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Philippe Desjardins, Le canal auditif, March 14, 2022
Thursday, March 17, 2022 Press

Ora est le nom que porte la collaboration entre les artistes sonores montréalais / Tiohtià:ke Stéphanie Castonguay et Maxime Corbeil-Perron, les deux actifs sur la scène expérimentale internationale depuis plusieurs années. Castonguay a développé son propre univers en musique DIY, à démonter de petits appareils électroniques pour modifier les circuits de manière à générer de la matière sonore, et des trames musicales technologiques. Corbeil-Perron a commencé par se démarquer en composition électroacoustique, et plus récemment en réalisation de vidéomusiques et animations expérimentales, en explorant les liens entre les technologies obsolètes / vintage et contemporaines.

Dans le cadre de Motile cilia (cils motiles, en biologie cellulaire), Castonguay est aux commandes de générateurs et senseurs de champs électromagnétiques et de synthétiseurs, tandis que Corbeil-Perron performe sur la guitare et le piano préparés, la boîte à rythmes et plus de synthétiseurs. Dans ces conditions, on se doute que le résultat soit expérimental, mais on découvre dès la première écoute un flot, un fil conducteur qui réunit le rock expérimental avec des connectiques trafiquées pour mener à une trame immersive post-industrielle.

La performance se matérialise en forme de filaments de vielle à roue qui s’épaississent, et se regroupent à l’unisson pour ensuite se décupler en chœur de guitares pleureuses modifiées en sirène de train. La masse s’ancre dans le sol avec un bourdonnement dans les basses, comme un avion qui plane au-dessus, mais résonne en dessous. Les percussions marquent une transition vers une séquence un peu plus bruitée, ponctuée par une alarme répétitive et un effet de polissage de fréquences.

Ça se poursuit dans une direction complètement expérimentale et imprévisible centrée sur l’alarme, devenant presque agressive rendu là, jusqu’à un point de rupture qui se résolve à l’orgue. La guitare désaccordée remplace le tout dans un solo épique célébrant l’inharmonie dans toute sa distorsion.

Le mouvement fait place à une pulsation sur deux notes qui résonne en avant des filaments de vielle à roue entendus au tout début. Ça devient étonnement mélodieux à partir du mouvement au piano qui équilibre la pièce entière et résout le thème en finale méditative.

C’est ce que l’on retient en premier lorsque Motile cilia se termine, la conclusion très réussie d’un flot qui passe par différents points de tension, dont un particulièrement déconstruit. On en ressent certainement une satisfaction bien que la qualité de la création donne envie qu’il y ait une suite, tel un Shine on you crazy diamond post-toute. Néanmoins, la performance se tient très bien à elle seule et donne un aperçu captivant de ce que le duo peut créer comme univers sonore.

… la qualité de la création donne envie qu’il y ait une suite, tel un Shine on you crazy diamond post-toute. […] donne un aperçu captivant de ce que le duo peut créer comme univers sonore. 7.5/10

The Best Contemporary Classical on Bandcamp: February 2022

Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily, March 8, 2022
Wednesday, March 9, 2022 Press

Like Xenakis, American ex-pat composer Tom Johnson has long been enamored of mathematics, and he’s used the practice as the discipline as an integral tool in his compositional work. These string quartets — played with characteristic precision, brio, and warmth by Montréal’s Quatuor Bozzini — often deploy the theory of combinations, setting out every possible permutation or sequence from a small amount of material. While that concept might sound like an excursion toward boredom, the results are thrilling. Johnson was an early advocate and pioneer of minimalism, and that interest distinguishes these four works, composed between 1994 and 2009, with a mixture of rigor and curiosity that turns to math as a way of translating the patterns and shapes of the world around us into music. Johnson achieves a particularly vivid realization on the concise Tilework for String Quartet, a 10-minute canon that explores the different ways the rhythms in a six-note line can overlap and fit together. Four-Note Chords in Four Voices is a study of the possible combinations delineated in the title, with the composer’s program note explaining that “There are 495 ways to distribute two notes in group,” but there’s nothing schematic or cold in the way Johnson traces out those possibilities anywhere on the album.

… played with characteristic precision, brio, and warmth by Montréal’s Quatuor Bozzini

Review

Ben Harper, Boring Like A Drill, February 26, 2022
Tuesday, March 1, 2022 Press

As Wittgenstein would often remind you, the simplest statements, when exposed to close examination, conceal a wealth of contradictions and absurdities. Several years ago I heard a chamber ensemble play Tom Johnson’s Predictables and stumble over the opening phrases as the obvious series of notes ran afoul of the conventions of performance. Johnson’s perfectly logical sequences of exahustive combinations and permutations contain profound conundrums, throwing us into the mental chasm of aesthetics where the rational becomes counter-intuitive. In making decisions that appear to defy creativity, refusal to deviate from the proposed model is a means for taking the least expected path. Even when the organising principle is clear (and it is typically reducible to a single principle), Johnson’s disciplined adherence to the rule can make the progress of his pieces appear inscrutable to the listener.

The contradictions involved in the experiences of reading, playing and listening to Johnson’s music underpin the humour that often surfaces. This is most apparent in the works for voice, where word games come to the fore, but the necessary incongruities in Johnson’s approach can’t help but become the stuff of comedy, or at least require wit to handle them effectively. The Quatuor Bozzini’s collection of Johnson’s string quartets, Combinations, exemplify this playfulness without distracting from the musical substance. The Four-Note Chords in Four Voices from 2009 are just that, collated by type to provide phrasing, homogeneous and minimal even as nothing ever repeats. There’s a tension between similarity and diversity, despite the composition’s premise that such concerns are rendered moot. Johnson has recognised that there is nothing mathematical to be learned from his work with combinations and so these pieces cannot be considered mere demonstrations, but raise new aesthetic questions from existing conditions. Much as with Alvin Lucier, Johnson displays a fertile imagination based on observation over invention.

My review copy came without sleeve notes, so it would take closer analysis to determine exactly the systematic combinations used in 2003’s Combinations for String Quartet or the mathemmatical formulas used in 1994’s Formulas for String Quartet. I’m not bothering to do so because it doesn’t matter. As Johnson himself has written elsewhere, “composers, interpreters, and listeners do not need to know all this, just as we do not need to master counterpoint in order to appreciate a Bach fugue. As always, one of the wonderful things about music is that it allows us to perceive directly things that we would never understand intellectually.” In both the above works, the most striking aspect is the diversity of modes of expression in such a presumably limited palette. Formulas opens with a lively jig-like movement, followed by sweet antiphonal counterpoint and floating harmonies. Combinations contrasts motoric passages with translucent chords and dramatic interventions. Other movements, and in Tilework for String Quartet, build mosaic-like patterns out of sinuous lines that rise and fall while slipping in and out of sequence, becoming all the more intriguing for discovering variety in a single process of juxtapositions.

The music embodies a balance between rigor and play that can also be found in a well-crafted fugue. Quatuor Bozzini play this all with the sophistication and lightness of touch that it deserves, to bring out the fullness of its self-discipline and its charm. Steadfast and non-vibrato throughout, they nonetheless keep everything sounding warm and alive. The square, even rhythms are played true, but with a suppleness that allows the Bozzinis to float for one passage before landing with a surefooted tread in the next. With careful attention to intonation and articulation, they still find expressive room in the notation bring out wider connotations of emotion. For fans of Johnson’s music, part of the fun here is how often it sounds like someone other than Tom Johnson; the deadpan drollery commonly given to his work is shaded with hints of agitation or pathos, with fleeting classical or even romantic impressions flickering by. The dual appeal to the senses and the intellect is also a hallmark of wit.

Quatuor Bozzini play this all with the sophistication and lightness of touch that it deserves, to bring out the fullness of its self-discipline and its charm.

Review

George Grella, Bandcamp Daily, February 14, 2022
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 Press

Quatour Bozzini, in Montréal, is one of the leading contemporary music ensembles, and a frequent collaborator with Lucier. As Isabelle Bozzini, a founding member of the quartet, describes, in the winter of 2020, Lucier asked if they would release the live recording of a 2015 concert of his music. Instead, the quartet decided to make an entirely new album. Bringing together echolocation ideas (there are two performances of Group Tapper) with explorations of frequencies in concert and conflict (Navigations), Navigations is a superb way to hear Lucier as he expands out of the Western art music tradition.

Navigations is a superb way to hear Lucier as he expands out of the Western art music tradition.

Best of 2021: New/Experimental Recordings

Michael Schell, Sequenza 21, January 3, 2022
Wednesday, January 12, 2022 Press

There are few composers whose music better fulfills the potentialities of the old saw “It’s not for everybody — then again it doesn’t try to be” than Alvin Lucier (1931—2021). This album, documenting a 2015 Quatuor Bozzini concert devoted to the late ultraminimalist, is a commendable addition to his difficult-to-record legacy.

This album, documenting a 2015 Quatuor Bozzini concert devoted to the late ultraminimalist, is a commendable addition to his difficult-to-record legacy.

Review

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, November 23, 2021
Monday, January 3, 2022 Press

Every now and then it’s OK to reiterate a well-worn refrain, at the risk of sounding boorish. Low-quality music can make you sick, especially when improvisation is in the picture. Hiding behind an often unjustifiable freedom of artistic expression, a lot of people, unable to behave inside the sound beyond mere technical skills, can’t stop releasing useless stuff that weighs down a reviewer’s mailbox. Things get worse when the flag-bearers of fraudulent creativity gather in collectives. Disorganized chaos and compositional shallowness melt into arrogance, causing the auditory system to go on strike. Not to mention the irritation for having wasted our dwindling time.

But Quebec’s Le GGRIL (Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée), founded 14 years ago by Tour De Bras honcho Éric Normand, are different. They engage the audience, yet don’t steal their oxygen; entice the ear subtly, never crassly; spur one’s curiosity without self-aggrandizement. Above all, they show respect for stillness and silence. Much of the sounds in Sommes seems to arise from there, willingly returning to that origin even during livelier sections. This is a commendable attitude by the group. Talent is important, but knowing how to listen before filling the room with pitches is essential. In short, if these musicians demand your attention, they do so with good reason and sensitive restraint.

The substance of this triple CD — don’t be frightened, it’s the blink of an eye — comprises outstanding renditions of scores crafted for Le GGRIL by renowned composers, with noticeable open spaces for clever liberality. Plus, a handful of minutes reserved for individual interpretations of a piece by Robert Lepage named Chat de Cheshire. Quite frequently the brain gets wired to spiritual dimensions of in-depth interplay; check Îlots turgescents to see what this writer means. Talking in “scattered examples” mode, unintentional references emerge to “calm” orchestral Zappa circa The Yellow Shark, principally throughout Allison Cameron’s In Memoriam Robert Ashley. Or — rather inevitably, given the provenance of most members — to pages from the long and varied book of René Lussier and his associates, some of whom actively contributed to this project.

But those are fleeting mnemonic crumbles, in the midst of mutable scenarios from which a substantial acoustic homogeneity materializes. Magnificent resonant combinations; tones that clash in adjacency, or greet each other from opposite poles; mischievous melodic smithereens; serendipitous evocations of ancient cultures. With a pinch of unofficial theatricality when necessary, and several surprises waiting for the unsuspecting listener around the corner. An anarchically cohesive chamber orchestra with plenty of resources, unfazed by the difficulties of a performance, endowed in equal measure with technique, irony and soul. It will keep your body warm and your mind beguiled for many hours, through many days.

It will keep your body warm and your mind beguiled for many hours, through many days.