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Paul Wells

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Offbeat new-music festival features evocative “Tresor"

Paul Wells, The Gazette, 5 octobre 1991

Rene Lussier’s hand weaves through the air like some crazed mosquito. “You say weird melodies every day, and very complex melodies too, when you talk," the guitarist and composer says. His hand continues its agitated path, to illustrate what he’s talking about.

He hums along, an insistent, nagging stream of nonsense syllables that, sure enough, rather rcsembles the contours of speech.

Lussier knows whereof he speaks, or in this case, hums. Two years ago, the unassuming avant-gardist released a stupefyingly ambitious map of those vocal contours, an amusing, confusing and fascinating record called Le Trésor de la langue.

A stew of sounds

Years in the making, a thick stew of archival voice recordings, person-inthe-street interviews and painstaking musical accompaniment, it was a heartfelt tribute to language — the French language,version Québécoise — that immediately solidified Lussier’s position as the darling of Québec’s musical avant garde.

Now he’s getting ready to tackle the mammoth project again. Live, in concert. The prospect clearly scares him half to death. Lussier puts the blame for his fix on Michel Levasseur, the organizer of the Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, a world-famous celebration of annotated anarchy that, every Thanksgiving weekend, turns the sleepy little town into a bastion of music’s anti-establishment establishment. “For two years, Michel has been saying, hey, you’ve got to do it (perform Le Trésor de la Langue live)," Lussier said. “It takes somebody who’s not a musician to suggest that, because it’s impossible."

Still, there’s something attractive about attempting the impossible, so Lussier finally caved in. Friday, at Victoriaville’s Grand Café, Le Tresor will go live. It promises to be the highlight of a heady five-day festival. And it won’t be a simple recreation of the CD. In his 1 5-year career of improvisation and unpredictable composition, Lussier hasn’t gained much of a reputation for repeating himself, after all. In a series of rehearsals, Lussier and an eight-piece band have been looking for ways to tum the CD—achingly planned, mapped down to the second — into a flexible, unpredictable performance.

Touchstones of nationalism

Where the spoken word reigned on the CD, it’s the notes that will fly at Victoriaville. “I want the evocative power of the music to be stronger than the concept. “ But words, both recorded and spoken live, will still be there. And since Lussier takes some of the touchstones of Québec nationalism as his text, from Charles de Gaulle’s 1967. “Vive le Québec libre" speech to the FLQ manifesto, questions about his own political views will arise again. He’s content not to answer the questions. “The thing that I like the most is that people look at this project all differently," he says. “Some people’are really excited about the politics, other people don’t f---ing care, they just want to see how (the music) is done." How it’s done—how note joins with word in a marriage more intimate than the cheap fling of everyday song and Iyric—seems to be what fascinates Lussier the most, too.

“You can spend your whole life on this stuff," he says distractedly. Then, after the briefest of pauses: “But I won’t."

A few humble suggestions on how to improve annual extravaganza

Paul Wells, The Gazette, 2 mars 1991

Now’s the time to showcase an other avant-gardist, Montréal guitarist René Lussier. He has a real audience — a respectable number came to his Spectrum show during last fall’s New music America festival

More important, as his album Le trésor de la langue showed, Lussier gives eloquent expression to Québécois nationalism, wich isn’t exacly likely to fade away by summer. Publish disclaimers (“The opinion expressed in this concert are not necessarily… “) if you want but seize the chance to give this festival some political bite.

Speech as musical treasure. Bold, brilliant track charts Québécois language

Paul Wells, The Gazette, 1 mars 1990

Language is music to his ears

René Lussier has mined the rich musicality of Québécois French and literally turned speech into music. His bold, brilliant record Le trésor de la langue traces the history of his mother tongue, representing a timely contribution to the language debate and an artistic breakthrough for the young composer.

Le trésor de la langue is important: because it’s the work of a Québecer, because it’s about the state of French in North America and all the thorny politics that that implies, and —most of all— because it’s an audacious musical experiment, brilliantly executed.

Lussier, a self-taught avant-garde guitarist, spent more than two years taping interviews and colleaing archival recordings —Charles de Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre” speech René Levesque’s referendum-night concession speech and lesser-known snippets.

Then he wrote, for an 11-piece ensemble, music to match the rhythms of every word. That’s quite a tas~ It means you need an ear musical enough to hear, for instance, that Ç’é ca qu’on va faire translates into a pick-up, triplet eighths, and a quarter note if you put a rock beat behind it. Then you need to repeat the trick over and over for nearly an hour’s worth of speech.

The point of it all is to illustrate the wonderful music of everyday speech —the treasure of language, indeed. And because Lussier chooses Québécois as his text everyday and landmarks of nationalism—plus a reading of the FLQ manifesto—it’s clear enough which language he treasures, and alrnost as clear what political inferences he draws.

This is not easy listening. The dissonance of conversation is made clearer when filtered through Lussier’s mind. But there’s something here to amuse, intrigue, and certainly lo enrage any listener who cares about music, language and culture.

The point is to illustrate the wonderful music of everyday speech — the treasure of language indeed. […] It’s an audacious musical experiment, brilliantly executed.

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