literature will find in Kristoff K.Roll’s the sublimated narrative of a journey through Central America. Those still young enough to enjoy fairy tales (I’m one of them) will find in Francis Dhomont’s an in-depth reflection on this literary genre as inspired by the works of psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, in the form of a captivating work with multiple narratives (in many languages) and electroacoustic music of a great evocative strength. Lighter and more fanciful, by Roxanne Turcotte finds its source in childlike imagination and is in part aimed at children without over-simplifying its artistic process.
Guitar fans can turn to , a wonderful project for which classical guitarist Arturo Parra co-wrote pieces with some of Quebec’s best electroacoustic composers: Stéphane Roy, Francis Dhomont (Quebecer at heart, at the very least), Robert Normandeau, and Gilles Gobeil. The latter has just released an album-long piece, , written with and featuring avant-garde guitarist René Lussier. Lussier’s followers and people interested in Goethe’s play Faust (and its rich heritage) will find here an essential point of convergence, another bridge.
Those who want to explore further will probably want to venture into more abstract electroacoustic art. I recommend starting with the Quebec composers. Chauvinism? No way. It’s just that the music of composers like Dhomont, Normandeau, Gobeil, Yves Daoust, or Yves Beaupré seems to me to be more accessible than the music of British or French composers. It is more immediate, has a stronger impact (Gobeil, usually hitting hard), a more pleasant form of lyricism (Daoust, Beaupré), more welcoming architectures and themes (Dhomont, Normandeau). If you need places to start, try Normandeau’s , Gobeil’s , Dhomont’s , and Beaupré’s .
That being said, there are hours upon hours of beauty and fascination to be found in the works of Michel Chion (his powerful ), Bernard Parmegiani (), Jonty Harrsison (), Denis Smalley (), and Natasha Barrett (), but they may seem more difficult or thankless on first listen. And for those interested in where these music come from, the EMF label offers , the complete works of Pierre Schaeffer, the father of musique concrète and grandfather of electroacoustics.
A compilation album has the advantage of offering a large selection of artists and esthetics in a small, affordable format. Available at a budget price, proposes a strong sampler of the productions on the label empreintes DIGITALes. The albums and , along with the brand new volume of the series, cull short pieces (often under three minutes) to trigger interrogations and discoveries in those with a short attention span.
And finally, for those of you who want to take their time and explore in short steps, the collection produced by the French label Métamkine contains many wonderful 3" CDs, 20 minutes in duration each, for a reduced price. The catalog includes titles by renown composers such as Michel Chion, Lionel Marchetti, Michèle Bokanowski, Bernhard Günter, and Éliane Radigue. These tiny albums are perfect for gift exchanges.
Of course, all of the above are only recommendations. The best sound path to discovery is the one you follow by yourself, little by little.
More than a technical challenge, Machines 08: “Le chemin des machines” is a wonderful networked improvised composition. 4 musicians live through the internet, 8 others scattered in strange places in the Méduse complex and 4 electroacoustic…Monday, February 10, 2003 / In concert