Robert Steinberger, Vital, no. 1326, March 8, 2022

Joane Hétu has a long history in music, starting as a saxophone player involved in Canadian avant-garde bands like Wondeur Brass, but then turning to more ’serious’ work more akin to contemporary classical formats, but also getting into ballet music, performances, and video. She also has a business side, being on the board of the label Ambiences Magnetiques, the production company Productions SuperMusique, and the DAME record label. She has also combined vocal improvised and improvised ensemble work, something I have never quite got to grips with.

On Tags, we find several compositions she created over the past years, 2000 to 2019, to be more precise. Ne t’estompe pas en moi is a duo between bass clarinette and double bass. It has a jazz feel to it, but also one of improvisation and some nice bits where the two instruments cease to weave around each other but begin to play with the same little melody before going off on a tangent again. In Tags, Hétu plays the saxophone again, together with Jean Derome (their duo CD was reviewed here a while ago), backed up by Quatuor Bozzini (string quartet) and Quasar (a saxophone quartet). So there, racket guaranteed? That’s not what you get, though. The groups of instruments play intermittently, or the sounds get overlaid. It all sounds chaotic, somewhere between improvised music (which must not necessarily be jazz) and contemporary classic. I found a little bit of voice improv unnecessary (as I said, I am not a fan of), but it remains a bit isolated somewhere in the second half. The other two pieces, Les dentellières (Lace Makers) and Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états (’The conditions’ — or ’States’), are more ’orchestral’ in a sense. They build a more complex sound spectrum that could be tagged more industrial at times. The first might remind me of Glenn Branca, as it uses 20 guitars. Ensemble SuperMusique performs the second based on a graphical score by Hétu (a member of the Ensemble herself), a ’catalogue’ of sound bits/musical fragments to use. Sounds very intellectual. Whilst Les dentellières conjures up the picture of guitar strings making up the fabric of the lace (hm … ), the piece starts with single guitar notes that build into a continuous… not exactly ’drone’, but something akin, with less discreet notes to be heard. It manages to hold the tension without venturing out into any Branca-like overdrive. Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états plays between quiet, drawn bits and parts that remind more of Zeitkratzer playing Merzbow. Only towards the second half the music becomes denser and more of an ensemble piece that is more than pieced-together sounds. As always, I believe this kind of ’free’ music that relies significantly on the input of the musician’s onset is better viewed live. As a recording, it does lose some of the impact.

On Tags, we find several compositions she created over the past years…