Robert Normandeau [Photograph: © Maki (makimail [at], Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, France), May 2003]
Robert Normandeau [Photograph: © Maki (makimail [at], Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, France), May 2003]


Robert Normandeau

Feb 15, 2009
Wholesale price:
CAD 10.00
File under:
acousmatics / electroacoustics

Electroacoustics, the Quebecois Way

François Couture,, March 22, 2004

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right? Wrong — at least when it comes to electroacoustics, the beautiful province of Quebec compares very well to any other region of the world. Call me chauvinistic, I don’t care: Quebec is home to several composers of tremendous talent and influential professors.

My goal is not to turn this article in an analytical essay, but, as a music reviewer and unstoppable listener, I am convinced that there is such a thing as Québécois electroacoustics. Despite the stylistic variety among our composers, I detect a Québécois “sound,” something that sounds to me neither British nor French or German; something that calls to me and speaks to me in a language more immediate and easier to understand.

This “unity in diversity” is probably, at least in part, due to the lasting influence of a small number of key composers whose academic teachings have shaped our younger generations. I am thinking first and foremost of Francis Dhomont and Yves Daoust. So let’s begin this sound path with a Frenchman so Québécois at heart that he was awarded a prestigious Career Grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. I can sincerely recommend all of Dhomont’s albums: his graceful writing, his narrative flair and his intelligence turn any of his works into fascinating gems. I have often publicly expressed my admiration for (including in my first Sound Path, so I will skip it this time), but , his first large-scale work, remains an international classic of electroacoustic music, and his more recent shows how close to perfection his art has grown — the piece AvatArsSon in particular, my first pick for this Sound Path.

If Dhomont’s music is often constructed following large theoretical, literary and sociological themes, Yves Daoust’s works lean more toward poetry and the anecdote. Most of his pieces betray his respect for the abstractionist ideals of the French school, but his seemingly naive themes (water, crowds, a Chopin Fantasia or a childhood memory) empower his music with an unusual force of evocation. His latest album, , also displays a willingness to grow and learn. One is tempted to hear the influence of his more electronica-savvy students in the startling title triptych.

To those two pillars of Quebec electroacoustics, I must add the names of Robert Normandeau and Gilles Gobeil. Normandeau is a very good example of what I consider to be the “typical” Québécois sound: a certain conservatism in the plasticity of sounds (the result of the combined influence of the British and French schools); great originality in their use; and an uncanny intelligence in the discourse which, even though it soars into academic thought, doesn’t rob the listener of his or her pleasure. My favorite album remains , in part because of the beautiful piece Le Renard et la Rose, inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince – and also because of Venture, a tribute to the Golden Age of progressive rock (a pet peeve I share with the composer, might I add). As for Gobeil’s music, it is the wildness of wilderness, the turmoil of human passions, the sudden gestures, the copious splashes of sonic matter thrown all around. If remains an essential listen, his most recent album Le contrat, a collaboration with guitarist René Lussier, stands as his most accomplished (and thrilling!) work to date.

These four composers may represent the crème de la crème of academic circles, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog counts numerous young composers and artists whose work deeply renew the vocabulary of their older colleagues.

I would like to mention Fractures, the just released debut album by Christian Bouchard. His fragmented approach seems to draw as much from academic electroacoustics as from experimental electronica. Thanks to some feverish editing and dizzying fragmentation, Parcelles 1 and Parcelles 2 evoke avant-garde digital video art. I also heartily recommend Louis Dufort’s album , which blends academic and noise approaches. His stunning piece Zénith features treatments of samples of Luc Lemay’s voice (singer with the death-metal group Gorguts). I am also quite fond of Marc Tremblay’s rather coarse sense of humor. On his CD he often relies on pop culture (from The Beatles to children’s TV shows). His piece Cowboy Fiction, a “western for the ear” attempting to reshape the American dream, brings this Sound Path to a quirky end.

Serious or facetious, abstract or evocative, Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere. Now it is your turn to explore its many paths.

Québécois electroacoustic music has earned a place in the hearts of avant-garde music lovers everywhere…

Introduction(s) to the Delights of Electroacoustic Music

François Couture,, October 15, 2003

Electroacoustic music is an acquired taste. Like it or not, radio and television have conditioned us from an early age into accepting some musical (tonal and rhythmical) molds as being “normal.” Therefore, electroacoustics, along with other sound-based (in opposition to note-based) forms of musical expression like free improvisation, is perceived as being “abnormal.” That’s why a first exposure to this kind of music often turns into a memorable experience — for better or worse. Many factors come into play, but choosing an album that offers an adequate (i.e. friendly and gentle) introduction to the genre will greatly help in letting the initial esthetic shock turn into an experience of Beauty and mark the beginning of a new adventure in sound.

My goal with this sound path is simply to point out a few titles that I think have the potential to encourage instead of discourage, titles opening a door to a new musical dimension. Of course, this selection can only be subjective. But it might be helpful to new enthusiasts and to aficionados looking for gift ideas that would spread good music around. After all, Christmas is only a few weeks away!


We usually develop new interests from existing interests. What I mean is: we explore music genres that are new to us because a related interest brought us there. That’s why when it comes to electroacoustic music, mixed works (for tape and instrument) or works related to specific topics are often the best place to find a bridge that will gently lead the listener into the new territory. For example, people who enjoy reading travel literature will find in Kristoff K.Roll’s the sublimated narrative of a journey through Central America. Those still young enough to enjoy fairy tales (I’m one of them) will find in Francis Dhomont’s an in-depth reflection on this literary genre as inspired by the works of psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, in the form of a captivating work with multiple narratives (in many languages) and electroacoustic music of a great evocative strength. Lighter and more fanciful, by Roxanne Turcotte finds its source in childlike imagination and is in part aimed at children without over-simplifying its artistic process.

Guitar fans can turn to , a wonderful project for which classical guitarist Arturo Parra co-wrote pieces with some of Quebec’s best electroacoustic composers: Stéphane Roy, Francis Dhomont (Quebecer at heart, at the very least), Robert Normandeau, and Gilles Gobeil. The latter has just released an album-long piece, Le contrat, written with and featuring avant-garde guitarist René Lussier. Lussier’s followers and people interested in Goethe’s play Faust (and its rich heritage) will find here an essential point of convergence, another bridge.

Essential listens

Those who want to explore further will probably want to venture into more abstract electroacoustic art. I recommend starting with the Quebec composers. Chauvinism? No way. It’s just that the music of composers like Dhomont, Normandeau, Gobeil, Yves Daoust, or Yves Beaupré seems to me to be more accessible than the music of British or French composers. It is more immediate, has a stronger impact (Gobeil, usually hitting hard), a more pleasant form of lyricism (Daoust, Beaupré), more welcoming architectures and themes (Dhomont, Normandeau). If you need places to start, try Normandeau’s , Gobeil’s , Dhomont’s , and Beaupré’s .

That being said, there are hours upon hours of beauty and fascination to be found in the works of Michel Chion (his powerful ), Bernard Parmegiani (), Jonty Harrsison (), Denis Smalley (), and Natasha Barrett (), but they may seem more difficult or thankless on first listen. And for those interested in where these music come from, the EMF label offers , the complete works of Pierre Schaeffer, the father of musique concrète and grandfather of electroacoustics.

Tiny ideas

A compilation album has the advantage of offering a large selection of artists and esthetics in a small, affordable format. Available at a budget price, proposes a strong sampler of the productions on the label empreintes DIGITALes. The albums and , along with the brand new volume of the series, cull short pieces (often under three minutes) to trigger interrogations and discoveries in those with a short attention span.

And finally, for those of you who want to take their time and explore in short steps, the collection produced by the French label Métamkine contains many wonderful 3" CDs, 20 minutes in duration each, for a reduced price. The catalog includes titles by renown composers such as Michel Chion, Lionel Marchetti, Michèle Bokanowski, Bernhard Günter, and Éliane Radigue. These tiny albums are perfect for gift exchanges.

Of course, all of the above are only recommendations. The best sound path to discovery is the one you follow by yourself, little by little.

Best listens!


François Couture, AllMusic, August 1, 2001

Released in 1999, Figures is Robert Normandeau’s third CD. It contains four works, all around the 15 minute mark, all created since the release of Tangram (1994), the composer’s previous album. The first piece is his most acclaimed Le renard et la rose winner of the Golden Nica at the 1996 Ars Electronica competition (the piece had already been included on three different compilation albums). Revolving around Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, it uses as sound samples the music Normandeau wrote for a radio adaptation of the book, plus the voice of the actors. There is very little left of the original text, as the composer furthers his explorations in sound-speech relations. Yet the narrative translates into a gripping cinema for the ear. The other highlight on this CD is Venture, an unusual exercise for Normandeau. Here he pays tribute to his progressive rock background, using as source material quotes from various 1960s and 1970s LPs. Bits of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the piece that introduced many prog fans to classical music thanks to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s album, surface here and there. The piece is not a Christian Marclay-like collage: much of the material is manipulated to the point that it is hardly recognizable, but the standard prog rock gestures are cleverly underlined without reducing the genre to a handful of clichés. Play “spot the tune” to find quotes from The Beatles’s A Day in the Life, King Crimson’s Formentary Lady, Yes’ Close to the Edge, and many more. Compared to these two impressive works, Figures de rhétorique, for piano (played by Jacques Drouin) and tape, and Ellipse composed with samples of guitarist Arturo Parra, lack panache.

… the narrative translates into a gripping cinema for the ear.


Douglas Geers, Computer Music Journal, no. 25:2, June 1, 2001

Robert Normandeau’s recent compact disc, Figures, presents four of his acousmatic compositions from the latter half of the 1990s, documenting his continuing investigations of the medium and its stylistic evolution. The results of these explorations are more focused and less physical than his earlier work, yet for the most part they clearly retain Mr. Normandeau’s distinctive compositional fingerprint.

Although the liner notes speak of the composer’s ideal of a “cinema for the ear,” these works contain a noticeably smaller number of “concrète” source sounds than his pieces of the 1980s, with more focus on playing with and sonically developing the material he does utilize. Thus, although the “cinema” ideas and elements are still present, they are less literal than in his earlier works.

The four pieces on Figures are arranged chronologically (quite convenient for a reviewer!) and span the years 1995–1999. The first, Le renard et la rose (1995), employs as its source material elements from the music and voices for a radio production of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince which Mr. Normandeau scored. The piece begins wonderfully. First, a cascade of laughing voices erupts from nowhere. Then, after about five seconds, it is suddenly replaced by a churning pulsed texture of vocal ostinati, taken in part if not entirely from the initial laughing sounds. The result is simultaneously artificial and primal, and quite intriguing. These ostinati are quite prominent during the work’s first section, where they die away, return, and evolve many times.

Le renard et la rose is structured in five sections, and each of these has its own distinct sound and types of activity. Primary among the activities are pulsed rhythms, as percussive patterns are repeatedly employed to propel the music throughout the piece.

Overall I am struck by two things in this composition. First is Mr. Normandeau’s impressive sense of pacing. He seems to be constantly pushing the piece forward, sometimes forcefully, sometimes gently. But even in its moments of repose, this music does not sit still. When its ostinato engine is shut off the sonic environment is still fluid. To me, this work is a “short” 14:45.

The second striking element, as in many of this composer’s works, is his talent at choosing and sculpting materials. Nearly every sound has a bite to it, a sense of physicality and place. The “place” here, however, is not as literal as in earlier works, in which Mr. Normandeau would actually include recordings of subway stations, children in the park, the seashore, and so forth. In Le renard et la rose and the other works on this CD, I sense that the individual sounds are abstractions that retain enough qualities to point to their origins—original sounds or sets of sounds which often never appear themselves. While Mr. Normandeau has been processing sounds for years, his newer pieces atomize the source sounds more. Meanwhile, he makes less effort to perceptually tie unprocessed sounds to their processed relatives. Combining these well-defined sonic scenes and colors with the work’s swirling activity, the listener has much to enjoy.

The second piece, Figures de rhétorique (1997), is quite different from Le renard et la rose and is not quite so successful. It is scored for tape and piano, and in this recording the piano part is played by Jacques Drouin

Mr. Normandeau states in his liner notes that he constructed the music in four movements, creating structure by utilizing devices of rhetoric. He categorizes these speech-types into “figures of meaning (hyperbole, litotes, metaphor, oxymoron, parable, and pleonasm), words (alliteration, embellishment, and rhyme), thought (allegory, apologue, bombast, irony, and tautology), and construction (antithesis, ellipsis, repetition, and reticence).” Although the piece is sectional I could not identify specific rhetorical devices while listening—I assume that the composer would not mind this. Mr. Normandeau also limited the source materials for the tape part to sounds of the piano, which seems reasonable. However, the sound world which he creates in Figures de rhétorique does not seem nearly as vibrant and intriguing as the rich palette of sound colors he created for Le renard et la rose. It sounds as if he began with a limited set of sounds and then allowed them to remain rather static throughout the piece. He does explore several varied sonic environments, but within each of these the sounds themselves as well as the gestures they create don’t vary much. Possibly these repeating gestures represent specific rhetorical figures?

It could be that the composer purposely left space in the tape part for the piano to fill. The piano part was evidently written after the tape part, which makes this seem natural. However, if this is the case, then he overestimated how much the piano would dominate the soundscape. I think that both the tape and piano parts in this piece would benefit from more variation in their materials and the treatment of these.

Venture, the third work on the disc, definitely does not suffer from a poverty of material. Named after the rock group The Ventures, this tape piece was composed using numerous moments from progressive rock songs of the 1960s and 1970s. Sadly, I am not as well-versed in this genre as the composer, but I have heard enough Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), King Crimson, and Yes to identify with his endeavor and recognize more than a few tiny moments from the quotations. Essentially, Mr. Normandeau’s idea is that many of these songs served “as sonic archetypes for an entire generation of composers, my generation…” This work is his tribute to that music.

Beyond the reason for its composition and origin of its materials, Venture stands as a rather satisfying piece of music. Mr. Normandeau begins with a set of intriguing sonic materials that he colors often beyond recognition using signal processing. With this arsenal, he sculpts a twisting, slippery world of acousmatic music that lasts for nearly 20 minutes without losing much freshness.

The collection ends with Ellipse (1999). This tape piece was commissioned by guitarist Arturo Parra and shares most of its material with the composer’s guitar and tape piece, L’envers du temps (1998, 2000), also written for Mr. Parra. Ellipse begins with an agitated polyrhythmic texture of noises taken from the classical guitar, derived from strumming and scraping strings, knocking on wood, turning tuning pegs, and so on. The first 2.5 minutes of the piece feel very physical and have an itchy, insect-like energy. After this, the music segues into a bath of harmonic textures only to quickly return to the first material, this time overlaid with more and even stranger sounds. Once again, as the work progresses, the sense of pacing gives it a catand- mouse energy that is quite enthralling.

As he did in Le renard et la rose, Mr. Normandeau uses rhythmic activity to retain a sense of energy throughout most of Ellipse. However, in the latter piece these sounds are less frequently organized into pulsed polyrhythmic stretches. Instead, the inner rhythmic activities of a variety of tapping, strumming, and scraping sounds overlay each other without always creating a composite organization. Ellipse also seems to possess more regularity in its progression of ideas than the earlier piece. There are no “jump cuts” between sections. Instead, the materials are consistently dovetailed, allowing elements to fall from the texture and resurface repeatedly, appearing in a new context each time.

Overall, the pieces on this CD, as well as many of Mr. Normandeau’s other works, succeed best when he allows them to be (or at least seem to be) a bit out of control. This is not to say that I only like the busy sections of the music; rather, that I enjoy his music when it seems to roam, seems to have its own purpose, when it takes chances and allows itself to be quirky. For instance, I love the tag endings he added to both Venture and Ellipse — short, throwaway moments that risk silliness, but work to my ears. Mr. Normandeau’s best work involves a sonic kaleidoscope, a tour of musical places, a sort of spelunking through sounds more than a cinema of the ear. Thus, even though these recent pieces feature fewer real-world sounds than his earlier works, they still have highly dramatic profiles. On this CD, only Figures de rhétorique fails to conjure the feeling of three dimensional adventure. His music is usually not about economy of material, but in this piece he attempts a quite strict control. Unfortunately, the material he chooses and what he does with it do not work out so well. However, his other successes clearly outweigh this aberration.

In the end, what I appreciate about Mr. Normandeau’s work is that his music generally seems to have no pretentions, even at its most symphonic. He is willing to let his guard down, to be funny, to admit that he used to listen to ELP all the time — and that maybe sometimes he still does! (I have to admit that I smiled when I caught his references, especially the bits of The BeatlesRevolution #9.) Yet the real success is that his music grabs me. And I like that.

Yet the real success is that his music grabs me. And I like that.


Henry Schneider, Henry Schneider, January 15, 2001

Clocking in at exactly 60 minutes Figures is Robert Normandeau’s latest release of acousmatic music. The opening piece is Le renard et la rose (The Fox and the Rose). This is a concert suite composed from two sound sources: music commissioned for The Little Prince and the voices of the actors involved in the recording of the story. It is light and bubbly with laughter layered and processed through a chain of effects. The second piece is Figures de rhétorique which combines tape and piano. It has a cosmic feel at times similar to early Pink Floyd and Stockhausen. The third composition is Venture, named after the 60s group The Ventures. But it is more than that. Venture refers to all the progressive rock music of 60s and 70s. Normandeau states that Venture is composed exclusively of fragments of that music. Unmistakably, there are bits and pieces of The BeatlesRevolution 9 and Pink Floyd’s Grand Visier’s Party. I am uncertain of the other sources, but the resulting Venture is worth the price of this CD alone. Figures closes with Ellipse, a tape piece commissioned by Arturo Parra for him to accompany Normandeau on guitar. It sounds like heavily processed acoustic guitar scrapings, tappings, and noodlings. Or is it a swarm of angry alien bees? Figures is the high point for me of the recent empreintes DIGITALes releases.

Venture is worth the price of this CD alone… the high point of the recent empreintes DIGITALes releases.


Geert De Decker, Sztuka Fabryka, January 5, 2001

On this CD [Figures] there are 4 compositions, each last between 11 or 19 minutes. The first track is called Le renard et la rose (1995) — “The fox and the rose” in English — is composed with sounds that comes from a track used for a radio-play of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and voices of the actors at this play. Robert Normandeau uses the sounds to create an ambient drone atmosphere where some sounds are rhythmical used by means of repetition, echo and reverberation. Sometimes the atmosphere is slow while where repetition is used the tempo goes up.

Figures de rhétorique (1997) is the second composition and starts with a contemporary piano play (Jacques Drouin) where slowly some soft metallic ticking sounds are added, both interact slowly while to the end they really start a fast and more disturbing interaction.

The third track Venture (1998) is again an atmospheric composition with several moods wave sounds comes slowly up and disappear faster followed with an ambient atmosphere. There are moments of tranquil atmospheres while a few seconds later there is a drone mood. With the atmosphere he creates in this composition, he wants to reach six movements: innocence, stability, tension, frenzy, violence and serenity. Something that succeeds him very well because as in the six movements there are moments of a true war between the sounds but followed with peace.

The final composition Ellipse (1999) the sounds used in this composition are warm as it are string and wood sounds. It is a composition of contemporary classical music made with guitar. The guitar is not used to play on in an academic way but string and wood sounds are created by using in a non-conform way. These sounds are recorded and mixed in multiple so that a warm contemporary classical play is created.


Katharine Norman, Array Online, October 30, 2000

Normandeau is a master of sonic allusion and metaphor, and these acousmatic works offer a powerful listen. Le renard et la rose will be known to many in the ICMA world, since it was commissioned for ICMC 1995 in Banff, and has received many performances since. It’s a piece of extraordinary depth, in which human speech sounds are woven into a multi-layered tapestry of meaning and movement. Opening with irresistible sounds of laughter and exuberance, it expands outwards to occupy and play in space. Like Spleen, a related work, it harnesses the force of onomatopoeia and rejoices in the primitive vigour of a rhythmic beat. Listening to this work in concert was fascinating, but over headphones there’s perhaps an even greater sense of being immersed in the spattering, ‘animal’ activity of a community of sounds, that are at once both clean and dark, joyful and ominous.

Figures de rhétorique is an enigmatic re-interpretation of the piano and tape genre - or rather, in this case, tape and piano - in which the pianist ‘makes’ his performance in relation to the tape part, itself derived from piano timbres. The work is constructed by employing sonic metaphors related to precise figures of meaning in rhetoric. Though it is impossible (for this listener at least) to embark on aural butterfly-catching, to pin these metaphors down, one doesn’t need to in order to appreciate the dramatic variety of the gestures, most notably in the tape part. Whilst the pitch content tends to anchor itself to a single centre, the variety of gestural motion and interaction provides a means of going on.

Venture is a large-scale work inspired by Normandeau’s formative experience of listening to progressive rock, and uses samples of the same as its material. Like much of his work the piece is in interlinked movements that each refer to what Normandeau calls different ‘states of existence’. It’s a work of symphonic ambition - an ambition it shares, of course, with much progressive rock of the 70s - and has a clear ‘emotional’ trajectory that carries the listener from one sound-world to another. Fragments of Pictures from an Exhibition are interwoven within it, and the tantalising glimpses become more explicit as the work progresses. And, of course, it ends with a nice big string-synth chord. Music about music is difficult to bring off, but this piece works, I think, at a deeper level - as a quite personal journey into the roots of one person’s musical ‘psyche’.

Ellipse, the final piece on the CD, is a wonderfully tactile and effervescent exploration of guitar timbres. The tightening of strings, the sound of the tuning peg straining against the neck - and then when we think we know where we are the sounds explode into pointillistic cloud of splinters, plucked strings, knocks and whirrs. This is a piece in which the material is the materiality of an object - wood, gut, fingers against strings. For this listener it was a sonic equivalent of watching as a miniature camera shoots around inside the guitar, revealing the previously known as an unknown new world with surprising dimensions, and then flying out into space - viewing the same object from a global perspective.

As Normandeau points out in his notes, all the pieces on the CD have dedications to specific people (in the case of Figures, the pianist Jacques Drouin, who features as performer on the CD). Figures are bodies, and Normandeau interprets this notion in various ways. To my ears, a touch of humanity figures highly.

… revealing the previously known as an unknown new world with surprising dimensions, and then flying out into space…


Adverse Effect Fanzine, no. 2:4, October 24, 2000

Award winner of 1996’s Golden Nica of the Ars Electronica, Normandeau has for a number of years both studied electroacoustic music and translated them into his own acousmatic compositions; gaining a few degrees’ worth of intemational recognition in the process. Figures clearly demonstrates why this French-Canadian has generated several ripples, too. The third work in a cycle that commenced in 1991 with the release of Tangram (also on empreintes DIGITALes), it’s based on voice ‘sounds’ (as opposed to speech) & magnetic tape construrtions and knitted piano or guitar compositions thematically related to the voice. And, as with the other releases so far encountered on this Canadian label, a high calibre soundbed of intricately woven shimmers, shards & tinkling is spun to an absorbing scale at once dramatic & disciplined. Without coming from such an academic background in music, I have to ‘fess that it’s kinda hard to place such works outside the same instinctive reactions one might also apply to a Ceramic Hobs disc or whatever but, on the other hand, what’s so wrong with that, anyway? Especially when such instincts inform you that you’re actually listening to some pretty good stuff. Which, ladies & gentlemen, is precisely the case here. I welcome some Normandeau additions to the collection. And so should you…

… a high calibre soundbed of intricately woven shimmers, shards & tinkling is spun to an absorbing scale at once dramatic & disciplined.


Robert Reigle, Musicworks, no. 78, September 1, 2000

“HAAAaaa, ha ha ha,” laugh the electronicallv modified voices at the beginning of Le renard et la rose (the fox and the rose), the opening track of Figures. Normandeau calls this part of the piece “Babbling and Rhythm.” As evident from my bumbling attempt above, it is difficult to transcribe such simple and important things as different types of laughter. We use twenty or thirty thousand words to exactly specify all types of complex thoughts, but when it comes to sound we don t even have a universal transcription system. Musicians are, rightly or wrongly, the only ones given permission (and responsibility) to convey specific meanings through sound alone, without the aid of words. On this disc, Normandeau specifically deals with onotnatopoeia, rhetoric and figures of speech. His refined ear is the perfect mediator in wedding linguistic concerns with sophisticated electronic music.

Like all four works recorded here, Le renard et la rose has multiple layers of reference: 1) the title itself; 2) Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince; 3) two earlier compositions that are part of the same cycle; 4) vocal onomatopœia; and 5) five states or feelings “experienced in adulthood.” The composer bases the work “exclusively on the use of the voice.” It is a rich tapestry usually built of dense electronic layers of sound, and covers a lot of territory in its fifteen minutes.

Figures de rhétorique (Figures of Speech) is a fourteen-minute work for tape and piano. Like Nono during the composition of … sofferte onde serene …, Normandeau worked with the pianist while writing the piece, and engaged Jacques Drouin’s interpretation to such an extent that he calls the recording “his (Drouin’s) version.” In contrast to Nono’s piece, Figures de rhétorique has a much more energetic feeling, but the melding of the electronics with the live piano sound is integrated just as seamlessly and beautifully.

Guitarist Arturo Parra’s contribution to Ellipse (Ellipsis) is less clear. Parra commissioned this work, and it sounds as though Normandeau used recordings of his guitar playing as the basis for the electronic sound. Ellipse, it seems, was originally intended as the tape part of a guitar and tape duet, but the composer now treats it as a purely acousmatic piece without live accompaniment, separate but related to the tape used in the guitar and tape piece, L’envers du temps. Ellipse, the composer points out, “is the art of not saying everything, of omitting words… and of then allowing… the listener to fill in the blanks.”

The one piece on the disc that does not refer to linguistic matters is Venture. This work is named after the rock group The Ventures, and Normandeau built his electronic piece from fragments of rock music from the ’60s and ’70s. As with his modification of actors’ voices in Le renard et la rose, the composer completely alters the source sounds, leaving only occasional snippets recognizable. Although Venture is based on rock music, the isochronous rhythms that define that genre are virtually absent from the piece.

This is a fine disc. Le renard et la rose won the Golden Nica award at the 1996 Ars Electronica competition and appeared on their compact disc series, as well as on discs issued by CBC Records and by Innova. The other three works appear here for the first time. One senses the depth of thought behind these works, and I would like to find out more about how the composer turns linguistic concepts into particular sounds.

One senses the depth of thought behind these works…


Linas Vyliaudas, Tango, no. 8, August 1, 2000


Steve Benner, SAN Diffusion, March 1, 2000

This latest CD from empreintes DIGITALes of recent works by the talented Canadian composer Robert Normandeau is a most welcome addition to their electroacoustic music catalogue. It includes two prize winning pieces: Le renard et la rose (Golden Nica award winner at 1996 Prix Ars Electronica) and Figures de rhétorique (1st Prize for mixed music at the 1998 International Musica Nova competition), as well as two other works that haven’t won any awards — yet!

Le renard et la rose was a 1995 ICMC commission, and continues Normandeau’s cycle of works inspired by vocal onomatopoeia which began with Spleen in 1991. The later work is very much a continuation of the earlier: both are works for tape alone and use processed vocal elements to build pulsing rhythmic and sonic structures which speak directly of human emotions in a way that recognisable words never could. By contrast, Figures de rhétorique (1997) is a purely abstract musical discourse for tape and piano — and the composer is at pains to point out that this is primarily a tape work with part for piano, rather than the other way around — commissioned by Jacques Drouin, the pianist in the current recording. As always, Normandeau’s approach is an acousmatic one, with his sonic materials carefully honed and arranged to present as much of their inner meaning to the listener as possible. The ‘figures of speech’ of the title determine the relationship not only of the sounds to one another within the tape part, but also the discourse between tape and piano throughout the unfolding of the work’s four movements.

The longest of the works on this CD is the 19-minute tape work Venture (1998), constructed entirely out of material derived from fragments of progressive rock music of the late 1960s and 70s. This is, however, no excursion into the realm of plunderphonics, but a very personal homage to the profound influence which that musical genre had on an entire generation. As a clever touch, considering its importance as an inspiration to many popular musicians of those years, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition also features throughout the work. It also inspired the structure of Venture, with an ever-present movement, Tunnel, linking the work’s other movements in the manner of Mussorgsky’s Promenade. While Venture may evoke the spirit of progressive rock, as presented, very little of the source material is recognisable (although I did detect some clear Pink Floyd in a couple of places, in addition to the Mussorgsky) and its sound world remains pure Normandeau, suggesting that the work is as much autobiographical as musico-historical. Being of Normandeau’s generation myself, I found it to be an intensely moving work, providing a powerful reminder of the aspirations of 1970’s youth from a late 1990s musical perspective.

The closing work on the CD, Ellipse (1999), represents a return to more abstracted musical form. Another tape work, this time constructed entirely from guitar sounds, Ellipse continues to explore the ‘figures of speech’ analogy of the earlier Figures de rhétorique. Originally commissioned by Arturo Parra to form the tape part of a work for tape and guitar, Ellipse took a different direction from that work (L’envers du temps) to emerge as a solo tape piece, representing the composer’s half of the intended musical dialogue: as the ellipsis of the title, “omitting… elements of meaning,… allowing the interlocutor, the listener, to fill in the blanks.”

It is good to see empreintes DIGITALes continuing to fill in the blanks…

… a most welcome addition…

Alles Wahre ist artikuliert

Stefan Hetzel, Bad Alchemy, February 1, 2000

Robert Normandeau, ein gutaussehender franko-kanadischer Mittvierziger, arrangiert in der faszinierenden ca. viertelstündigen Kompositon Le renard et la rose von 1995 Klangfragmente der menschlichen Stimme in suggestiver und eingängiger Weise, so dass tatsachlich ein markantes, ästhetisch überzeugendes “Ohrenkino” entsteht. Normandeau “re-musikalisiert” seine bruitistischen Bauteile, tiefe Stimmfrequenzen dienen als ostinate Bassfiguren, geräuschhafle als perkussiver Akzentsetzer, solche mit bestimmter Tonhöhe als Melodietöne etc. Weniger überzeugend erscheint mir die Verbindung aus Zuspielband und live gespieltem Piano (eher zurückhaltend angesichts des “akusmatischen” walls of sound, Pianist Jacques Drouin) im Stück Figures de rhétorique von 1997. Das Klavier “hör”’ lediglich auf die Impulse vom Band (ausschließlich Extrapolationen von Flügel-Sounds) und reagiert quasi-improvisatorisch darauf. Es entsteht keine wirklich zwingende Einheit zwischen Konserve und Live-lnstrument. Eher hat man den leicht unangenehmen Eindruck, der Flügel spiele dem Tape “hinterher”, ohne es doch je einholen zu können. Die Kommunikation verläuft gänzlich einseitig. Venture (1998) enthält ein Stück musikalischer Autobiografie Normandeau und besteht größtenteils aus de-kontextualisierten Fragmenten von Musik der 6Ts-Band “The Ventures” (Klein-Roberts erste Stereoplatte stammte von den Ventures). Als guter Konkreter belässt es Normandeau natürlich nicht beim Zitieren, sondern ist à la recherche du sons perdues. Archétypes sonores nennt er diese und scheint tatsächlich, an ihre Existenz zu glauben! Es wundert mich nicht, dass ich einige der gefundenen Klang-Archetypen schon kannte: sie kommen (in ähnlicher Form) auf der Pink-Floyd-LP Ummagumma vor. Mit knapp 20 Minuten erscheint mir Venture etwas zu lang. Ellipse (1999) schließlich ist nach ähnlichen Prinzipien erstellt wie Figures de rhétorique, doch ersetzt Gitarrist Arturo Parra den Konzertpianisten. Außerdem handelt es sich um ein reines Tonbandstück, was der Kohärenz des Ganzen sehr zugutekommt. Nach Le renard et la rose das stärkste Stück der CD. Der Hörer taucht in einen akusmatischen Gitarrenkorpus voller dekonstruierter Partikel ein, wird Ohrenzeuge einer monströsen Aufblähung des klassischen Saiteninstruments zum kosmischen noise generator. Figures eignet sich für den interessierten Hörer gut als Einstieg in die Welt der Elektroakustischen Musik. Bei allem Technizismus bewahrt Normandeau Musiksprache nämlich eine gewisse Verbindlichkeit und Verläßlichkeit (man könnte fast von “Glätte” sprechen), die es aural beginners leichter machen mag, sich auf dieses Sub-Genre einzulassen. Meine grundsätzlichen Vorbehalte gegen eine geräuschmusikalische Ästhetik erhalte ich aufrecht (siehe oben).


Marco Aurelio Bevià, Enoff, February 1, 2000

Este compositor y música canadiense, fundador de la Communauté électroacoustique canadienne (CÉC) y miembro de Association pour la création et recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ), es uno de los más prolíficos de empreintes DIGITALes en cuanto a trabajos editados en dicho sello discográfico. Cada uno de sus compactos recoge varias obras electroacústicas que en su primera escucha pueden parecerle al neófito como muy distintas entre sí; eclecticismo aparente que se presta a lo erróneo.

Si en Figures, uno de us últimos discos, era capaz de jugar con los sampleos de rock progresivo (Venture) y forzar collages onomatopéyicos (Le renard et la rose) — una constante en la obra de Normandeau —, en la pieza de Jeu (Lieux inouïs [IMED 9802]) vuelve a hacer hincapié en lo vocal, creando coro mediante loops de un solo tono para conseguir unas polifonías tan monolíticas como las que musicaron el viaje iniciatico de Bowman (Lux Æterna’s Ligeti); si bien mucho más fragmentadas y cortas, menos épicas, pero igualmente místicas. De hecho, la inspiración religiosa es otro de los puntos en común con Pierre Henry, cuya obra es para Robert Normandeau un punto de partida para su rutina de trabajo. En Rumeurs (Place de Ransbeck) (Lieux inouïs) o en Tangram, queda patente su deuda con el compositor francés hasta el extremo de hermanarlas con una pieza clásica de la electroacúsitca como Noire à soixante. Pero si Henry es el punto de partida y un aislacionismo electroacústico en clave ambient, repleto de efectos y por lo tanto mucho más asequible al gran público, el final; los ritmos programados son el camino, como así se evidencia en Éclats de voix (Tangram [IMED 9920]), donde la música industrial y la contemporánea comparten una misma partitura.

… uno de us últimos discos…


Lucca Mattila, Prospective, January 1, 2000

Robert Normandeau is one of the leading composers of electroacoustic music in Canada. His aim in composing is to create a ‘cinema for the ear’ in which meaning as well as sound become elements which elaborate his works. Figures comprises of four works, each different in concepts and methods of sound sculpting, yet more or less entangied with the theme of the whole record, “figures”. Normandeau usually bases his works on human voice, acoustic instruments, tapes, field recordings and as in one of the most interesting pieces on the record, Venture where he exclusively uses fragments of the recordings of a 60’s progressive rock band called The Ventures which Normandeau states as one of his earliest influences. The compositions on Figures might strike you as abstract even absurd at first yet the more you give them some fair dedication, the more they expose of their meaning and charm. Especially in Venture, where the progressive sounds of yesteryear clash with the contemporary sounds of progress, the result becomes truly interesting. The album ends with a piece entitled Ellipse, which is a duet of an acoustic guitar and electroacoustics and totally disregarding its intended meaning, it somehow made me wonder about the actual meaning of music today. Anyway, Figures will not offer anything for those not interested in anything ‘arty farty’ (no offense), but perhaps even someone (like me) into a bit more experimental industrial sounds might find this interesting… Test your limits! 8/10


Esteban Lago, Hurly Burly, no. 12, January 1, 2000

A new work by this Canadian electroacoustic muslc composer who proposes, in this occasion through Figures, a skilled and adapted listening to diverse sonic itineraries of strident contents and a marked inclination in favour of metallic colouring and static plasticity with fugues orientated tomards stimuli. as long as the volume permits this work to reach us in optimum conditions.


Dwight Loop, Earwaves, December 31, 1999

Marvelous electroacoustic music from one of the masters of our time. Highly recommended, very unique sounds. A contemporary of Francis Dhomont and Québec resident.

Highly recommended, very unique sounds.


Tim Tetzner, Skug, no. 40, December 1, 1999

Debutant Dan Lander, lange Zeit ebenso Schüler von Francis Dhomont wie Robert Normandeau, zerlegt auf Habitation seine unmittelbare Umwelt (belustigtes Gartenfest, frenetisches Küchengeklapper, Geschnarche), wie die medial vermittelte (Nachrichtensprecher) in ein augenzwinkernd-hyperreales Environmental in dem die Straße einfach dem gehört, der am lautesten hupen kann, bzw. dessen Verständnis von MusiqueConcrete richt durch effekthaschende PreJingleÄsthetik getrübt. Ähnlich bewegt sich Robert Normandeau auf Figures durch einen ebenso privaten BezugsRahmen, widmet sich seiner ersten StereoPlatte der Ventures, dem kleinen Prinzen und seinen Sprechern (Le renard et la rose), oder nähert sich Jacques Drouins PianoSuite in den Pariser GRMStudios mit den Möglichkeiten der TapeManipulation, um es zu transformieren, es von seiner Bestimmung zu befreien, und um im Finale doch die Frage offen zu lassen, wieso Quebec eigentlich eine (qualitativ wie quantitativ) so hohe Dichte an Acousmatikern aufweisen kann…


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 42, December 1, 1999

Je ne sais pourquoi, mais j’ai une nette préférence pour la troisième pièce que Robert Normandeau présente ici, Venture. Peut-être parce que j’ai été initié à la musique concrète dans mon adolescence par Revolution No.9. Et les citations (dont l’auteur réfute la finalité) de ce titre des Beatles parsèment la composition du Québécois. Oh certes, dans son commentaire, il se réfère plutôt aux Ventures, parce que son premier microsillon était justement un enregistrement de ce groupe! Et aussi à Moussorgsky… Mais là où les archétypes sonores des années soixante et soixante-dix sont plutôt — me semble-t-il — implicites et pas toujours identifiables, ceux qui sont tires de Revolution No.9 (mais aussi le final de A Day In The Life) sont explicites et reviennent regulierement tout au long des 19 minutes de l’œuvre. Sentiment tout personnel, probablement, dû à ma propre appropriation de l’héritage sonore de ces années. Quoiqu’il en soit Venture est une fresque envoûtante. C’est aussi à une appropriation toute personnelle du Petit Prince que Robert Normandeau se livre avec Le renard et la rose, dans la mœure où il privilegie une approche sonore de l’onomatopée combinée à quelques thèmes musicaux évoquant les différents personnages de Saint-Exupéry. Une pièce bien rythmée, vivante, gaie (et innocente?).

L’exercice de Figures de rhétorique apparait plus conventionnel dans son principe: un chassé-croisé constant entre une bande son et un piano, ce dernier servi par Jacques Drouin, membre du Nouvel Ensemble Moderne de Montréal. Tout comme Ellipse, croisement entre une bande sonore et la guitare de Arturo Parra, dont sont utilisés des éléments de jeu (souvenez-vous de Metamorphoses de Lagos / Venosta / Mariani, dont il fut question dans le précédent numéro de REtC): deux pièces qui s’apparentent davantage à des études, intéressantes, mais sans l’imaginaire que vehiculent Le renard et la rose et Venture.

Venture est une fresque envoûtante.


Olivier Lamm, Planet of Sound , no. 14, December 1, 1999

[…]Enfin soulignons la sortie du nouvel opus du québécois Robert Normandeau, chez les non moins québécois d’empreintes DIGITALes. De la musique concrète au sens classique, mais survoltée et supersonique, à la manière de son compatriote Paul Dolden. Un disque qui donne le tournis (Ellipse), qu’il utilise du piano et des bandes (Figures de rhétorique) ou des vieux disques de rock (Venture — que tous les fans de Pluramon feraient bien d’écouter).


Heinrich Deisl, Skug, no. 40, December 1, 1999

Robert Normandeau ist eines der Gründungsmitglieder der Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) und betreibt seit 1991 das Media-Arts Festival „Réseaux˝. Für seine Arbeiten wurde er mehrmals international ausgezeichnet (Prix Ars Electronica 1993 und 1996). Momentan beschäftig er sich hauptsächlich mit Theaterproduktionen und Akusmatik. Auf Figures, seiner dritten Veröffentlichung für empreintes, kommt Normandeau gleich von Anfang an zur Sache. Die Grundidee war es, sowohl des Körper als auch das menschliche Gesicht („figures˝) in Töne zu fassen. Die Figures de Rhétoriqueweisen auf die Relation zwischen Tape und Piano hin, die sich ständig, einem Dialog änhlich, ent- und widerprechen. Ellipse ist eine „figures of speed˝, die für Arturo Parra geschrieben Austausch für die eine Stimme, Normandeaus präparierte Solo-Tapes für die andere. Figures ist eine heftiges Werk, das nus selten Platz zum Abschweifen läßt.

Un cycle d’œuvres électroacoustiques sur la voix du compositeur Robert Normandeau

Dominique Olivier, La Scena Musicale, no. 5:3, November 1, 1999

Il ne faut pas se le cacher, l’électroacoustique fait peur. En 1999, on appréhende encore mal cet art musical, apparu dans les années 1940, qui donne au compositeur la possibilité de travailler directement sur la matière sonore et de créer un objet immuable, indépendant des vicissitudes de l’interprétation. Pourtant, derrière cette approche très particulière du monde des sons, se cachent des créateurs qui font, avant tout, de la musique. C’est le cas de Robert Normandeau, un Québécois considéré comme un des meilleurs électroacousticiens du monde. Récipiendaire de nombreux prix, dont le plus prestigieux de tous, le Golden Nica au Concours Ars Electronica, en 1996, pour sa pièce Le renard et la rose, Normandeau ne s’éloigne jamais de l’idée d’œuvre musicale. Son «cinéma pour l’oreille» n’est ni un concentré d’anecdotes hautement référentielles, ni une construction aride superposant les objets sonores dans un but d’expérimentation. On peut le considérer, à la limite, comme un compositeur de musique à programme — au sens le plus ouvert du terme — ayant une vision symphonique du matériau.

Dans un de ses cycles les plus reconnus, Normandeau a travaillé à partir de la voix humaine, un matériau vivant qui laisse passer l’émotion, malgré toutes les transformations qu’il subit à travers le travail, long et minutieux, de l’électroacousticien. «L’origine de ce projet–là, raconte le compositeur, c’est une toute petite pièce qui s’appelle Bédé (1990), pour laquelle j’avais enregistré des onomatopées provenant d’une bande dessinée qui s’intitule Le Dictionnaire des bruits. J’avais utilisé ce matériau comme une sorte de déclencheur, afin d’amener quelqu’un en studio pour enregistrer sa voix. Je me suis rendu compte, après avoir fait Bédé, que la voix est un matériau beaucoup plus riche que je ne le pensais. J’ai donc fait la première pièce du cycle, Éclats de voix.»

Après avoir terminé Éclats de voix (1991), sa toute première pièce écrite uniquement à l’ordinateur, le musicien s’est aperçu qu’il avait conservé non seulement les sons utilisés dans l’œuvre, mais également tous les gestes posés au cours de son élaboration. «La pièce était en quelque sorte reproductible. Je me suis donc questionné sur la pertinence de garder la même structure temporelle pour une autre pièce, en remplaçant les sons.» La jeune fille de 11 ans qui avait prêté sa voix à cette pièce a (donc) été remplacée, dans la seconde, par un groupe de quatre adolescents. Ainsi est née Spleen (1993), une œuvre à l’énergie radicalement différente de celle d’Éclats de voix, bien que basée sur les mêmes onomatopées. «D’abord, les timbres sont différents, rapporte Robert Normandeau. Il y a aussi la différence de registre. Les gars ont des voix plus graves, elles ont donc un tout autre impact. On dirait qu’elles ont plus de poids. D’autre part, leur ton était beaucoup plus affirmatif que celui de la jeune fille.»

Le son de la voix est par essence porteur d’affects, il possède une texture, une empreinte particulière, indépendamment du contenu sémantique du langage. C’est cet aspect qui a, au premier chef, fasciné Robert Normandeau. «J’ai été frappé par le fait que l’onomatopée est un code particulier dans le langage humain, dans lequel il y a une relation directe entre l’émotion et le son qui est produit. Et je me suis rendu compte que malgré toute la lutherie électroacoustique ou informatique que j’utilisais, cette émotion–là n’était pratiquement pas modifiable. Ce qui est fascinant et troublant, quand on travaille en studio avec la voix, c’est qu’on est toujours en contact avec l’émotion de base.»

Pour sa troisième production du cycle, Le renard et la rose (1995), le compositeur a profité d’une occasion unique — l’enregistrement discographique, par Radio–Canada, du livre Le petit prince de Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, dont il a composé la musique — pour capter les voix de comédiens professionnels. «Ça a généré autre chose, témoigne Robert Normandeau. C’est une pièce plus orchestrée, où l’énergie est plus à l’état brut, le rythme plus affirmé que dans les deux autres.» Chaque œuvre du cycle comprend cinq mouvements, et chacun de ces mouvements incarne une association entre un paramètre sonore, timbre, rythme, texture, et un sentiment, mélancolie, colère, tendresse… «Pour y arriver, je réduis, je fais des unités et je les classe en catégories de sons», explique Normandeau.

Le travail de l’électroacousticien est très différent de celui du compositeur traditionnel. «Je compose à partir d’une interaction très étroite entre la transformation du matériau et ce qu’il me donne en retour. C’est pour ça que le travail avec la voix est toujours très stimulant. J’ai fait d’autres pièces entre chacune des pièces du cycle, mais chaque fois que j’y revenais, c’était une bénédiction.» C’est sans doute pour cela que Robert Normandeau projette de faire une quatrième œuvre pour compléter son cycle «vocal», cette fois avec des voix d’une tout autre expression, celles de femmes âgées!

On pourra entendre Spleen ainsi que plusieurs autres œuvres de Robert Normandeau au prochain Rien à voir du 8 au 11 décembre, série consacrée à l’électroacoustique, et dont il est un des organisateurs. Auparavant, les 4, 5 et 6 novembre, au Théâtre La Chapelle, on pourra aussi entendre Figures de rhétorique, pour bande et piano, dans le cadre d’un concert pour instruments et bande intitulé Plein la vue, organisé par Réseaux, à l’instar de Rien à voir. Toutes les œuvres du cycle mentionnés dans cet article sont disponibles sur disque, sous étiquette empreintes DIGITALes (Bédé, Éclats de voix, Spleen) et Les disques SRC (Le renard et la rose).

… un des meilleurs électroacousticiens du monde.


Massimo Ricci, Deep Listenings, no. 16, November 1, 1999

HrönirDebutant Dan Lander, lange Zeit ebenso Schüler von Francis Dhomont wie Robert Normandeau, zerlegt auf Habitation seine unmittelbare Umwelt (belustigtes Gartenfest, frenetisches Küchengeklapper, Geschnarche), wie die medial vermittelte (Nachrichtensprecher) in ein augenzwinkernd-hyperreales Environmental in dem die Straße einfach dem gehört, der am lautesten hupen kann, bzw. dessen Verständnis von MusiqueConcrete richt durch effekthaschende PreJingleÄsthetik getrübt. Ähnlich bewegt sich Robert Normandeau auf Figures durch einen ebenso privaten BezugsRahmen, widmet sich seiner ersten StereoPlatte der Ventures, dem kleinen Prinzen und seinen Sprechern (Le renard et la rose), oder nähert sich Jacques Drouins PianoSuite in den Pariser GRMStudios mit den Möglichkeiten der TapeManipulation, um es zu transformieren, es von seiner Bestimmung zu befreien, und um im Finale doch die Frage offen zu lassen, wieso Quebec eigentlich eine (qualitativ wie quantitativ) so hohe Dichte an Acousmatikern aufweisen kann…

At a Glance Reviews

George Zahora, Splendid E-Zine, November 1, 1999

Normandeau’s most recent release collects four compositions: Le renard et la rose, Figures de rhétorique, Venture and Ellipse.

Le renard et la rose combines, in largely unrecognizable form, the audio and musical soundtracks from a radio dramatization of The Little Prince; if nothing else, you’ll probably never look at Antoine de Saint-Exupery the same way again. Figures de rhétorique, created for tape and piano, is the most overtly musical piece, while Venture comments on the states of existence via heavily manipulated slices of rock music. Ellipse, which closes the disc, is one half of a sonic dialogue with guitarist Arturo Parra; you get the call, sans response, or vice versa. Of these pieces, Figures de rhétorique is the most conventionally ear-pleasing, while Venture offers the most overtly intriguing set of sounds. All four works are dynamic and stirring, making this an excellent starting point for the empreintes DIGITALes universe.

… dynamic and stirring, making this an excellent starting point for the empreintes DIGITALes universe.


François Couture, Gibraltar, October 1, 1999

Hello to all of you. This is not one of my usual reviews. But there is a record I must share with you, especially with the most adventurous of you. I love prog music, but I also have other interests, one of which is electroacoustics. The basic principle of electroacoustics is to take source sounds and to transform them electronically to create a piece of art. Concepts such as melody, rhythm or tonality are irrelevent. The composer is sculpting the sound to create a sonic work of art. This type of ‘music’ can be very disorienting for the first-time listener and really is an acquired taste. But here I have for you a portal, a way of entering electroacoustics for prog heads.

Robert Normandeau is Québec’s best electroacoustician. He won numerous international prizes and already has three CDs out on the Montréal-based label empreintes DIGITALes. His latest, Figures, is just out now. I want to draw your attention on track 3, Venture, a 19-minute piece. In this piece, Normandeau pays tribute to his musical background. Like many of us on Gibraltar, Normandeau grew up with progressive rock. In the liner notes, he confesses that he was introduced to classical music through (guess what) Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, thanks to Emerson, Lake and Palmer of course. So Venture (notice the similarity with a Yes tune) uses as source sounds bits and pieces of prog tunes that are transformed to make them almost unrecognizable. I say almost because I still managed to find a bit of the intro of Close to the Edge, a vocal track from King Crimson’s Formentary Lady and there are a lot more. Normandeau uses these as archetypal music signatures, trademarks of prog (like building crescendos, mellotron sounds, etc.). There are also citations from the 16 Pictures… Mussorgsky exhibited. This piece could be your introduction to electroacoustics the same way Pictures at an Exhibition was a way to enter classical music for so many of us. In any way, and although you might feel a bit lost at first if you never experienced this type of music before, it is really fun just playing ‘spot the tune’ throughout the 19 minutes of this track.

Robert Normandeau is Québec’s best electroacoustician.

Altrisuoni in breve

Etero Genio, Blow Up, no. 17, October 1, 1999

Next?) e autore di svariate musiche da scena, il canadese francofono Robert Normandeau raccoglie in questo CD alcune composizioni scritte negli anni che vanno dal 1995 ad oggi: quattro episodi di lungheza media (10-20 minuti) frammentati in svariate Figures. Normandeau — musicista prettamente elettroacustico — sembra, più che possedere un linguaggio proprio, conoscere perfettamente innumerevoli linguaggi che spadroneggia con spirito tipicamente accademico. Figures — con la sua impersonalita, freddezza e rispetto della forma — mi ha aiutato a comprendere come un’affermazione fatta da Francisco López (’Non sono un musicista elettroacustico in quanto non sono un musicista accademico), che in un pnmo momento non avevo completamente digerito, rifletta precisamente un dato di fatto.

Délire actuel: Critique

François Couture, CFLX 95.5 FM, September 28, 1999

Robert Normandeau est, avec Francis Dhomont et Gilles Gobeil, l’un des plus grands électroacousticiens québécois. Figures, son troisième CD, rejoint en qualité et en intérêt ses deux précédents, Lieux inouïs en 1990 et Tangram en 1994.

Figures rassemble quatre œuvres réalisées entre 1995 et 1999. Le disque s’ouvre sur Le renard et la rose. Cette œuvre, lauréate du Golden Nica au concours Ars Electronica 1996, a pour assises une musique commandée pour adaptation du Petit Prince de Saint-Exupéry, ainsi que les voix des comédiens qui collaboraient à l’adaptation radiophonique en question. Étude de la voix humaine, Le renard et la rose joue dans le registre du rire. Normandeau atteint ici un sommet de son art.

Sur Figures de rhétorique, Normandeau s’adonne à l’écriture mixte, juxtaposant œuvre acousmatique et partition de piano. Jacques Drouin livre une interprétation qui s’appuie sur le chassé-croisé entre bande et instrument, mais le résultat demeure moins probant.

Venture est l’occasion pour Normandeau de rendre hommage à ses racines musicales, le rock progressif. Cette œuvre est entièrement constituée de fragments provenant de pièces progressives. Ces fragments sont utilisées comme archétypes sonores qui l’ont influencé par la suite dans son travail de compositeur. S’y ajoutent aussi des citations des Tableaux d’une exposition de Modest Petrovitch Moussorgsky, une œuvre qui a servi de pont entre le rock et la musique classique pour plusieurs amateurs de progressif.

Enfin, Ellipse est une pièce acousmatique qui utilise le jeu guitaristique d’Arturo Parra comme source sonore. Une pièce au mouvement à la fois circulaire et transcendant, Ellipse joue sur l’entendu et le non-entendu pour entraîner l’auditeur dans un monde à part.

Figures constitue l’un des grands disques d’électroacoustique de l’année. Normandeau s’y affirme une fois de plus comme un des rares incontournables du genre.

… un des rares incontournables du genre.


Paul Lemos, Under the Volcano, September 1, 1999

Internationally renown composer, Robert Normandeau’s fine new disc, Figures presents yet another very different side of electro acoustic composition. Normandeau’s release covers a lot of musical ground. The first selection, Le renard et la rose employs tribal rhythms, strange, fluttering high tones and grinding, hellish drones. Amazingly, the entire piece was constructed from samples of the human voice. Figures de rhétorique, for piano and tape is a wonderfully spirited piece that harkens back to works from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but here the tape becomes a truly active instrument. Although the initial section of Venture, the third piece contained here, sounds like Sonic Youth running in reverse, the source material for this wildly echoing introduction (and for the rest of the piece) is none other than the music of the ‘50s Surf band, The Ventures!! Ellipse the last selection is a tape piece, but reminds me of what some of Penderecki’s early orchestral work might sound like if deconstructed by the likes of Normandeau. This is another intense sound experience, crafted by a master.

… another intense sound experience, crafted by a master.


TT, Gonzo Circus, no. 41, September 1, 1999

Boudweg poneren dat de meest geavanceerde elektronica van het laatste decennium van Frans(talig)e origine is, zal waarschijnlijk menig trendhopper meewarig doen monkelen, ver bezijden de waarheid is het echter niet. Natuurlijk doelen wij niet op de vervelende recyclagedisco van Cassius en co, maar op de Frans/Canadese school van elektroakoestici en musique concrete-bricoleurs. Het vanuit Montréal opererende empreintes DIGITALes verdeelt samen met o.a. Ina-GRM en BVHaast de fine fleur van deze hedendaagse futuristen. Het werk van Normandeau situeert zich binnen de zogenaarnde akoesmaUsche muziek en meer bepaaid de ‘cinéma pour oreilles’ (voilà, daar hebben we de obligate soundtrackreferentie, altijd gemakkelijk voor de luie recensent). Deze grotendeels op technische criterla gebaseerde subdivisie binnen de elektroakoestiek maakt voor haar composities voomamelijk gebnulk ven dagdagelijkse geluldsbronnen, die in de studio al dan niet bewerkt worden. Zo versnijdt hij op Le renard et la rose op digitale wqze een radiobewerking van Saint-Exupéry’s Bildungsklassieker Le Petit Prince tot een hoogst abstract stuk dat nog nauwelijks raakvlakken vertoont met het origineel. In Venture echter horen we zowei vogelgefluit en stukjes pianospel als verwrongen gitaarriffs uit de progrock (Yes, ELP, help!) waar Normandeau, en ongetwijfeld veel van zijn collega’s, mee opgroeiden. Het gloednieuwe tapewerkstuk Ellipse — opgenomen in, of all places, Mons — tenslotte roept met haar metalige klankpatronen en bnuuske ritmes herinneringen aan het vroege werk van industriële knutselaars als The Hafler Trio of P16D4.


trav, De:Bug, September 1, 1999

Figures beinhaltet vier längere Werke des jüngeren Schaffens von Robert Normandeau, einem kanadischen Elektroakustiker, der vollkommen zurecht mit Auszeichnungen diversester Festivals von Linz über Prag und Bourges bis Stockholm hochdekoriert ist. Überwiegend liegt hier Computermusik vor, im Fall von Le renard et la rose in fünf sehr verschiedenen Sequenzen, die auf einer Radiovertonung von Exupery’s „Kleinem Prinzen“ beruhen, allerdings von Sprache und Musik des Ausgangsmaterials mit Ausnahme gelegentlicher Melodiefetzen nicht viel erkennen lassen, sondern vielmehr ein sehr gehaltvolles und collagenhaftes Spektrum von kraftvoller Leichtigkeit bis zu schlingerndem Eiern und Überdrehtheit ausloten. Sehr dicht gestaltet sich auch Venture, eine Hommage an die Musik aus Normandeaux’ Kindheit, dem Rock der 60er. Kann man sich sicherlich als grauenhafte Angelegenheit vorstellen, jedoch bleibt in dem äusserst temporeichen und übergeschnappten Arrangement vom Ausgangsmaterial genauso wenig übrig wie von den beigemengten Fragmenten Mussorgsky’s „Bildern einer Ausstellung“. Stellenweise sehr schwergewichtige Musik von teilweise opernhafter Dynamik. Ellipse pflegt die Kunst der Auslassungen; vereinzelt auftretende Klänge von Saiteninstrumenten und Kratztönen besitzen eine Präsenz, die einen glauben lässt, dass sie noch da sind, obgleich sie längst verstummt sind. Einzig Figures de rhétorique, ein Stück für Piano und Tape ist streckenweise von einer Verquastheit und kopflastigen Natur, wie ich es für sogenannte „Neue Musik“ als charakteristisch einstufen würde, jedoch gelingt es Normandeuax es auch hier immer wieder auszubrechen und einen Bogen zu einem aufregendes Hörerlebnis von explosivem Charakter zu schlagen. 4/5



Yves, Aufabwegen, no. 28, March 1, 1999

Das vorzügliche kanadische Elektroakustik-Label empreintes DIGITALes stellt in einer Serie neuere Komponisten vor, die in ausführlichen Beiheften ihrc Arbeit erläutem und deren Biographie/Werdegang ebenfalls mitgeliefert wird. Robert Normandeau ist vornehmlich am klanglichen Potential menschlicher Stimmen interessiert. Le renard et la rose beginnt mit einem Gelächter, welches sich langsam in ein fieses Sauggeräusch steigert, um dann von brodelnden Gesprächsfetzen dunkler Männerstimmen weggewischt zu werden. Mit ähnlichen Spannungsbögen arbeiten Normandeau auf der ganzen Platte: Gegensätze werden geschaffen und durch überraschende Wendungen in der Formgebung der Stücke aufgelöst. Ohne Zwang oder den Druck der Veränderung. Clevere Musik ist immer dann gut. wenn man garnicht merkt, wie clever sie ist. Garantiert in keinem Tesco-Katalog!

Robert Normandeau remporte le Golden Nica

Le Musicien, no. 8:6, November 1, 1996

Le compositeur montréalais Robert Normandeau a remporté le prix Golden Nica au concours international Prix Ars Electronica 96 qui avait lieu le 4 septembre dernier à Linz, en Autriche.

Cet honneur lui a été décerné pour sa pièce Le renard et la rose, une œuvre acousmatique (musique électroacoustique sur bande) composée en 1995. La pièce est une suite composée à partir de la musique commandée pour une adaptation radiophonique du conte Le petit prince d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry et des voix des comédien(nes) et animateurs(trices) qui ont collaboré à l’enregistrement de l’adaptation radiophonique.

Il est à noter que la pièce de Robert Normandeau était en compétition contre 287 autres compositions.

empreintes DIGITALes
4580, avenue de Lorimier
Montréal (Québec) H2H 2B5 Canada
+1/514-526-4096 ext 1
ventes [at] electrocd [dot] com


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