It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list. — Tokafi, Allemagne
Trois disques pour trois directions opposées, mais toujours ce même régal au moment d’aborder et de se plonger dans les travaux du maestro Montréalais. — Goûte mes disques, Belgique
strings.lines came to life from an obsession for old and forgotten object-matter and the desire to produce music that exists in between the new and the old. The starting point to the composition of this work were acoustic tuning forks…
- Crónica Electrónica
- CRONICA 053 / 2010
- Durée totale: 41:18
CDCRONICA 05316,95 CAD
Notes de programme
strings.lines came to life from an obsession for old and forgotten object-matter and the desire to produce music that exists in between the new and the old. The starting point to the composition of this work were acoustic tuning forks. In 2007 Nicolas Bernier became fascinated with this object/instrument of particularly beautiful design, and started a collection of all the different kinds of tuning forks he could find. Some of these reached 21 Hz, near the lower-limit of human hearing, some others produced extremely high frequencies, all of them became tools and instruments for improvisation through electroacoustic transformation, in a process of discovery. These improvisations were at the heart of a composition stage that was developed for almost two years. At the heart of the project was a state of mind leaning towards the restraints imposed by the tuning forks.
The “lines” in the title originates from here: from the constant pitches imposed by the tuning forks. They produce sounds that are perceptively close to sine waves, graphically represented by lines or sinusoids, the elementary sounds of electronic music and obviously the perfect musical object to draw a music around the boundary of electronic and instrumental music. The tuning fork is also a symbol of centuries of occidental music making that culminate with western tonal music, and the preservation of that symbolism was an important part of the second stage of the composition process, involving two string players, Pierre-Yves Martel on viola da gamba and Chris Bartos on violin. During the recording sessions, the instrumentalists were requested to play close to a single pitch, exploring the wood, the attacks and the resonant qualities of their instruments, while following some of the motives that had already been composed with the forks.
The pieces presented in this edition are studio compositions of layers from the two stages of the work, blending both worlds while trying to keep a sense of the original materiality and timbres, but not refraining from using other sounds and sources whenever necessary.
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Curt Cuisine, Skug, no 87, 1 juillet 2011
Pavel Zelinka, Unijazz, 1 mai 2011
Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, 22 mars 2011It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list.
Nicolas Bernier toujours au sommet de son artGoûte mes disques, 8 mars 2011Trois disques pour trois directions opposées, mais toujours ce même régal au moment d’aborder et de se plonger dans les travaux du maestro Montréalais.
Essmaa, 6 mars 2011… ce disque est une belle confrontation de styles et d’époques qui place notre canadien à la pointe de la modernité
multipara, De:Bug, 1 mars 2011
Joshua Meggitt, Cyclic Defrost, 17 février 2011This is a marvellous recording of new music which engages with history in surprising and disorienting ways.
CT, Polychromic, 7 février 2011Une musique instrumentale et minimale gorgée de micro-sons, d’infimes résonances…
Sebastian Hinz, ByteFM, 6 février 2011
themilkman, themilkfactory, 3 février 2011Although released in quick successions, these three records stem from totally different ideas, the resulting pieces, while bearing some common elements, revealing Nicolas Bernier as a particularly inquisitive mind and creative sound artist.
Caspare Caliri, SentireAscoltare, 2 février 2011
Sascha Bertoncin, Sonic Seducer, 1 février 2011
Roberto Mandolini, Rockerilla, 1 février 2011Meraviglioso. 8/10
Laurent Catala, Elegy, no 67, 1 février 2011Une expérience sonore mais aussi méditative
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 23 janvier 2011Bernier was quite literally “feeding” the players their cues with his forks.
Paul Van de gehuchte, Dark Entries, 20 janvier 2011
Frans de Waard, Vital, no 763, 10 janvier 2011That all results in a fine album of what could be the cross road of electroacoustic music, improvisation and modern classical. A strong new album.
Éric Serva, France Musique, 3 janvier 2011… de très belles compositions intimistes et délicates.
François Couture, Monsieur Délire, 22 décembre 2010Des pièces aux sonorités profondes, envoûtantes.
Focus Sound, 20 décembre 2010
Senza colori, 12 décembre 2010
Boomkat, 4 octobre 2010His work here is defined by a predilection for the glassiest, most tensile string sounds, exploring a range of piercing hi-end frequencies with an innately tactile sensuality.
Und plötzlich war da diese Stimmgabel. Nicolas konnte nicht aufhören den ganzen Tag daran zu denken. “Dieser Ton!", dachte er immer wieder. Er besorgte sich noch eine. Und noch eine. Und wieder eine. Irgendwann war er völlig besessen. Er fand zwei Musiker, den Violonisten Chris Bartos, und Pierre-Yves Martel für die Viola da Gamba, und sagte den beiden, sie sollen einfach mal über den Ton dieser und jener Stimmgabel improvisieren. Er würde den Rest schon mit seinem Laptop machen. So fing es an. Zwei Jahre später war Nicolas endlich zufrieden. Er hatte eine CD erschaffen, auf der die Strings singen. Fragil und brüchig, dahingehaucht, whispering, wie der Wind an den Telegrafendrähten, zugleich blubbernd in einem dezenten sea of electronics sounds. Man darf sich von dieser leicht ironisch erzählten Geschichte nicht täuschen lassen. Das Resultat ist in seiner Reduktion und Stringenz von berückender, fast schon andächtigen Schönheit. Als würde am Ende der Geschichte eine Fee erscheinen und mit ihrem Zauberstab auf Nicolas Berniers Schulter klopfen und sagen: “Siehst du, so ist das tatsächlich mit sound & vision. Du musst den Weg stets bis ans Ende gehen." Und Nicolas ist tatsächlich bis ans Ende des Geigenbogens gegangen. Für den vielleicht stimmigsten und schönsten Brückenschlag zwischen elektronischer und klassischer Moderne des Jahres 2011
To the outside observer, Canada must sometimes seem as though it were founded on paradoxes. An industrial powerhouse sporting some of the leading cultural metropolises, it is also torn one of the most thinly populated countries on the planet, with vast, uninhabited planes opening up right next to its sprawling economic centres. It should seem only logical that a nation as complex as this should give birth to an artist like Nicolas Bernier, whose œuvre has forever been caught between a plethora of dichotomies, feeding from the effort of finding a balance between extremes: It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list. In an unlikely conflation of influences, Bernier, who was born in Ottawa, but eventually moved to more urban Montréal, has oscillated between the fury of punk and the development of a captivating personal style in the field of electroacoustic composition, a genre otherwise associated with humourless academicism and intellectual rigour rather than the celebration of synaptic stimulation. Before making a name for himself with early stand-out piece Les arbres, however, Bernier left his mark on the scene as part of the Ekumen collective, a tightly-knit community simultaneously operating as a label, design agency and creative hotspot (in fact, its members prefer to refer to it as a “microorganism”). Today, he has definitely closed this chapter. But the focus on an allround multimedial approach has remained part of his philosophy to this day, as have the friendships with Olivier Girouard and his long-term visual partner in crime Urban9, who has signed responsible for the artwork to all of Bernier’s albums so far. So, although he has remained connected to his past, the end of Ekumen also marked the real beginning of his solo career: After early composition Ail et l’eau faille and his strongly folk-and song-oriented work with composer and guitarist Simon Trottier, released on netlabels 12rec and Zymogen, Bernier burst onto the sound art scene in 2008 with Les arbres, a work which he had diligently been sculpting for years and which would eventually be awarded an honorary mention at the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica. Its densely layered arrangements questioned the implicit dogmatism of the electroacoustic scene, with heartbreaking strings shimmering underneath sheets of metalically rustling and crackling noise. The old stylistic polarities were eliminated and merged into a new style synthesising all of his different preferences. A variety of works further defining this aesthetic quickly followed suite: strings.lines, which explored the sound-producing capacities and cultural implications of tuning forks. courant.air, which dealt with the force and flirtations of wind. And The Dancing Deer, a quirky piece of magnetising electronics within close proximity of radio plays, guided by the playful spirit of Pierre Henry. As cohesive as all of these releases might have been, they were also unanimously marked by yet more contrasts, which delineated a fertile ground for discussion entirely without the use of words or clever liner notes. On Bernier’s latest work, usure.paysage, meanwhile, his individual take on field recording has resulted in what is possibly his most pure piece of music: There are no obvious clues as to the origin of these sounds, but you can feel yourself drifting far, far while listening to them, your body entering a world of obscure forms and surreal shapes as your mind takes a journey to the vast, uninhabited planes stretching out all across the Canadian heartland.
Could one regard the strong contrasts in your music as a direct reference to the contrasts of Canada, with a big city like Ottawa lying next to vast patches of wild nature?
Clever! But it is more about the contrast between my teenage years near a huge national park and my adult life in Montréal. Back then, cross-country skiing all alone in those woods was undoubtedly among the best moments of my life. And those moments disappeared as soon as I moved to a metropolitan city. By moving here, I’ve gained culture but lost nature, since nature here is quite tough for a big city. This nature/culture dichotomy is at the heart of most of the music I’ve composed.
What are the fundamentals of this dichotomy?
It’s all about this love/hate relationship with the computer. I admire the computer in a way. As a freelancer, I can do so much work, from business to communication and creation with one single piece of electronics — truly incredible. And I can take the core of my studio and travel with it to anywhere in the world. On the other hand, the computer is such a boring, anonymous, unpleasant interface, especially when it’s time to make music. It is making everything virtual and I still hope to live in the real world, a world that I can feel with all my senses, not only from a computer screen. So I find ways to work in the real world. Performance is one way of achieving this, collaboration and field recording are others.
Is that why the term “handmade" is so prominently featured in your biography?
Yes, that’s how I manage to beat that computer down! It’s a way for me to feel that I am still living in the real world and not just inside a virtual environment.
How has this influenced your perspective on recording in the field?
In 2009, I spent a lot of time in the Canadian West. It is the perfect cliché of what a foreigner will imagine Canada to be like: never-ending forests and mountains. Canada is so big that you don’t travel from East coast to West coast every day. And that year I had the chance to work with a multidisciplinary company called Theatre Junction. In the same year, I had a residency at Banff Centre, an art centre based literally in the middle of the rockies — the Canadian mountains. Composing there was fantastic. The Dancing Deer was entirely created there, far from my usual studio in downtown Montréal.
usure.paysage is my first release of real musique concrète in a way. There are no musical instruments, mostly field recordings. For years, all my musique concrète was based on studio recordings of machines, old forgotten objects and musical instruments. With usure.paysage, I am breaking with this habit, bringing nature into the studio. I wanted to distance myself from the habits composers have when dealing with field recordings, where they’ll usually integrate the recordings without intervening. Even when they are edited, composers often keep this gentle attitude towards recordings of nature. Or they do the complete opposite. I wanted to find a “juste-millieu” between editing while still keeping a sense of the original timbres. In usure.paysage, I wanted to find the points of articulation in the recordings to make a music that lives, that’s not just nature-ambiances. It’s not so much about processing but more about working with a tight “montage” technique.
How do you feel about the idea that if we attune our senses and expectations, we are constantly surrounded by the most wonderful music?
I’ve always thought it difficult to make any clear statement with music unless it uses voice. During the Iraq war, I composed an electroacoustic piece with a rapper singing an anti-war, anti-Bush text, but it didn’t really work out. Nobody but me actually heard that piece. I would situate myself far from the Henri Pousseur or R Murray Schafer and the philosophy that music exists in nature. The idea is pertinent but it’s not where I stand. If there is a political statement in my music, it would relate to the notion of keeping our awareness faced with the predominance of technocracy.
In which way did folk and acoustic music, as typical symbols of purity, play a role in your early musical education?
This question of purity is interesting because what one could consider as pure in my early musical education is, in fact, not so pure. This is, in a way, because I started with real instruments and punk rock. I began my musical life within a wall of distortion. Now I deal extensively with timbre, with unidentified materiologies. But stage performance and distorted guitars remain my own personal folk, my roots. And I think that sometimes I still make use of that punk rock energy and those hooks when composing musique concrète or audio performances. One thing I have to mention is that even in my punk rock phase, I was immediately attracted to blending all the different kinds of music I loved, from jazz or new age to grindcore.
You indeed seem to consider these genres as options in a giant toolbox. Can you trace this back to the music that surrounded you when you were young?
I’ve definitely always considered music as a “field of possibilities”, to paraphrase Henri Pousseur. This is not so much a strictly musical view but a social perspective. I’ve never really understood why people we’re hanging out in small groups, why they so badly need to find their identity by being in a closed relationship with others who share the same ideas or habits. Can one trace that attitude back to when I was young? The answer would most probably be “no”, because I did not grow up surrounded by music at all. In fact, it would be more like a counter-reaction to my early social environment: a bureaucratic region where everyone had to fit in their little tight box, afraid of stepping outside. In a metropolitan city, meanwhile, the phenomenon of marginality barely exists — which was not the case in the place where I grew up.
How and when did sound as a musical element enter into your world?
It entered progressively. It entered timidly in my early teenage years by trying to produce weird chords, weird rhythms and so forth. The big bang occurred when I arrived in Montréal. I brought my band from rock to improv-based ambient rock. Sound was entering more deeply into the practice and I was discovering modern music. I soon attended my first concert of electroacoustic music. It took place in complete darkness, with no performers on stage, nothing to see, everything to be heard. That was a turning point. There was something I did not understand about it — and I loved it. So I’ve tried to understand it better to be closer to that unknown.
You seem to have a special relationship with sound.
Yes, I am in a relationship with sounds. No doubt! (laughs) Sounds are my lovers. I love sound. They make my imagination flourish. They free ourselves from the visuals which imprison us. Sounds have no limits, they flow in space freely. I am attracted by sounds that come from a particular — material — reality. I’ve never been interested in electronic sound. Synthetic sound, more specifically.
How has this relationship changed over the years?
It’s hard to say. I think that it began with a poetic relationship and grew into a more technical one. I am not a technical guy at all, but I am becoming more sensitive to technique — maybe because I feel that my relationship with sound is now mature.
In the notes to strings.lines, which uses recordings of tuning forks, I found the following description of your interests: “On the one hand, this obsession with old objects, obsolescence, dust. On the other, a fascination for bareness, sobriety and purity."
In that single object, the tuning fork, I’ve found not only a symbol of my musical objectives, but also of my general interest for that dichotomy between the old and the new. I think it has something to do with the relation between the inside of the mind and the real outside world. I like to spend time on old bazaars and in antiquaries. When I compose, I think I feel closer to antiquaries than to avant-garde artist. In the meantime, I just love to be in a white museum room or to listen to minimal electronic music. I feel there is this obsession for clarity and sobriety in the art world. This is maybe what would segregate the official and the underground scene. The underground is more rough, more drafty, the works are less organized, they don’t give an impression of perfection. So maybe I feel closer to the underground, maybe it is still that punk-rock thing running after me, bearing me to not cross-over into the official realms. This obsession for dust is also a counter-reaction to my tool, the oh so white — or grey or black but please not beige — the oh so sterile laptop. With strings.lines, or with the tuning fork, I think I have found the middle-ground between those two obsessions.
Tuning forks, as the project suggests, have become symbols of the occident’s entire musical heritage. In which way has this lineage and tradition played a role in your life?
There this extremely purist approach in electroacoustics, based on space and timbre as the most important parameters for music. When I started out with electroacoustics, instead of falling into the endless possibilities of creating completely new sounds, I quickly faced the fact that the timbres of traditional musical instrument are the most high-class timbres of all. They’ve been developed over centuries to achieve perfection and richness. So I never really understood why one should not use them when doing sound art. I am not that much engaged in occidental classical music. I am engaged in it, but for me it is just another aspect of this giant toolbox called music. What strings.lines is stating is that if we look closely, the boundaries are not as insurmountable as we think. Like the sound of those tuning forks, which is so close to the sound of electronic music. Is it important in any way to do "electronic music“? Or is it electroacoustic? Or instrumental music? Are these good terminologies? Not sure at all. Here, one could argue that my approach is post-modernist. But I do not feel that my music is a melting pot of whatever. I think that even if there are multiple influences, all projects are tied to a coherent aesthetic. The pejorative image of post-modernism is over. We are now beyond all of this, I think.
Projet Perault was, if I’m not mistaken, your first public work. What role did it play in your development towards these goals?
It’s funny to bring that project up. I’ve put it in my list of works just because I don’t want to forget it and also because I don’t want to forget that Pierre Perrault, an important poet and cinematographer from the province of Québec — we owe him the “cinéma-vérité” — was the main influence which inspired me to start with field recording. When he was working for the radio in the 60s, he was speaking about how the recorder was an important tool for keeping our collective memory and the words of our predecessors. At that time, I was barely aware of electroacoustic music but that reading left a big impression. In the multidisciplinary Projet Perrault, I was only taking care of the video part. My friend Olivier Girouard was composing the music. Curiously, when I started out with electroacoustics, I was more attracted by the visual arts. For me, the music scene was a bit boring, so I was digging elsewhere. Afterwards, in 2007, I had to make a choice between those two full-time jobs: Sound or video. I choose sound. My first musical education was that of a self-taught-punk-rocker. But even then I was working like crazy, playing my instruments eight hours a day after school, getting up in the middle of the night to rehearse or to note down new ideas. After learning the guitar and bass, I finished my rock “career” on the drums. I hope to get back to it someday.
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
After those years, I’ve tried to convinced myself that music was not an option, as you could barely live as a musician. But you cannot decide to become an artist. There’s a force that make you involved in what you like the most. It’s not a choice, you either do it or you don’t. When I was about eighteen, I tried to convince myself that I had to study something more common. So I studied radio, which I thought was close to music but it’s not at all, and marketing — I actually wanted to be a graphic designer. Always keeping some rock and improv projects, I worked as a web programmer/designer for almost ten years. And that’s how I made my musical education: I had money to buy CDs and books, so I was digging and digging and reading and reading and learning. This is how I discovered about electroacoustic composition. As a personal challenge — I didn’t have any classical theoretical education, after all — I decided to go to University and return to my real love: music. After a couple of courses on musical history, I found out about the electroacoustic program. I didn’t understand this music, but I was incredibly curious about it. So I did my Bachelors degree, and then a master degree with Robert Normandeau at Université de Montréal. I am now starting a PhD at the University of Huddersfield in the UK under the direction of Dr. Pierre Alexandre Tremblay and Dr. Monty Adkins and it’s really awesome! But I don’t consider myself as an academic. For me, studies are just one part of life, which is always made up of different aspects. For me, it is really important to be involved in more than one circle so I don’t get lost in a tiny micro-community or in one way of seeing things. I don’t believe in academic thinking and I don’t believe in profane thinking either. I think it is the relationships between all the different visions that ultimately make life and the arts interesting.
With its Honorary mention at the Prix Ars Electronica 2009, Les arbres must have been a first highlight in your career.
It was a huge highlight indeed! I wouldn’t say it was the first one because there are little highlights every day, it all depends on your need for big things. Personally, I am still fascinated by small events. Les arbres was a long and really organic process which had more to do with sensuality than cerebrality. At one point, an artist will always have to verbalize his work so it looks more intellectual than it really is. I could even say that Les arbres is my first work in a way because it all started in 2004, quite at the beginning of my electroacoustic introduction. As I was super-occupied with school and with a job to pay tuition fees, I was working on Les arbres really slowly, sharing the time between all the others obligations. And as I was at the beginning of my learning curve, I quickly grew dissatisfied with the music I was composing. So all the movements have changed quite a lot over this five year process. I was testing all of it with Urban9, the one I gave total confidence to judge a piece of music, because music is not his job, he just feels it, he doesn’t think about it. I think I could say that if I am doing the kind of music I am doing today, I owe it mainly to Urban9. When I met him, I was still working in the web and there was this awesome experimental music shop called feu-Esoteric just in front of our office. I was more purist in those days, looking for only “serious” art. Urban9, on the other hand, was listening to a kind of glitch-drone stuff that I wasn’t into at all and he made me discover all this wonderful music. Urban9 and I were exchanging some images and sounds and while sharing this, the work was slowly evolving into what it has become today. No matter what, it’s with this project that I found that I could merge my pop side and my electroacoustic side.
Would it be correct to refer to Les arbres as a catalyst in many respects?
I’ve always been producing like crazy actually. I just can’t help it: making music is like breathing. When Les arbres was published, it was already an old project for me in a way. One always wants to search further and further. Between the first draft of Les arbres in 2004 and the mention at Prix Ars in 2009, I had the time to work a lot and to make contact and to learn and to grow and now I feel that everything is coming together and is going well. But of course Les arbres brought a lot of positive effects — even though they are not as tangible as one could hope.
What have been your main compositional challenges over the past two years?
One of my main challenges was… to find myself! I cyclically get lost, every three or four years. Most of my works between 2005 and 2008 were collaborative. After an overdose of collaboration, I wanted to work alone. There will always be collaborators, but in the last projects, I decided to live alone with the challenges of creation. courant.air had its load of challenges: after two albums of improvised folk/electronic with Simon Trottier, I wanted to bring this amalgam of timbres into a strictly compositional field. How to achieve this? How to work with an interpreter of a non-classical formation, with the forces and weakness of a more intuitive oriented playing? How to write a score for this kind of work? I’ve never written scores before, I barely read and write traditional music. Especially, how to write the electroacoustic part? How to stay conceptually coherent when, on the one hand, I want to play with more noisy textures, and on the other, I am working with completely acoustic timbres? The most important challenge, and this is what I am still working on and I am not rushed in finding some answers if there are some at all, is how to make an electronic music performance appealing, interesting, coherent gesturally and musically thrilling? How to make a “spectacle” with electroacoustic music? I will not be the first one trying to find some elements of answers. But I am still rarely convinced with the shows I see so I want to engage myself more and more in this way after some years of work oriented for fixed media.
In the preface to Les arbres, you mentioned the “abolition of boundaries" as one of your main goals. Do you, in sync with the old saying that “all art aspires to music", believe that sound has the strongest potential of all forms of art in achieving that elimination of borders?
I would never say that sound is the art form, not in an absolute way. Of course it is for me because it suits my personal interests. But this is only a personal matter. Besides, as soon as you get into a concert hall or exhibition space, it’s not just about sound anymore. It’s a ritual, it’s a show, it’s always a multi-sensorial, multi-aspect experience. Shows are great. But this is maybe why I love so much to compose for a fixed medium — CD, digital, DVD — because I know that some of the audience will be appreciating the work quietly, in the intimate setting of their homes, not expecting any spectacular show but with the more modest aim of simply listening to the music. Besides, there are art forms that impress me even more. In dance, for example, all you basically need is a body. Most of the shows are complex and involve music, stage design and lighting. But in its most simple form, when the movement of a body can move me, this is a truly amazing thing.
Concerning the abolition of boundaries, we come back again to that question about this giant toolbox, this “field of possibilities”. I just don’t see the point of segregation. The world is rich and sharing this richness is about all we can do here. A couple of years ago, when I was active in different fields of sound creation, I was putting all my different approaches into different boxes made for different sensibilities, different people. But over the years, those different approaches have all collapsed into one entity made of various components, that still can be identified as one single thing. I hope you are following me?
Perhaps one could say that courant.air and The Dancing Deer are good examples for this?
Yes, they are combining tonal perspective alongside some noise, drones, clicks, acousmatic gesture, pop and rock influences. When I did Les arbres for instance, this was for me my “pop” side. But now it just doesn’t matter to me anymore to have different sides. It just what it is and sometimes it’s closer to purer forms like the pieces included on usure.paysage. And sometimes it’s a combination of its own unique blends. But I will no longer separate my more “pop-experimental” compositions and my more “serious” ones. It’s all related to each other in one way or another. I even like to shut my brain off altogether from time to time. This is where playfulness resides, I guess. The Dancing Deer is close to my very first solo release called Ail et l’eau faille. There is something really light and loose in those works. Something that tells me that I am not taking myself too seriously even though I am seriously involved in everything I do. Music, life, seriousness, playfulness… it’s all a matter of equilibrium.
And still, despite aiming at the eradication of borders, your artistic world is not without its delimitations.
I guess there is always a frontier after all? I guess we could say I am working in the contemporary world of the arts, not around works of previous centuries. I am not creating dance or theater shows, even though I am thinking a lot about how to perform electronic music in some of my latest projects like La chambre des machines. Oh! And there I said it… I said “electronic music” in the previous sentence. But I never tell myself: I will make electronic music today. I just create music without having to restrain myself with this or that. The better tool to achieve what I want to is the computer. All the terms to describe styles of music are so problematic. Electronic music is rarely electronic and is often filled with acoustic or analogue sounds. Any pop artist is doing electroacoustic music, semantically speaking, because they are using acoustic sources, processed acoustic sources and electronic sources. And what is the difference between sound art, audio art, musique concrète, acousmatic music?
As you can see, I am not in a good position to label myself. I guess there are people better equipped at doing this. But my fundamental objective would probably be to make music that feels human despite the fact that is made with a computer. The fundamental aesthetic of my work will probably always rely somewhat on the tension between conceptual rigidity and intuition.
On a beau réaliser des dossiers exhaustifs sur le bonhomme, il semblerait qu’on ait toujours un temps de retard sur la discographie de Nicolas Bernier. Si le Montréalais est si difficile à suivre, c’est peut-être parce qu’il enchaîne les sorties à un rythme effréné, sur des labels divers, avec des esthétiques qui le sont tout autant. Il est une attitude parfois déplaisante qui consiste pour les producteurs d’avant-garde à brouiller les pistes jusqu’à la quasi-disparition. Mais ici cette diversité s’explique d’abord et avant tout par la volonté d’explorer les terrains électroniques encore vierges, et non par une course déviante à l’anonymat. C’est donc avec trois disques parus en quelques mois sur trois structures différentes que nous revient Nicolas Bernier. Que vous soyez un habitué du personnage ou un jeune néophyte, nous vous proposons avec la même sollicitude d’effectuer avec nous un petit tour d’horizons des projets en présence.
courant.air est très certainement l’œuvre qui ressemble le plus à son auteur: dans un habile mélange d’électroacoustique légère et de folk cristallin — accompagné pour la cause du très bon Simon Trottier — Nicolas Bernier fait l’étalage d’une patte musicale qu’on commence à connaître comme notre poche. Disque concept autour des vents — agents constructeur et déconstructeurs par excellence — courant.air est fait de ruptures, de construction et de déconstruction habiles. Le thème se décline en une multitudes de souffles, leurs matérialisations allant jusqu’à des bleeps signalétiques et des couleurs boisées. De l’autre côté, Simon Trottier va et vient, sa guitare acoustique tantôt contemplative, tantôt plus explosive, pour donner encore un peu plus de couleur à une œuvre déjà plus que charmante.
strings.lines est quant à elle très certainement l’une des plus grandes œuvres du compositeur Canadien. C’est donc avec une certaine logique qu’on la retrouve sur Crónica, l’une des figures de proue mondiale du sound-design et de l’avant-garde électronique. Collectionneur acharné de diapasons acoustiques, Nicolas Bernier en fait l’un des thèmes de strings.lines: le musicien a préalablement fait parler ces engins pour obtenir une gamme extrêmement variée de tonalités, allant des plus graves au plus aiguës (parfois même à la limite de la perception humaine). Cet étalage d’ondes sinusoïdales, dont le symbole est une ligne (Lines), a été agencé dans un concerto à géométrie variable, déjà en lui-même admirable. Puis il y ce travail sur les cordes (Strings). Emmenés par Pierre-Yves Martel et Chris Bartos, la viole de gambe et le violon ont eu pour mission de venir s’intercaler — parfois de manière instinctive, parfois de manière mathématique — dans ce monde fait variations tonales. L’attaque sur les instruments est particulièrement brillante, et donne à ces cordes un rendu cru et extrêmement poignant. Tout ces matériaux (Strings + Lines) a ensuite été réarrangé sous la forme de cinq pièces électroacoustiques. Le résultat est à tomber raide: à l’image de ce line (b), strings.lines est à la fois lyrique, intime, violent et prenant, le tout dans un fourmillement de détail qui nous permet de découvrir et redécouvrir ce disque à chaque écoute. Un vrai grand classique, qui témoigne de l’habilité de Nicolas Bernier à s’ouvrir à des pans musicaux plus durs, plus contemporains, sans perdre un gramme d’émotion.
On clôture la marche par The Dancing Deer EP, sorti sur la référence Home Normal. Cette œuvre est à la fois à l’image de son géniteur — précise, fouillée et pleine d’émotion — mais aussi pour une large partie assez inédite. Sorte de collage «pop» rempli de claviers IDM de toute beauté, de voix hantées, de guitares un peu post-rock et même de rythmiques «linéaires», The Dancing Deer EP brouille les pistes et part dans des directions plus facilement assimilables. Reste encore tout ces brouillards grésillants, ces ruptures electronica et ces changements de cap, preuves que Nicolas Bernier fait encore et toujours du Nicolas Bernier. Et c’est une vraie bonne nouvelle. Trois disques pour trois directions opposées, mais toujours ce même régal au moment d’aborder et de se plonger dans les travaux du maestro Montréalais. C’est ce qu’on appelle un carton plein.
Nicolas Bernier est né en 1977 à Ottawa, Canada et réside désormais à Montréal. La musique de Nicolas Bernier est à la fois entre» l’ancienne et la nouvelle «. Créées entre 2008 et 2010, les cinq pièces qui composent ce disque sont autant de visions transverses, de passerelles entre viole de gambe, violon et aménagements électroniques. Comme il aime la définir lui même «c’est la musique électronique faite à partir d’objets du passé: la machine à écrire, machines anciennes, diapasons, sonore memorys et instruments de musique.» Une musique gorgée de micro sons capturés dans le sable, d’infimes résonances qui nous viennent de la mer, des complaintes de mouettes et des images oscillant à la lueur d’une bougie. Sans difficulté, nous plongeons dans cet univers méditatif où les drones et les nappes grésillantes tentent une correspondance avec des estampes en contre-plans dessinés par des projections d’archives en noir et blanc. Doux mélange de crépitements désordonnés et d’ondulations aquatiques, parfois traversé de crashs numériques, ce disque est une belle confrontation de styles et d’époques qui place notre canadien à la pointe de la modernité, qui rappelle à la fois Labradford et le duo Fripp & Eno, ou plus récemment Christian Fennesz renouant avec le touché soyeux de Ryuichi Sakamoto. Ce qui laisse présager de nouvelles et fructueuses compositions. A noter également, la participation de Nicolas à la compilation Essmaa.
Ausgangspunkt des Stücke dieses Albums ist der Klang von Stimmgabeln, deren sinusnahe Töne moderne Elektronik assoziieren und die doch gleichzeitig in der westlichen Musik tief verwurzelte, fast archaische Werkzeuge sind. Bernier hat zunächst Aufnahmen dieser Töne melodisch arrangiert, dann umspielen lassen von einem Duo aus Viola da Gamba und Violine, ihrerseits konzentriert auf lineare Schichtung, auf den Instrumentalklang selbst. So angenehm die zwischen alt und neu vermittelnde Musik ins Ohr geht, so schwer greifbar bleibt sie jedoch auch, denn Bernier fährt an Erweiterungen seines an sich strengen Konzepts allerhand auf, was sich an elektroakustischer Garnierung einfügt, schlichtes Kontaktmikroknistern und blechernes Klappern unbekannter Herkunft, auch virtuose Klangverschneidung, in der Streicher und Stimmgabeln zu Glocken und Synthesizern mutieren. Nie geht es jedoch entschlossen in eine Richtung, die einzelnen Fasern krümeln sich zunehmend in eine beredte und doch leere Melancholie hinein, die das Ohr ermüdet, und es ist ein bisschen schade um den Aufwand.
Nicolas Bernier’s strings.lines uses tuning forks, violin and viola de gamba to produce music that effortlessly evokes early music and also the future. Bernier has these ancient instruments weave slow, graceful, often pained patterns akin to the trio sonatas of baroque composers, but pits these against extreme high and low sustained tones from the tuning forks that most closely recalls the sine waves of Ryoji Ikeda. Before reading the notes to the release that is exactly what I thought was happening, contemporary works for strings and digital electronics.
The glacial gloom conveyed from the strings is actually closer to work by backwards-looking contemporary composers like Arvo Part and Valentin Silvestrov, but like their music a timeless simplicity is present. The forks produce almost painful drones which the players try to match, happily sliding off course to create sorrowful improvisations around these fixed points. The forks also slip and slide, producing acoustic “glitches” comparable to the slips created by the performers. This is a marvellous recording of new music which engages with history in surprising and disorienting ways.
Créées entre 2008 et 2010, les 5 pièces qui composent strings.lines sont de Nicolas Bernier. Compositeur canadien, entouré de Pierre-Yves Martel et Chris Bartos, livre 5 lignes ou 5 diagonales entre passé et présent ou entre viole de gambe/violon et électronique. Une musique instrumentale et minimale gorgée de micro-sons, d’infimes résonances… Une musique traditionnelle moderne nécessaire et douce.
Nicolas Bernier hat derzeit gleich mehrere Eisen im Feuer. Eine Veröffentlichung eindrucksvoller als die andere. Strings.Lines, der Name deutet es bereits an, widmet sich zarten Streicherlinien und integriert sie in das elektroakustische Korsett des kanadischen Komponisten. Die Ergebnisse könnten dabei vielfältiger nicht sein. Line (C) beginnt als atmosphärisch-dichter, emotionalgeladener Ambient und endet unversehens in fragiler, zerschnittener Rhythmik.
Nicolas Bernier’s passion for sound and for beautiful and intricate structures earned him a honorary mention from the Prix Ars Electronica two years ago for his debut album, Les Arbres. This record was in no way Bernier’s first foray onto the music scene, but until then, his work has mainly constituted of collaborative efforts and of installations. With three releases out in a matter of months, Bernier charts very different aspects of his electro-acoustic work.
Bernier uses a wide range of sonic sources in his work, which are often processed into fragile clusters and placed against acoustic instrumentation. In the series of recordings he has made with guitarist Simon Trottier, Bernier has absorbed elements of folk music and distorted them as to retain only the slightest traces of melody, and surrounded them with noise, interferences and field recordings. Courant.Air, published on Ahornfelder, sees the pair working together once again. Recorded over a two year period, and the result of two distinct commissioned work, this album is partly a tribute to the St. Lawrence River which has played such an important part in Canadian history and which has shaped both the landscapes it crosses and the people who depend on it. The extremely intricate and detailed soundscapes collected here occasionally contrast with Trottier’s gentle guitar work, his contribution at times left to flourish amidst stark and fragmented sound collages (Soubresauts, Petit port bien abrité, Air.Chanson.Usure, Propulsion), at others processed and assimilated into Bernier’s epic creations. There is a constant shift here between dense electro-acoustic moments and more pastoral motifs, but the pair ultimately feed from one another, allowing the music to filter through Bernier’s abstract constructions just enough to ground it firmly.
Released a couple of months before Courant.Air, Strings.Lines, issued on Portuguese imprint Crónica, is a very different project. Recorded with Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba) and Chris Bartos (violin), the album is centered around Bernier’s fascination for tuning forks, which he avidly collects, and the variations in frequency they can reach. Having sourced the sounds emitted by his tuning forks, Bernier set out to process them into improvised sound formations. In a second instance, Martel and Bartos were asked to play close to a single pitch, and use the whole of their instruments, including bodies, bows and strings to build additional musical layers as a response to Bernier’s earlier work. While melodies are largely dropped in favour of the sonic aspect of the instruments, there is greater musicality to be found in the five pieces making this album, albeit in drone forms for the most part. Toward the end of Line (C) however, Bernier builds up a clearly defined rhythmic pattern, giving the piece a surprisingly conventional outline for a moment. Line (Horizon) which follows, resorts to the sombre sound forms created by the two string players, at a time combining the increasingly threatening hum of the strings and various textured field recordings into a particularly dense soundscape before leaving it to dissolve over the later part of the piece.
Bernier is sole on board for the LP-only Usure.Paysage, the most recent of the three albums, and, over the course of four tracks, two clocking at around ten to eleven minutes, the other two much shorter, he exposes the electro-acoustic nature of his work through a series of highly fragmented and contrasted sound collages, built from varied field recordings. This is in many ways the most disturbing and fascinating of the three records, its pieces building up into heavy abstract forms, cut short by far ranging noise conflagrations or infinitely small sonic particles. Each of the four pieces is made of juxtaposed sequences, with nothing to clearly link them together other than the simple fact that they exist in a pre-defined order. The impression though it that of a living scenery, subjected to random events, and reacting or adapting to them. Bernier expertly plays with the mind here, often tricking it into a false sense of safety and peace, only to drop a deep thunder or layer high pitched metal on metal friction or, it appears at one point, human screams.
Although released in quick successions, these three records stem from totally different ideas, the resulting pieces, while bearing some common elements, revealing Nicolas Bernier as a particularly inquisitive mind and creative sound artist.
Dei diapason. Guide quasi morali. Le “linee” a cui fa riferimento il titolo del nuovo suggestivo lavoro di Nicolas Bernier sono “tuning fork”, strumenti di accordatura e curiosi spiriti di metallo che riproducono un “puro tono”, a cui anelare. Per un anno e mezzo (settembre 2008-febbraio 2010), Nicolas ha seguito la fascinazione di ciò che detta la regola: ha chiamato a sé due suonatori d’archi, Pierre-Yves Martel (violista) e Chris Bartos (violinista) e insieme hanno esplorato le risorse asintotiche del tuning attorno a una determinata frequenza. Bernier, compositore elettroacustico canadese (curiosamente omonimo di un compositore francese del Seicento), ha miscelato questi elementi riuscendo a creare una ricerca sui timbri di grande impatto, con un’insistenza e un’intensità che ricordano le notti di Giacinto Scelsi, più che le ricerche di Luciano Berio. Funziona particolarmente la dinamica e il sistema di relazioni che si creano tra layer ambiental-elettronici (sfrigolii so sticati n quasi al silenzio, a volte — Line (C) — formicai percussivi) e le note acustiche (Line (A)), prolungate no a essere un mantra dell’essenza. Ciò che sembra paradossale, ma solo in apparenza, è la possibilità di fare improvvisazione attorno al concept di Strings.Lines. Non è per nulla inconcepibile maturare un approccio alla nota che per quanto si avvicini la rifugga, ne colga interstizi, vie d’uscita, mimetizzati nella ripetizione. L’ascoltatore vive una piccola narrazione, dalla quale è costretto a rimanerne escluso. È imbavagliato, come in una camicia di forza, dall’ipnosi dei forks, e gode, impotente, della maestria altrui nel fare fuga e trovare escamotage per ravvivarne le potenzialità compositive. 7.2/10
Im Spannungsfeld von improvisierter und elektroakustischer Neuer Musik warten weiterhin derart viele Perlen auf ihre Entdeckung, dass man nur hoffen kann, dass zumindest ein Teil der Akteure irgendwann einmal die Einsicht ereilt, dass der Schritt aus dem selbst errichteten Elfenbeinturm an eine Öffentlichkeit jenseits eines hochspezialisierten Publikums eine sinnvolle Entscheidung wäre. Ein aktuelles und gutes Beispiel: Nicolas Bernier, der sich auf strings.lines ausgiebig mit Stimmgabeln auseinandersetzt. Mit den beiden Violinisten Pierre-Yves Martel und Chris Bartos taucht Bernier in die Tiefen der klanglichen Möglichkeiten und tonalen Reduktion ein und kommt zu gänzlich unerwarteten Ergebnissen. Aus übereinander gelagerten Schichten von Sounds, die ihren Ursprung sowohl im Einsatz der Stimmgabeln, im Spiel der Violinisten sowie deren Erkundung ihrer Instrumente hat, kreiert Bernier Musik, die auch Hörer abseits akademischer Zirkel verdient hat. strings.lines schenkt dem aufmerksamen Ohr 50 wunderbare Minuten in einem musikalischen Mikrokosmos, der für sämtliche Klassik-Pop-Sünden von Vanessa Mae bis David Garrett entschädigt.
Cinque tracce in cui la viola da gamba di Pierre-Yves Martel e il violino di Chris Bartos accompagnano i detriti orchestrati da Nicolas Bernier. Un’intesa miracolosa che genera un lavoro spettacolare in cui le corde inciampano in melodie senza tempo prima di rantolare in vicoli senza luce. Line (A) , la seconda traccia in scaletta, è la porta d’accesso all’universo in bianco e nero di Bernier, un mondo in cui ogni particolare racchiude una storia. Senza souzione di continuità le tracce si susseguono in un racconto emozionante, che se da una parte potrebbe ricordare una colonna sonora di un cartone animato di Tim Burton, dall’altra mostra tutta la carica visionaria di un musicista come Nicolas Bernier. Meraviglioso. 8/10
Le travail de Nicolas Bernier se situe aux confins de l’expérience électronique et des limites acoustiques, là où la résonance électroacoustique des sons induit généralement des frontières sonores floues, des lignes de rencontres fascinantes, et des jeux de perceptions le plus souvent altérées par le caractère ténu ou microtonal des fréquences explorées. Pour strings.lines, le musicien s’est appuyé sur la superposition de couches sonores procédant d’une double expérience: une série de sons, enregistrés à partir des résonances sinusoïdales de diapasons ainsi que de la captation de drones de violon et de viole de gambe interprétées par Pierre-Yves Martel et Chris Bartos. Laissant libre cours aux deux instrumentistes dans leur approche méditative mais aussi mécanique de la sensibilité tonale de leur instrument (à travers le jeu sur le bois notamment), Nicolas Bernier procède ensuite à diverses manipulations digitales afin de façonner un objet sonore unique et intrigant, réunissant dans des sensibilités partagées le digital et l+instrumental. Une expérience sonore mais aussi méditative.
Nicolas Bernier is another modern composer, based in Montréal. On strings.lines (CRÓNICA 053) we hear five compositions of his played by Pierre Yves-Martel and Chris Bartos, on the viola da gamba and violin respectively. At the heart of these works resides an obsession with perfect pitch, as manifested by that simple device the tuning fork; over time Bernier grew so preoccupied that he built up a substantial collection of forks in the way that you or I might collect old milk bottles, and the fork’s constant pitch is what formed the basis of these monotonous, droney, melancholic string works, on which the musicians were instructed to stay as close to the fork’s pitch as possible. Bernier was quite literally “feeding” the players their cues with his forks. Not unaware of what he deems to be the “symbolism” of the notion of perfect pitch, a way of organising music that has led to the current state of Western tonalism, Bernier is attempting to continue the traditions of that symbolism in some way. I bet he and Tony Conrad would have some interesting discussions.
De Canadees Nicolas Bernier is gefascineerd door stemvorken en begon in 2007 met het verzamelen van deze objecten. Stemvorken bestaan er in alle maten en soorten. Je hebt er met zowel zeer lage als hoge frequenties. Bernier begon met akoestische stemvorken te experimenteren en ze als instrumenten te gebruiken. Op strings.lines zijn net die electro akoestische improvisaties het hart van de composities. Staan de ‘lines’ voor de stemvorken dan zocht Nicolas in een later stadium naar bijkomende elementen in de vorm van ‘strings’. Twee violisten, Pierre-Yves Martel op viola da gamba en Chris Bartos op viool, waren bereid om mee in de boot te stappen. Deze muzikanten verkennen de mogelijkheden van hun instrumenten en benutten die zoveel mogelijk. Zij halen bij wijze van spreken alles uit de kast. Het geheel brengt twee verschillende werelden bij elkaar: klassiek en modern, Oosterse en Westerse muziek, het cerebrale en het sensuele, het organische en het digitale. Alle geluiden zijn met elkaar verstrengeld, al krijg je de indruk dat de strijkinstrumenten overheersen. Temeer dat ik absoluut geen benul heb van hoe een stemvork klinkt of zou moeten klinken. strings.lines is hoe dan ook een imponerend werkstuk met een sterk experimenteel, doch zacht karakter. 8/10
It’s only a few weeks ago that I reviewed Courant.Air (see Vital Weekly 758) by Bernier, and while not bad, also perhaps not entirely satisfying either, and perhaps being made too quickly. Here on Strings.Lines he moves away from the guitar, in favor of a new love (since 2007 actually) for tuning forks, of which he apparently has a large collection, which he plays in an improvised manner, then processed those recordings and in the next stage he adds the viola da gambe (played by Pierre-Yves Martel) and violin (by Chris Bartos) to that. Actually its hard to tell what these tuning forks do here, which part of the sound is the tuning forks because the two stringed instruments seem to be more present throughout these five pieces. The tuning forks present the ’lines’ and the ’strings’, well, that seems obviously. I must admit that Strings.Lines did more than Courant.Air, even when it sits safely in the world of microsound: careful playing of instruments, but in a nice somewhat freely improvised manner, whereas below the decks obscured gliding tones take place and a more curious scratching the surface kind of rumbling. That all results in a fine album of what could be the cross road of electroacoustic music, improvisation and modern classical. A strong new album.
À ne pas confondre avec le compositeur du 17e du même nom. Ce musicien de musique électroacoustique québécois excelle dans les performances sonores, les installations et la vidéo. Collectionneur d’anciennes machines à écrire et de diapasons (dont certains atteignent les limites de l’oreille humaine), il a su créer son univers musical très personnel, utilisant des sonorités acoustique et électroniques générées par ces objets du passé et les technologies les plus récentes. Un matériel de création sonore représentatif des normes et des règles de nos musiques occidentales mais dont l’utilisation inventive et non conformiste donne, une fois encore, naissance à de très belles compositions intimistes et délicates. Nicolas Bernier est accompagné par Chris Bartos au violon et par Pierre-Yves Martel à la viole de gambe.
Quelle joie de voir le Montréalais Nicolas Bernier dans l’écurie de la portugaise Crónica! strings.lines propose cinq œuvres électroacoustiques interreliées utilisant des enregistrements de Pierre-Yves Martel à la viole de gambe et de Chris Bartos au violon. Des sons lancinants, parfois explosifs, pas statiques du tout. Des pièces aux sonorités profondes, envoûtantes. J’aime beaucoup.
Portugal’s Crónica label presents a captivating showcase from Montréal-based electroacoustic composer, Nicolas Bernier. His work here is defined by a predilection for the glassiest, most tensile string sounds, exploring a range of piercing hi-end frequencies with an innately tactile sensuality. The shortest of these, Line (Strings), sets a filigree balance between organically textured sound and ultra-subte digital processing, manifested in a tense, tentative opening. Line (A) is more dynamic, electroacoustically speaking, expanding his range of textures and sonorities to perfume the space with intensely sharp highs and distant granular crackles forming into drifts of neo-classical moods. Line (B) is more sublime and tender with a magical flourish of harmonics hidden at its core, while Line (C) introduces fragile, clipped rhythms. Lines (Horizon) is the most full-bodied of the lot, fleshing out the lower registers with hovering grey drones while the foreground subsides from shards of sustained strings to slowly bowed cello. Sublime.