And now — to borrow a phrase — for something completely different. Ambiances Magnétiques is an unusual record label from Montréal that specializes in documenting a group of Canadian electronic, electroacoustic, and improvising musicians. This disc features a Québécois experimental duo that has put together this off-the-wall homage to Maria Callas — sixteen short (most between two and four minutes in length) vignettes featuring Lepage’s fluid, Iyrical clarinet playing within a sometimes sensitive, sometimes raucous electronic environment created by Tétreault. The Callas voice appears at various points in the proceedings via LP, but seldom in recognizable form; rather, it is a haunted, disembodied presence, variously distorted and pulverized by hands-on manipulation of the turntable. Occasionally audible fragments of an aria slice through the sonic debris, but for the most part her singing is transformed into pseudoelectronic timbres, cartoonlike shrieks, pitches sped up and slowed down, isolated vocal attacks, and notes repeated obsessively. Tétreault doesn’t stop there, however, adding into the mix surface noise from the LPs as percussive accompaniment, plus excerpts from an English-ltalian language recording (with an opera theme), an exercise LP, Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, even barking dogs — all while Lepage offers an attractive, improvised obbligato.
Opera lovers — and I imagine Callas fanatics are a particularly devoted bunch — may not appreciate the wit and sometimes mesmerizing appeal of this program, but if you enjoy Cage’s Europeras or any type of electroacoustic, quasi-improvisational music, this might just be up your alley.