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."