The body of work from Robert Lepage is an ever expanding universe of ideas and concepts, including his core clarinet work, experiments with other actuelle artists such as Martin Tétreault and René Lussier, and his many compositional and soundtrack pieces. His recent 20h17 rue Darling is a dark and moody soundtrack composition with a persistent narrative. La machine à explorer le tempo shows another side to Lepage’s compositions, more melodic and playful, demonstrating his talent in a wide variety of styles.
This work was commissioned by the La Nef, a group founded in 1991 by Sylvain Bergeron, Claire Gignac and Viviane LeBlanc to focus on early music placed in modern settings. They challenged Lepage to create a piece for 10 musicians with modern and traditional instrumentation. The result is a piece for horns, an early trombone called the sackbut, guitar and banjo, a form of bazouki known as the saz, bass, flutes, percussion, violins, sampling and live sound treatment, for which Louis Babin provided deft arrangements. This live recording is taken from the second performance of the work, and includes brief dialog from Lepage (in French) discussing the piece. The 18 movements are parts of three “Paradoxes” which Lepage describes tongue-in-cheek as allowing the “courageous chrononauts to visit three music time Paradoxes: passing Time, running Time, and slipping Time.” Each paradox lasts about 20 minutes, and explores composition, musical games, improvisations, sampling and live processing.
The resulting music is an absorbing combination of genres and styles, reflecting both Lepage’s interest in mood and his breadth as a composer. American ballads, exotica, cinematic sweeps, banjo ramblings, moody narratives, simple melodic settings and orchestral grandeur slip and slide into each other with an excellent sense of direction. Genre-jumpers will find this an excellent work to deconstruct, while the merely curious will find in it an ever-shifting yet always engaging work. Ultimately it is an excellent reflection on musical style with a broad historical vision. As well it should: Lepage named the piece in reference to H G Well’s novel, The Time Machine, with the further aim of creating a cinematic universe to freely mix music of all periods.