Portrait: Papa Boa
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.
If your listening tastes run to punk rock or wilder jazz, Tête à queue will be the best and most enjoyable opportunity to get your foot in the Ambiances Magnétiques door, figuratively speaking. This musique-actuelle ensemble, based in Montréal, deals heavily in improvisation; material is created and recorded on the fly, then dismantled, reassembled, sampled, manipulated and augmented by further improvisation. While such a process could easily produce compositions that sound less like music and more like a brain-damaged giraffe loose in a cookware shop, Papa Boa’s recognizable use of rock and jazz trappings — conventional applications of guitar, bass, keyboards, sax, flute, etc. — should make it easier for new listeners to understand and appreciate the creative methodology involved in the bi-directional transition from chaos to order. Tête à queue frequently rocks, albeit in a lurching, chaotic and exhilarating fashion (and isn’t that the best way?), as on the frenzied Champêtre or the syncopated seether La mer à boire. There are quieter and more esoteric moments, too, but the overall approachability of the disc makes even its less distinctly musical elements seem far more immediate. If you’ve ever been curious about musique actuelle, electro-acoustic composition or Ambiances Magnetiques, you’ll find Tête à queue to be a perfect diving board, plunging you into a deep and fascinating pool of music and ideas.