Broken music maker

Art Lange, The Wire, no 180, 1 février 1999

New Music is where you find it, but for heavy electroacoustics and crosscultural blends of free improvisation and song. Montréal is presently the place to be. Turntablist Martin Tétreault works at the centre of the city’s beehive of musical activity, alongslide a bevy of inquisitive, explorative artists, such as guitarist René Lussier, saxophonist Jean Derome, vocalist/multi-intrumentalist Joane Hétu, keyboardist Diane Labrosse and percussionist Michel F Côté. A mix of studied intuition and wild experimentation, Tétreault’s hands-on approach to turntables is doubtless unlike any other you’ve heard. He collaborated tow of last year’s most engaging CDs Dur noyau dur with René Lussier (my vote for the best free Improv disc of the year) and Callas:La diva et le vinyle, a tongue-in-cheek deconstructivist homage to opera legend Maria Callas, recorded with clarinettist Robert Marcel Lepage. Tétreault didn’t come up throught the usual musical channels, wich might account for why he’s so different. As he relates in his fluent French-accented English, “I began in 1984, switching from fine art to music. To make it short, I was doing things in visual art, very minimalist stuff, cutting paper and things like that, and one day I decided to cut a record. At first it was not for music, it was only to cut something other than paper. But I put it on a turntable and thought, ‘Wow, it works’ It was not something I planned, to become a musician, but just this very simple action completely changed my artistic direction. “Though he hadn’t heard any of HipHop’s pathbreaking turntablists, he immediatly jumped into the fray. A predilection for skewered stylistic juxtapositions and intensely textural, rather than rhythmical, effects asserted itself. “I was completely into New Music when I began,” he says. “More recently I’ve listened to new DJ stuff like DJ Spooky, DJ Shadow— a little more commercial, but I think it’s interesting, very important for pop music. People want to introduce me to DJs that are more HipHop here in Montréal, but I know more about the work of Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Marclay, David Shea, that generation Christian Marclay and I played together in Montréal in 89, for a Broken Music exhibition. I met Otomo in that same period, I think it was 1991. He sent me tapes and asked me if I wanted to work with him. But he’s a very busy person. So last year I was in Japan to play with him and then he came to Canada and we did a tour. “

Working with so many different musicians and in so many varied settings, at home and on the road, challenges Tétreault to invent new sounds for each context. Yet he rarely includes random radio play among his sound effects, and eschews samplers or other electronic devices. He still concentrates on vinyl LPs and the turntable machinery itself as sound sources. “ I consider the turntable to be a music instrument,” he asserts. “Take the electric guitar, for instance. There’s no two guitars that sound the same, and it’s the same with turntables. I have some customised turntables with modified motors and speeds and so on, and more than 3000 records in my collection. Each record is classified by musical instrument—percussion, strings, electronics. spoken words, things like that When I work with panticular records, I go and make a kind of composition—let’s try this percussion sound with these strings if it’s for an improvising concert, I will work in that way, but other times it must be more precise. For example, Jean Derome’s Hommage à Georges Perec /Je me souviens) is a composition for big band, 13 musicians playing a kind of intentionally cliched 1950s music, and every part was written out except for mine. I was the only person who was free. So I created my part at home, and put stickers on the records for visual cueing, so that it’s very controlled, and I can repeat it at exactly the same way, the same speed, every time. On another project with René Lussier and Diane Labrosse, I played with prepared records and prepared needles—no musical quotations, only surface noise from the LP and things stuck on the record to make rhythmic effects. But that’s different from what I normally do, it’s more “musique d’objet”. And I just completed a new solo CD done with only parasite noise from turntables—no scratching, only the sound of motors and things like that. Every project is different, because there are a lot of possibilities, and every time I say to myself I will try to do something different than before.

My vote for best improv disc of the year.