Akousma(3) celebrates Dhomont’s 80th birthday

Montréal was where electroacoustic pioneer Francis Dhomont spent a good deal of his life before moving back to France, so of course Montréal was going to throw a big celebration for his 80th birthday, putting on a five day festival of music by Elio Martusciello, Ludger Brümmer, Christian Calon, Francis Dhomont, and an evening of various composers played by the Quasar saxophone quartet.

The avant-programme for the first of these, on 31 October, 2006, was Despite Bright Ideas by Andrew Staniland. An insect chorus of voices (barely recognizable as such) gives way to clicking and swishing—all very fast, busy actually—and then to resonant metallic sounds. There’s some whispering, then some very resonant metal sound, now clearly a bell (church bell), more whispering, recognizable words from the voices, loud church bells. Five minutes of this loveliness did seem a trifle short, but we did have those five.

Then came the music of Elio Martusciello, who does both composed work and improvisation. This evening was all composed work, starting with Dispositivo di superficie, which begins with hard, sharp, reverberant clangs, adds just the suggestion of a rock lick and some machine-like sounds slowly decelarating (and decrescendoing, too, naturally). Then everything becomes suddenly louder, as if what had gone before had been behind a door, or in another room; there’s a couple of yells, the machine sounds accelerate, and everything turns into a long wash. And all this in only the first three minutes of a ten minute piece. A lyric soprano starts singing, but before one can think “where the hell did she come from?” there’s a loud clang, snippets of very distorted voices, some 50’s pop (about five notes worth only!), more voices, more everything—all blended, though, so it never sounds as fragmented as this description might have suggested. But of course, you can hear it for yourself, as it’s on the CD Unoccupied areas (ReR EM1), which includes A@traverso.it, Ibidem, Proiezioni, and Hommage a Pierre Schaeffer—etude aux chemins de fer.

The rest of the concert was two pieces with video, the first another short piece, Inorganic time, which had really lovely thuds and squeeks and such, and also included very short plunderphonics type snippets and sudden jarring eruptions of sound. Its video was mostly stills, with some moving swirls in different shaped and sized rectangles. This was a very cleverly integrated piece: a long drone plus blank screen would be interrupted by sharp, loud sounds and brief images, neither images nor sounds in any way illustrative of each other, just co-incident.

Then came the fifty minute Naturalis Electronica, which adds live instruments to the mix. The recorded sounds start out, naturally enough, as mostly natural sounds—to which are added long lines in the live orchestra, then short bursts from both “tape” and players, the orchestra sounding somewhat like the aleatory bits of a Lutosławski piece, then long, sustained sounds in the “tape” alone.

The wildest sounds were the carefully controlled single bursts—which is what gives this piece its particular flavor.

For Quasar’s concert the next evening, Jeffrey Mettlewsky’s Post was the avant-programme piece. This consists mostly of the wonderful whirring and clanking of the sorting machines in a post office, plus some telephones and some cars and some voices—and some low sounds that didn’t sound particularly mechanical. Probably the most engaging sounds were those whirring sounds made by the pigeons, which, along with amplified cooing, matched the whirring and clanking of the sorting machines. A truly lovely piece of work.

For the main program, Quasar presented several permutations of the quartet. First, the entire quartet, plus electronics, in Jean-Marc Bouchard’s In and Out (electronics by Julien Roy). This was, as I noted at the time, a pretty nice piece for one with so much trilling. But has all the other nice noises that saxes can make, and it was so well integrated, that one could never tell which were the live sax sounds and which the tape delay.

For this piece, the set up was like this:




Sax Audience Sax




And some sounds were projected to sound as if in another room, an effect more stunning to hear than to read about!

Next up was Monique Jean’s Ricochets. My initial response was: “Oh my God! KYMA is bigger and more dangerous than Godzilla.” There is, of course, much more to it than that. The piece is subtle, sophisticated, and like a runaway freight train. And I apologize to whatever company made the electronic equipment for this, unless of course it was the Symbolic Sound Corporation.

That piece was for tenor sax and live electronics. The next, Pierre-Alain Jaffrennou’s Juste Avant le Temps, was for soprano, tenor, and bass saxophones—and tape. It’s a dark, quiet piece, brooding you might say, but then it really gets cranking, with motives passed from one sax to the next.

Julien Roy was next with a piece of his own, Play, for soprano sax and electronics, an exceptionally soft and whispy and lovely piece. West coast. (The west coast of the U.S., that is.)

Tabula Rasa, Farangis Nurulla-Khoja’s piece for saxophone quartet and live electronics, starts out as a drum circle for clicking saxophone keys. After a fairly lyrical section (accompanied still by the clicking), the piece plunges into frenetic all over the place playing. After several minutes of that, the piece ends with, naturally enough, the sounds of panting.

That brings us to 2 Novembre, Dhomont’s birthday. All the concerts were pretty well attended, considering the freezing weather—or not considering it, as the citizens of Montréal certainly do not. But Dhomont’s was sold out. And a dozen or so people had to be turned away.

All the music for Dhomont’s birthday, which he performed himself, was either new or newly refurbished. All but two pieces appear on the emprientes DIGITALes disc, …et autres utopies, IMED 0682. The two exceptions, both from 2006, were Premières Traces du Choucas and Moirures, with video by Inés Wickmann Jaramillo. The first is a fairly soft piece, less incident than in many Dhomont works. While he continues his interest in dark, rich sounds, he subjects them here to a quite different treatment than one could expect. So new means new and not just recent. Same for Moirures. And here, with a few very small exceptions, the music and the video go their separate ways simultaneously. For notes on the other four pieces, see the review of …et autres utopies.

Dhomont’s birthday would have been the high point of the five days, except that the whole festival was high point, as anyone who attended all five concerts found out for themselves. So on to concert four, which featured music by Martin Leclerc (avant-programme) and Ludger Brümmer and Nicolas Bernier (programme principal). Leclerc’s Pièce pour petites oreilles was quite remarkably whimsical. Music boxes, sure, and a cat meowing, can’t be bad, and some watery sounds (the baby’s bath, I take it), and the fretful baby itself. Best were the mechanical sounds, I thought, the little clicks and whirs and such of various toys, there is even a little of the large, resonant clang so easy to associate with Ludger Brümmer. So, whether intentional or not, Leclerc’s piece was sonically a more particular introduction to the programme principal than any of the others.

Brümmer’s first piece was Move from 2006. This for piano, video, and electronics has some effective tricks, more effective than the word “tricks” implies. First of all, whatever was happening on the video suddenly get suddenly brighter whenever the pianist played a chord, no matter how loudly or softly the chord was played. The images, sequences of different images, are otherwise unrelated to the music. A sudden loud burst of sounds would correspond to a sudden bright burst of new images; then the same images would return, but without the accompanying sounds, so that one found oneself imagining the sounds in their absence. Very cool. And Move builds to a climax that’s not a climax—the piano simply cuts out.

Next was Xronos, from 2002. I found this to be the most watchable video—two dancers, just outlines at first, then the female almost just straight photography (but never quite). Lovely dancing, looped so we see the same movements over and over again. Best moment for me was one similar to the sound vanishing in Move. In Xronos, the music and the dancing reach a climax of frenzy when suddenly the dancer’s image freezes while the music continues on. Stunning! The music too is handled in an equally stunning way: small sounds—low volume. Large sounds, also low volume. Then suddenly and unexpectedly loud. It all sounds so simple written down here. It was most effective live, though, I assure you.

In Glasharfe were the loveliest sounds of the evening, I thought. Rich, resonant, long, lovely gong sound with impossibly stretched decay. And a superpiano, with rhythmic whirring and clicking. The speakers themselves are a part of the rhythm in this piece, sounds from what is recognizably a sequence (melody) coming from here, then there; two sounds quickly one after the other in two speakers close together in the middle. Space, I should have said, as well as time is part of the rhythm.

Akousma(3) ended on the 3rd of November with a concert of music by Christian Calon, one of Dhomont’s many colleagues in Montréal. (How did they chose which colleague to be in this festival?) The avant-programme for this final concert was Martin Leclerc’s Suaf dans la Brume. This opens with a big flourish—blump, bloop, blamp, blooooooom—followed by long tones with little else.

Then the flourish again. The long tones change, in length and material. The flourish changes, too (once even it’s no more than a single thud). Another piece that sounds simple to read about but which was very effective live in concert!

The twenty-two minute extract from Calon’s Le Projet Ulysse reminds one how easily new electroacoustic music can create a feeling of archaism, though the “Penelope” singer gradually acquires a modern(ish) sound, that of a torch singer. Pretty cool, really. And leading to the best line: “Hi there, Penny!” And the moaning women talking about the most enormous __________, is pretty funny. It’s all about the music, though. That is, however to the front the voices are, the electronic sounds are rarely just background noodling. It’s very much like in the better operas, some noodling in the pit while people sing, but not very much.

Nord and Oeust, though both from 2006 and both sections of a larger piece, Atlas, couldn’t be more different. Nord is various lines of really rich and lovely sounds, voices, drones, drumming (almost drumming), and the voices are almost Tibetan. (Almost.) Oeust on the other hand is a chorus of the high-pitched “marbles in a metal bowl” sounds, but a little more clattery than that, more like dry sticks. And the pattern you get when you just let the head of a drumstick drop on a surface, punctuated by the occasional low thud and some nice jangly sounds like mallets bouncing off piano strings.

It all makes you want to hear Est and Sud, as well.

Z / S (un essai sur le temps) also has high, jangly piano string sounds, along with voices and radio static. And a conversation “interrupted” by static and bird sounds, then a buzz or hum that reminded me of the circuitry that David Behrman or David Tudor often favored. The conversation is about using filters (near as I could tell—my French is appalling), and is illustrated in the music, making it kind of a young person’s guide to electroacoustic music, with the “narrator” an integral part of the music. There were only two short excerpts from this piece that evening. Again, leaving us wanting more. Much much more.

Not a bad way to run a festival!

This entry was posted in Events. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • Upcoming Events

    Festival Mixtur 2017

    30 March through 9 April


    Music by

    Fausto Romitelli
    Jean-Claude Risset
    John Cage

    and many more, including people who are still alive, of course.

    Présences électronique

    14, 15, 16 April


    Most of the names I did not recognize, which makes me even more sad that I cannot attend this year. But you can. And probably should. If you love your ears, attend this festival.

    SIME 2017

    24 – 28 April


    Probably, though I'm not sure how it is possible, this will be the best SIME yet. Attend. Let me know.


    3-6 May


    Opening Performance Orchestra
    Terrible Orchestra
    Echofluxx Ensemble

    And film and more music and more performers. More of everything.

    Monaco Electroacoustique
    4, 5, 6 May


    Francis Dhomont
    Horacio Vaggione
    Annette Vande Gorne
    Hans Tutschku
    Robert Normandeau

    And many more. Two festivals that overlap is just cruel. But go to one or the other of these. Monaco or Prague, you choose.

  • Recent Articles

  • Donate to Asymmetry

    • Donations may now be made from anywhere in the world.
      For US residents, all donations to Asymmetry are tax-deductible. Asymmetry has been serving the new music community for almost seven years now. With your help, it can continue its mission indefinitely.
  • Facebook