In a city called Montréal, a group of men and women chose to invent ways to live their lives, to make their music and to make their records. All lived according to their creative convictions and a life style that resembled them and inexorably moved them toward each other. One day, inevitably, they met and recognized each other. First of all: René Lussier, Robert Marcel Lepage, André Duchesne and Jean Derome. Then: Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse, Danielle Palardy Roger. Finally: Michel F Côté. Independant natures, forces of nature, natural creators. Composers who interpret and improvise, who scratch, grind, ruffle, knock, whisper and explore sound. And they all had a taste in common, the pleasure of working in a group, a sense of the collective, a sense of togetherness. Conventum, Fin du travail, Le temps des bombes, Chants et danses du monde inanimé, Wondeur Brass, Les Granules. Music that is proud, delinquent, breaks with tradition and, most of all, music that is unclassifiable by those who so like to classify in order to sell, to understand, to approve or to enjoy. Unclassifiable music by unbreakable musicians. Unbreakable people who decided to build a house together for their music and for their albums, a house where they could survive shipwrecks and ward off isolation, a house to withstand refusals and incomprehension, a house made of their albums which would carry and support each of them, a house defined by their relentless strength and disobedience. A production house which would carry the label: Ambiances Magnétiques.
Vivid music, concert music, parade music, film music, improvised music, pop music, theatrical music, rhythm music, playful music, music that is sung, yelled, spoken, synthetic music, acoustic music, electric music, vernacular music, folk, rock, jazz and sound effects combined.
The foundations of the house were built in 1984 without plans, without instructions, without contractors. Risky business! Musicians became producers and came together to resist the laws of the market and to continue their creative work away from the criteria established by fashion and academia. A group of record-producing musicians.
The production of vinyl records went well and the house grew. Les Poules, Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso Bar, La traversée de la mémoire morte, Bruire. Very quickly, ties were made with European New Music distribution networks. Recommended Records is the most famous of these and the one who was most influencial in the shaping of the future and development of Ambiances Magnétiques.
René Lussier gave the blow. It was final and radical. After Le trésor de la langue, no more vinyls were produced at Ambiances Magnétiques. The current of the CD was too strong. Impossible to resist. Goodbye vinyl. Goodbye record cover, designed with so much love, care and attention. Hello compact discs, hello new cover design. With the CD came other transformations at Ambiances Magnétiques, new collaborations and new projects. Robert Langlois at Studio 270 had such an intelligent grasp of the new musical language that he brought a garantee of the quality of sound engineering and mixing. The genius of Jean-François Denis and DIFFUSION i MéDIA significantly lightened the process of record-making. The arrival of graphic artists Luc Beauchemin, Fabrizio Gilardino and Anna Morelli brought a constance and a unifying quality to the design of record inserts and booklets.
At this point, “The house built without” was starting to feel the need for a contractor. Work was never scarce: mail was overflowing, mailings were late, inventory was backed up. All these things needed to be done in order to strengthen the framework of the house and keep it from crumbling. A coordinator was now an absolute necessity. Enter DAME. Joane Hétu decided to take up the direction of operations to meet the interior needs and the exterior demand. The upcoming decade had to be prepared: ties with European distributors had to be strengthened, new tied had to be created with Asia, Mexico, Scandinavia. Joane provided the organizational and administrative foundation which had become necessary to survive in the commercial jungle of ever-increasing efficiency. So DAME happily carries forth the venture of its instigators, in total harmony with musical creation and the freedom of sound, and with the same resistance, the same independance and the same perseverance.
The house filled with more and more records and friends and some new labels: Martin Tétreault, Geneviève Letarte, Michel Ratté, Jerry Snell, Pierre-André Arcand, Jocelyn Robert, Lars Hollmer, Fred Frith, Bruit TTV, OHM/AVATAR, AMIM, Victo. Yes, you must be a friend to enter the house and you must be introduced. Because the house has kept its creative convictions and its lifestyle which bring together those of a feather. The house jealously guards its desire for music that is proud, authentic and dissident.
Idea music, immediate music, meeting music, heterodox music, approximate music, recycled music, dance music, superimposed music, tubulence, poetry, onomatopoeia, tracing, pick-up, boiling music, rough draft, mathematics, pataphysics, minimalist music, maximalist music, orchestrated dissonance, anarchistic music, chaotic music.
The original groups have transformed themselves: they have grown, exploded, shaken. Locomotive, Évidence, Justine, Les Dangereux Zhoms, Duo déconstructiviste, Castor et compagnie Collaborations fused, many solo projects emerged. La légende de la pluie, Les choses dernières, Adieu Leonardo, Face cachée des choses, Le corps de l’ouvrage. Allies were identified, archives were dusted and classified: Muss muss hic, Snipettes, Les métamorphoses clandestines, L’oreille enflée.
Today in Québec, Ambiances Magnétiques and DAME have become 2 of the very few supporters of the distribution of self-produced New Music CDs. We still jealously stick to our desire for this very vivid, iconoclastic and independant music. The musicians of Ambiances Magnétiques have matured their language, reinforced their opinions and deepened their research. All have kept their conviction that their music has its sense, its fonction, its beauty, its goodness, its truth.
Polymorphic music, scholarly music and oral tradition, deconstructed and reconstructed music, post-modern and hybrid music, emergencies, break-ups and make-ups, raw music, art song and split music, textures, mosaics, crossbreeding, committed music, proletarian music, changing music, hubbub, music in the eclectic labyrinth.
Although New Music is sometimes still laughed at, sulked at and ignored, its creators still create it because it seems a necessity to them. Necessity of a lining language enriched with all possible crossbreedings and all available materials, necessity of all developing languages ceaselessly trying to transform and adapt to themutations of the imagination and the understanding of the living.
The artists at Ambiances Magnétiques and DAME pursue their dream of giving themselves a better chance of remaining free and independant, responsable and committed to today’s music.
Be Alert, Stay Alive
— Danielle Palardy Roger, 1996
If life was but a fairytale, the combined efforts of the founding members of Ambiances Magnétiques would have suffice to impose what is now known as musique actuelle as a commercially viable form of music research. The artists choosing it as their reason to create would not be ostracized by the media, ignored by festivals and left out by record stores. Their productions would be listened to and appreciated by a growing audience (not that they would take over the airwaves, but still…), and supported by the provincial and federal governments, through financial help and broadcasting. And they would live happily ever after.
That’s not how it went. Right now, the artists from the “musique actuelle” scene have to create in the face of the media, the governments and the apathy of an audience conditioned by the pre-chewed music saturating the airwaves. Yet, despite the situation, there is hope. First of all, Ambiances Magnétiques is still around, tall and proud, and releasing regularly one thought-provoking, enrapturing album after another. Second, the audience for this kind of music actually IS growing. It can be witnessed at concerts and events, but also through the numerous other small record labels that have been mushrooming around, in Montréal and elsewhere, and release forms of music that resolutely stay away from the mainstream (even the alternative one). It can also be witnessed in this rising generation of artists who identify this and that first “magnetisers” as influences.
And that is why, between 1997 and 2004, the entity known as Ambiances Magnétiques found itself at a crossroads: either accept to become a venerable, respectable (and — gasp! — historical) institution, or continue to rebel, surprise and innovate.
Ambiances Magnétiques was incepted by a nucleus of artists who shared a desire to unite against adversity — “Together we stand!” Only members of the collective (in 1997: Jean Derome, René Lussier, Robert Marcel Lepage, André Duchesne, Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse, Danielle Palardy Roger, Michel F. Côté and Martin Tétreault) were allowed to release albums through the imprint. In return, these members were assuming their share of operations duties, thus keeping running costs low and ensuring a strong distribution outlet. But a handful of artists cannot support and supply a record label catalogue by themselves, regularly and indefinitely.
In answer to that, the doors began to open between 1997 and 2000, first for names that were already familiar to followers of the label’s releases — musicians often heard alongside members of the collective, the electrons circling the nucleus. The names of Pierre Tanguay, Tom Walsh, Pierre Cartier and Normand Guilbeault found their way on the spines of Ambiances Magnétiques CDs. Some of these projects were deeply personal (Midi tapant, La musique de mon disque), while others were large-scale extravaganzas (Chansons de Douve, Riel: Plaidoyer musical).
Simultaneously to this first “expansion” wave, surely the most obvious or at least the most immediate, new musicians started to appear. Some had recently arrived in Montréal, others were friends from abroad: Fred Frith, Otomo Yoshihide, Malcolm Goldstein, Rainer Wiens, Mirko Sabatini, and a fiery guitarist by the name of Bernard Falaise. Introduced by Michel F. Côté through his trio Klaxon Gueule, he soon became a key actor in the renewal of the label’s roster. Within years, he recorded with Robert Marcel Lepage (Joue Free) and as part of the groups Papa Boa, Les Projectionnistes and, of course, Klaxon Gueule.
The latter outfit would mark the apex of a current of music research and the beginning of a new era for Ambiances Magnétiques. The label’s very first releases had shown, alongside an astounding dose of creativity, great levels of childlike imagination, even humor, accompanied by a genuine love for angular rock deconstruction. Shared in the ‘80s by labels like Cuneiform, ReR Megacorp, Rec Rec and No Man’s Land, this conception of avant-garde music was gradually supplanted by noise-oriented trends and what would eventually be called electro-acoustic improvisation.
Diane Labrosse, Ikue Mori and Martin Tétreault’s Île bizarre, Lussier and Tétreault’s Dur Noyau Dur, along with Lussier’s Solos de guitare électrique are all major efforts in that new direction, but the album that will have the biggest impact and will put Ambiances Magnétiques back on the international map is Klaxon Gueule’s Muets, released in 1999. This album also repositioned the label among the new musical currents of Montréal, since the group’s bassist, Alexandre St-Onge would soon become one of the metropolis’ most daring creators. He will make the first contacts with the experimental underground network developing in anglophone circles, booming at that time and spearheaded by the group Godspeed You Black Emperor!, the labels Constellation and alien8, the numerous projects of guitarist Sam Shalabi and, soon, the cafe La Casa del Popolo.
If some of these albums destabilized (or even worried) certain long-time Ambiances Magnétiques supporters, they illustrate a vibrant desire to continue the search for new sounds and to defy previous molds and expectations. And during that period (1997-2000), listeners were still able to experience the original festive spirit of the label in Papa Boa’s first CD, the Orkestre des pas perdus and Castor et compagnie’s second albums, Côté’s Compil zouave and Lepage’s Les clarinettes ont-elles un escalier de secours?.
The new millennium kicked off with a celebration: DAME’s 10th anniversary. The hive taking care of bringing the artists’ honey to the public, the distributor Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques, Etc. (as it was first called) is doing better and better, strong of a new Internet shop (www.actuellecd.com) and a rapidly growing catalog, as small local and international labels are constantly added. One of these new labels has a rather peculiar name: Monsieur Fauteux, m’entendez-vous? (which translates to: “Mister Fauteux, can you hear me?”). Ran by long-time friends of Ambiances Magnétiques, the label was incepted in 1999 with the release of la Fanfare Pourpour’s first album, but it really took off in 2001. It brings to DAME’s catalog a number of young musicians who also work with members of the collective, among them musicians from Rouge ciel, Ipso Facto, and the singers-songwriters Tomás Jensen and Frank Martel.
Meanwhile, Ambiances Magnétiques’ own family is growing. There once was a time when the nucleus of the collective was responsible for almost all of the albums released on the imprint, but now newcomers are given increasing room. In 2002, only 5 out of 11 releases can be credited to members of the collective; in 2003, it’s only 3 out of 12. Among the newcomers are, first and foremost, local young artists: the group Interférence Sardines, Papa Boa’s sax player Pierre Labbé, percussionist Ganesh Anandan, guitarist Antoine Berthiaume, Rouge Ciel’s violinist Guido Del Fabbro, cellist Mélanie Auclair.
Joining the ranks alongside the new generation are accomplished creators: Lori Freedman, Marilyn Lerner, Lee Pui Ming, Sylvie Chenard, Pierre Langevin and Tim Brady. In his first three years with Ambiances Magnétiques, the latter has produced three of his most inventive albums.
Throughout this activity, the pioneers of the label release some of their most mature works. It’s the Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay’s 10 Compositions, Nous perçons les oreilles’ La vie c’est simple, Joane Hétu’s Musique d’hiver, Diane Labrosse and Martin Tétreault’s Parasites. The latter duo and the freshly reactivated Les Poules perform in Europe and the US, garnering much critical acclaim, while Jean Derome records for CIMP, Diane Labrosse for No Type, and Martin Tétreault pops up everywhere (Audiosphere, Vand’œuvre, Ersthwhile, Textile, etc.), reaching out new audiences.
It is June 2004 and Ambiances Magnétiques has just released Canevas “+” by the Ensemble SuperMusique (ESM). A selection of compositions and improvisations covering a wide scope of aesthetics and techniques, this album seems to be building a bridge to another collective album, that one released in 1992: Une théorie des ensembles. Once again, we are presented with a broad picture of Ambiances Magnétiques’ greater family, recorded live for posterity. Now an ever-growing, changing, thought-provoking family. Renewal while keeping up with traditions, from a collective and a record label who are still able to take us by surprise and fill us with delight.
— François Couture, 2004