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The Development of Acousmatics in Montréal

At the spring 2001 edition of Montréal’s electroacoustic concert series Rien à Voir, the newly emerging composers of England, notably Birmingham, were discussed amongst the attending composers and critics. Most often remarked was that their compositions had a very “Montréal school” sound. This concept of a “Montréal sound” speaks of the city’s phenomenal growth as a centre for electroacoustic music. Within the last decade, major electroacoustic competitions have witnessed a rising dominance by Montréal school composers, those from the traditional university bastions of contemporary composition Université de Montréal and McGill and even those from outside such as Concordia and the Conservatoire du Québec à Montréal.

Beginning in the mid-70s, Montréal embraced a genre of composition known as acousmatics. This term has become extremely controversial and varied in meaning. Part of this paper will try to redefine what is acousmatic and in particular, how it may be regarded in terms of Montréal’s sound. Furthermore, I will examine the circumstances surrounding the rapid development of Montréal’s electroacoustic schools and its worldwide reputation. Particularly interesting, in this regard, is the development of a compositional style independent from the trends of Canada, the United States and to a lesser degree, Europe. Finally, the paper will try to examine just what are the recognizable traits of the Montréal sound, and what may be the reason for its positive international reputation. I will not attempt to define characteristics of any other compositional school but will at times compare some of their general compositional qualities to those of the Montréal school.

Acousmatics is a complex term to define. It has, over the last fifty years, changed in meaning albeit subtly. Pythagoras invented the word acousmatic as a definition of sound hidden from its visual source. Pythagoras’ term was all but forgotten until the French theorist Jerôme Peignot used it to describe musique concrète’s method of the separation of sound from reference in 1955. It was Pierre Schaeffer, the father of the French musique concrète school who developed the term further. He emphasized that a visual link between the sound source and its origin was not necessary and if anything, undesired. Schaeffer believed sound sources were chosen based on timbral, rhythmic and textural qualities not on the visual connections implied. Furthermore, the compositional material involves participatory listening focused on a deeper sonic and structural level, a matter that I will discuss later. Schaeffer felt that one could separate gestural or visual connections by using an analytical approach to hearing, deconstructing sound based on modes of listening and seven morphological categories. The process of identifying sounds morphologically can be regarded as a "descriptive operation or qualification of sonic objects". Schaeffer suggested that those who have rigorously trained their ears to listen morphologically become practitioners of écoute réduite or reduced listening. This process involves negating visual implications or reference from the mind. For instance, if I were to hear a locomotive whistle, I would not hear a train and visualise it, I would only hear the morphological qualities of its sound.

Departing from this idea and correlating with the use of the term acousmatic by the electroacoustic school today, François Bayle, Pierre Schaeffer’s successor as both composer and theorist felt that acousmatic music was created organically like film and that the end creations are images of sound. This revised definition of 1974 erases the alienating detachment of the visual and the aural and correlates well with the acousmatic music produced today, specifically that of the Montréal school and its influences. Schaeffer’s music is generally labeled as musique concrete, linking back to his historical period of production in the early forties and to a compositional aesthetic now generally out of practice; as a result this term has become mostly abandoned in today's electroacoustic music scene. Bayle and the Groupe de Recherche Musicale emerged in the 1970’s as the leaders of a new ‘acousmatic’ musical style. Nevertheless, while they redefined themselves as acousmaticians, their music has continued to shun the connection of sound with visual.

Michel Chion, the French critic and composer reinterprets the term acousmatic once again in his book Guide des Objets Sonores: Pierre Schaeffer et la recherche musicale. Chion believes that the term acousmatic refers to a method of listening similar to Schaeffer’s reduced listening concept. An acousmatic situation, in which the sound source is hidden, aids the process of reduced listening. While the act of talking on the telephone can be regarded as acousmatic, the intent of the producer of sound is not musical, nor is the recipient attempting reduced listening.

Similarly, Francis Dhomont, a Montréaler and one of the most important electroacoustic composers defines acousmatics not as a style of composition, but rather as a method of listening. Dhomont argues that part of what makes the Montréal sound so unique is the way in which Montréaler’s hear.

Denis Smalley, an electroacoustic composer from England, questions the whole basis of the acousmatic movement in his article, "Acousmatic music: does it exist?" For Smalley, reduced listening is next to impossible for the listener who has never heard the sound sources before, regardless of training or ability. The composer, after repeated listening to a particular sample, may be able to strip the event from its visual connection, but the listener will always subconsciously try to connect a sound to a visual or gestural event.

It is the difference in listening to electroacoustic music as opposed to traditional types of music that has necessitated the term acousmatic. What is missing from the discussion of detachment between the visual and the aural is the lack of narrative implications. Narrative suggestions become apparent when we examine the electroacoustic sound of Montréal. In general, Montréal acousmatic music is connected with the everyday; it includes many references to radio, conversations, telephones, machinery: all sound objects that one immediately visualises, whether one is attempting reduced listening or not. Conversations and everyday aural activity can often result in the mind linking these events to gestural functions. Acousmatic music, in my opinion is extremely narrative, particularly when the sound objects are easily recognised. Consequently, the analysis of acousmatic music may be done on a variety of levels. Before embarking on a discussion of different analytic styles and techniques, it is important to examine the history of electroacoustics in Montréal in order to understand how this unique compositional style developed.

In 1997, leading acousmatic composers gathered in Montréal to discuss the need for a new term for electroacoustics. The location and date of the meeting speaks just as much of an historical precedence as the need for generic redefinition in electroacoustics. Due to the location of this important meeting, Montréal’s emergence as one of the electroacoustic capitals was complete. How did this transformation take place and what unique global ‘picture’ does the Montréal acousmatic school create?

Otto Joachim’s creation of his personal studio in Montréal in 1956 launched the city’s early experimentation with electroacoustics but it was the development of the electronic music laboratory at McGill University by Hugh LeCaine and Istvan Anhalt that brought modern electroacoustic composition to Montréal. McGill’s studio was important in bringing knowledge of electronic production in Europe to Québec and Canada. Nevertheless, the two linguistic solitudes of pre-Quiet Revolution Montréal prevailed. McGill’s electronic studio was primarily devoted to instrument invention, as was most of the rest of North America’s University studios. Furthermore, McGill still represented the governing English upper class society, largely closed to Francophones interested in classical music. The music of Hugh LeCaine was important and influential in Montréal, as was the World Soundscape Project of R. Murray Schafer. Nevertheless, it was the French Schaeffer who captured more interest to burgeoning francophone Montréal composers of the 1960’s and 70’s, due in no small part to shared language. Serge Garant, who returned to Montréal from France in 1952 wrote only one electroacoustic work and cannot be seen as a large influence compositionally but his tireless promotion of contemporary music and his knowledgeable instruction about the early French concrete school was influential. Gilles Tremblay, who worked at the GRM with Pierre Schaeffer as well as with Maurice Martenot, inventor of the Ondes Martenot at the Paris Conservatory returned to Montréal in 1961 and also promoted the development of electroacoustics in Montréal. Furthermore, Tremblay studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Darmstadt in 1957, adding knowledge of the German electronic school to his instruction.

Of all the prominent Québec composers of the mid-century, it was Pierre Mercure who was the most interested in electronic music. He also studied with Pierre Schaeffer at the GRM from 1957 to 58. He began to write music for this medium in 1961, but he tragically died in a car accident in 1966 whereupon all but one of his electronic works was lost.

Nil Parent opened the first francophone electronic music studio at Québec City’s Laval University in 1969 but the studio remained and still remains a small provincial electroacoustic laboratory. As a result, the lack of a serious option for francophone-speaking electroacoustic experimentation, specifically in Montréal, led to frequent Parisian educational voyages throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.

As more and more Québecer’s discovered the electronic medium through their teachers, they left for Europe, gathering information and returning to teach at the conservatories and universities. Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux, who is perhaps Québec’s most under appreciated composer, studied with Gilles Tremblay at l’Ecole Vincent-d’Indy in the mid-60’s. Further education led to electroacoustic study in 1968 with François Bayle, Guy Reibel and Bernard Parmegiani at the GRM of Paris. While working in France she co-founded the Groupe international de musique électroacoustique de Paris which presented concerts throughout Europe. Upon her return to Montréal, she chose to split her time between traditional instrumental and electronic composition.

Yves Daoust followed a similar path studying first with Gilles Tremblay at the Conservatoire. Daoust entered into acousmatic composition through the cinematic offices of the National Film Board of Canada. Working with Maurice Blackburn and Norman McLaren as sound designer, he left the NFB in 1979 to devote himself to electroacoustic composition. Maurice Blackburn, whose work with Norman McLaren on sound in film was particularly groundbreaking, has yet to be recognised as one of the key figures in the development of electroacoustics in Montréal. Within Daoust’s music, one can hear that he has only left the visuals of film behind. His works rely on narrative qualities and are full of easily identifiable sound sources, negating Schaeffer’s reduced listening practice. His work epitomizes what the Montréal school sounds like.

Both Saint-Marcoux and Daoust returned to Montréal to found the studio at the Conservatoire in 1980. Saint-Marcoux’s tragic death from a brain tumour in 1985 robbed Montréal of a great compositional influence and mentor.

Marcelle Deschênes also followed a similar path working first at the GRM with Pierre Schaeffer and François Bayle before returning to Québec in 1972 to teach first at Laval before forming her own studio in Montréal in 1978 called Studio Bruit Blanc. In 1987, she began teaching at the Université de Montréal and here is where the most important step in Montréal’s electroacoustic compositional development took place.

The most influential and important figure in the growth of the Montréal acousmatic school probably isn’t a composer but a soprano and professor at the Université de Montréal, Marthe Forget. Mme. Forget’s encounter with Francis Dhomont in Paris of 1978 led to romance and consequently to Dhomont’s entrance into the Canadian musical scene. Dhomont, already widely recognized at the time as one of the foremost figures in French acousmatic composition left Paris for Montréal where he met Louise Gariepy, the leading proponent of a new electronic music studio at the Université de Montréal. Dhomont, found himself without work in Canada and took a position at the University, first as a researcher, then as an artist in residence and finally as a professor of electroacoustics. There can be little doubt that his influence on electroacoustic composition in Québec was huge but he was also attracted to the music of Canada, particularly indigenous Canadian material. Dhomont wrote his seminal work Sous le regard d’un soleil noir in Montréal in 1981, which captured first prize at the 9th Bourges International Music Competition elevating Dhomont into the ranks of the most celebrated electroacoustic composers while solidifying the rapidly increasing reputation of Montréal’s acousmatic composers. In an article in Organised Sound entitled “Is there a Québec Sound?” devoted to the Québec compositional style, Dhomont argued that while his influence was perhaps important, Québec had already set in place the grounds for important creative work. 1[1. The English translation of Dhomont’s article as well as his original French version are published in this issue of eContact!: “Y a-t-il un son québécois?” [html] / “Is there a Québec Sound?” [pdf].] Dhomont introduced Québec to France through his promotion of the music both on radio and in electroacoustic music festivals. Modesty aside, Dhomont’s teaching at the Université de Montréal from 1980 until 1996, upon his retirement, can be regarded as the most important period of growth of the Montréal acousmatic school. It is during this time that the city’s composers rose to international prominence. Accompanying this phenomenal development, a support industry was born, notably the leading electroacoustic recording label Empreintes Digitales and the electroacoustic concert group Reseaux, dedicated to the promotion of electroacoustics and more importantly, the promotion of acousmatics. Besides the acousmatic-leaning support industries, a fascination with electronic music has developed in Montréal. These include the festivals of ACRÉQ and MUTEK as well as a variety of special projects around the city. The definition "Montréal School" became used internationally. A short thirteen years after Dhomont’s arrival in Québec, Michel Chion, the most important electroacoustic and film theorist in France wrote in a tributary article for Dhomont’s 65th birthday:

I have only one complaint, dear Francis, and it is that there exists only one of you: if we had your clone on a full-time basis in our old Europe, the case of acousmatic music would be easier and more pleasant to defend, and would have a better chance to win. But at the same time, you could not have created and kept alive, so far away from us in space, but so close to us in spirit, a rich and active school of young composers in Québec, from whom the French could certainly draw some inspiration.

With Dhomont in Montréal and the establishment of two other electroacoustic studios at Concordia in 1976 and the Conservatoire in 1980, composition students interested in electronic music began to stay in Montréal. Robert Normandeau completed the first PhD in electroacoustic composition at the Université de Montréal in 1992. One of the first homegrown acousmatic composers, he studied with Dhomont and Deschênes and was awarded several prizes for his work in France. As time passed the importance and recognition of Montréal based composers increased. The major electroacoustic competitions became dominated and continue to be dominated by the Montréal-school composers. In Prague, the Musica Nova competition from 91 onwards has a Montréal winner every year but one; in the Italian Luigi Russolo competition no Montréaler wins or is mentioned until 1984, and then becomes represented annually; in the Ars Electronica competition, though the scope of the competition is larger, Montréaler’s and those associated with the Montréal school do well from their first win in 1991; in the INA-GRM competition Prix International Noroit-Léonce Petitot a Montréaler wins every year and at the Stockholm Electronic Arts Award where there is only one winner each year, Gilles Gobeil from the Université de Montréal wins the award twice, in 1994 and 97. Today, international recognition drives the production and potential of the "school" further as more and more international composers move to Montréal to study. Why are people coming to Montréal to study, and what are the compositional traits of the Montréal school?

In Dhomont’s Organised Sound article the composer steps away from describing the music as a result of the linguistic and political divisions of the province of Québec. Dhomont believes that the success of the Montréal sound is due to the city in which the music is founded. He writes:

Beyond its Québecois accent, this music touches us because, for some unknown reason, conditions favourable to its epiphany have appeared at the same time and in the same city. That city is Montréal.

Dhomont argues that Québec’s linguistic and geographical isolation helped avoid the tumultuous arguments between the German and French electronic music schools of the past. Their ability to mix both genres without regard for past histories permits a naive style of composition, free from constraints of tradition and clichés. In identifying some of these important compositional and structural features he argues that the Montréal sound is often organically built, has a deep sense of mix and a careful attention towards the placement of samples. But it is Dhomont’s comment about cinema that probably gets closest to the concept of a Montréal sound. Aware of the Montréaler’s love of film (a fact strengthened by the highest movie-going rates in the world), he argues that this transfers beautifully to the acousmatic microphone. Acousmatic music, the close aural relative to cinema, is a natural extension of the Montréaler’s passion for the movie house. Along with this comes "a propensity towards the inclusion of other musical genres and the use of means and formats borrowed from different media."

When I interviewed Francis Dhomont, he stretched his definition further. Québec’s mix of French, English, Irish and a variety of other cultures has produced a generation of new composers who listen to the sounds around them in a particularly interesting fashion. Within Québec, this cultural mix is most prominent on the island of Montréal. Moreover, since the conquest of New France by Britain in the late 18th century, the United Kingdom has heavily influenced Québec and one can find parallels in Québec’s culture and political system. He believes that composers of Montréal operate within an Old World aesthetic style but move at the speed of the new. The historical connections between Montréal and France are strong, and Dhomont may well be the strongest of these. It is through this cultural mix of style and technique that Dhomont describes the Montréal sound as, "…very punchy, dynamic, nervous, very alive, not meditative [and] where the question of length is never important."

Acousmatic concerts in Montréal are particularly well attended. The Rien a Voir concert series consistently attracts a large, mixed and professionally diverse audience. Montréal’s acousmatic composers, through these concerts and also through other venues such as the active contemporary dance scene are often able to devote themselves entirely to electroacoustic music. They are not forced, as is the case in so many of North America’s universities, to teach to make a living. This ability to concentrate solely on composition may also aid the phenomenal growth of acousmatics in Montréal and its rapid world recognition.

Given the popularity of the music in Montréal, it can be assumed that not everyone is familiar with, or trained in Pierre Schaeffer’s aesthetic of reduced listening. Consequently, the music’s popularity may be seen as a reflection of what the Montréaler is listening to or perceiving. Acousmatic music, particularly the type of the Montréal school demands an active listener. But how do we know what we are meant to listen for, and what is to be understood? In the next section I will focus on methods of listening and the analysis of acousmatics.

Denis Smalley’s article, "The Listening Imagination" offers several ways to examine electroacoustic music. In the article he outlines several modes of listening, passing through theories of Pierre Schaeffer and the psychoanalyst Ernest Schachtel arriving at what he describes as ‘subject-object listening relationships’. These three relationship models represent all possible modes of listening. The first is the indicative relationship. This relationship is primarily object oriented. The listener or in this case the subject who hears is concentrating on the role of the object. For instance, if one hears a car passing, one might be able to ascertain the speed of the car and the weather around it. This mode tends to emphasise environmental listening or hearing and is primarily functional. We learn about our surroundings through the indicative relationship.

The second mode is the reflexive relationship, and it based on an aesthetic response. It is basically controlled by impulse and is largely instinctual. If we hear something that we don’t like we impulsively turn it off. For example, I like to sleep with an analog alarm clock but the mechanization of the clock keeps my partner awake. Her dislike for the alarm clock is completely subject-oriented. It is not the alarm clock that bugs her, but the effect it has on her. This relationship is centred on the individual.

The final relationship is labeled interactive. It involves the association between the subject (listener) and the object (music) and emphasizes listening on a deeper level, passing by the reflexive and the indicative to the structural level. Smalley points out that the difference between listening and hearing is important when discussing the modes. For instance we may hear Muzak, participating with the music only on a reflexive level while we may listen to serialism, participating with the music on an interactive level. Often times, electroacoustic music may be so close to an actual environmental setting or function that it is only the act of sitting down and listening to it interactively that makes it electroacoustic. For instance, sound samples on a CD until put within an electroacoustic context do not function interactively but rather reflexively, except for the composer who intends to use the samples in a musical context.

The Montréal school plays on the relationships between these groups by using sounds that invoke the first two relationships, while providing the complexity of the third. It is the Montréal use of easily identifiable sound material, often linked to popular culture or news media combined with electronic manipulation of both these sources and traditional electronic sounds that demands a multi-faceted approach to listening. I have chosen some examples to examine based on Smalley’s listening modes.

A first mode relationship, physical gesture is invoked by Francis Dhomont’s use of string sounds and piano chords in the movement "Musique de chambre" from his work Forêt Profonde. The movement has a subdued, submerged feel to it, almost synthetic in quality. It is impossible to perceive any actual situations, though there are definite correlations between the sound of strings being plucked and the physical gesture invoked by the player and his instrument. Later in the movement he exemplifies his self-described characteristic of the Montréal sound, that of the present or the recognizable everyday. Here a recording of a string rehearsal involving a teacher and her students is heard. The human voice in this element brings us into a perceivable environment, pulling us up from the aquatic, immersed sounds of the opening into the educational setting. In this example, the music can also be interpreted through interactive relationship by listening on a structural level to the particular qualities of the sound and by the reflexive relationship through aesthetic judgement. Often I have found that the music of Dhomont fits more into the traditions and sound style of France then into the sounding nature of the Montréal school. This is shown through his use of a large web of material. There is a more granular quality to the music making it so dense at times that specific object listening is impossible. This becomes less apparent in his later works, particularly in parts of Forêt Profonde. Using Dhomont’s own words, there is a nervous quality to this piece, it is almost threatening.

Dhomont’s influence can be seen in a large number of recent Montréal works, particularly with those that studied with him at the Université de Montréal. Christian Calon is an exception as he never had Dhomont as a teacher, but still regarded himself as a disciple of Dhomont’s compositional method.

Christian Calon’s piece, "Temps incertains" speaks of not only a period of Canadian history, the Oka crisis in which a society was looking very closely at itself, but also at a community influenced by the media around them. This work provides a good example of the Montréal school’s attraction to sounds that sets the listener in a both a time and place. Political messages as well are particularly important in examples of Montréal school compositions. Calon’s music also speaks of the reach and influence of the Montréal acousmatic school. Originally from France, Calon travelled to Canada to work in Montréal. Dhomont, albeit flattered by Calon’s musical reverence described Calon’s compositions as having many of the stylistic features of the French sound.

Le Vertige inconnu by Gilles Gobeil invokes a sense of massive space by using a sound of an opening door leading out into a field at night. Depth is suggested by Gobeil’s environmental noises, but this is largely negated by the mechanized sounds that closely follow. Soon after a sample of a passing train can be heard as well as just in the background a radio. All of these motives suggest a series of changing environments. Because of the easy recognition of the different samples, the music is highly narrative. Schaeffer’s reduced listening tenet seems particularly impossible, largely unwanted. Gobeil does not attempt to hide the origins of his samples from us. Listening to this work in regard to Smalley's relationship structures is possible, but the third one (interactive) seems to be most plausible because of the complexity of the sonic material. Nonetheless, the indicative relationship is also suggested through Gobeil’s choice of source material that invokes a sense of location. Gobeil’s sound objects rapidly plunge us from environment to environment, drawing us more into what I interpret as sonic fiction. This occurs when the recognizable situational and environmental changes evoked in the music are impossible in everyday life. This feature is particular to the Montréal school. The listener is never allowed to settle into one environment, but is always forced from one sonic milieu to another. While this can be sometimes unsettling, it also brings a tremendous amount of expression to the music. Based on each environment’s characteristics, composers can evoke many different types of emotions through these changes. This may explain its ability to connect to a more diverse and larger audience than traditional contemporary music.

Nowhere is sonic fiction more evident then in the works of Yves Daoust. Indebted to his previous work on film soundtracks and special effects for Canada’s National Film Board, Daoust finds a potent voice in the blind narratives of acousmatic music. The visual implications in Daoust’s first movement "Toccata" of his composition Suite Baroque are extremely strong, lending itself to narrative interpretation. The opening section, which includes a telephone, a woman’s voice in English and French and a cacophony of sounds emanating from a radio or television all suggest an accompanying gesture or action. For instance, when the telephone rings, it is difficult to separate the quality of the sound from its perceived implications. The need to answer the telephone is a result of indicative relationship. While the telephone has a series of musical and sonic characteristics, it is impossible to detach this from the functional qualities of the telephone. Daoust satisfies the connection by having a female voice answer the telephone. In this way, the work has already suggested an action taking place. Examining the work through Smalley’s three modes of subject-object relationship listening, we can see a strong emphasis on the first (indicative) and second (reflexive) modes.

Daoust’s work is also centred on a specific time and place. The French radio or television and the bilingual telephone conversation all point towards the city of Montréal. Interestingly, the answer to the phone differs depending on the language spoken. In French, the female voice ends her conversation by saying that she cannot hear. This conversation takes place on the right channel and ends abruptly without the character on the other end being revealed. In English, the same voice ends the conversation by saying "when". This suggests that some activity will take place, more is revealed in this conversation (on the left channel) than in French. The separation of languages on opposite channels also speaks of Montréal’s linguistic divisions.

Daoust employs a car passing to invoke a sense of imagery and space. He also utilises the third mode through his manipulation of a harpsichord fragment, a repeated motive throughout the work. (figure 1.) This motive, like the conversational response to the telephone, is also exchanged between channels, often accompanying the words to Frescobaldi’s preface to his First Book of Toccatas of 1615. This text, which outlines the performance practice issues of the music, functions as a compositional motivic theme. Daoust writes that, "Each movement of the suite is constructed on a specific aspect of the baroque style, its rhetorical processes, its artifices — now signs almost indecipherable but for a small circle of experts."

The initial appearance of Frescobaldi’s preface text to the Libro Primo of his Toccata’s of 1615 takes place just after the two-minute mark of the work. Here the two sentences of the second paragraph are quoted. They state:

Let the beginnings of the Toccatas be done adagio, and let the chords be arpeggiated. In going on take care to distinguish the sections, taking them more and less strictly in accordance with the difference of their effects, which appear by playing.

Daoust’s quotation serves as a turning point in the work. Once it has been completed at 2:35, two chords are heard. This altered motive, quoting the opening of the composition, functions as a transition marker. This leads towards an easily recognizable street scene sample, including horns and traffic sounds suggesting rush hour. The listener is then introduced to the final part of the movement, which over time, gradually fades and changes. As Frescobaldi, in his preface notes the difference in his harpsichord effects, the sound of traffic gradually develops into the sound of rain. The transformation is aided by the now modulated quotations of the figure 1 theme, repetitions of the Frescobaldi text "che sonando appariscono" alternating between left and right channels and the introduction of thunder sounds. Daoust, who takes the meaning of Frescobaldi and applies it to the sampled acousmatic environment first initially presents a sample of traffic which over time begins to sound more like water or even the ocean thus resulting in an enormous modification of listener reception. The traffic samples, implying the stress of city life, easily transitions to the therapeutic and "new age" sounds of the ocean. Daoust’s masterful manipulation of our expectations can be regarded as a wonderful example of using non-computational methods of applying musique concrète techniques. Indeed, Daoust’s work is an example of Dhomont’s argument of the organic nature of the Montréal sound. Daoust is able to create this stunning, allegorical work without the aid of synthesis or computer manipulation. Traditional electronic music has relied on computerized sonic effects to achieve remarkable changes in listener reception. Daoust (and many of the other Montréal composers) is able to achieve this without synthesized assistance. Furthermore, his reliance on the media and the world around him strengthens the connection between his music and those who listen. With such clear associations between the listener and his music, his composition and more generally, the Montréal sound succeeds, where other electroacoustic compositions have aesthetically failed.

Daoust’s work and those of the Montréal school connect to the city. This city, uniquely merging two continents and a variety of other impressive and distinct cultures has functioned as a meeting place for the sonic creative. Along with a stupendous amount of personal successes and events, the growth of contemporary and electroacoustic music and research in Montréal has been aided by the early economic, social and religious turbulence of New France and Canada, the cultural clashes of the 1960’s and the Quiet Revolution as well as Montréal’s decline and recent resurgence in the global economic and cultural marketplace. Perhaps though, beyond this breathtaking evolution, this rapid development can be attributed to the city’s unique cultural and musical blend, that while connected to the European and specifically French modern musical style is firmly embedded in the lifestyle culture and environment of North America.


Yves Daoust, Suite Baroque: Toccata Predominate Sample List

Sample Used (musical or extra-musical)

Freq. Used

Primary Subject-Object Listening Relationships (Mode 1, 2 or 3)

Sonic Characteristic

One or two accented notes



Harsh, percussive but tonal quality


5, repeats at 1:08


High oscillating sound. No gestural qualities. Regular repetition. Right Channel only


some near end


Horns of cars

From mid-point onward

1 then 3 later

Primarily percussive at transition, then become melodic in quality

Che sonando appariscono

Male voice, very dominant, words are important

Harpsichord sample (see figure 1.)

Initially used at 0:37 then often


Alternating between left and right channels at varying levels of amplitude.

Hammer sound

From 1:05 until 2:00

3, used as background

Straight hammering sounds, little panning between channels. Primarily background sound. Perhaps functioning as narrative


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