In the press
François Couture, actuellecd.com, November 25, 2003
Geeta, The Original Soundtrack, October 31, 2003… the flinching they provoked in me when they smashed an expensive tone arm into a virgin piece of vinyl was perhaps part of the point.
Mike Chamberlain, Hour, October 23, 2003Tétreault’s approach has been influential…
Phil Zampino, The Squid’s Ear, September 1, 2003The sheer feedback, interbeats and thunderous sounds threatened to change the listener’s body chemistry, a satisfying and jarring experience.
Schepper, Grooves, no. 11, August 1, 2003
Anne Hilde Neset, The Wire, no. 221, July 1, 2002Curated and conducted by Québécois sound/installation artist Tétreault, Turntable Hell assembled eight musicians into a turntable orchestra
The Holidays are closing in. Are you wondering what gifts to buy this year? You’re looking for the original gift, the one that will surprise and please? Why not expand the musical horizons of a loved one, a colleague at work, or a cousin you haven’t seen since last Christmas? Here’s my highly personal selection of gift ideas to introduce someone (or yourself, you’re allowed to indulge from time to time!) to the wonderful world of “musique actuelle."
That good ol’ song
It may seem a bit easy, but everyone likes a good song. That said, we don’t all have the same definition of what a good song is. And the artists in DAME’s catalog take some liberties with this format — that’s what makes things exciting. But Geneviève Letarte’s Chansons d’un jour will please anyone looking for songs with intelligent, accessible melodies and poetic lyrics. The soft melancholy of Chants des adieux, chants de la solitude will profoundly move dreamers in search of a different voice (Lou Babin’s, irresistible).
You don’t understand French? The lyrics of Jerry Snell’s album Life in the Suicide Riots will make you think hard about the world we live in. And the chugging guitar riffs of André Duchesne ’s Locomotive will catch the attention of any rock fan, even one deaf to French. Speaking of rock, the deconstructed rock of the all-female group Justine can keep you busy for a while, lyrics or no lyrics. Their first album (Suite) is a powerful mixture of progressist rock, while their second Langages fantastiques leans more toward improvised songs. If you want a taste of what songwriting avant-garde artists can come up with, try the compilation album Chante! 1985-2000, a wide and wild selection of unusual songs.
A time for celebrating, letting off steam, and disobedience, the party when applied to music can give way to a distortion of admitted rules. L’Orkestre des pas perdusinjects a new form of circus life into fanfare music, an infectious R ’n’ B (rhythm ’n’ brass, of course) that will refresh any parade. Its cousin Les Projectionnistes (both bands are led by Claude St-Jean) trades circus for rock and the brass section transforms from funny fanfare to frenetic funk. Taking a different approach, the Fanfare Pourpour leaves the official parade attire behind to favor the spontaneity of a street fanfare. It’s music for “everyone" (Tout le monde, the title of their first album) without dropping to the lowest common denominator.
In a similar spirit, but adding an East-European flavor and an incredible dose of energy is the group Interférence Sardines, which features two members of the neo-trad group Les Batinses. Jean Derome et les Dangereux Zhoms walks a jazzier road, but its frivolous side easily becomes delightfully exuberant. The group’s three albums are all highly recommended, but Carnets de voyage remains an excellent place to start. And I find the same spirit of excessiveness and raw emotion in La boulezaille (Pierre Langevin and Pierre Tanguay) and Plinc! Plonc! (Jean Derome and Pierre Tanguay), two albums where world music, jazz and free improvisation collide.
And to boldly go where few have gone before
Maybe you would like to go further and hook someone on a kind of “musique actuelle" that is more daring and abstract. Here are a few key albums from DAME’s catalogue in improvised and electronic music.
Martin Tétreault is one of the most fascinating experimental artists right now. His technique at the turntable spins 45 questions per minute. His recent album with Diane Labrosse, Parasites, puts disquieting quiet sounds under the microscope. And Studio — Analogique — Numérique, his fresh collaboration with the Japanese mastermind Yoshihide Otomo, proposes cutting-edge sonic research in very original packaging: a box set of three 3" CDs.
A pillar of the avant-garde music scene since the early ‘70s, Fred Frith remains the favorite of many connoisseurs. The two albums by the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet (with René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky and Mark Stewart) are essential listens. DAME also distributes the titles released by Frith’s own Fred Records.
One of the first groups from the DAME stables to have explored electroacoustic improvisation, the Klaxon Gueule trio revels in noisy textures and demanding pleasures. Their last two albums Muets and Grain met critical acclaim. And I also want to mention the Ohmix compilation album, a daring electronic project where select artists (including Martin Tétreault, David Kristian, John Oswald, Terre Thaemlitz, and Ralf Wehowsky) remix the albums of the label Avatar.
Finally, instead of sending out the usual Christmas cards, consider the sound post cards produced by the label Ouïe-Dire. These are regular post cards accompanied by 3" CDs from French experimental artists. And happy Holidays!
[…] I swung by Tonic and saw Otomo Yoshihide play a turntable-noize set with Martin Tétreault. They sat on stage making a furious din with their mangled Technics decks, while the assembled crowd sat in chairs, watching them quietly and utterly RESPECTFULLY, sometimes speaking to each other in awed hushed tones between sets. That is what unnerves me, I think, about improvised music in that sort of venue, and is why I prefer to get my noise fix from going to Lightning Bolt shows. You’d think with that kind of extremely ugly and powerful music — and I really like a lot of Otomo Yoshihide’s work — you’d be pushed by it into the physical realm, to dance or at least move, but not just sit there. I couldn’t bear sitting down so I stood up, drinking beer and fidgeting while watching them spin warped records, scraping tone arms into grooves under extreme amplification. After the set I went up and looked at their setup; the tone arms had been cut and gouged and taped up with springs hanging out, the 45s used for the performance had titles like ‘Lesson #29’. When I looked at the wrecked decks I couldn’t help but feel like it was a waste to ‘adjust’ a table like that, even for a noise project; I’d been so conditioned by a lifetime of loving record players and fixing broken garage-sale ones to treat them with care and calibrate them precisely, so to see expensive Technics 1200s with their guts hanging out seemed, well, so decadent, and shocked me in a way that seeing a wrecked guitar wouldn’t. (I remember reading an interview with Kraftwerk from the late 70s where they bemoaned people who smashed guitars, talking about how long it had taken them to save for Hohner amps and how they couldn’t comprehend smashing up their own gear.) I think another reason why I feel this way about tables is that in DJing, you’re often interested in smoothness, perfection, a continuous mix, getting things beatmatched exactly. (in other words, a lot of work in an attempt to make everything look effortless!) Even in scratching, perfection is key; there’s good scratching and bad scratching, and in hip-hop you still have to stay within the bounds of rhythm. But seeing the brutalized Technics being forced to vomit up horrible noise made me realize that they’d made the record players their own, that they were, after all, just machines to be used by people, not people to be used by machines, and that the flinching they provoked in me when they smashed an expensive tone arm into a virgin piece of vinyl was perhaps part of the point.
Martin Tétreault liked elementary school. A lot. Which might be one reason why he has a fondness for using the Calliphone turntables used in schools in the ’60s and ’70s.
The story of how Tétreault went from visual arts to turntablism is more or less well known, how he took a vinyl album, cut it in half, and glued the pieces back together backward, thus producing an instant “symphony.” This was the mid-’80s, and he knew nothing of the turntable experimentalism of people like Christian Marclay. But he was soon brought up to speed when guitarist André Duchesne, a neighbour, heard what Tétreault was up to and drew him to the attention of the Ambiances Magnétiques collective.
Today, he answers a compliment on his considerable improvising skills rather modestly, saying, “I was lucky because I was able to develop my improvising by working with the best people in Montréal right away, people like Jean Derome, René Lussier, Diane Labrosse, Michel F Côté and Robert Marcel Lepage.”
Tétreault’s method involves a deconstruction of the turntable and the vinyl recording, though these days he no longer uses vinyl for the music on them. “For one thing, I don’t have to worry about copyright issues anymore,” Tetreault says, half-jokingly.
Tétreault’s approach has been influential, not least on Otomo Yoshihide, arguably Japan’s best improvising musician. When Yoshihide saw the duo of Tétreault and Labrosse at the Angelica Fest in Italy in 1997, his music took a turn in a minimalist direction. He disbanded Ground Zero, which had been at the core of his musical activity, to pursue smaller-sized projects.
Yoshihide and Tétreault have so far recorded three albums together - two duos, Studio-Analogique-Numérique (Ambiances Magnétiques, 2003) and 21 Situations (Ambiances Magnétiques, 1999), and a trio with Philip Jeck, last year’s Invisible Architecture #1 (Audiosphere).
In April of this year, the duo toured Europe, and Tétreault hopes that an album will come out of the recordings of the concerts.
Yoshihide plays with two modified Technics turntables and a guitar amplifier that he uses for feedback. Tétreault uses a three-tone arm turntable with three pedal volume controls. No reverb, no delay.
“It’s visual. When we do a move, what you see is what you hear.” But what you hear might not sound like what you expect, Tétreault explains. “It’s not electronic, it’s completely analog, but it may sound electronic.”
“It’s a very good energy between us,” Tétreault states. “Our concerts are completely improvised. We never, during the tour, talk about music. We never discuss pacing or things like that.”
The duo’s appearances in Quebec City (October 28, 2003) and Montréal (October 29, 2003) are the Canadian leg of a four-city tour that will go to New York and Boston the next two evenings. Because of certain travel restrictions, Tétreault will be using turntable motors, tone arms and prepared vinyl in New York and Boston. They will be his first performances in those cities. It will also be the first time that he will perform with those devices.
A bit of a risk, no? “These days, I like to take more risks. If I find I can make a new sound, I don’t explore it, I just try it out in a concert.”
For Tétreault, his deconstructive experimentalism takes him back to his school days. “The turntable is usually only treated as a passive object, but there are a lot of hidden sounds it makes as an object. The sounds in the turntables were always there in the classroom.”
The state of turntablism has undergone rapid transformation over the last decade or so. No longer content with manipulating vinyl in unexpected ways, some artists have now turned on the tables themselves, utilizing every inch of the case, platter, motor, tone arm and stylus of the venerable record player.
Martin Tétreault, part of Montréal’s Ambiances Magnétiques collective, is one such artist. He began this evening with a solo turntable set. Looking something like an impish scientist he sat pensively behind his mixer and two turntables, if turntables you can call them. In fact, one was simply a spinning platter raised high on the table, a piece of rotating metal with a disembodied stylus and tone arm that he used to probe various items at hand. His other turntable was a standard Technics, although Tétreault often eschewed vinyl in preference to metal plates, and he often used open RCA cables in deference to the stylus to generate rumbly, sparking and oddly explosive sounds. He ended one piece by throwing a 7" record onto a pile of objects he had built up on his stylus, eliciting audience laughter, though his more frequent slamming of the tone arm would cause a serious vinyl addict to cringe in horror. At times his approach seemed chaotic or even spastic, while at other times he built revolving grooves that were glitchy and intense. It’s difficult to call Tétreault a DJ in this context, but as a turntablist he sees many unexpected possibilities.
It was clear from the two Technics decks on Yoshihide’s table that he would focus on the turntables, so it came as a bit of surprise that Yoshihide played much of his solo set on guitar, playing through a blond Marshall amp. His playing was drenched in feedback, starting with a buzzy intro that crescendoed into a ringing harmonic pallette, growling and angry. His playing was urgent, piercing, and vicious, a dirty blues with strong tremolo. Out of this slowly emerged the strains of Ornette Coleman’s ”Lonely Woman,” drifting in the feedback, a languorous rendering of the song. This slowly receded as Yoshihide began applying clips and various tools to his strings to effect, generating blocks of feedback and rich tones that rung and dropped under his thoughtful control. Yoshihide then turned to the tables to complete his solo set. He began by slamming on a disc, generating strong feedback, shaking the decks and probing at his discs to create long looping harmonic grooves punctuated with sudden collisions, unlikely beats and internote interference. The set ended with something sounding like an alien death ray, a fitting end to a charged set.
After an intermission the players returned as a duo, with both players at their turntables. The similarities in style were as striking as the contrasts: both used their styli as a probe, striking at objects that occasionally included vinyl records, but also included metal plates, cymbals, and seemingly anything loose and nearby. Yoshihide had springs mounted on his styli to force them into repetetive grooves. Tétreault picked up a vinyl record and scratched at it with a free stylus as though it were a guitar. Both developed long grooves over which they busily worked, but generally Yoshihide tended towards more patient development of sounds relying often on delays, including an extended interaction with the package from a battery against his tone arm, making a wailing melodic cry. Meanwhile Tétreault jumped between sound sources in percussive and disruptive ways. As the set developed both settled into grooves, and the point of applying their approaches to turntables as opposed to any other solid object became apparent, as the rhythmic, cycling nature of their sound became more obvious. Dueling airplanes, industrial washing machines, droning noise with the beating of construction nightmares married and exploded, the factory gone haywire under the hands of these two noise pilots. The sheer feedback, interbeats and thunderous sounds threatened to change the listener’s body chemistry, a satisfying and jarring experience.
As in previous years, the range of artists and genres represented at Mutek 2003 was considerable. With over 70 artists from around the world appearing, one had the opportunity to see ‘marquee’ acts like Pole, Coil, and Richie Hawtin, as well as uncompromising artists like Pita, Kevin Drumm, and T. Raumschmiere. Unlike past Muteks, DJ sets were almost entirely absent at this year’s festival (although, for the record, past DJ sets had often been used to bridge the gaps between non-DJ performances). And, in comparison to last year’s ambitious potpourri of concerts, panel discussions, films, and design displays, the 2003 incarnation limited itself to concerts and panel discussions, with seven of the latter. In short, this year felt like a satisfying consolidation of past festivals’ strengths instead of grandiose risk-taking.
There were label showcases by Mego, No Type, and Minus/Plus 8, and sets of dubby microhouse from EGG (Julien Roy and Guillaume Coutu-Dumont), smooth minimal techhouse from Robin Judge and Jeff Milligan (aka Algorithm and Revolver label head), hard-hitting minimal techno by Ototo (Dimitri and Filip), Jeremy Caulfield, and Matthew Dear (aka False), the latter’s music evoking classic Chain Reaction stylings in its treble and bass detailing. Drone and ambient musics were presented, the most notable instance being the appearance by Thomas Köner and Asmus Tietchens (performing as Kontakt Der Jünglinge) who sculpted a slowly unfurling glacial soundscape. Other artists in this genre included Gary Joynes (aka Clinker), who built a singular drone-like piece of slowly metamorphosing waves, and [sic] (Jen Morris), who created ghostly dronescapes against a diptych backdrop of enigmatic photographs. Electroacoustic sets were offered by the nuanced Coin Gutter (Graeme Scott and Michael Hendrix) and sampling artist Diane Labrosse and Aimé Dontigny, whose collaboration resulted in a tactile, improvisatory dialogue. Set Fire to Flames’ member Christof Migone generated a 45-minute stream of body-generated scraping and whirring sounds accompanied by a video triptych that showed a gaping mouth at left, what appeared in the middle to be a tomato encased within a block of ice lodged within a salivating mouth, and, at right, the nighttime silhouette of a cityscape and bridge. There were infectious jazz-inflected funkhouse from Cobblestone Jazz and celebratory Latin techhouse by Mambotur. Chicago-based Telefon Tel Aviv (Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper) presented a heavy microdub funk of chiming synths and massive bass drum and snare patterns. But, overall, the most memorable performances were turned in by veterans like Pole, Coil, Richie Hawtin, Monolake, and Señor Coconut.
In a Saturday afternoon performance that paid tribute to turntable pioneer Raymond Gervais, four turntable titans — Philip Jeck, Marina Rosenfeld, Martin Tétreault, and Martin Ng — provided an hypnotic set that included extended group collaboration as well as individual spotlights. Ostensibly, the proceedings were directed by Tétreault but his was certainly a benign dictatorship; if anything, the pieces often evolved with the others responding to Jeck’s looping grounds. They began by constructing a beautifully measured collage of scraping and scratching sounds amidst ghostly strains of melody. Immediately following this auspicious beginning, they created an equally effective second piece of whistling tones and bell-like percussion effects. While the concert predominantly featured the four playing together, there were brief duos, trios, and solos. Naturally, as is to be expected in an improvisatory setting, some tentative moments emerged when it seemed as if each of the four was waiting for someone to take the lead, but these registered as not unwelcome moments of brief stillness. Each took solo turns: Jeck, using two turntables, one for 12 inch lps and the other for 45s, drowned the sitar from Stoked in showers of surface noise; Rosenfeld’s solo offered a turntable adagio of sorts filled with treble glissandoes, looped crackling patterns, and phantom melodies; Tétreault’s initial musical quotation was gradually buried under huge slabs of static and hiss, his turn ending with furious scratching and a physical attack on his lps; finally, Ng’s solo impressed less as an exercise in musicality and more as one of physical athleticism. To close, the four collaborated upon a carefully sculpted elegiac piece. In sum, this session was engrossing and nuanced—a demonstration of sensitive listening and collaboration by its participants.
“We are the Cartridge Family!” exclaimed an enthusiastic Martin Tétreault to a hall filled to the rafters with vinyl devotees. In the wake of Christian Marclay and Invisibl Skratch Piklz, it has become commoaly accepted that turntables are instruments for generating music as well as the hi-fi connoisseur’s playback machine of choice. Yet tonight’s concert, organised by the Contemporary Music Network, was the first experimental turntable meeting to hit London on a large scale. Curated and conducted by Québécois sound/installation artist Tétreault, Turntable Hell assembled eight musicians into a turntable orchestra: vinyl wrecker Paul Hood, Improv drummer and LMC stalwart Steve Noble, muiti-instrumentalist and general non-conformist Lepke B, composer, installation artist and Sheer Frost Orchestra ringleader Marina Rosenfeld, triphonic turntable inventor Janek Schaefer, Sydney based electronic artist Martin Ng, and, last but not least, Otomo Yoshihide, noise maestro and turntable thrasher par excellence.
Expecting to see a series of solo sets with the possibility of a jam at the end, it was surprising to be confronted with a stage full of turntable tinkerers hunched over their tools. The first half was taken up with a single, loosely held together abstract piece. Starting as a drone of vinylderived whirrs and hums, it eventually peaked into a scratch frenzy before relapsing into near silence. The second half featured a series of shorter pieces, each directed by a single performer who would cue in the other musicians according to the piece’s requirements, thus enforcing more of a group dynamic. Tetréault’s Pass The Loop was like a game of Chinese whispers: as the loops passed through different performer’s hands, they developed into a cacophonous murmur of spinning vinyl. Rosenfeld’s bouncy and frenetic Evil Twin was the soundtrack for Tom & Jerry in hell. Traces of original music from the source vinyl occasionally bubbled to the surface, like repressed children out to create mayhem before the sound controller’s strict regiment brought them back down to a melancholy purr.
In contrast to laptops or electronic boxes, where the source of their multylayered output is difflcult to identify, the simple, unadorned turntable renders the sound source transparent for the audience, especially when cameras are positioned above each turntable as they were tonight. Multimedia artist Ben Drew controlled these real-time visuals, fading between close-ups of performers’ actions and more abstract imagery. The constant broadcast of the musicians’ hand movements made for a literal experience, shifting the emphasis from the poetic to the mechanics of the performance. An orchestra consisting only of one (relatively unusual) type of instrument tends to underline its novelty value rather than the music it produces. Much like the Pure release The End Of Vinyl (Mego), which consists of runout grooves of various vinyl records, the production method and sound source threaten to become more important than the music itself.
By the end of the show, the stage looked like a radio theatre studio filled with engineers rustling around feverishly for the appropriate noise: bneathing into microphones, cartndges drumming on the turning plate, bowing vinyl. Even so, the music stayed on the polite side. After an evening of scratching, it was left to Otomo to ease the audience’s itch with a surge of raw noise. Breaking ranks with the politely seated performers and audience, he plunged the night into chaos. Holding the turntable against his waist like a guitar, he shook the turntable arm like a whammy bar in a desperate hunt for crushing feedback, before smashing down his instrument and slapping his handshell suitcase or top of it as he left the stage. It was a refreshing gesture at the end of a night dominated by too much well tempered turntable, with too little roon for the individual, energetic, Tourette-like outbursts that make improv such a spontaneous and exhilarating music.