Electric guitarist Bernard Falaise, a veteran of many avant groups, filled in with a solo. With an array of pedal-activated devices, he sounded like a small ensemble — ringing bells and going from high tones to bass sounds as he plucked his guitar sitting flat over his knees. He plucked and scraped, extracting a cornacopia of sounds from his axe before ending in a flurry of notes.
Falaise then joined up with Jean Martin (drums and electronics) and Pierre-Yves Martel (electric bass, steel lap guitar, electronics) for an engaging and varied improv session, starting minimally, then deepening and broadening, with a dreamscape evolving into a wall of sound, then fading out, and devolving into something less dense, with scattered single notes. Martel added melodic content when he switched to the steel lap guitar, the music propelled at one point by strong rhythm and counter-rhythms, a balanced and well-developed program of sonic explorations.
(Juste) Claudette is Michel F Côté latest project. Its origins go back to an evening of February 2006 when Jesse Levine, Bernard Falaise, the aforementioned Alexandre St-Onge and Côté himself happen to be together in a studio and recorded some improvisations. This music would eventually become the group’s eponymous CD, released last fall on Ambiances Magnétiques.
Michel F Côté likes each of his projects to have a well-defined and distinct identity. A quick listen to the music of Mecha Fixes Clocks (with or without its ‘s’), Flat Fourgonnette or Pink Saliva – a yet-unrecorded trio with trumpeter Gordon Allen and bassist Alexandre St-Onge – should be enough to convince anyone of this claim. (Juste) Claudette is no exception to this fundamental preoccupation. Indeed, Claudette (for the intimates) is all about groove. Yes, groove as in looped patterns, but also as in tap your foot and bob your head.
(Juste) Claudette – let’s stick to the official name to dissipate any impression of promiscuity – performed its second ever concert as part of the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville. Actually, it is worth emphasizing that it took place on Sunday at midnight at the CEGEP de Victoriaville, one of the three venues used by the festival, as anyone who has visited the small Bois-Francs town would know.
While (Juste) Claudette dedicates itself to groove and rhythm, there was plenty to maintain interest and loads for the brain to chew on (then process). First, drummer Alexander MacSween was added to the line-up, thus turning (Juste) Claudette into a sextet as Côté had already recruited trumpeter Gordon Allen for the group’s live debut, back in October 2007. The addition of a second drummer allowed for some fascinating rhythmic events to occur. In one piece, Côté and MacSween played exactly the same beat, except that MacSween’s hi-hat notes were twice as fast as Côté’s. In others, MacSween would play a basic pattern while Côté would play between the beats in a looser manner or double the beat on his snare.
Second, (Juste) Claudette made it clear that rhythm and groove is not just a drums and bass thing. Sure, in some pieces, the drums and the bass would indeed start a rhythmic pattern and stick to it while the others instruments build upon it. However, in others, the basic rhythmic impetus would come from another instrument such as Falaise’s syncopated strumming.
As mentioned above, this concert took place on Sunday evening, thus near the end of the 2008 FIMAV. On the one hand, the somewhat festive and groovy aspects of (Juste) Claudette were a welcome relief at this point. Remember, this was the 20th concert festival-goers had witnessed in a three and a half day period, including some inevitably dry and less-successful ones.
On the other hand, in past years, the volume of the midnight concerts has often been a problem in that the loudness became an obstacle to a full appreciation of the music. Unfortunately, (Juste) Claudette was no exception. To put it bluntly, the volume was deafening. It makes no doubt that such a group can benefit from some amplification, but in this case, it actually had a negative impact. First, it simply was unbearable without earplugs. Second, some instruments simply did not sound well, the most obvious example being Côté’s carefully crafted toms which suddenly sounded like an amplified beam.
This said, on a strictly musical level, (Juste) Claudette definitely turned out to be one of the most enjoyable concert of the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville.
Quoi de plus flatteur pour un artiste que de se voir accorder une carte blanche, d’avoir entière liberté pour jouer ce qu’il veut… avec qui il veut. Telle est la chance accordée au guitariste Bernard Falaise, qui se produira trois soirs de suite à la fin du mois. Musicien polyvalent s’il en est, ce fieffé aventurier des cordes (et autres accessoires électriques) parcourt un peu tous les genres, allant du pop québécois — comme accompagnateur de Marie-Jo Thério — à la musique psychédélique — dans son groupe Foodsoon — sans oublier ses incursions en musique contemporaine. Pourtant, cet improvisateur aguerri est surtout reconnu pour son travail en musique actuelle, créneau dont l’éclectisme lui va comme un gant.
C’est donc sous le signe de la diversité que se déroulera, au Théâtre la Chapelle, la dite carte blanche. À tour de rôle Falaise se fera improvisateur libertaire, compositeur total et maître d’œuvre d’un tout nouveau groupe présenté en première. «L’idée de cet événement vient du directeur du théâtre, Richard Simas, précise le musicien. Il me l’a proposé il y a un peu plus d’un an et j’ai mijoté cela pendant un moment, avant de décider que je voulais miser sur les différents volets de mon travail.»
À en juger par le programme de ces soirées, le guitariste a respecté son mandat. En ouverture, ce sera de l’impro sur toute la ligne: en première partie, duo avec le platiniste Martin Tétreault (la seule consigne pour lui étant de faire tourner des plaques de guitaristes) suivi d’un spectacle retrouvailles avec trois Torontois (Christine Duncan, voix; Jean Martin, batterie et tables tournantes; Justin Haynes, guitare), ensemble connu sous le nom de Barnyard Drama (formation qui reviendra en mai prochain lors du FIMAV à Victoriaville). Le second soir sera dévolu à ses musiques composées, interprétées à tour de rôle par l’excellent Quatuor Bozzini (quatuor à cordes) et le tout aussi magnifique quintette à vents Pentaèdre. Qui plus est, il a prévu une improvisation structurée pour ces deux formations, rejointes par Diane Labrosse (échantillonneur), Alexandre St-Onge (basse électrique et électroniques) et lui-même. Ce même bassiste sera de retour pour la finale du dernier soir, à la suite d’un second duo entre Falaise et Tétreault (qui ne feront que des électroniques bruitistes). Pour boucler le tout, le guitariste proposera un genre de quatuar rock actuel dont le libellé («Vache qui veut vole») mérite d’être expliqué. «Cela provient en fait d’une expression portugaise qui signifie ‘je vous en prie’: du moins ça sonne un peu comme ça à mes oreilles. Je monte un tout nouveau répertoire comprenant des paroles de mon cru, et que je chanterai d’ailleurs, une premiere pour moi.
Pour l’avenir, Bernard aimerait bien faire un autre disque cette année. «Je ne sais pas quoi au juste, mais j’aimerais faire ça avec quatre ou cinq autres musiciens. Mon premier chez Ambiances était en solo (Do en 2000), alors là je voudrais faire quelque chose de tout à fait différent, moins produit, plus direct, quoi.»
Montréal is just a five-hour flight away, but the cultural capital of Francophone Canada can sometimes seem as remote as Antarctica. West Coast residents know the city as the home of relaxed liquor laws, good restaurants, and great delis, but we’re rarely exposed to the music that’s made there—and that’s almost entirely because most of it, whether pop, rock, or contemporary classical, is not sung in English.
North America’s largest French-speaking city is home to a thriving music industry and a club scene that we can only envy, but connecting with them seems difficult, thanks to the barrier of language. It’s ironic, then, that one of Montréal’s lesser-known contributions to the world of sound might end up being Vancouver’s entrée to Quebec’s musical life. Musique actuelle—a hybrid style that emerged in Montréal during the mid-1980s—is a largely instrumental form, so unilingual Vancouverites need not be scared off by incomprehensible texts. And although the idiom is so all-embracing that it’s hard to define, it’s animated by the kind of exploratory spirit that’s drives Vancouver groups like Talking Pictures and the Hard Rubber Orchestra. So it shouldn’t be that difficult for B.C. ears to appreciate Montréal’s sonic explorers, and we’ll get a chance to do just that this week, thanks to the Vancouver New Music Society’s Interférence: Statique X Statique festival.
Although the event, which runs at the Scotiabank Dance Centre until Saturday (October 22), features non-Francophone artists such as the U.K.’s Fred Frith and Janek Schaeffer, most of the performers hail from Quebec, and many of them, like Diane Labrosse, are 20-year veterans of the musique actuelle scene. Nonetheless, the otherwise charmingly articulate keyboardist still finds it difficult to explain what it is, exactly, that her chosen style includes—and that, it seems, is not only a linguistic issue.
“It’s a hard thing to do, describing a music that’s so broad,” Labrosse says, on the line from her Montréal home. “Of course at first there was progressive rock, and then improv came along, and then came the idea of putting together different styles of music. Some musicians began to draw on the roots of jazz, and also using more traditional or folkloric stuff, and then putting all of this together to make a new hybrid of music, which we called musique actuelle. We even find these different direct references within the same piece.”
The style’s name, like the music itself, contains a wealth of inferences and possibilities. Its sounds are “actuelle” because they’re real music made by real musicians, as opposed to machine-made, bottom-line-driven pop, but also because they reflect the kaleidoscopic reality of today’s media environment. The argument Labrosse makes is that few people confine their listening to just one genre, so why should musicians suffer self- imposed limitations on what they play?
Her own career reflects this wide-open attitude. She’s written scores for dance, penned twisted avant-pop tunes, worked extensively with sample-based music, and performed with a global array of free improvisers. And in her Thursday-night concert at the Dance Centre, she’ll move a step or two toward abstract sound, in the company of multimedia artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier.
“Jean-Pierre is more known in the visual arts,” Labrosse notes. “He started out as a sculptor, a visual artist, and then he started to make some sound sculptures. This is where we got involved together quite a few years ago, maybe in 1998 or 2000 or whatever. We did a project where he was working with rubber tubes and compressors and bird whistles, things of that nature, so it was a noisy kind of culture. That started him doing shows, or doing performances; before that he was more of a sound installer, working in galleries and things like that. But he’s always done very fine work, juxtaposing visual and audio stuff.”
Labrosse reveals that she doesn’t yet know what Gauthier will be bringing to their Interférence show. “He told me that it’s very small, and that it’s something that he’s made, and that it varies from one performance to another.”
With that in mind, she’s readying herself for a performance that will be improvised from start to finish, as will several of the other bookings that Vancouver New Music artistic director Giorgio Magnanensi has arranged for his festival. Following Labrosse on Thursday will be the cross-country quartet of Pierre Tanguay, Bernard Falaise, Dylan van der Schyff, and Ron Samworth, a group she describes as well worth hearing.
“It’s a double-duo sort of thing: two drummers that work in a similar fashion, and two guitarists that also work in a similar fashion,” she explains. “But everybody’s very different and has a real personality. I saw this band in Montréal, and it was quite a nice concert.”
Friday night (October 21) features performances by sound artist Magali Babin and saxophonist Joane Hétu, followed by Klaxon Gueule, a trio that includes guitarist Falaise, percussionist Michel F Côté, and pianist Alexandre St-Onge. Like Labrosse’s collaboration with Gauthier, both of these ensembles patrol the grey area between sound sculpture and more conventional forms of improvisation, a zone that increasingly draws practitioners of musique actuelle.
“You start with finding new sounds on your guitar or your bass or your drums,” Labrosse notes. “And you move from there to adding effects, and then to [computer-based] processing, or even to building your own instruments.”
Fittingly, then, Interférence’s musique actuelle survey will conclude on Saturday with Morceaux_de_Machines, an abrasive and intense collaboration between sound designers Aimé Dontigny and Érick d’Orion that has earned comparisons to noise innovators Einstürzende Neubauten and Otomo Yoshihide.
It seems that the Montréal-born idiom known as musique actuelle really is capable of embracing almost everything from the minimalist gestures of Babin and Hétu to the ear-scorching aural firestorms of Dontigny and d’Orion. Close observers of the Vancouver scene will note that our own creative musicians are capable of a very similar range of styles; perhaps the gulf between East and West, between Francophone and Anglophone, is narrowing at last.
A Montréal avant-rock group with ties to the Ambiances Magnétiques collective, Papa Boa is one of many projects involving Bernard Falaise and Rémi Leclerc. The group writes complex songs out of studio improvisation sessions, including lots of sampling and oddities, and is driven by Falaise’s highly original guitar work. They have one album out.
In 1991, Falaise, drummer Rémi Leclerc (of Miriodor and various projects by André Duchesne) and bassist Frédéric Roverselli struck a friendship. Out of it came Papa Boa, at first a loose studio collective to which reedist Pierre Labbé was later added. All members (minus Labbé, a jazzman) have a rock background and their first intention was to explore freer structures that would include electronics. Their first experiments consisted mostly of improvisations. The group debuted on stage in 1991 during the Festival du Théâtre des Amériques in Montréal. The next few years saw little activity, the unit being used mostly as a laboratory as Falaise and Leclerc’s profiles were constantly on the rise in avant-rock circles.
The group provided the soundtrack to Michel Lefebvre and Eva Quintas’ multimedia work Liquidation in 1997. Engagements began to pile up, leading to an active period of three years. The quartet (occasionally augmented by guests such as Marcelle Hudon and storyteller Michel Faubert) performed concerts at various Quebec festivals (Festival des Musiques Fraîches in Quebec, Festival des musiques de création in Jonquières). They built a repertoire of quirky angular songs and recorded Tête à queue, their first CD. It was released in May 1999 by Ambiances Magnétiques. Performances at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in May 2000 and the Montréal Jazz Festival the following year raised the group’s profile, but the members’ other projects finally claimed them back and Papa Boa went dormant.
A Montréal native, where he is still based, guitarist Bernard Falaise exploded on the new music scene in the late ’90s, appearing in many Ambiances Magnétiques-related outfits, especially in avant-rock oriented groups that included drummer Rémi Leclerc (Miriodor, Les Projectionnistes, Papa Boa). He is also active on the free improv scene, playing with Klaxon Gueule and Robert Marcel Lepage among others. His distinctive guitar style, at times raw and twangy, at others highly atmospheric, set him apart in the same class of originals as René Lussier. He is also a much in-demand record producer and has composed contemporary classical music in his spare time for the tango ensemble Quartango and the saxophone quartet Quasar.
Falaise was born in 1965. Little is known from his formative years. He picked up the guitar in his teens and came to music from the progressive side of rock — King Crimson’s Robert Fripp is an obvious influence. He studied music and started to work professionally in the early 1990s, joining the avant-prog group Miriodor. The group’s fourth album, Jongleries Élastiques, came out in 1995 and introduced his playing to fans of the genre. The enthusiastic response to the album ensured he was dutifully acknowledged for his important contribution to the group’s refreshed sound.
Miriodor drummer Rémi Leclerc was already well acquainted with the avant-garde music collective Ambiances Magnétiques and he introduced his friend. Falaise quickly became a favorite sideman and enrolled in Claude St-Jean’s Les Projectionnistes, Michel F Côté’s Klaxon Gueule, Duchesne’s Diesel (sadly undocumented), and started the group Papa Boa with Leclerc, saxophonist Pierre Labbé and bassist Frédéric Roverselli.
In 1999-2000 Falaise diversified his activities, reaching a wider audience. He co-wrote with Côté the music for Robert Lepage’s film “Nô” and began to work with alternative pop artists. He co-produced the first album by Jorane in 1999 and the next year produced and played on Marie-Jo Thério’s acclaimed CD “La Maline.” The number of awards and praise this album gathered assured him a first-class status as cutting-edge producer. In the meantime he released his first solo CD, Do, a collection of multi-tracked guitar pieces.