Ora est le nom que porte la collaboration entre les artistes sonores montréalais / Tiohtià:ke Stéphanie Castonguay et Maxime Corbeil-Perron, les deux actifs sur la scène expérimentale internationale depuis plusieurs années. Castonguay a développé son propre univers en musique DIY, à démonter de petits appareils électroniques pour modifier les circuits de manière à générer de la matière sonore, et des trames musicales technologiques. Corbeil-Perron a commencé par se démarquer en composition électroacoustique, et plus récemment en réalisation de vidéomusiques et animations expérimentales, en explorant les liens entre les technologies obsolètes / vintage et contemporaines.
Dans le cadre de Motile cilia (cils motiles, en biologie cellulaire), Castonguay est aux commandes de générateurs et senseurs de champs électromagnétiques et de synthétiseurs, tandis que Corbeil-Perron performe sur la guitare et le piano préparés, la boîte à rythmes et plus de synthétiseurs. Dans ces conditions, on se doute que le résultat soit expérimental, mais on découvre dès la première écoute un flot, un fil conducteur qui réunit le rock expérimental avec des connectiques trafiquées pour mener à une trame immersive post-industrielle.
La performance se matérialise en forme de filaments de vielle à roue qui s’épaississent, et se regroupent à l’unisson pour ensuite se décupler en chœur de guitares pleureuses modifiées en sirène de train. La masse s’ancre dans le sol avec un bourdonnement dans les basses, comme un avion qui plane au-dessus, mais résonne en dessous. Les percussions marquent une transition vers une séquence un peu plus bruitée, ponctuée par une alarme répétitive et un effet de polissage de fréquences.
Ça se poursuit dans une direction complètement expérimentale et imprévisible centrée sur l’alarme, devenant presque agressive rendu là, jusqu’à un point de rupture qui se résolve à l’orgue. La guitare désaccordée remplace le tout dans un solo épique célébrant l’inharmonie dans toute sa distorsion.
Le mouvement fait place à une pulsation sur deux notes qui résonne en avant des filaments de vielle à roue entendus au tout début. Ça devient étonnement mélodieux à partir du mouvement au piano qui équilibre la pièce entière et résout le thème en finale méditative.
C’est ce que l’on retient en premier lorsque Motile cilia se termine, la conclusion très réussie d’un flot qui passe par différents points de tension, dont un particulièrement déconstruit. On en ressent certainement une satisfaction bien que la qualité de la création donne envie qu’il y ait une suite, tel un Shine on you crazy diamond post-toute. Néanmoins, la performance se tient très bien à elle seule et donne un aperçu captivant de ce que le duo peut créer comme univers sonore.
Tom Johnson is a new composer for me, apart from his Chord Catalogue, a work I still have to listen to. Born in 1939, he privately studied composition with Morton Feldman. As a music critic, he wrote for The Village Voice. You can find an anthology in his book The Voice of Music, published in 1989. He coined the term minimal music in 1972.
The music collected on this disc is his complete works for the string quartet. Sixty-six minutes spread over four pieces. The oldest piece is from 1994, and the youngest is composed in 2009. And what music it is. His approach to music is logical, mathematical, not whimsical or sterile. He later collaborated with mathematicians to find formulas to apply to music (or vice versa). The resulting music is lovely. The first few pieces comprising Combinations are in the vein of Steve Reich or Philip Glass. Highly repetitive motives. But: the sequences are always the same, just varied on the different string instruments. This might be an oversimplification of the score. But the way Johnson organizes the material is logical, using only the notes heard in the beginning and mathematically permutating them. The overall pattern becomes apparent after a few rounds. And that is just the first piece. The next one is sparse, only using the same note in different octaves, almost sounding organ-like. Piece number 4 of combinations utilize silence in a cheeky-sneaky way. Tilework for string quartet is a version of this work for string quartet. There is also a version for solo instruments, including bassoon. I might track down the sheet music. The fifteen pieces comprising Four Note-Chords in Four Voices are just that. Voicings of four chords across the four-string instruments. The kind of voicing creates some sort of melody or monody in the different permutations of the chord. I didn’t read much about his theorization on his music to have an unbiased ear.
The different pieces have enough variation to not become a tedious listening experience. That being said: the music is wonderfully performed by the Bozzini Quartet. Recorded in a church, the music played has a vibrant quality, although the quartet doesn’t use vibrato on the strings. Also, the players’ enthusiasm for this music results in some minor speeding up in the first few pieces in some solo sections, adding to the liveliness of the music. Well done! Now, where did I put that Chord Catalogue?
Isaiah Ceccarelli is a percussionist and composer. Toute clarté m’est obscure (2013 with a revision in 2018) consists of three long pieces, each over fifteen minutes long, three written interludes, and two shorter pieces. Bourdons is a kind of group meditation on long sustained notes with fluttering dissonance in several instruments. Intermede 2 is scored for the lower registers in the ensemble, which creates a brooding atmosphere. The title piece is a setting of a fourteenth-century ballad.
Again long-sustained notes with ever-so-slowly shifting notes, creating chords that slowly evolve, but with added notes to create a moving sound carpet. This is not meant to be background music or muzak. The shortest piece lasts just 2 minutes, and it’s the most uplifting piece on the recording. It contains a jolting melody sung by the soprano accompanied by gentle and soothing chords. But the text counters this by stating that death surrounds us even in our lives. Seventy minutes long, it’s quite worthwhile to take the plunge and immerse yourself into Ceccarelli’s sound world.
Ensemble SuperMusique is a small Canadian orchestra focussing on contemporary and mainly improvised music. Joane Hétu is a member of the ensemble and has composed the first piece that is presented here, Cléo Palacio-Quintin and Viviane Houle being the other two composers. All three pieces were created as an interplay between musical score and moving images. Essentially, if I understood correctly, the score itself was the moving pictures. As Danielle Palardy Roger rightly remarks in the liner notes, the visual part is lost in the audio recording. Supposedly it lives on in the music, but this would not be discernible to the listener. The title of the release, Sonne l’image = ’Sound the image’ (even better in English, due to the ambiguity it introduces), maps out the concept. All compositions were recorded in one set in Nov 2019.
La vie de l’esprit (Hétu) kicks off with a vocal part then moves into a thoughtful piece of interaction between piano and strings or wind instruments and percussion. The music erupts into hectic parts that involve more instruments from time to time (why is not known to us). With nearly 15 minutes in length, the piece builds little tension as it moves between the quiet and intense parts with little musical motivation. Fewer instruments and more tension might have been beneficial to the audio side of this event, though I did like the interplay with the electronic sounds and voices in the last third. Aléas: Révélations des pierres muettes (=revelations of mute stones) (Palacio-Quintin) creates the tension by starting and ending drone-like with a deep, vibrating tone that is then overlayed with sparsely set notes, then whispered voices are added. Instruments drop more notes here and there as the level builds and the whispers become audible voices. And then everything subsides again into the drone. I can, actually, conjure up imagery for this one. First Words (Houle) also uses voices (is this maybe the connecting element?) in a more ’instrumental’ way than the other two compositions. Again, there is more consistency in the piece. It moves from vocal beginnings to wind, wind instrument, percussion, sinewave generator, strings and others playing phrases, not just single notes, with the different instruments participating in creating a continuous backdrop from time to time (well balanced, not too often) interrupted by outbursts. The nicest one is the drum solo in the second half. It ends with a beautifully balanced succession of solo vocal, flutes, a racket of everyone, ebbing off into to flute melody.
Joane Hétu has a long history in music, starting as a saxophone player involved in Canadian avant-garde bands like Wondeur Brass, but then turning to more ’serious’ work more akin to contemporary classical formats, but also getting into ballet music, performances, and video. She also has a business side, being on the board of the label Ambiences Magnetiques, the production company Productions SuperMusique, and the DAME record label. She has also combined vocal improvised and improvised ensemble work, something I have never quite got to grips with.
On Tags, we find several compositions she created over the past years, 2000 to 2019, to be more precise. Ne t’estompe pas en moi is a duo between bass clarinette and double bass. It has a jazz feel to it, but also one of improvisation and some nice bits where the two instruments cease to weave around each other but begin to play with the same little melody before going off on a tangent again. In Tags, Hétu plays the saxophone again, together with Jean Derome (their duo CD was reviewed here a while ago), backed up by Quatuor Bozzini (string quartet) and Quasar (a saxophone quartet). So there, racket guaranteed? That’s not what you get, though. The groups of instruments play intermittently, or the sounds get overlaid. It all sounds chaotic, somewhere between improvised music (which must not necessarily be jazz) and contemporary classic. I found a little bit of voice improv unnecessary (as I said, I am not a fan of), but it remains a bit isolated somewhere in the second half. The other two pieces, Les dentellières (Lace Makers) and Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états (’The conditions’ — or ’States’), are more ’orchestral’ in a sense. They build a more complex sound spectrum that could be tagged more industrial at times. The first might remind me of Glenn Branca, as it uses 20 guitars. Ensemble SuperMusique performs the second based on a graphical score by Hétu (a member of the Ensemble herself), a ’catalogue’ of sound bits/musical fragments to use. Sounds very intellectual. Whilst Les dentellières conjures up the picture of guitar strings making up the fabric of the lace (hm … ), the piece starts with single guitar notes that build into a continuous… not exactly ’drone’, but something akin, with less discreet notes to be heard. It manages to hold the tension without venturing out into any Branca-like overdrive. Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant: Les états plays between quiet, drawn bits and parts that remind more of Zeitkratzer playing Merzbow. Only towards the second half the music becomes denser and more of an ensemble piece that is more than pieced-together sounds. As always, I believe this kind of ’free’ music that relies significantly on the input of the musician’s onset is better viewed live. As a recording, it does lose some of the impact.