The hills are alive with the sound of… musique actuelle. No less than four CDs by Montréal composer, guitarist and all around musical provocateur René Lussier have been issued in the past 12 months. Two from Ambiances Magnétiques are admittedly reissues of his earlier work on vinyl, a startling debut LP, Fin du travail (Version 1) (rating:4/5) from 1983, and a rollicking collaboration with reedman Robert Marcel Lepage, Chants et danses du monde inanimé (3,5/5) from 1984. A third release, Le tour du bloc (4/5) from the Victo label, finds him in a recent and wonderfully fractious encounter with Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra.
The three commissioned pieces that make up Lussier’s most recent release, Trois histoires, actually date from the early 1990s, a period in which he was justly honoured for his CD Le trésor de la langue, both a history of modern Québec and a celebration more generally of the French language. He draws on many of the same narrative devices here, once again combining spoken word, ambient sound, composed melodies, staccato effects, improvisation and miscellaneous noise to create something very like scores for imaginary films.
Three imaginary films, in fact: Les mains moites, Art brut and Roche noire. (The last, commissioned by fellow Montréal guitarist Tim Brady, has already appeared on CD under Brady’s name. ) The pleasant shock of Lussier’s innovations has worn off, though, and what’s left is beginning to seem—pick one—merely clever, a bit indulgent or rather precious. There remains a variety of neat little Lussieresque textural tricks and sonic surprises, but not enough of them altogether to make Trois histoires seem much more than a CD designed to catch up and complete the cataloguing of his work to date.