René Lussier


Réjean Beaucage, Voir, January 1, 2017
L’ajout du Quatuor Bozzini dans la recette agrandit singulièrement l’univers sonore du duo…

Modern Folklore

François Couture,, March 16, 2004

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.

Revisited 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.

Reinvented folk

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.

Made-up folk

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.


Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 49, March 1, 2004

A case of bad planning, the day we happened to start up Ultima Thule as an official business, I’d already booked to see Keep The Dog at the South Bank in London. That was Monday July 3rd, 1989, and an excellent concert it was too. Keep The Dog then consisted of: René Lussier (guitar), Jean Derome (winds), Zeena Parkins (piano, synth, harp and accordion), Bob Ostertag (sampling keyboard) and Kevin Norton (drums, percussion). The only downside of that concert was the guest appearance of John Zorn, whose mad squawking winds ruined a couple of otherwise excellent numbers. Two years down the line, and we have basically the same international troupe, but with ex-This Heat drummer Charles Hayward instead, and no John Zorn. Recorded at various gigs in Austria, Germany and Italy, it amounts to an extremely varied ride through the musical history of Fred Frith. There’s lots of familiar stuff, done in unfamiliar ways, and as much that’s unique to the Keep The Dog band that has never been released before. This includes a number of improvisations, and lots romping rollicking stuff. It’s a shame really that Keep The Dog never made a studio album, but at least there’s now this document to prove their existence to all those that missed out. I wonder if they’ll ever issue anything from the 1989 version of the band?

… an extremely varied ride…

Portrait: René Lussier

François Couture, AllMusic, June 6, 2002

Throughout the 1980s and most of the ’90s, René Lussier was the prime mover on Montréal’s new music scene. His guitar work has been compared to Fred Frith, with whom he has often toured and recorded. Spread between solo work, duos and large ensemble pieces, between studio compositions, structured improvisation, free improv and film music, his impressive body of work represents a full course in “musique actuelle,” a term he helped to peg down. His masterpiece remains the speech-music collage Le trésor de la langue which earned him the Paul Gilson Award in 1989. He also received the Freddy Stone Award in 1996 for his contribution to Canadian new music.

Lussier began to play guitar in high school bands. He started to develop his own brand of jazz-meets-folk-meets-freak in the collective Conventum. This group included guitarist André Duchesne with whom he stroke a lasting friendship. He recorded two albums with Conventum and a handful of film scores, the first of what would become an endless list (over 50 by 2001). After the group’s disbanding, Lussier enrolled in the Grand Orchestre de Montréal, an experimental fanfare of sorts where he met Nébu saxophonist Jean Derome. Together they recorded music for the National Film Board of Canada and got involved in many projects, some of which included Duchesne and clarinetist Robert Marcel Lepage.

The four of them founded the collective and record label Ambiances Magnétiques in 1983. That year Lussier released his first solo album, Fin du travail (Version 1), the title of which (“Finished work [1st version]”) already displayed his uncanny sense of humor. His big break came in 1986 when Michel Levasseur, artistic director of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), proposed a duo concert with Fred Frith. Henry Cow and the whole Rock-in-Opposition movement had been a big influence on Lussier — this was his chance. The resulting album Nous Autres introduced him to an international audience. In 1988 Frith invited him and Derome to join Keep the Dog.

In 1989, with the help of Frith and a cast of Ambiances Magnétiques players, Lussier recorded Le trésor de la langue. Pushed by its political resonances, the album became the label’s biggest seller and the first classic item in the history of musique actuelle. Further albums, solo and with Les Granules, established him as a highly creative and witty composer and improviser. But as years passed Lussier felt the collective weight more and more on his shoulders. The mid-to-late ’90s saw him experimenting with more abstract forms of improvisation with mixed results and severing links with old friends, including Derome when he left his band Les Dangereux Zhoms. In 2001 he resolutely stepped away from the collective and released CDs on Ohm Editions and La Tribu. The album Tombola Rasa and a country-folk project with American maverick Eugene Chadbourne indicated a return to earlier pleasures at the start of the new decade.

… his impressive body of work represents a full course in “musique actuelle”…

Boudine all-dressed

Réjean Beaucage, Voir, no. 768, November 22, 2001

Peu de gens pourraient prétendre avoir été aussi occupés que René Lussier ces derniers mois. Cet été, il participait au Festival de Jazz après avoir fait le Off-Festival la veille avec un autre projet; on le revoyait quelque temps après avec son ensemble Grand Vent, à l’Alizé, et il se produisait en solo à la Casa del Popolo il y a quelques jours. Durant cette période, il a fait paraître deux disques, l’un de guitare (électro)acoustique solo, et l’autre avec un ensemble de neuf musiciens. La musique du film-brûlot Bacon, c’est également lui. Et il se ramène encore cette semaine avec deux projets différents! Ce 29 novembre, il participe au Super Boom DAME dans le duo des Jumeaux de la planète Mars avec son complice contre-actuel, le clarinettus optimus Robert Marcel Lepage. Si DAME peut fêter ses 10 ans et 175 disques, c’est en partie grâce à ce duo qui faisait paraître en 1984 le disque (vinyle, évidemment) Chants et danses du monde inanimé (AM 001). “J’avais déjà fait un “RL 01” [Fin du travail, devenu en réédition AM 000], alors j’ai proposé de faire un R(obert)L(epage) 01, puis on s’est dit qu’on pourrait lancer une petite compagnie…”, et boum: voilà Ambiances Magnétiques! La soirée étant placée sous le signe de l’improvisation, on assistera avec plaisir à la réunion de ces “jumeaux” qui nous proposeront quelques-unes de leurs musiques “néo-tacites”.

Mais René Lussier est surtout préoccupé par un autre projet ces temps-ci, celui de Tombola Rasa qui prendra d’assaut la scène du Cabaret durant trois soirs la semaine prochaine. Il y sera avec 13 musiciens et choristes, et ça risque de déménager sérieusement. La liste des participant-e-s est à elle seule une invitation au voyage! Qu’on en juge: les musiciens de l’ensemble Grand Vent Maxime Lepage (basse, guitare), François Chauvette (batterie) et Guillaume Dostaler (Hammond B3), Alain Lamontagne (harmonica et podorythmie, avec lequel Lussier fera quelques démonstrations de “tapage combiné”), Normand Guilbault (contrebasse), Robert Marcel Lepage (clarinette), Pierre Langevin (clarinette, cornemuse), Tom Walsh (trombone), Jean René (alto) et les voix de Suzanne Champagne et Paule Marier. Ajoutons encore la poésie coup-de-poing de Patrice Desbiens et une performance de Paul Grégoire (qui élabore aussi le décor), et cette tombola ne risque certainement pas d’être rasante! “J’aime ça, l’idée d’avoir plusieurs chances de “vivre des affaires”, de se perdre et de se retrouver; on sera tous sur scène, il y aura deux sets, c’est un show de deux heures avec du stock en masse, des chansons hawaïennes, des reprises, des improvisations, le côté assez noir de Paul Grégoire ou de Patrice Desbiens; mais dans un set-up coloré. C’est ça, l’ambiguïté de Tombola Rasa, ce n’est pas uniquement sombre ou clair, y a toutes les teintes et toutes les couleurs.”

Au moment où l’on se parle, tout est encore ouvert: “J’essaie d’intégrer tout ça; il y a la personnalité des gars de Grand Vent, avec lesquels je répète beaucoup, on fait de nouvelles pièces et on modifie les autres; avec la gang de Tombola, c’est davantage “musique de chambre”, même si ça drive (je n’ai pas choisi les pièces les plus down, mettons), mais on fera certainement la moitié du disque, des pièces du Corps de l’ouvrage… Chacun aura son petit numéro. Ce sera quelque chose de finalement plutôt joyeux. Le mois de novembre est assez down de même! Ça se construit et je ne sais pas encore exactement où ça va, mais ça y va! Et puis, après tout, ce sera une tombola, donc il y aura des prix de présence, peut-être une grande roue de fortune, etc.”

Bref, René Lussier s’en promet toute une. Entre-temps, il continue à “cultiver” l’improvisation à travers ses “boudines” - des rencontres de musiciens qu’il organise régulièrement depuis des années -, avec ou sans public, pour garder en forme les muscles créatifs. À compter de janvier, on pourra assister à ces rencontres chaque deuxième dimanche du mois à la Casa del Popolo. Puis les concerts de Grand Vent s’exporteront à l’extérieur de Montréal (si ça passe par chez vous, sautez sur l’occasion de voir ça!). Et puis une musique avec ce groupe pour un film sur le Sommet des Amériques… Parlant cinéma, la Cinémathèque propose ce 1er décembre à 18 h 30 Le Trésor archange de Fernand Bélanger, qui suit René Lussier dans quelques concerts du Trésor de la langue, son opus maximus. Où est René Lussier? Il est partout!


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 294, October 12, 2001

A new solo cd by guitarking René Lussier. Not released on Ambiances Magnétiques which is normally the case, but on another excellent Canadian label of avant garde music: Ohm Editions. By the way it was on Ambiances Magnétiques that Lussier released in 2000 a solo album for electric guitar. Now it’s the turn for the acoustic guitar. The cd offers us 13 solo improvisations for solo acoustic guitar. No overdubbing, editing, etc. has taken place. But the improvisations were recorded by eight microphones and the final recordings as heard on the cd were mixed from these eight different sources. This in order to accentuate different points of hearing. So the use of headphones are advised if you want to experience the spacial effects. This process was also used in the case of Solos de guitare électrique, recorded in 1998 and released in 2000 for Ambiances Magnétiques. For this new one, all recordings were made during three days in march, 1999 at the Avatar Studio, Québec. The pieces give an insight into the radical, unconventional and wide repertoire of Lussier techniques. The music is sometimes lyric, poetic, humoristic, powerful and very expressive. Lussier plays with many different musicians from all over the world. Here we have the opportunity to meet him solo and to discover where he is at as a guitar player and improvisor. “At first, it was a terrifying enterprise, since the road of guitar solo performances is one that many musicians has been down - including the big names - and because the result of the exercise is unforgiving. It provides the improvisor with a kind of instant snapshot, a self portrait taken with no make-up and no concessions. When he listens to it, all he can say is… This is where I come from, this is where I’m at!“ Exactly. Take it as a honest invitation. You won’t regret it.

Take it as a honest invitation. You won’t regret it.