Jim Denley (flute, alto sax, objects) and Tour de Bras label honcho Éric Normand (electric bass, objects) do not believe in mere descriptions or pseudo-philosophical explanations to justify an improvisation. Released one year after a first collection of duets ( Plant, on Smeraldina-Rima), Plant II offers five joint studies in the dissection and/or enhancement of the humming + buzzing + rattling + squealing properties of mechanisms set in motion via unorthodox tampering.
Let’s be clear from the start: the respect of predetermined “aesthetic laws” — possibly tending to an immediate agreement with someone’s ears — is not a priority for the Australian/Quebecoise pair. Their hands-on approach implies a radical exploitation of the theoretical conflicts within sonic diversity, the subsurface tensions between abnormal upper partials and tiny agglomerations of noisy components originating the sort of interference that may even irritate a sizable chunk of unacquainted audience.
In such a context, the instrumental identities are often camouflaged, if not out-and-out destroyed. And when the timbres are recognizable, the feeling is still closer to a rather admirable “couldn’t-care-less-about-palatability” quasi-punk attitude. However, when Denley and Normand unleash the invisible forces inhabiting the darkest caves of acoustic filthiness, an impressive array of magnified micro-events appears as a completely new world. It’s a place where categories aren’t required, the actual nature of an uglier soundwave exposing its cantankerous nakedness without restraint, a pitiless disfigurement of what is familiar revealing at last a praiseworthy artistic rectitude.
Léa Boudreau’s new album Chaos contrôlé includes sounds created solely through the ‘bending’ of circuits in electronic toys. The music in Chaos contrôlé is glitchy and paroxysmal in an extremely attention-grabbing way. While the compositional process used in this project would seem to pose significant limitations, this does not impede Boudreau in any way: she manages to create unbelievably imaginative sonic objects and to retain great control in manipulating these sounds.
The sounds in the album are at once playful, colorful, and abrasive—somewhat like a musical embodiment of Trenton Doyle Hancock’s artwork. Aggressive percussive forces, paired with children’s songs, create a dark and sardonic tone. While this comical element is present throughout the album, Boudreau does more than simply express a type of creepy humor. The album addresses themes of childhood, blending the perspectives of child and parent by including titles that imply a parent’s advice to his or her child, and other titles and musical elements that express a child’s wonder. Some of the themes are historically specific, while others are universal — Boudreau addresses anxieties and naiveté.
While the incorporation of toys and distorted children’s songs is novel and interesting in this album, many other evocative textures emerge throughout the work. Retro synthesizers and video game sounds interact and are layered upon one another, creating visual and cultural associations. Computerized, swarm-like textures in Amies imaginaires (et autres incomprises) seem reminiscent of the impulsions from Stockhausen’s Gesang Der Jünglinge. This album is a ‘song of the youth’ in a different way however, in its incorporation of toys and children’s songs, and more generally in Boudreau’s fresh and relevant perspective. Amid the digital chaos of the album, there are beautiful waning moments, like in How to navigate through social anxiety in 3 easy steps. In this piece, contemplative harmonies are meditated on, and there are even some impressionistic sonorities that quell the musical landscape.
Overall, Chaos contrôlé is a decidedly experimental album that expands the classical electronic music canon in a very interesting way. This is an exciting and imaginative project that I am sure I will return to many times in the future.
All of the sounds on Chaos contrôlé come from circuit-bent toys, which is fabulous for numerous reasons. For one, it provides a renewed purpose to these bundles of wiring and colourful plastic, rebelling against the consumerist cycle of cheap manufacture, short product lifespan and regular replacement. It also means that the album is teeming with whacky samples forced through lo-fidelity sound processors, which will be familiar to any parent whose house is strewn with singing light-up elephants and wheeled walkers: yelps of “it’s learning time!” lisping through bad bitrate, eerie imitations of child laughter, gleeful ear-worm themes played on MIDI instruments. Not only does Boudreau retain the fuzz of those cheap speakers, but she also captures the creep volatility of those sing-a-long toys, which have a knack of falling inexplicably silent and then bursting back into life without any buttons being pressed in the interim.
Most crucially, it obliterates the synonymity between exquisite sound design and clinical abstraction. Boudreau’s precise handling of frequency occurs within the unlikely domain of child’s play and parenting, where the priority is more often to simply get from A to B — by whatever means and however haphazardly — rather than to execute each task perfectly. The record often moves in jerks and stumbles, with drones sent somersaulting by bass plosives and half-bars of “itsy bitsy spider” slurped through pitch bends. Yet just how the best slapstick comedy is a combination of spontaneity and choreography, Boudreau’s work falls ambiguously between painstaking acousmatic sculpture and improvised noise. The boundary between the two is always blurred. In fact, the more chaotic passages — such as the quickfire flicker of noisy transitions “How to navigate through social anxiety in 3 easy steps” — seem likely to be the most carefully arranged. Even at its most exact, Chaos contrôlé retains the silliness and jubilance of its source context.
Siamois Synthesis is a young quartet of Sylvain Gagné (bass), Maya Kuroki (vocals), Simon Trottier (guitar, lap steel) and Maxime Corbeil-Perron (keyboards, electronics). They have their base in Montréal and make their first statement with Feu aimant. Kuroki is a musician, performer, director and visual artist who is active in Montréal. She worked in theatre and as a professional actor in her homeland Japan. In Montréal music became more important. She started her group of experimental rock Dynamo Coleoptera. Also, Maxime Corbeil-Perron is a multi-disciplinary artist, working as a composer, audiovisual performer, etc. Simon Trottier is a guitarist and composer from Montréal and founding member of Last Ex and Ferriswheel. Also, he had a duo with Perron (Le Pélican noir). Sylvain Gagné is an active force of Montréals independent scene and worked earlier with Trottier in the White Noise Ensemble. So they all met in the Montréal scene. Four of seven compositions are by Perron and Gagné. Three others by Perron, Gagné and Kuroki. All lyrics are by Kuroki. This music somehow has its roots in rock. But it is very experimental with the keyboards and electronics by Perron dominating the sound. Other contributors are mixed more into the background. This especially counts for the ghostly vocals by Kuroki. But it is a well-chosen balance that works very well for the sound they want to create. All songs are drenched in a thick and multi-layered sculpture of sound. The opening track is dominated by dark and ominous textures. In 4 AM they create an imaginative and ambient-like soundscape with fine guitar playing Trottier. Also Random Other continues in a similar ethereal way. In contrast Urizen is a heavy beat-driven track. The outspoken colouring by keyboards and electronics of Corbeil-Perron is what impressed me most on this interesting debut.