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Musiques du temps présent

Maison de la Culture Côte-des-Neiges (Montréal)

Battling snow and wind on an evening that could be spent at home in the cozy warmth of your bed is never fun, even for someone from Quebec City like me. But after coming back out of the Maison de la Culture Côte-des-Neiges and facing the snow once again, I was very glad I hadn't stayed at home. The evening's performance consisted of the last in a series of six concerts called "Musiques du temps présent". At 8 pm we were permitted to enter the concert hall, a small-sized room with about 120 seats, most of which were filled by the start of the concert. Surrounding the seated audience were the numerous speakers that one would expect to find at an electracoustic concert; there seemed to be eighteen in all, two at the back, two on each side of the audience, one at each front corner of the room, two stacks of three speakers each on both sides of the stage with another two at centre stage, as well as another pair installed on a metal platform in the middle of the stage, at about five meters off the ground. The mixing board was set up in the middle of the room, behind which I seated myself.

Once the audience was settled, the organizer of the concert, Simon Bertrand, introduced the evening's program. The works of four composers were to be presented, all of which were "musique mixte" works. This style of contemporary music consists of a live performance by a musician playing an instrument as well as a pre-recorded piece of electroacoustic music, thus blending together traditional musical elements with the a broad range of unconventional sound elements from the electroacoustic realm. Since all four composers were present, the audience was treated to a thorough introduction to each piece, as the history, the sound collecting and the concept behind each one was revealed to us.

First was a new composition by Serge Arcuri, Migrations. The main sound sources consisted of flocks of geese recorded at the Cap Tourmente bird sanctuary this past October. The instrumental portion was interpreted by Josée Poirier on the flute. Lasting almost ten minutes, this collaboration of live and studio-processed sounds was quite stunning, as the crisp, rich sound of the hall allowed us to be transported along in this migration of majestic birds. Next was Ouroboros, by Jacques Tremblay and with André Leroux on the tenor saxophone. Tremblay in fact was the man behind the mixer for the entire evening, and seemed particularly at ease and active during his piece, which was around twenty minutes long and was a musical analogy to the refinement of lead into gold as attempted by the ancient alchemists. A big contrast after Migrations, the sounds recorded for this piece were mainly of acousmatic nature, unusual and hard to place. True to his intention, we felt at the heart of a great factory, where harsh sounds were thrown into a scorching forge to emerge as vibrant, complex versions of their former selves.

Third in the lineup was À l'horizon du silence, by the youngest composer of the evening, Martin Leclerc. His instrument of choice was the trumpet, played by Pascal Leprohon. A piece with eight parts, this was definitely the most aggressive and disturbing composition I had heard in a long time, as its concept was to illustrate the interaction and opposed feelings of the conqueror and the conquered. The use of familiar sound samples consisting of voice and the noises of a city, layered with startling and chaotic clips suggesting horror and war movies, created a feeling of unease and vertigo, which may have been what caused some audience members to leave as it ended. Last and definitely not least was Yves Daoust's L'entrevue, with Luc Lopez on the accordion. As its title indicates, this piece was created from vocal samples of an interview with the original accordionist who had commissioned the composition. The pre-recorded track had a light simplicity compared to the other compositions of the evening, consisting mainly of phrases and words which were processed to give them depth and movement with the use of echoes and delays. The live music from the accordion added a rather novel dimension of sound, as the instrument vividly evoked the "joie de vivre" of early 20th century France. As a choice for the last composition of the evening, this piece was the perfect candidate. It's very emotional, uplifting notes ended the concert beautifully and left me with a smile on my face, determined to seek out more similar events of "musique mixte".

As a whole, this concert was a feast of originality and variety. Each of the compositions presented offered a different perspective of the rich musical landscape explored by the artists in both the electroacoustic and instrumental areas. The sound in the hall was very satisfactory and I believe succeeded in conveying the visions each artist had for their pieces. Apart for some distractions caused by noise in the audience such as coughing and much chair-creaking, the evening's proceedings went on flawlessly and allowed the audience to become acquainted with some great examples of the contemporary music created here in Montreal.

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