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Joane Hétu Aussi dans la presse

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Intervista a Joane Hetu

Francesca Odilia Bellino, All About Jazz Italy, 1 décembre 2005

Joane Hétu, nata a Montréal nel 1958, è vocalist e sassofonista. Suona dal 1980 e da allora è uno dei pilastri dell’avanguardia canadese. È autrice, compositrice ed improvvisatrice. È stata membro dei gruppi Justine e Wondeur Brass. Nel 1992 ha creato un proprio ensemble, Castor et compagnie, che realizza le sue canzoni, dai toni spinti e di indubbio fascino. La sua ultima discografia include dischi come Musique d’hiver (2001), Seule dans les chants (2000), con Castor et compagnie Mets ta langue (1995-98), Nous perçons les oreilles (2002, 1998), Langages fantastiques et (Suites) (1990-95).

Per quest’occasione abbiamo incontrato la Hétu in veste di direttrice di DAME (Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques Etcetera) e di co-direttrice di Productions SuperMusique e membro dell’etichetta Ambiances Magnétiques.

•All About Jazz Italia: Hai iniziato a fare musica nel 1980 e da allora sei diventata uno dei pilastri della musica canadese contemporanea. Sei stata tra le fondatrici dei collettivi creativi Justine e Wondeur Brass. Dal 1982 hai diretto un tuo ensemble, Castor et Compagnie, che canta canzoni. Con un background così ricco, perché e in che momento della tua vita hai deciso che volevi mettere in piedi un’etichetta e incominciare il lavoro di direttrice di DAME e membro della produzione?

Joane Hétu: Fin dall’inizio della mia carriera di musicista ho preso parte a delle strutture di diffusione della musica. Nel 1980 sono diventata co-direttrice di una organizzazione senza fini di lucro che si occupava di programmare i nostri concerti e dei tour, questa organizzazione esiste ancor oggi e si chiama Productions SuperMusique (all’epoca si chiamava Productions SuperMémé). Non ho fondato io Ambiances Magnétiques, ma sono stati nel 1983 René Lussier, Jean Derome, e André Duchesne Robert Marcel Lepage. Nel 1985 Wondeur Brass è stato invitato a unirsi al gruppo e così io, Diane Labrosse e Danielle Palardy Roger siamo diventati tre nuovi membri del collettivo. Qualche anno piùtardi Michel F Côté e Martin Tétreault si sono uniti al gruppo.

A partire da questa adesione al collettivo, ho impiegato parecchio tempo, come tutti i suoi membri, per l’organizzazione dell’etichetta. Lentamente mi sono ritrovata ad avere ogni giorno sempre un pò più di responsabilità: la contabilità, la posta, gli ordini. Ero la persona più costante. Tutti si defilavano, ma io ero la persona che più sovente si trovava là. Il gruppo Ambiances Magnétiques cresceva e il funzionamento del collettivo diventava sempre più difficile da gestire e, a mio avviso, piuttosto inefficace.

Nel 1990 abbiamo stampato 15 vinili e un primo titolo in compact disc, un cambiamento epocale. Alla fine di quell’anno, ho messo al mondo mia figlia Léa. Nell’aprile del 1991 ho fondato da sola DAME secondo le modalità di una "azienda a scopo di lucro" della nostra provincia e ho deciso di prendere definitivamente in mano le redini della gestione dell’etichetta avendo in mente di estendere ad altre etichette e musicisti i nostri servizi di diffusione con il nome di Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques Etcetera, acronimo di DAME. Quindici anni dopo, Ambiances Magnétiques ha un catalogo di circa 150 titoli (135 dalla fondazione di DAME) e DAME amministra in un tutto un catalogo di 425 CD provenienti da diverse etichette di musica contemporanea [musique actuelle], inclusa Ambiances Magnétiques.

Tutto questo preambolo per dire che, all’inizio della mia carriera di musicista, ho diviso il mio tempo tra la musica e la sua gestione. Sicuramente con l’arrivo di una figlia, mi sono sentita un po’ superata dalla mia vita di musicista improvvisatrice e ho pensato che sarebbe stato difficile mantenere un buon ritmo di concerti e tour avendo una figlia piccola e un marito, anche lui musicista. È con questo spirito che ho deciso di mettere più energie nella gestione dell’etichetta che nella carriera di musicista, il tutto cercando di conservare un certo equilibrio. È una scelta di cui mi pento ora? No, a che pro!

•AAJ: Quando hai cominciato a suonare cosa ti ha avvicinato alla musica (improvvisata) e sono quelle le stesse cose che continuano oggi a guidarti?

•J.H.: Essenzialmente sì. Il gusto del rischio, della sorpresa, dell’arte della comprensione e dell’autenticità del linguaggio. Il mio amore adolescenziale è stato il jazz, ma quando sono diventata musicista ho virato verso il rock. Wondeur Brass è stato una "band di figli del rock". Del rock non commerciale, intendiamoci, del rock in opposizione (termine di Chris Cutler). Spingevamo verso l’improvvisazione nel senso che c’era una sorta d’atelier, e improvvisando tutti insieme scrivevamo noi la nostra musica. Ma poi, in concerto, suonavamo i pezzi quasi sempre nello stesso modo. Lentamente, in contatto, gli uni gli altri, con musicisti come Fred Frith, Jean Derome, Joëlle Léandre, siamo stati attirati da un altro modo di fare. Una certa stanchezza ha preso piede e l’idea di essere relegati ad un repertorio e al suonare sempre la stessa cosa, poco importa il luogo e l’ora, non mi interessava più.

Alla fine degli anni Ottanta, abbiamo cambiato nome, da Wondeur Brass a Justine e abbiamo cambiato anche il nostro modo di fare, privilegiando e integrando le nuove tecnologie alla nostra musica: batteria elettronica, sintetizzatori, moduli d’effetti (modules d’effets). E così, l’universo della musica improvvisata si è insediato nella mia musica ed è ora la pietra angolare del mio approccio musicale.

Penso che i musicisti improvvisatori siano musicisti straordinari. Essere un improvvisatore richiede, a mio avviso, un livello d’ascolto periferico (un arte dell’intelletto), una capacità di adattamento a tutte le circostanze e una personale ricerca musicale. è la musica più viva che io conosca ed anche la più interessante.

•AAJI: Qual è il tuo approccio alla musica degli altri, tanto come vocalista e sassofonista, che come direttrice di DAME?

•J.H.: Come direttrice di DAME, sono al servizio dei musicisti e delle musiciste. Probabilmente al contrario della regola che vige nell’industria musicale, intervengo pochissimo nella direzione musicale dell’etichetta. Tutti i membri fondatori di Ambiances Magnétiques hanno il privilegio di produrre ciò che vogliono e, per gli altri, c’è un misto di amicizie, di affinità e di musica. Se un musicista veramente si sente bene con il nostro modo di fare e si sente parte in causa del nostro universo, questo è già un grande passo per essere distribuito da noi. Bisogna dire che a priori sono gli artisti che investono economicamente nella produzione del loro disco.

Per quello che riguarda le altre etichette che si trovano in DAME, io lavoro in collaborazione con i direttori di ciascuna di queste etichette e sono loro che hanno l’ultima parola. Amo lasciare una possibilità al "corridore" e le mie critiche musicali le applico alla mia musica, lasciando che gli altri facciano la loro.

Ma può anche darsi che la questione si riferisca più alle altre musiche nel senso dello stile. Ebbene, in DAME ora abbiamo un’etichetta di contemporanea, Collection QB, una serie di Ambiances Magnétiques Jazz e un’etichetta di musica più popolare con Monsieur Fauteux m’entendez-vous?. Qui si apre un nuovo terreno di esplorazione.

Come musicista, amo principalmente la musica improvvisata in concerto; per quanto riguarda la musica che ascolto, è molto variegata, dalla classica alla contemporanea, etnica, jazz e per contro molto poca musica improvvisata. È così. Bisogna dire che non ho poco tempo per fare e ascoltare la mia musica.

•AAJ: Senti che ricevi qualcosa in cambio nella tua ricerca personale dal lavoro con altri musicisti e dal lavoro come produttrice?

•J.H.: Come musicista, apprendo sempre da altri musicisti, dalle loro capacità, dalle loro idee musicali, dalle loro tecniche. Amo sempre di più suonare con nuovi musicisti, anche se provo sempre un grande piacere a suonare con Jean Derome e Diane Labrosse con i quali lavoro da più di 25 anni.

Come produttrice, sono contenta di aiutare i musicisti a realizzare i loro sogni, aiutarli a diffondere la loro musica, ma pochi musicisti m’ispirano veramente a livello della loro visione del mondo della musica perchè - regola generale - non pensano che a loro e sono più o meno riconoscenti nei confronti del mio lavoro. Evidentemente, ciascun musicista crede di meritare di più e non comprende che noi vendiamo così pochi dischi. In fondo, è abbastanza ingrato come lavoro a livello umano: mi fa piacere pensare che non sto promuovendo solo la mia piccola persona, la mia piccola musica, ma ho l’impressione di avere un impatto sociale, probabilmente minimo, ma in ogni caso un certo ruolo sociale nell’incoraggiare questi musicisti e queste musiciste.

•AAJ: Potresti illustrare in poche parole i differenti stadi della tua ricerca musicale in relazione ad Ambiances Magnétiques?

•J.H.: Mi sono formata in Ambiances Magnétiques. È la mia principale scuola di pensiero, il mio modo di fare, di intendere. L’evoluzione di Ambiances Magnétiques mi assomiglia. Trovo che sia una etichetta formidabile e non sono attirata da nessuna altra etichetta. Bisogna dire che di carattere sono una fedele. Sono con lo stesso uomo da più di ben 25 anni, abito nella stessa casa da 17 anni e sono sempre nell’avventura Productions SuperMusique e DAME/Ambiances Magnétiques. Questo potrebbe dare l’idea che ho una vita ben noiosa, ma non è così!

•AAJ: Potresti dire qualcosa su cosa significa esattamente "ambiances"? Sono interessata in particolare a questo in relazione alla storia della musica elettro- acustica canadese. Pensavo che "ambiances" potesse riferirsi alle ricerche di Murray Raynold Schaffer sul paesaggio, con un chiaro approccio innovativo e contemporaneo.

•J.H.: Il nome Ambiances Magnétiques è stato trovato si può dire nel 1982 ed era il titolo di uno show di Jean Derome e René Lussier. L’aneddoto che Jean racconta a proposito è questo: preparando il volantino e il programma di un concerto, stavano redigendo la lista degli strumenti che avrebbero suonato, così aggiunsero alla lista il termine Ambiances Magnétiques per descrivere le musiche che stavano per essere diffuse su nastro magnetico durante il concerto. Un anno più tardi il termine Ambiances Magnétiques è stato ripreso per dare il nome all’etichetta.

Per quanto riguarda il legame con la musica elettro-acustica e contemporanea, devo dire che all’epoca era molto sottile, perché non c’era molta fusione tra i differenti mondi musicali. Noi lavoriamo in modo molto isolato, credendoci praticamente soli al mondo, come tutta la gioventù, dico questo senza presunzione. La gioventù con la sua foga e la sua energia ma anche la sua ignoranza.

•AAJ: Com’è produrre al tempo stesso jazz, musica improvvisata, musica per ensemble, musica per bande, new rock, libera improvvisazione, elettronica, noise, canzoni e poesia? Quali sono le vostre "linee guida" - se ci sono - in Ambiances Magnétiques?

•J.H.: Per descrivere la nostra musica usiamo il temine musica attuale. In altri paesi usano il termine musica di creazione o nuova musica o musique de Traverses o musique-Action o musica…

La definizione che noi usiamo più frequentemente si può riassumere in tre punti:

1. il compositore deve essere anche interprete della propria musica

2. deve avere una parte d’improvvisazione

3. deve avere una proposta di metissage sia a livello della strumentazione (strumenti acustici + strumenti elettronici), che dello stile musicale (melange di country + rumorismo, ad esempio) o del genere artistico (poesia + free jazz).

Ma la cosa più bella di questa musica, è che giustamente non è ancora definita, dobbiamo lasciarla vivere e farla sbocciare, senza soffocarla con delle regole. Certe volte, queste tre regole si presentano e a volte no: da qui la diversità di stili.

•AAJ: Dalla diffusione del CD in poi, siamo stati testimoni di una crescita esplosiva ed esponenziale nelle produzioni tecnologiche della musica. Sto pensando ora ai supporti, ma anche a tutti quegli strumenti e attrezzature necessari per fare la forma nuova, la cosiddetta musica elettro-acustica. Cosa ne pensi?

•J.H.: Non sono un’esperta di musica elettro-acustica, ma penso che questa non sia una nuova forma, ha già qualche decennio. L’uso del laptop come strumento di musica mi sembra più recente ed è molto popolare. Contribuisce a movimentare molto le regole della musica. Regola generale, mi stufo ai concerti di musicisti di laptop, ma se viene utilizzato come fosse un nuovo strumento da includere nell’orchestra, lo trovo molto interessante. Amo l’apporto dell’elettronica nella musica ma a piccole dosi. Nei miei progetti, chiamo regolarmente Diane Labrosse al campionatore e Martin Tétreault ai giradischi e non potrei più farne a meno. L’effetto di novità e una parvenza di facilità che apporta il computer è molto stimolante e ci sono sempre eccellenti musicisti, ma esiste oggi un lancio di questa corrente musicale a livello di marketing. Francamente, trovo che ci siano musicisti molto interessanti che emergono in questa sorta di nuova liuteria.

•AAJ: Quanto è importante il supporto economico delle istituzioni in un lavoro come il vostro?

•J.H.: È molto importante. Il Canada ha un sistema di sovvenzioni molto ben articolato con degli organismi che sono il Conseil des Arts du Canada e Patrimoine Canadien. Questo sistema di finanziamenti funziona da ormai più di cinquanta anni. Essendo vicini agli Stati Uniti, posso dire che senza questo sostegno, noi saremmo già stati completamente assimilatati, cosa che non è ancora accaduta. Anche in Quebec c’è un sistema di finanziamenti ma che si articola principalmente attorno al francese, dunque canzoni, teatro e cinema, arti parlanti insomma. La musica di Ambiances Magnétiques è percepita dai sovvenzionatori del Quebec non come veramente "quebecchese", forse per il suo lato sperimentale e anche perché è quasi esclusivamente strumentale. Noi siamo sostenuti dunque più a livello canadese che quebecchese.

Il supporto economico delle istituzioni è importante ma rimane ancora minimo per musiche come la nostra. Ci permette appena di sopravvivere. Tutti i progetti che noi realizziamo non sono necessariamente appoggiati da questi programmi, ma è impossibile realizzare in seguito più progetti di grande portata senza sostegno. Penso di vendere della poesia in un certo senso o dell’arte contemporanea e secondo le leggi del mercato non è redditizio, dunque senza alcuna sovvenzione questo sarebbe impossibile.

•AAJ: Sono convinta che una etichetta abbia molto a che fare con la memoria - anche se non in un modo diretto. Grazie a poche etichette abbiamo memoria di esperienze musicali favolose che (fortunatamente!) non sono scomparse senza lasciare tracce. In qualche modo una etichetta ha la funzione di una memoria collettiva (una sorta di biblioteca). Cosa ne pensi?

•J.H.: Sono molto fiera di dire che quasi tutti i titoli di Ambiances Magnétiques dal 1983 sono ancora disponibili. Io credo nella necessità della storia. È importante per comprendere il lavoro di un musicista ascoltare parecchi suoi dischi e opere successive nel tempo. Non spingo unicamente delle novità, anche se il mercato stesso le richiede, non chiede solo queste. Sento che DAME funge da granaio, da memoria collettiva, anche se su piccola scala, ma a volte il prezzo da pagare è enorme. Ho due magazzini di dischi da gestire e devo assicurarmi che la cosa non finisca mai. E poi, oltre ad offrire i dischi degli artisti della nostra etichetta, voglio anche offrire i titoli che l’artista ha prodotto su altre etichette di modo che possa dare al melomane tutto Jean Derome o tutto Martin Tétreault. Non ci sono ancora riuscita del tutto, ma sto lavorando in questo senso. Date un’occhiata a www.actuellecd.com.

•AAJ: Puoi indicare alcune etichette che consideri degne di nota e perché?

•J.H.: In questo momento ci sono poche etichette che davvero mi prendono. La Tzadik negli anni Ottanta è stata portatrice di una quantità fenomenale di produzioni e del grande successo che è Masada. Mi piace la Hat Hut ma la loro produzione è molto più limitata ora; la Winter & Winter offre buone registrazioni ma il lusso che racchiude le loro cover non mi piace neanche un po’. Se no, ci sono una tonnellata di piccole etichette, ma veramente una tonnellata di piccole etichette; a volte ci sono dei piccoli bijoux che per quanto tempo ancora ci saranno? Due anni, tre anni?! Ambiances Magnétiques esiste da più di venticinque anni e DAME da ben quindici. Bisogna prendere in considerazione la longevità di una piccola etichetta per apprezzarla. Credo nello stesso lungo termine se la nostra vita è così effimera.

•AAJ: Alla fine, quale dovrebbe essere una buona critica? I critici sono solo una sorta di necessario diavolo?

•J.H.: Noi siamo sempre alla ricerca della critica, questa dovrebbe essere dunque necessaria! Lo sguardo altrui sul nostro lavoro è importante. Ma onestamente, devo dire che non leggo quasi mai le critiche a proposito dei miei dischi o di quelli che produco. So che per avere dei contratti, delle sovvenzioni, della visibilità, bisogna che si parli di me nei media. Le critiche non sono indirizzate a me, ma al melomane!

•AAJ: In conclusione…:

•J.H.: Come musicista, devo continuare il mio lavoro il più coscientemente possibile, a volte faccio dei buoni colpi, altre no. È così! Io non sono alla ricerca del capolavoro, che farei dopo?! Amo enormemente la musica, non potrei vivere senza. È un bisogno vitale. È nella musica che sono più in armonia con me stessa e con l’ambiente che mi circonda.

Al momento lavoro alla composizione di un teatro sonoro intitolato Filature che sarà presentato a Montréal il prossimo marzo e interpretato dall’Ensemble SuperMusique. Accetto tutti gli inviti a concerti di musica improvvisata e vorrei di nuovo suonare in Italia. Spero di fare musica ancora a lungo, fino alla fine dei miei giorni…

Per quel che è di DAME, offriamo una ventina di novità per anno e sempre delle novità dei nostri artisti e di etichette affiliate. Su quale supporto troveremo la nostra musica tra cinque anni? Probabilmente non più su compact, ma poco importa, DAME sarà sempre lì a favorire la diffusione di queste musiche!

Sonic Voyageurs

Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight, 20 octobre 2005

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.

… 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.

Son en tête

Pascale Guéricolas, La Gazette des femmes, no 27:2, 1 septembre 2005

Pour mieux faire connaître les musiciens de concert, souvent oubliés des médias, le Conseil québécois de la musique a décidé d’en donner en «adoption». C’est une musicienne profondément originale que la Gazette des femmes a choisie pour «fille»: Joane Hétu. Qui d’autre aurait fondé des groupes aussi éclatés que Wondeur Brass, Les Poules, Castor et compagnie, Nous perçons les oreilles? Pas étonnant que cette artiste de 47 ans soit considérée comme l’un des piliers de la musique actuelle québécoise.

D’abord attirée par les sonorités rock, cette amoureuse du son a plongé ensuite dans l’improvisation, l’instrumental, le bruitisme (musique inspirée des sons de l’environnement). Depuis, son saxophone chante comme le vent dans les branches aux côtés du piano ou de l’échantillonneur, à la recherche de l’émotion par le son. La compositrice ne dédaigne pas intégrer parfois des bouts de textes à ses œuvres. En ce moment, elle travaille sur La filature, un projet de théâtre sonore mené par l’Ensemble SuperMusique, important rassemblement de musiciens actuels. Dans ce spectacle, qui sera présenté à l’Usine C en mars prochain, la vidéo, la danse et l’éclairage seront au service du son, un renversement total par rapport aux conventions habituelles.

Complètement libre dans ses compositions et ses improvisations, la musicienne a néanmoins les deux pieds sur terre lorsqu’elle porte sa casquette d’administratrice. En 1991, elle fondait la compagnie de disques DAME (Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques Etcetera). Son catalogue contient maintenant près de 140 disques en musique actuelle, souvent vendus directement au consommateur via Internet. «Je n’ai jamais cru au père Noël; je préfére m’occuper moi-même de mes affaires, explique-t-elle. Le genre de musique que je pratique a besoin de structures souples qui encouragent la création.» Parallèlement à la composition et aux concerts, elle mène aussi un combat pour la reconnaissance de la musique actuelle, avec ses complices de toujours, Danielle Palardy Roger et Diane Labrosse. Encore trop peu de femmes dirigent des groupes, se préoccupe Joane Hétu, qui se dit toujours persuadée de la nécessité du féminisme. Elle-même, par sa double carrière d’artiste et de gestionnaire culturelle, contribue à faire entendre la musique au féminin.

Elle-même, par sa double carrière d’artiste et de gestionnaire culturelle, contribue à faire entendre la musique au féminin.

Joane Hétu’s Diverse Musical Missions

François Couture, Musicworks, no 92, 1 juin 2005

Joane Hétu packs an amazing amount of energy into her short, small frame — energy she willingly shares through her smile, passion, music, and determination. It keeps her busy as a saxophonist, vocalist, improviser, songwriter, composer, record-label owner, co-director of a concert production company, and mother of one. Equally performer and business-woman, her work in both roles bas been enriching the Montréal new-music scene for the past twenty-five years. As a member of Wondeur Brass, Justine, Castor et compagnie, and Nous perçons les oreilles, as part of the Ambiances Magnétiques collective, as head of the distribution company and record label DAME, and as co-director of Productions SuperMusique, Hétu has an impressive track record and now — after a difficult period of neglecting her own music in order to keep DAME afloat — she is more active than ever.

S’improviser

Born in 1958 in Montréal, Joane Hétu took a few piano lessons as a child but did not get seriously involved in music until the age of twenty. Coming late to her vocation? “No way!” she asserts.“Being twenty doesn’t make anything ‘late’! I started playing music when I reached adulthood, and a certain level of maturity.”

She may not have been playing an instrument seriously in her teens, but she was already developing strong individual tastes in music. “In my circle of friends, I was the only girl who had a decent stereo system. At fourteen, I heard John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme at a friend’s house. I immediately thought “Yes, I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.” I soon started visiting small record shops and listening to Frank Zappa and the Scandinavian jazz on the ECM label.”

While studying pure sciences in college, Hétu met and fell in love with the pianist Pierre St-Jak. “My whole life turned upside down. Pierre shared my tastes in music and he introduced me to a circle of musicians.” A member of the avant-garde jazz group Nébu, which included saxophonist Jean Derome, St-Jak played with the people whose activities revolved around Conventum, L’Enfant-Fort and La Pouet Pouet Band, all cooperative groups sharing views on musical experimentation and coflectivist, communal values. “It was the late ’70s,” says Hétu. “The Parti Québécois was in power, the first referendum had yet to shatter dreams; it was a time when you could accomplish something without knowing how to do it.”

Soon, Hétu had dropped out of school and moved in with St-Jak. For a while, she earned a living weaving by day and waiting tables by night at La Grande Passe, a bar on the corner of Ontario and St-Deriis that presented improvised nitisic on Tuesday nights. St-Jak and his friends, such as Jean Derome, René Lussier, and Daniel Heïkalo, performed regularly there. At some point, one of those friends left a soprano saxophone at the couple’s apartment. “It was just lying there,” recalls Hétu. “After a few days of looking at it, I picked it up and started playing.” Six months later she gave her first public performance, as a member of Wondeur Brass. In French, to say that someone suddenly becomes something (such as an improviser), the reflexive verb s’improviser is used. In this case, Hétu literally improvised herself

The adventures of Wondeur Brass

In 1980, eleven female musicians, professionals and amateurs alike, came together to organize benefit concerts to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Montréal’s women’s bookstore, Librairie des Femmes. These were important events for Hétu. She met two members of the traditional music group Arcanson, pianist Diane Labrosse and drummer Danielle Palardy Roger. The three women formed a trio and soon founded the company Productions SuperMémé-SuperMusique (later shortened to Productions SuperMusique, or PSM), in order to produce their own shows. The concerts that all eleven musicians gave for the Librairie des Femmes gave rise to an important and influential ensemble. The first concerts, in October and November, 1980, showed more good intentions than good music, but soon a group identity began to jell. The result was Wondeur Brass, the name both a cheeky cross-lingual pun on the brand name of a certain women’s undergarment, and an accurate description of the groups instrumentation: all brass (including a valve bass in the early days), except for the piano and drums. “The schedule was punishing,” Hétu recalls. “We were literally learning to play music together, eight to ten hours a day. I was happy to leave my weaving days behind, but some of the other girls had other plans.” Diane Raymond and Geneviève Letarte soon left the group, the latter to become a fine novelist, only returning to music — this time as a songwriter and singer — a full decade later.

In the spring of 1981,Wondeur Brass presented its first stage show, Anna Thème et Constance Urbaine, complete with costumes, theatrical elements, and original songs. They performed sold-out shows for three weeks at the Clochards Célestes (which would become Montréal’s alternative nexus a few years later, changing its name to Les Foufounes électriques).” It was madness. The crowd was going nuts, the place was packed. I would never know that much popular success afterward,” says Hétu. The mainstream press noted the groups lack of tightness and experience, but praised its energy, its originality, and its feniinist convictions.

But was Wondeur Brass a feminist group? Did it consciously convey a feminist message — or is an all-female group feminist by definition? “For nine girls to take the stage back in 1980,” notes Hétu, “when both rock and jazz music were ruled by men, was a feminist action by itself. But is there a difference between female music and male music? I don’t think so. And I don’t think we were playing women’s music. At first, we were feminists playing music. Later, we said no, we are feminist musicians. Eventually, we realized we had become musicians, period.”

In 1982, Wondeur Brass released its first and only single, Parano. The group was reduced to seven pieces by then, including electric guitarist-bassist Judith Grüber-Stitzer, who added a rocker’s edge to the music. Two years later, the group was invited to the Festival des musiques de femmes in Paris. “Before going there, we were working in isolation, convinced that we were alone. But hearing and meeting women like Joëlle Léandre, Irène Schweitzer and Maggie Nichols was an eye-opening experience. I believe thats when we became more radical, musically.”

In the meantime, a few experimental male musicians were attempting to organize their own collective for performing and recording, Ambiances Magnétiques. Robert Marcel Lepage, René Lussier, Jean Derome and André Duchesne had released a handful of LPs and were beginning to make contacts with like-minded musicians from abroad.

How did they perceive the daring female musicians-entrepreneurs? “They weren’t too keen on us. They didnt see us as really good mtisicians.” However, Duchesne agreed to sit at the mixing board to help the group record their first LP, Ravir.

By then it was 1985. The music had changed, and those who remembered the group from its early stage shows would have a hard time recognizing Wondeur Brass on its new album. The songs had grown tighter, Labrosse’s keyboards now took up more real estate than the brass, the lyrics were more poetic and less political, and the overall sound more subdued and more subtle than the raucous energy of the groups early days. Hétu is mostly heard playing jagged saxophone lines.

The album sold well (over 4,000 copies) and was even picked up by the feminist magazine La Vie en Rose as a gift to new subscribers. Chris Cutler, ex-drummer for Henry Cow and Art Bears, owner of the record label Recommended (now ReR Megacorp), and a highly influential mover on the avant-rock scene at the time, came to Montréal in early 1986. Duchesne presented him with a copy of the LP. “Chris loved it,” says Hétu. “He picked it up for distribution, included a track on a Recommended sampler, and eventually co-produced our second LP, which came out on both Ambiances Magnétiques and Recommended. Chris opened Wondeur Brass and Ambiances Magnétiques to the world. He dragged us out of isolation.”

Cutler’s endorsement was so persuasive that the Ambiances Magnétiques boys revised their position on Wondeur Brass. Hétu, Labrosse, and Roger were invited to join the collective, and Ravir was soon integrated into the label’s catalogue as a reissue. Already experienced businesswomen through their work with PSM, the girls contributed a lot to the organizational aspect of Ambiances Magnétiques, as well as playing on a number of albums and releasing several of their own. In 1986, as Les Poules (The Chicks), Hétu, Labrosse, and Roger released Les contes de l’amère loi. In some ways, Les Poules signaled the end of Wondeur Brass as a semi-professional collective. The group’s 1987 album Simoneda, reine des esclaves bore Wondeur Brass’s name only because the group had not found something good to replace it with. “We wanted to break free from the group’s feminist image, we wanted to start anew.” The lineup actually consisted only of the three members of Les Poules, plus newcomer Marie Trudeau on bass.

Eventually, they opted for Justine, the name of the main character in the first volume of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, and paradoxically, of the defiled titular character of the Marquis de Sade’s novel. Justine’s first album, a CD this time, enigmatically entitled (Suite), came out in 1990 and remains the pinnacle of female rock in Quebec. Angst-driven, complex, and tightly written, this cycle of songs established Hétu as a singer and vocalist. Here she trully explores her wild side, using onomatopoeias and screeches that will draw comparisons to the japanese singer Tenko.

from Justine to Castor

The group would release two more albums, La légende de la pluie (1992), a dark collaboration between Justine, Tenko, and U.S. harpist Zeena Parkins, and Langages fantastiques (1994), a significantly more upbeat and playful album recorded live in the studio following a successful tour of Eastern Europe. By then, the ties between Roger, Labrosse, and Hétu had started to loosen, their careers gradually taking different paths. Roger would become more closely involved in composition and contemporary music, while Labrosse would start to lose interest in the piano and synthesizers in favor of the sampler and, later, the laptop.

Hétu kept writing songs. Picking up where Justine had left off, she formed Castor et compagnie with Labrosse, drummer Pierre Tanguay, and saxophone player Jean Derome, her life partner since the mid-1980s. The groups main interest in sensual songs and its open-mindedness toward improvisation is closely related to Langages fantastiques, to the extent that many saw in its self-titled debut (1995) a new station along the Wondeur Brass/Les Poules/Justine axis. But that is not completely true. With its focus on Hétu’s voice and the deep-running synergy between Hétu and Derome, premiering here on record, Castor et compagnie is Hétu’s first truly personal statement.

Mets ta langue, released three years later in 1998, pushes the gradual transformation initiated in Wondeur Brass to its inevitable end. The song format has all but disintegrated under the pressure of avant-garde-driven deconstruction and free improvisation. What remains is stunningly beautiful, but shares very little resemblance to the avant-rock of the early 1980s. Likewise, Hétu’s vocal art bas reached a new level, extended techniques and atavistic sounds constantly threatening to take over the words (as they actually did on her 2000 solo CD Seule dans les chants).

It was Hétu’s swan song as a rock singer. The album was received very coldly, which prompted her to scuttle the band and withdraw from the rock scene, focusing instead on composition and improvisation. “I didn’t drop songwriting altogether. We are still doing songs with Nous perçons les oreilles [her duo with Derome]. And improvisation has always been a part of my music, just like songwriting will always have a say in my compositions or my improvisations. Its the industry that draws a line. Whether you perform songs or free improv will determine which clubs and festivals you can play. Remaining active on all fronts at all times is hard. In the end, I simply went along with what I was being offered.

“And the difference in financial needs is so important with songwriting. When it comes to recording, everyone is more or less equal in improvisation, while some people are able to invest linge amounts of money in song-based albums. Recording a song requires more studio time, more personnel, and in my line of songwriting, I could rarely afford that.”

Is she interested in coniing back to songwriting? “Yes. I have several notebooks full of lyrics. And I am working some of them into the MercrediMusic workshops we are currently doing in Montréal. I try to see how I can adapt a lyric from one context to another, when the music has no relation to the words. But I will never put together a group like Justine again. I don’t want to play music that is always the same anymore.”

There are two sides to a desk

Hétu claims her studies in sciences are in part responsible for her pragmatic, down-to-earth side. Ever since she started playing music, she bas been taking care of everything herself — management, concert production, accounting — through PSM and Ambiances Magnétiques. By 1990, she was ready to take a big step, one that would drag her slightly away from the stage and into the office. “After 10 years spent in collectives, both on the creative and business sides, I needed a project of my own. In 1990 I had just had a daughter, money was short, and Productions SuperMusique could not financially sustain the three of us — Diane, Danielle and me.”

The success of René Lussiers award-winning album Le trésor de la langue had stretched the volunteer-based operations of Ambiances Magnétiques to its limits, so Hétu got the idea of putting together her own distribution company, which she named DAME, for Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques Etc. The members of Ambiances Magnétiques (nine by then) retained the right to release whatever projects they saw fit, but Hétu suddenly found herself running a record company. And, therefore, on the other side of the desk. Was that a difficult change? “I never put myself in a position where I would have to say ‘no’ to an artist. Releasing an album through DAME takes a lot of commitment, so the artist and I must be 100% sure that DAME is the right channel for him or her.”

Over the past fifteen years, Hétu has fought hard on behalf of experimental music — what she calls musique actuelle — both promoting it as a legitimate genre and convincing governments to subsidize it. Musique actuelle is “music with a cross-stylistic approach, presenting some level of improvisation, in which the composer is also the interpreter,” she explains. Her prominence as an activist can also make her a target whenever things go wrong. Some artists feel uncomfortable with Hétu’s definition of musique actuelle. Since the late 1990s, a younger generation of Montréal musicians bas emerged. They record for labels such as Constellation and alien8, and perform in spaces such as Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa, and some of them perceive Ambiances Magnétiques simply as an old and established clique. The label bas made a laudable effort to recruit new blood, and its older artists are mingling more and more with the younger crowd, but tensions have led to a few crises. Guitarist René Lussier, the label’s best-selling artist, left in the late 1990s. Drummer Michel F Côté last year started his own label, &records, which bas recently released the fourth album by Klaxon Gueule, another of Ambiances Magnétiques’ high-profile artists.

Meanwhile, the ever-shrinking involvement of the governments in experimental arts has made it almost impossible to plan ahead, leading to an almost catastrophic financial year in 2000. “Government funding bodies dont like to subsidize things that they don’t understand,” Hétu points out. “No subsidies means death for any avant-garde art organization. And it means the death of a nation. At an everyday level, the people benefit from our research, even if they don’t think they understand it. Deep down, mainstream music evolves to the beat of the underground.”

For the love of winter

These difficulties have kept Hétu from writing and performing as much as she would have liked. “Then again, I need this balance between music and business in my life. It’s just that lately the business platter bas had more weight on it, and I am now ready to tip the balance to the other side.” And she has. In the last two years, Hétu has been touring a lot with the reformed Les Poules (now a textural improv trio) and Nous perçons les oreilles. The latter duo is perhaps one of the oddest — and most likeable — projects she has been involved in. Both Hétu and Derome play alto saxophone and sing, their repertoire a mixture of childlike songs full of quirky plays on words and telepathic free iniprovisations. Their chemistry onstage draws the audience into their intimacy, sharing their private vocabulary and total understanding of each other. “We completely endorse each other’s musical choices. Playing with Jean, I never develop enough distance to take niyself out of the equation and make judgments about the other players calls. Everything happens in the moment and in total acceptance of the other. And in our best performances, the ‘yes’ we give to each other seems to say ‘yes’ to the audience. We achieve a symbiosis between ourselves, the audience and the physical space. It is my favorite group.” It is also in this group that Hétu continues to develop her vocal range, adding new sounds, cries, and emotions to her highly personal improv vocabulary.

Much as it is underperformed and underdocumented, Hétu’s biggest and most fascinating project of late is her Musique d’hiver (Winter Music) cycle. Planned as a triptych (the third part is still in development), Musique d’hiver combines structured iinprovisation, composition, and songwriting. Ambitious and original, the work draws from American minimalism, Québec folk and Hétu’s deep love for the Québécois winter.“l am first and foremost a Nordic type. Maybe that’s why I was so fond of ECM-type jazz as a teenager. Despite the banality of the topic, I felt an irrepressible urge to tackle it.”

The first piece, also titled Musique d’hiver, was premièred in February, 2000, and came out on CD a year later. It consists of four movements, one for each month between December and March. Written for flutes, saxes, and vocals (Derome and Hétu), piano (Guillaume Dostaler), accordion (Labrosse), and percussion (Pierre Tanguay), it does more than pay tribute to winter, it depicts it in great detail — the first flurries of december and the excitement of the holidays, the subsequent torpor of January, the blinding reflection of sunlight on the thick snow cover of February, and the maddening yearning for longer and warmer days felt in March. The score includes a number of impressionistic melodies, simple songs, and sound events, sequenced in time and scored through a system of colours and symbols that allow a certain level of improvisation and textural developments. Hétu was able to record Musique d’hiver in Radio-Canada’s Studio 12 (a luxury) and release it on CD in 2001.

“My technique was not quite right for that one. The musicians had to juggle with page after page of directions! I perfected my approach and pushed things further in Nouvelle musique d’hiver.” In that second work, a pre-recorded narrator has taken over the role the songs played in the first one. Also, two musicians have been added (clarinetist Lori Freedman and turntablist Martin Tétreault) and all musicians play electronic instruments in addition to the acoustic ones featured in the first work. The music relies less ou melodies and more on emotional climates. Still, the compositional side is just as strong, and the result is again a stunning representation of each winter month. Nouvelle musique d’hiver had its first (and to date, only) performance in March, 2003, as part of the first edition of the Montréal Musiques Nouvelles festival. Will it ever be recorded? “I really want to. I feel like I need to commit it to disc in order to move along to phase three.” For the companion CD of this issue of Musicworks, Hétu has prepared a selection of excerpts from all four movements of the work, recorded at the première performance.

So what will be phase three? “I would like to do it with a mixed choir. And use more improvisational rules. I would conduct it, using body signals to shape the music. There were five musicians in the first piece, seven in the second, and I don’t intend to go smaller for the third one. It is just like a symphony: the last movement has to be grandiose. But I dont see it happening within the next few years.”

In the meantime, Hétu has kept, and will keep busy. There were numerous concerts on her spring, 2005, calendar, including the ongoing MercrediMusic series — a laboratory she curates with Derome and Lori Freedmam — and an Italian tour for Nous perçons les oreilles. But the highlight of the leason took place April 1 and 2, with the celebration of Production SuperMusique’s twenty-fifth anniversary. PSM presented Palimpseste d’orchestre, where the Ensemble SuperMusique — a shapeshifting group of Ambiances Magnétiques-related musicians — performed three new pieces by Hétu, Labrosse, and Roger, all inspired by and revisiting their common catalogue, back to the days of Wondeur Brass.

And in the Spring of 2006 Hétu will present her next large-scale project, a collaboration with multimedia artist Manon Labrecque: La Filature (a play on words, as “filature” means both secretly following someone, and spinning, a weaving term). “It will be a stage piece, theatre set to sound. The text is the sound. The music is the piece’s starting point — it gives life to the piece.”

Somehow, it feels like we are back to Wondeur Brass’s early music-theatre shows. But there bas been a lot of water under the Pont Jacques-Cartier since 1979 — when the young amateur, playing on stage for the first time, had no idea she was taking her first steps to becoming one of Quebec’s most unique musical voices.

Equally performer and business-woman, her work in both roles bas been enriching the Montréal new-music scene for the past twenty-five years.

Bari Taverna del Maltese - Nous perçons les oreilles

Alberto Francavilla, Jazz Convention, 12 mai 2005

Per la rassegna Idillio màgico, organizzata dai musicisti pugliesi Gianni Lenoci e Mario “Jillo” Volpe, in collaborazione con Dream Lab, in scena, alla Taverna del Maltese di Bari, il duo canadese Nous perçons les oreilles (NPLO).

Gli NPLO, fondatori dell’etichetta Ambiances Magnétiques, sono senza dubbio due tra gli artisti più interessati alla sperimentazione e alla contaminazione di linguaggi nel panorama mondiale. Come ben esplica la breve presentazione che precede il concerto, amano definirsi «due sax, due voci, due gorgogliatori, due satiri, due forze della natura che si dimenano, cinguettano, soffiano, mordono e trasformano la musica in incantazione profana e festa di suoni.»

Non è una caso che Jean Derome (sax, flauto, voce e “small instruments”) e Joane Hétu (sax e voce) abbiano deciso di essere accompagnati da Gianni Lenoci (tastiere) e Mario “Jillo” Volpe (elettronica, oggetti sonori), che da sempre hanno cercato di smuovere il panorama musicale pugliese con progetti originali e d’avanguardia. Ed infatti il concerto, completamente improvvisato, si articola in pratica in una sola traccia, all’interno della quale, però, è costante il mutamento di suoni e, conseguentemente, la creazione atmosfere diverse.

Derome e Hétu si confermano nella veste di agitatori, sovvertendo i tradizionali canoni della melodia sonora, grazie all’utilizzo insistito di vocalizzi, ma anche di particolari sonorità ottenute con le labbra e persino con i denti!

Dal canto loro, Lenoci conferma la sua consolidata fama di pianista versatile e foriero di soluzioni armoniche alternative. Si integra perfettamente con le stravaganze del duo canadese, partecipandovi anzi attivamente con particolari vocalizzi; Jillo assume una funzione quasi di «regista», essendo incaricato alla distorsione di suoni e voci, e partecipando alla costruzione di questo particolare clima con il ricorso a strumenti improvvisati (per es. legnetti, una scodella e persino un tubo!):ancora una volta, quindi, ribadisce il suo caratteristico ruolo di «manipolatore di suoni».

Risulta chiaro l’intento, peculiare dell’attività di ciascuno dei quattro artisti sul palco, di ricercare nuovi linguaggi sonori, dimostrando che la musica è un elemento intrinseco alla natura, e dunque che si possono creare melodie utilizzando oggetti tipici della nostra vita quotidiana. Inoltre è propria l’intenzione dei NPLO di «suonare il corpo», in modo da esprimere una nuova dimensione della fisicità, che diventa «naturalmente» melodica, anche se in alcuni momenti sfiora l’abrasione uditiva. Non si può comunque negare che la performance risulti molto originale, ed ottiene indubbiamente l’effetto di provocare in taluni punti una sensazione di inquietudine, se non proprio di angoscia. Questa percezione sarebbe forse stata ancora più efficace, se fosse stata accompagnata dalla proiezione di immagini (diapositive o video), che ne avrebbero aumentato il potenziale suggestivo; purtroppo la fusione tra arte sonora e arte visiva (che è una particolarità del duo Lenoci-Volpe, nda) non è stata in questo caso possibile, dato che era la prima volta in assoluto che essi si trovavano ad esibirsi col duo Derome-Hétu, e perlopiù si trattava di un’improvvisazione.

Per concludere, il concerto è risultato di difficile comprensione per un pubblico che è apparso «improvvisato» e impreparato; d’altronde è questo il rischio di esibirsi in un pub, solitamente ricco di avventori e gente «di passaggio». Ciò ha causato in più momenti un fastidioso brusio che impediva una ascolto accurato, per un’esibizione che aveva bisogno di più attenzione e, quindi, di maggiore silenzio. Rimane innegabile, però, che la Taverna del Maltese risulti ancora una volta tra i locali più attenti, nel panorama barese, nel dare voce a nuove forme artistiche e musicali, promuovendo prodotti ed iniziative che si muovono su terreni nuovi, un fenomeno che è difficile riscontrare da queste parti.

Edgefest 2004, Ann Arbor MI, 13-16 October 2004

David Dupont, One Final Note, 1 novembre 2004

Edgefest in Ann Arbor, Michigan is an avant-garde jazz Brigadoon. Walking into the Kerrytown Concert House, the same folks are settling into the same seats as they were just over a year ago, and as they have been in the six years I’ve been making the trek up here. And even the leader of the band ready to take the stage was familiar. Guitarist James Emery had been here last year with the String Trio of New York. In fact, Edgehead-in-chief David Lynch likes to present musicians in different formats. This year he presented Emery leading his own quartet featuring ace reedman Marty Ehrlich with the rhythm team of bassist Drew Gress and percussionist Kevin Norton.[…]

But Thursday I’m ready to make the short six-block walk to the Firefly Club, a cozy nightspot in the heart of Ann Arbor’s downtown. Opening the two-band show was Nous Percons les Oreillles (We Pierce the Ears) featuring Jean Derome and Joane Hétu. Derome’s appearance is an example of how festival producer David Lynch likes to work. In 2002, Derome was at the festival with two different groups. In 2004, he returned with a third aggregation, a duo with his wife. Together they delivered their own brand of urban bohemian folk music. Their sounds seemed rooted in the urbane detritus of a cosmopolitan household. They both sing—she in a powerful, malleable voice and he in a rich, but unaffected voice. They both play saxophone, though on this night the saxophone playing seemed more of an emulsifier than the key ingredient.

Derome adds a toy chest full of little instruments—toys, whistles, animal calls, which the duo brought together in odd, whimsical combinations. Sometimes their singing seemed to be emanating from a church. Or on one number, Hétu produced gagging sounds as if she had something lodged in her throat. It had the audience on edge, caught in that odd place wondering whether this was to be taken seriously. I smiled, and breathed a sigh of relief when Hétu’s voice suddenly rang free. Following the piece, Derome explained the text. Sure enough, it was about having something caught in the throat. Yet this was more than the reprise of an unfortunate scene one might witness at the dinner table. Even at her most strangled gagging, the overtones in Hétu’s voice resonated.

"We’re from Montréal", Derome said. "This is the kind of music we do." Not everywhere, he added dryly. "So you can visit." At one point between numbers, the bar’s ice machine clattered—an aberration, the Firefly is very solicitous of performers. "The ice is nice", Hétu commented, thinking I suspect about how it could be integrated into the music. The duo closed its set with a game of avant-garde patty-cake, beating hands together while singing a simple four-bar, nursery-song like phrase. That little melodic nugget stayed lodged in my ear during the break between shows.[…]

So how did Edgefest 2004 stack up? The festival is always a high point of my year, and this year was no exception. As usual the variety of acts that fell under the cover of the festival’s large umbrella was impressive. I suspect the strongest images I’ll retain from this festival will be Rashied Ali’s torrential drumming, the fine balance of James Emery’s quartet, the out-lyricism of Joe McPhee, and those few fleeting moments of Jenny Scheinman’s Salagaster. Those are the kind of memories that will keep me in anticipation of next year’s festival.

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