The Electroacoustic Music Store

Les arbres Nicolas Bernier

  • Total duration: 43:21
  • UCC 771028081622
  • Canada Council for the Arts • SODEC

Les arbres: Prix Ars Electronica 2009 — Mention

Prix Opus 2008-09: Disque de l’année

Nicolas Bernier makes music to get close to. His first official CD is called Les arbres (“The Trees”) and it’s one of the most exquisitely composed pieces of electroacoustic music we’ve ever released. Bernier has a sound world of his own at his disposal (we’ve heard a glimpse of that with his delicious Ail et l’eau faille EP) & we feel more than lucky to be able to share it with you starting right now.

Sonic landscapes and slow textures meet with precise articulations, all this resting on a minimal orchestration made of guitars, brass instruments, vibes, accordions and strings. In short: a stimulating record, a remarkable attention to detail and excellent production quality, making for an unfailingly rewarding listening experience.

Les arbres is also a remarkable visual project. The CD comes packaged in a lovingly assembled sleeve containing six exclusive postcard-format illustrations by Urban9. Let’s put it another way, you don’t have any excuses not to get this disc.

Les arbres

Nicolas Bernier

IMNT 0816 / 2008

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In the Press

  • Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, March 22, 2011
    It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list.
  • François Couture, Monsieur Délire, May 26, 2010
    Bernier won an Opus award for this CD; believe me, he deserved it.
  • FC, Stereo & Video, no. 181, March 1, 2010
    … there is indeed something of the forest, wild and organic, but at the same time with a sense of higher order and harmony.
  • Simon, Goûte mes disques, September 2, 2009
    Un disque qui laissera très certainement des traces à tout ceux qui auront le bonheur d’y laisser traîner une oreille. Passionné et passionnant.
  • Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural, June 17, 2009
    … a perfect integration of sinuous emotional trajectories…
  • Fabrice Allard, EtherREAL, April 2, 2009
    Les arbres est parfait de bout en bout…
  • Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, February 25, 2009
    The images and sounds of Les arbres […] encapsulates its audience in a nostalgic, discreetly melancholic and romantic emotional bubble.
  • Ian Hawgood, bodyspace.net, December 1, 2008
    I am left with little doubt that Nicolas is fast developing into one of the most important producers/artists around today.
  • Simon, Goûte mes disques, November 5, 2008
    … l’ensemble est sûrement trop bien pensé et orchestré pour y avoir quoi que ce soit à redire.
  • Luis M Rodríguez, PlayGround, October 6, 2008
    El canadiense Bernier evita con soltura el peligro de la frialdad digital gracias al constante recurso a los más amables timbres acústicos, pero no parece haber jerarquías entre sonidos.
  • Bruno Letort, France Musique, October 2, 2008
    … une véritable force vivante, sereine et poétique.
  • Benoît Richard, Ondefixe, October 1, 2008
    … on découvre un univers riche et foisonnant, où chaque ambiance semble travailler jusqu’à l’extrême, histoire de faire ressortir le maximum d’impressions, d’images, de ressentis chez l’auditeur.
  • Laurent Catala, Octopus, October 1, 2008
    Nicolas Bernier articule textures travaillées […] et sens minimaliste contemplatif pour asseoir un paysage musical sensitif, appliqué et mélancolique…
  • Sara Bracco, SentireAscoltare, October 1, 2008
    … pillole di sound-art in dimensione tascabile tra acustica purezza e contaminazione digitale…
  • Pierre-Nicolas, Boing Poum Tchak!, September 25, 2008
    // Ouverture is a beautiful track with intimate strings.
  • Jurgen Boel, Goddeau, September 10, 2008
  • Charles Prémont, Le Lien multimédia, September 4, 2008
    L’album a du succès là où beaucoup de musiques électroniques échouent: il fait le pont entre les amateurs et les néophytes.
  • Stefano Isidoro Bianchi, Blow Up, no. 124, September 1, 2008
    È una soundtrack carica di sentimento, che ti entra nella pelle per non uscire più.
  • Pavel Zelinka, His Voice, September 1, 2008
    The images and sounds of Les arbres work both as works of art in their own right and as a multimedia experience which encapsulates its audience in a nostalgic, discreetly melancholic and romantic emotional bubble.
  • Stephen Fruitman, Sonomu, August 28, 2008
    A real coffee-table book of a package. Housed in its handsome slipcover are a slim CD case and six quality postcards…
  • Arno Peeters, Radio 6, July 29, 2008
    Bernier weet er raad mee.
  • Michael We, Nonpop, July 8, 2008
    Dieses hier ist allerdings äußerst gelungen und wird hoffentlich um weitere Versuchsreihen ergänzt.
  • Frans De Waard, Vital, no. 633, June 30, 2008
    This is quite an amazing CD, with great ideas, perfect execution, nice packaging and a way out of the locked in microsound artists.
  • Sven Swift, 12rec.net, June 21, 2008
    Six exquisite songs of crackling textures, harmonic drones and ambient extravaganza […] Purchase, baby!

Interview with Nicolas Bernier

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, March 22, 2011

To the outside observer, Canada must sometimes seem as though it were founded on paradoxes. An industrial powerhouse sporting some of the leading cultural metropolises, it is also torn one of the most thinly populated countries on the planet, with vast, uninhabited planes opening up right next to its sprawling economic centres. It should seem only logical that a nation as complex as this should give birth to an artist like Nicolas Bernier, whose œuvre has forever been caught between a plethora of dichotomies, feeding from the effort of finding a balance between extremes: It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list. In an unlikely conflation of influences, Bernier, who was born in Ottawa, but eventually moved to more urban Montréal, has oscillated between the fury of punk and the development of a captivating personal style in the field of electroacoustic composition, a genre otherwise associated with humourless academicism and intellectual rigour rather than the celebration of synaptic stimulation. Before making a name for himself with early stand-out piece Les arbres, however, Bernier left his mark on the scene as part of the Ekumen collective, a tightly-knit community simultaneously operating as a label, design agency and creative hotspot (in fact, its members prefer to refer to it as a “microorganism”). Today, he has definitely closed this chapter. But the focus on an allround multimedial approach has remained part of his philosophy to this day, as have the friendships with Olivier Girouard and his long-term visual partner in crime Urban9, who has signed responsible for the artwork to all of Bernier’s albums so far. So, although he has remained connected to his past, the end of Ekumen also marked the real beginning of his solo career: After early composition Ail et l’eau faille and his strongly folk-and song-oriented work with composer and guitarist Simon Trottier, released on netlabels 12rec and Zymogen, Bernier burst onto the sound art scene in 2008 with Les arbres, a work which he had diligently been sculpting for years and which would eventually be awarded an honorary mention at the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica. Its densely layered arrangements questioned the implicit dogmatism of the electroacoustic scene, with heartbreaking strings shimmering underneath sheets of metalically rustling and crackling noise. The old stylistic polarities were eliminated and merged into a new style synthesising all of his different preferences. A variety of works further defining this aesthetic quickly followed suite: strings.lines, which explored the sound-producing capacities and cultural implications of tuning forks. courant.air, which dealt with the force and flirtations of wind. And The Dancing Deer, a quirky piece of magnetising electronics within close proximity of radio plays, guided by the playful spirit of Pierre Henry. As cohesive as all of these releases might have been, they were also unanimously marked by yet more contrasts, which delineated a fertile ground for discussion entirely without the use of words or clever liner notes. On Bernier’s latest work, usure.paysage, meanwhile, his individual take on field recording has resulted in what is possibly his most pure piece of music: There are no obvious clues as to the origin of these sounds, but you can feel yourself drifting far, far while listening to them, your body entering a world of obscure forms and surreal shapes as your mind takes a journey to the vast, uninhabited planes stretching out all across the Canadian heartland.

Could one regard the strong contrasts in your music as a direct reference to the contrasts of Canada, with a big city like Ottawa lying next to vast patches of wild nature?

Clever! But it is more about the contrast between my teenage years near a huge national park and my adult life in Montréal. Back then, cross-country skiing all alone in those woods was undoubtedly among the best moments of my life. And those moments disappeared as soon as I moved to a metropolitan city. By moving here, I’ve gained culture but lost nature, since nature here is quite tough for a big city. This nature/culture dichotomy is at the heart of most of the music I’ve composed.

What are the fundamentals of this dichotomy?

It’s all about this love/hate relationship with the computer. I admire the computer in a way. As a freelancer, I can do so much work, from business to communication and creation with one single piece of electronics — truly incredible. And I can take the core of my studio and travel with it to anywhere in the world. On the other hand, the computer is such a boring, anonymous, unpleasant interface, especially when it’s time to make music. It is making everything virtual and I still hope to live in the real world, a world that I can feel with all my senses, not only from a computer screen. So I find ways to work in the real world. Performance is one way of achieving this, collaboration and field recording are others.

Is that why the term “handmade" is so prominently featured in your biography?

Yes, that’s how I manage to beat that computer down! It’s a way for me to feel that I am still living in the real world and not just inside a virtual environment.

How has this influenced your perspective on recording in the field?

In 2009, I spent a lot of time in the Canadian West. It is the perfect cliché of what a foreigner will imagine Canada to be like: never-ending forests and mountains. Canada is so big that you don’t travel from East coast to West coast every day. And that year I had the chance to work with a multidisciplinary company called Theatre Junction. In the same year, I had a residency at Banff Centre, an art centre based literally in the middle of the rockies — the Canadian mountains. Composing there was fantastic. The Dancing Deer was entirely created there, far from my usual studio in downtown Montréal.

usure.paysage is my first release of real musique concrète in a way. There are no musical instruments, mostly field recordings. For years, all my musique concrète was based on studio recordings of machines, old forgotten objects and musical instruments. With usure.paysage, I am breaking with this habit, bringing nature into the studio. I wanted to distance myself from the habits composers have when dealing with field recordings, where they’ll usually integrate the recordings without intervening. Even when they are edited, composers often keep this gentle attitude towards recordings of nature. Or they do the complete opposite. I wanted to find a “juste-millieu” between editing while still keeping a sense of the original timbres. In usure.paysage, I wanted to find the points of articulation in the recordings to make a music that lives, that’s not just nature-ambiances. It’s not so much about processing but more about working with a tight “montage” technique.

How do you feel about the idea that if we attune our senses and expectations, we are constantly surrounded by the most wonderful music?

I’ve always thought it difficult to make any clear statement with music unless it uses voice. During the Iraq war, I composed an electroacoustic piece with a rapper singing an anti-war, anti-Bush text, but it didn’t really work out. Nobody but me actually heard that piece. I would situate myself far from the Henri Pousseur or R Murray Schafer and the philosophy that music exists in nature. The idea is pertinent but it’s not where I stand. If there is a political statement in my music, it would relate to the notion of keeping our awareness faced with the predominance of technocracy.

In which way did folk and acoustic music, as typical symbols of purity, play a role in your early musical education?

This question of purity is interesting because what one could consider as pure in my early musical education is, in fact, not so pure. This is, in a way, because I started with real instruments and punk rock. I began my musical life within a wall of distortion. Now I deal extensively with timbre, with unidentified materiologies. But stage performance and distorted guitars remain my own personal folk, my roots. And I think that sometimes I still make use of that punk rock energy and those hooks when composing musique concrète or audio performances. One thing I have to mention is that even in my punk rock phase, I was immediately attracted to blending all the different kinds of music I loved, from jazz or new age to grindcore.

You indeed seem to consider these genres as options in a giant toolbox. Can you trace this back to the music that surrounded you when you were young?

I’ve definitely always considered music as a “field of possibilities”, to paraphrase Henri Pousseur. This is not so much a strictly musical view but a social perspective. I’ve never really understood why people we’re hanging out in small groups, why they so badly need to find their identity by being in a closed relationship with others who share the same ideas or habits. Can one trace that attitude back to when I was young? The answer would most probably be “no”, because I did not grow up surrounded by music at all. In fact, it would be more like a counter-reaction to my early social environment: a bureaucratic region where everyone had to fit in their little tight box, afraid of stepping outside. In a metropolitan city, meanwhile, the phenomenon of marginality barely exists — which was not the case in the place where I grew up.

How and when did sound as a musical element enter into your world?

It entered progressively. It entered timidly in my early teenage years by trying to produce weird chords, weird rhythms and so forth. The big bang occurred when I arrived in Montréal. I brought my band from rock to improv-based ambient rock. Sound was entering more deeply into the practice and I was discovering modern music. I soon attended my first concert of electroacoustic music. It took place in complete darkness, with no performers on stage, nothing to see, everything to be heard. That was a turning point. There was something I did not understand about it — and I loved it. So I’ve tried to understand it better to be closer to that unknown.

You seem to have a special relationship with sound.

Yes, I am in a relationship with sounds. No doubt! (laughs) Sounds are my lovers. I love sound. They make my imagination flourish. They free ourselves from the visuals which imprison us. Sounds have no limits, they flow in space freely. I am attracted by sounds that come from a particular — material — reality. I’ve never been interested in electronic sound. Synthetic sound, more specifically.

How has this relationship changed over the years?

It’s hard to say. I think that it began with a poetic relationship and grew into a more technical one. I am not a technical guy at all, but I am becoming more sensitive to technique — maybe because I feel that my relationship with sound is now mature.

In the notes to strings.lines, which uses recordings of tuning forks, I found the following description of your interests: “On the one hand, this obsession with old objects, obsolescence, dust. On the other, a fascination for bareness, sobriety and purity."

In that single object, the tuning fork, I’ve found not only a symbol of my musical objectives, but also of my general interest for that dichotomy between the old and the new. I think it has something to do with the relation between the inside of the mind and the real outside world. I like to spend time on old bazaars and in antiquaries. When I compose, I think I feel closer to antiquaries than to avant-garde artist. In the meantime, I just love to be in a white museum room or to listen to minimal electronic music. I feel there is this obsession for clarity and sobriety in the art world. This is maybe what would segregate the official and the underground scene. The underground is more rough, more drafty, the works are less organized, they don’t give an impression of perfection. So maybe I feel closer to the underground, maybe it is still that punk-rock thing running after me, bearing me to not cross-over into the official realms. This obsession for dust is also a counter-reaction to my tool, the oh so white — or grey or black but please not beige — the oh so sterile laptop. With strings.lines, or with the tuning fork, I think I have found the middle-ground between those two obsessions.

Tuning forks, as the project suggests, have become symbols of the occident’s entire musical heritage. In which way has this lineage and tradition played a role in your life?

There this extremely purist approach in electroacoustics, based on space and timbre as the most important parameters for music. When I started out with electroacoustics, instead of falling into the endless possibilities of creating completely new sounds, I quickly faced the fact that the timbres of traditional musical instrument are the most high-class timbres of all. They’ve been developed over centuries to achieve perfection and richness. So I never really understood why one should not use them when doing sound art. I am not that much engaged in occidental classical music. I am engaged in it, but for me it is just another aspect of this giant toolbox called music. What strings.lines is stating is that if we look closely, the boundaries are not as insurmountable as we think. Like the sound of those tuning forks, which is so close to the sound of electronic music. Is it important in any way to do "electronic music“? Or is it electroacoustic? Or instrumental music? Are these good terminologies? Not sure at all. Here, one could argue that my approach is post-modernist. But I do not feel that my music is a melting pot of whatever. I think that even if there are multiple influences, all projects are tied to a coherent aesthetic. The pejorative image of post-modernism is over. We are now beyond all of this, I think.

Projet Perault was, if I’m not mistaken, your first public work. What role did it play in your development towards these goals?

It’s funny to bring that project up. I’ve put it in my list of works just because I don’t want to forget it and also because I don’t want to forget that Pierre Perrault, an important poet and cinematographer from the province of Québec — we owe him the “cinéma-vérité” — was the main influence which inspired me to start with field recording. When he was working for the radio in the 60s, he was speaking about how the recorder was an important tool for keeping our collective memory and the words of our predecessors. At that time, I was barely aware of electroacoustic music but that reading left a big impression. In the multidisciplinary Projet Perrault, I was only taking care of the video part. My friend Olivier Girouard was composing the music. Curiously, when I started out with electroacoustics, I was more attracted by the visual arts. For me, the music scene was a bit boring, so I was digging elsewhere. Afterwards, in 2007, I had to make a choice between those two full-time jobs: Sound or video. I choose sound. My first musical education was that of a self-taught-punk-rocker. But even then I was working like crazy, playing my instruments eight hours a day after school, getting up in the middle of the night to rehearse or to note down new ideas. After learning the guitar and bass, I finished my rock “career” on the drums. I hope to get back to it someday.

When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

After those years, I’ve tried to convinced myself that music was not an option, as you could barely live as a musician. But you cannot decide to become an artist. There’s a force that make you involved in what you like the most. It’s not a choice, you either do it or you don’t. When I was about eighteen, I tried to convince myself that I had to study something more common. So I studied radio, which I thought was close to music but it’s not at all, and marketing — I actually wanted to be a graphic designer. Always keeping some rock and improv projects, I worked as a web programmer/designer for almost ten years. And that’s how I made my musical education: I had money to buy CDs and books, so I was digging and digging and reading and reading and learning. This is how I discovered about electroacoustic composition. As a personal challenge — I didn’t have any classical theoretical education, after all — I decided to go to University and return to my real love: music. After a couple of courses on musical history, I found out about the electroacoustic program. I didn’t understand this music, but I was incredibly curious about it. So I did my Bachelors degree, and then a master degree with Robert Normandeau at Université de Montréal. I am now starting a PhD at the University of Huddersfield in the UK under the direction of Dr. Pierre Alexandre Tremblay and Dr. Monty Adkins and it’s really awesome! But I don’t consider myself as an academic. For me, studies are just one part of life, which is always made up of different aspects. For me, it is really important to be involved in more than one circle so I don’t get lost in a tiny micro-community or in one way of seeing things. I don’t believe in academic thinking and I don’t believe in profane thinking either. I think it is the relationships between all the different visions that ultimately make life and the arts interesting.

With its Honorary mention at the Prix Ars Electronica 2009, Les arbres must have been a first highlight in your career.

It was a huge highlight indeed! I wouldn’t say it was the first one because there are little highlights every day, it all depends on your need for big things. Personally, I am still fascinated by small events. Les arbres was a long and really organic process which had more to do with sensuality than cerebrality. At one point, an artist will always have to verbalize his work so it looks more intellectual than it really is. I could even say that Les arbres is my first work in a way because it all started in 2004, quite at the beginning of my electroacoustic introduction. As I was super-occupied with school and with a job to pay tuition fees, I was working on Les arbres really slowly, sharing the time between all the others obligations. And as I was at the beginning of my learning curve, I quickly grew dissatisfied with the music I was composing. So all the movements have changed quite a lot over this five year process. I was testing all of it with Urban9, the one I gave total confidence to judge a piece of music, because music is not his job, he just feels it, he doesn’t think about it. I think I could say that if I am doing the kind of music I am doing today, I owe it mainly to Urban9. When I met him, I was still working in the web and there was this awesome experimental music shop called feu-Esoteric just in front of our office. I was more purist in those days, looking for only “serious” art. Urban9, on the other hand, was listening to a kind of glitch-drone stuff that I wasn’t into at all and he made me discover all this wonderful music. Urban9 and I were exchanging some images and sounds and while sharing this, the work was slowly evolving into what it has become today. No matter what, it’s with this project that I found that I could merge my pop side and my electroacoustic side.

Would it be correct to refer to Les arbres as a catalyst in many respects?

I’ve always been producing like crazy actually. I just can’t help it: making music is like breathing. When Les arbres was published, it was already an old project for me in a way. One always wants to search further and further. Between the first draft of Les arbres in 2004 and the mention at Prix Ars in 2009, I had the time to work a lot and to make contact and to learn and to grow and now I feel that everything is coming together and is going well. But of course Les arbres brought a lot of positive effects — even though they are not as tangible as one could hope.

What have been your main compositional challenges over the past two years?

One of my main challenges was… to find myself! I cyclically get lost, every three or four years. Most of my works between 2005 and 2008 were collaborative. After an overdose of collaboration, I wanted to work alone. There will always be collaborators, but in the last projects, I decided to live alone with the challenges of creation. courant.air had its load of challenges: after two albums of improvised folk/electronic with Simon Trottier, I wanted to bring this amalgam of timbres into a strictly compositional field. How to achieve this? How to work with an interpreter of a non-classical formation, with the forces and weakness of a more intuitive oriented playing? How to write a score for this kind of work? I’ve never written scores before, I barely read and write traditional music. Especially, how to write the electroacoustic part? How to stay conceptually coherent when, on the one hand, I want to play with more noisy textures, and on the other, I am working with completely acoustic timbres? The most important challenge, and this is what I am still working on and I am not rushed in finding some answers if there are some at all, is how to make an electronic music performance appealing, interesting, coherent gesturally and musically thrilling? How to make a “spectacle” with electroacoustic music? I will not be the first one trying to find some elements of answers. But I am still rarely convinced with the shows I see so I want to engage myself more and more in this way after some years of work oriented for fixed media.

In the preface to Les arbres, you mentioned the “abolition of boundaries" as one of your main goals. Do you, in sync with the old saying that “all art aspires to music", believe that sound has the strongest potential of all forms of art in achieving that elimination of borders?

I would never say that sound is the art form, not in an absolute way. Of course it is for me because it suits my personal interests. But this is only a personal matter. Besides, as soon as you get into a concert hall or exhibition space, it’s not just about sound anymore. It’s a ritual, it’s a show, it’s always a multi-sensorial, multi-aspect experience. Shows are great. But this is maybe why I love so much to compose for a fixed medium — CD, digital, DVD — because I know that some of the audience will be appreciating the work quietly, in the intimate setting of their homes, not expecting any spectacular show but with the more modest aim of simply listening to the music. Besides, there are art forms that impress me even more. In dance, for example, all you basically need is a body. Most of the shows are complex and involve music, stage design and lighting. But in its most simple form, when the movement of a body can move me, this is a truly amazing thing.

Concerning the abolition of boundaries, we come back again to that question about this giant toolbox, this “field of possibilities”. I just don’t see the point of segregation. The world is rich and sharing this richness is about all we can do here. A couple of years ago, when I was active in different fields of sound creation, I was putting all my different approaches into different boxes made for different sensibilities, different people. But over the years, those different approaches have all collapsed into one entity made of various components, that still can be identified as one single thing. I hope you are following me?

Perhaps one could say that courant.air and The Dancing Deer are good examples for this?

Yes, they are combining tonal perspective alongside some noise, drones, clicks, acousmatic gesture, pop and rock influences. When I did Les arbres for instance, this was for me my “pop” side. But now it just doesn’t matter to me anymore to have different sides. It just what it is and sometimes it’s closer to purer forms like the pieces included on usure.paysage. And sometimes it’s a combination of its own unique blends. But I will no longer separate my more “pop-experimental” compositions and my more “serious” ones. It’s all related to each other in one way or another. I even like to shut my brain off altogether from time to time. This is where playfulness resides, I guess. The Dancing Deer is close to my very first solo release called Ail et l’eau faille. There is something really light and loose in those works. Something that tells me that I am not taking myself too seriously even though I am seriously involved in everything I do. Music, life, seriousness, playfulness… it’s all a matter of equilibrium.

And still, despite aiming at the eradication of borders, your artistic world is not without its delimitations.

I guess there is always a frontier after all? I guess we could say I am working in the contemporary world of the arts, not around works of previous centuries. I am not creating dance or theater shows, even though I am thinking a lot about how to perform electronic music in some of my latest projects like La chambre des machines. Oh! And there I said it… I said “electronic music” in the previous sentence. But I never tell myself: I will make electronic music today. I just create music without having to restrain myself with this or that. The better tool to achieve what I want to is the computer. All the terms to describe styles of music are so problematic. Electronic music is rarely electronic and is often filled with acoustic or analogue sounds. Any pop artist is doing electroacoustic music, semantically speaking, because they are using acoustic sources, processed acoustic sources and electronic sources. And what is the difference between sound art, audio art, musique concrète, acousmatic music?

As you can see, I am not in a good position to label myself. I guess there are people better equipped at doing this. But my fundamental objective would probably be to make music that feels human despite the fact that is made with a computer. The fundamental aesthetic of my work will probably always rely somewhat on the tension between conceptual rigidity and intuition.

It is sweet, it is bitter. It is fragile, it is rough. It is sentimental, it is cool. It feels spontaneous, it has been carefully constructed — there’s no end to the list.

Listening Diary

François Couture, Monsieur Délire, May 26, 2010

Released in 2008, but I never received a promo, so I took the opportunity of Bold’s performance at FIMAV (Nicolas Bernier’s in it) to buy this gem of a record. A splendid album of electroacoustic music with post-classical elements mixed in — piano, violin, trombone, lots of calm beauty, quiet, but also some vivdness (a little like Francis Dhomont’s music can be vivid). If memory serves right, Bernier won an OPUS award for this CD; believe me, he deserved it.

Bernier won an Opus award for this CD; believe me, he deserved it.

Review

FC, Stereo & Video, no. 181, March 1, 2010

Nicolas Bernier was a French composer born in 1664, who died in 1734” is the dry and somewhat unforgiving message one finds in Wikipedia. However, this no reason to place the current review into the “Classical” section. Despite the recent epidemic of neoclassisism, and even though our Nicolas Bernier shares his name with the French composer, he is active in a rather different (although related) field. Bernier creates electroacoustic experiments, enveloping the final result in smooth ambient forms. Although this genre is currently experiencing a visible upheaval, last year’s offerings show unfortunate tendencies to be repetitive and overly stretched-out. By contrast, Bernier records rich and emotionally deep works, full of seemingly unrelated sounds that however do not detract from a clear melodic line. Bernier is sharp, with enough sense of tact and style to interrupt himself mid-phrase and prevent a clever trick from turning a mechanical gesture, or an elegant composition from becoming clumsy and faceless. Les arbres is one of those rare cases when long and thorough work on a recording does not result in a lack of inspiration. On the contrary, the process allows the composer to imagine most unpredictable turns of subject matter. Yes, Nicolas Bernier was right to call his first major work “The Trees” — there is indeed something of the forest, wild and organic, but at the same time with a sense of higher order and harmony. [English translation: Xenia Pestova]

… there is indeed something of the forest, wild and organic, but at the same time with a sense of higher order and harmony.

Chronique

Simon, Goûte mes disques, September 2, 2009

Décrire un disque comme Les arbres a tout d’un exercice fastidieux. On commencera par dire qu’il s’agit là d’une collaboration entre le producteur originaire de Montréal Nicolas Bernier et son compère Urban9, ce dernier œuvrant comme artiste visuel. Mais au-delà des mots, Nicolas Bernier tend à créer une véritable machine de sentiments, rendant la tentative de justification de mon engouement vaine et presque inutile. Coincé entre une musique acousmatique abyssale et une dérive des matériaux électroniques les plus divers, Les arbres se dégage rapidement des schémas souvent froids et monochromes imposés par la musique concrète.

C’est que l’ensemble est sûrement trop bien pensé et orchestré pour y avoir quoi que ce soit à redire. Basé sur de longues envolées solitaires d’un piano qui s’abandonne à des improvisations presque aléatoires, les titres composés par Nicolas Bernier dessinent avec lenteur des paysages désertés, rongés par la vermine. De plan séquence en plan séquence, on découvre un savoir-composer hors norme, bien souvent mis en pratique par des glissements abrupts, des ruptures qui nous ouvrent subitement les portes d’un autre théâtre, ou se joue une autre fin du monde. Ces pianos mélancoliques ne seraient bien évidemment rien sans l’orchestration minimaliste qui les entoure: grésillements électriques, vibraphones, guitares et cuivres en tous genres font dévier ces lignes mélancoliques de leur tentation sentimentaliste pour mieux orienter l’auditeur vers une introspection inévitable et douloureuse.

À ce titre, la prose de Nicolas Bernier n’a rien de féérique, il travaille sur le plan de la finalité bien humaine qui le compose en s’assurant de vider sa musique des vieilles composantes ésotériques qui mineraient le sérieux du propos. Les six pistes de ce projet colossal abordent des ambiances violentes par leurs pouvoirs d’évocation, par l’interaction sensée de leurs composantes. Et dès que tout aura fondu à vos côtés, vous pourrez apprivoiser la bête et jouer avec elle à découvrir les plaines et montagnes d’un monde où se côtoient fourmis mécaniques, ombres fantomatiques, geysers émotionnels et autres escaliers de cordes déchirantes. Pas étonnant alors qu’on parle de photographie sonore, de captation, de fixation, de réformation sonore, de bricolage ou encore d’archivage au sein de cette superproduction.

C’est que finalement Nicolas Bernier est un maître en la matière, un élève appliqué qui, plein de références dans les poches, retranscrit avec passion l’enseignement du savoir que renferme la musique électroacoustique qui lui a été inculqué à l’Université de Montréal. Mais au-delà des schémas carrés et coincés que peuvent renfermer un cursus universitaire, Nicolas Bernier explose littéralement en proposant une perle electronica/concrète/classique/ambient/noisy dont le retentissement a une portée universelle. Un disque qui laissera très certainement des traces à tout ceux qui auront le bonheur d’y laisser traîner une oreille. Passionné et passionnant.

Un disque qui laissera très certainement des traces à tout ceux qui auront le bonheur d’y laisser traîner une oreille. Passionné et passionnant.

Sound

Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural, June 17, 2009

Acoustic and electronic sounds in Les arbres can be listened to in the form of a delicate but rigorous project, led by Nicolas Bernier, a composer able to activate symmetries between piano and environmental textures, developing intense and expanded melodic tunes. The Canadian author places different elements together in a very controlled manner, imposing more melodic passages alongside synthetic moments, resulting in a meticulously organized audio-transfiguration. Six tracks, each accompanied by an illustration by the visual artist Urban9, following in this case the idea of a network: silhouettes extracted from a photographic family album in the 40s are re-mounted on a similar greyish background with nice drawings of trees. An intimate set, with some obscure forms, is presented in this “sentimental bricolage”, both in visual and musical components. There is a perfect integration of sinuous emotional trajectories, mixed with surrounding sequences where there are also wind instruments, guitars and violins.

… a perfect integration of sinuous emotional trajectories…

Critique

Fabrice Allard, EtherREAL, April 2, 2009

C’est la première fois que l’on parle de Nicolas Bernier sur ce site, jeune compositeur québécois, élève de Robert Normandeau auprès de qui il a étudié la composition de musiques électroacoustiques. Ses pièces musicales sont généralement des parties d’œuvres plus globales, installations, danse, cinéma et jusque là de rares enregistrements que l’on trouve en particulier chez No Type. Cela fait bien longtemps que l’on n’avait pas parlé de ce génial label canadien qui nous avait fait découvrir Tomas Jirku ou les italiens de Metaxu.

Du coup, et rien qu’avec le nom du label, on se doute un peu de la musique que l’on va trouver sur cet album alors que l’on ne connait pas encore Nicolas Bernier. On ne s’y trompera pas puisque dès les premières notes on trouve une œuvre exigeante, riche et subtile. Le Québécois produit certes une musique électroacoustique, mais ne partez pas tout de suite!!… Sur la forme c’est bien plus que cela puisque l’on y trouve des passages ambient, des glitchs, textures grésillantes et granuleuses, des traitements électroniques à la Fennesz (les guitares délicieusement fracturées de This is a Portrait), des rythmiques à rapprocher de l’electronica sur Piano, de nombreux instruments (piano, cuivres, vibraphone, accordéon, guitare) dont des cordes qui nous rapprochent même parfois d’une musique néo-classique sur Ouverture. Une richesse étourdissante, pour des pièces qui tiennent vos sens en éveil, où chaque seconde peut surprendre, sans pour autant jouer sur les facilités de la déconstruction et de l’abstraction rythmique et/ou mélodique.

Bien au contraire, la musique de Nicolas Bernier est extrêmement sensible, sensuelle, fine et subtile. Exigeante sur la forme mais sans oublier d’être humaine, source d’émotions diverses sur le fond. Le jeune compositeur semble avoir trouvé l’équilibre parfait entre complexité de la composition et des codes mélodiques ou sonores (instruments classiques) auquel l’auditeur peut se raccrocher facilement. On appréciera en particulier la précision chirurgicale de son sens du rythme avec des cassures et relances particulièrement bien amenées, comme les inspirations de Spleen ou les montées de souffles métalliques et les caisses enregistreuses de Bora.

On arrêtera là les compliments, de toute façon Les arbres est parfait de bout en bout. On ajoutera que même sur cet album le travail a été un peu plus large qu’une "simple" bande son puisque Nicolas Bernier a collaboré avec Urban9, photographe et graphiste responsable du packaging mais aussi auteur des six cartes (une par morceau) qui accompagnent le CD. Enfin pour être complet, on précisera que Nicolas Bernier n’est pas tout seul sur cet album puisqu’il est régulièrement accompagné (entre autres) de Delphine Measroch (accordéon / violoncelle) avec qui il a créé le duo de musique concrète Milliseconde topographie en 2004. Tout un programme!

Vous l’aurez compris, quelle que soit votre sensibilité musicale (entre néoclassique et electronica le champ est assez large), vous pouvez vous jeter sur cet album surprenant. S’il est peut-être un peu moins abouti, on vous conseille tout de même le très beau Ail et l’eau faille sorti en 2007, disponible en téléchargement, toujours chez No Type.

Les arbres est parfait de bout en bout…

Nicolas Bernier & Urban9: Sound Dimensions

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, February 25, 2009

It is easy to see why two dynamic media, like music and film, should be able to complement each other. But what happens when the equation becomes asymmetrical and moving sounds are juxtaposed with static images? On Les arbres, Canadian composer Nicolas Bernier has joined forces with visual artist Urban9 to find out. A collection of six electroacoustic works and six accompanying postcards featuring paintings by his artistic partner, the album is an attempt of researching how different techniques of creative expression can be combined into a coherent new entity. As natural as the result has turned out after a collaborational process of four years, Bernier gladly admits to the challenging nature of the endeavour: “To create music on ’static’ images was a hell of a deal!”, he says, “I see this music creation for static images as if I were adding a third dimension to the 2D image. Except that this third dimension is not ’visual’, it is sound. With the music, I’ve tried to go deeper and explore what the images are suggesting. Is there sound in the picture? Is there somebody else near? Or far? Are we moving in front of it or are we still? Is it raining? Is it windy? Are we far or close?”

That, for sure, are a lot of open questions. But they are definitely leading somewhere. The images of Urban9 revolve around themes like childhood and a magical view of the world around us, humanity and nature or, on a more technical level, monochromatics and colour. Bernier’s music mirrors these sentiments without ever simply copying them. On the postcard to // Piano, two little girls are standing on an open field in front of a solitary tree at the edge of the forrest. Even though they are only metres apart, each seems to be caught in thoughts, unaware of the others’ presence, black specks covering up the contours of their faces. And yet, a rope is binding them together, as though to protect them from getting lost and from loosing sight of each other. It is a scene of great discomfort, of an uneasy tension waiting to be released and Bernier’s soundtrack, with its echoes of Jazz, slowly decaying Trumpet tones, glitchy beats and thundering piano clusters, does just that: At one point, he even allows the sky to explode in a burst of thunder, as if trying to wake the children from their horrific nightmare.

“Even tought we are often speaking about ’static’ music, we could refute the theory that images are static because the mind is extrapolating so much with images. And the way our mind works is not static, it is moving in time”, Bernier elucidates, “The fact that Urban9 and me have been working together for a long time and the fact that we we’re sharing a common love for certain aesthetics and that we we’re attracted by the same kind of subject implied that everything went really smooth in our creative process. I was quite aware about his visual world and Urban9 was aware of my musical world. But the project did evolve a lot since the bigginning. Sometimes I was giving a new track to Urban9 and he was starting new images listening to it and vice-versa. Sometimes, the images he was sending to me were the starting point of a new piece… Or they were giving me some ideas to add or remove some material in an existing piece.”

Physical Qualities

Les arbres is not just yet another collaboration either. It documents an artistic friendship, which budded in one of the most trivial of environments: Their day job. Bernier and Urban9 were sharing an office in an agency for Web programming. Quite unlike any of his other colleagues, Urban9 turned out to foster a deep interest in experimental music and their conversations at work would suddenly be infused with discussions about new releases, sounds and their various projects. Coincidentally, a great record shop was just around the corner and both would happily spend their hard-earned money on the latest CDs and Vinyl — which, of course, would spark new talk and an even stronger bond. “Urban9 and me were sharing a strange fascination for electronic and “organic” visuals and musical landscapes. It’s like if we couldn’t assume the burden to work in a virtual world (the internet) all day”, Bernier remembers.

After contributing a track for the Urban9 homepage, the duo decided it was time for a more extensive collaboration. Because their quotidian routine already involved them surfing immaterial spaces, it was established that this project should have distinct “physical” qualities. In fact, for a long time, Les arbres was to be a combination of a book and DVD, which was only discarded at the last minute after no publisher was ready to take on the financial burdon of investing in it. This physicality was, of course, easy to achieve for the images. Awarding similar characteristics in terms of sound was less straight-forward and involved a deep, sonorous production, which seems to bulge out into the room, and a lot of acoustic instruments such as Vibraphones, Accordions, Cellos ans Trumpets. To match the stylistic integrity of the visuals, Bernier composed each piece using the same basic ingredients, while always avoiding obvious repetition. As a result, the images and sounds of Les arbres work both as works of art in their own right and as a multimedia experience which encapsulates its audience in a nostalgic, discreetly melancholic and romantic emotional bubble.

That, as it turns out, is what Bernier has been meaning to do ever since he got involved in scoring music: “My aim with music at the more basic level is to create a mood. This does not mean that I want to do background music, not at all acutally! To create music for other art forms is also to find the right mood, but instead of only creating a space by filling an architectural form (when the work is only musical), the music is completing the other art form by finding the right sound mood.” Towards the end of Les arbres, which dies down with the beautifully disharmonic digital brass band of // Ouverture, that mood is a silent kind of elation.

The images and sounds of Les arbres […] encapsulates its audience in a nostalgic, discreetly melancholic and romantic emotional bubble.

Review

Ian Hawgood, bodyspace.net, December 1, 2008

I first came across Nicolas’s work at the superb German label 12rec. What first caught my attention (as is often the case) was the unique and visually arresting artwork by Urban9 (who I then asked to do the artwork for my own 12rec release!). The album, entitled Objet Abandonne En Mar, was made with the guitarist Simon Trottier in 2007, and was the first net release I heard (as a relative newbie) that not only hit the expected high standard of releases I expect if I am to listen to over again and again, but surpassed it, becoming one of my favourite releases of 2007. The thing about Nicolas’s work is how unique it is, it really is like nothing else out there. He keeps detailed and very delicate micro-elements in control, making it sound flawlessly simple when in fact it is anything but. He uses grainy elements and distortion better than anyone else I have heard before, timing the movement changes to absolute perfection. Les Arbres is a fantastically developed work, with amazing string sections coming in with lightly moving beats and micro-rhythms on a bed of beautiful noise. Its impossible to define the work (both solo and collaborative) he does, but this only adds to the excitement of future releases. I am left with little doubt that Nicolas is fast developing into one of the most important producers/artists around today.

I am left with little doubt that Nicolas is fast developing into one of the most important producers/artists around today.

Critique

Simon, Goûte mes disques, November 5, 2008

Décrire un disque comme Les arbres a tout d’un exercice fastidieux. On commencera par dire qu’il s’agit là d’une collaboration entre le producteur originaire de Montréal Nicolas Bernier et son compère Urban9, ce dernier œuvrant comme artiste visuel. Mais au-delà des mots, Nicolas Bernier tend à créer une véritable machine de sentiments, rendant la tentative de justification de mon engouement vaine et presque inutile. Coincé entre une musique acousmatique abyssale et une dérive des matériaux électroniques les plus divers, Les arbres se dégage rapidement des schémas souvent froids et monochromes imposés par la musique concrète.

C’est que l’ensemble est sûrement trop bien pensé et orchestré pour y avoir quoi que ce soit à redire. Basé sur de longues envolées solitaires d’un piano qui s’abandonne à des improvisations presque aléatoires, les titres composés par Nicolas Bernier dessinent avec lenteur des paysages désertés, rongés par la vermine. De plan séquence en plan séquence, on découvre un savoir-composer hors norme, bien souvent mis en pratique par des glissements abrupts, des ruptures qui nous ouvrent subitement les portes d’un autre théâtre, ou se joue une autre fin du monde. Ces pianos mélancoliques ne seraient bien évidemment rien sans l’orchestration minimaliste qui les entoure: grésillements électriques, vibraphones, guitares et cuivres en tous genres font dévier ces lignes mélancoliques de leur tentation sentimentaliste pour mieux orienter l’auditeur vers une introspection inévitable et douloureuse.

À ce titre, la prose de Nicolas Bernier n’a rien de féérique, il travaille sur le plan de la finalité bien humaine qui le compose en s’assurant de vider sa musique des vieilles composantes ésotériques qui mineraient le sérieux du propos. Les six pistes de ce projet colossal abordent des ambiances violentes par leurs pouvoirs d’évocation, par l’interaction sensée de leurs composantes. Et dès que tout aura fondu à vos côtés, vous pourrez apprivoiser la bête et jouer avec à découvrir les plaines et montagnes d’un monde où se côtoient fourmis mécaniques, ombres fantomatiques, geysers émotionnels et autres escaliers de cordes déchirantes. Pas étonnant alors qu’on parle de photographie sonore, de captation, de fixation, de réformation sonore, de bricolage ou encore d’archivage au sein de cette superproduction.

C’est que finalement, Nicolas Bernier est un maître en la matière, un élève appliqué qui, plein de références dans les poches, retranscrit avec passion l’enseignement du savoir que renferme la musique électroacoustique qui lui a été inculqué à l’Université de Montréal. Mais au-delà des schémas carrés et coincés que peuvent renfermer un cursus universitaire, Nicolas Bernier explose littéralement en proposant une perle electronica / concrète / classique / ambient / noisy dont le retentissement a une portée universelle. Un disque qui laissera très certainement des traces à tous ceux qui auront le bonheur d’y laisser traîner une oreille. Passionné et passionant. 9 / 10

… l’ensemble est sûrement trop bien pensé et orchestré pour y avoir quoi que ce soit à redire.

Discos

Luis M Rodríguez, PlayGround, October 6, 2008

Nos gustan los discos que empiezan a llamar nuestra atención desde la misma portada, cuando atacan no sólo a uno sino a dos o más sentidos. Y hay algo en la fachada exterior — sombría, entre grisácea y verdosa, no especialmente vistosa pero sí extrañamente sugestiva — de este álbum que intriga, que invita a imaginar.

Esa sensación no hace sino multiplicarse cuando entra en juego el sonido. Sin titubeos, a pesar del perfil marcadamente abstracto de la propuesta, el disco reclama tu atención desde el primer momento, desde que un estruendoso rechinar mecánico introduce en cuestión de segundos la atmósfera silbante, microscópica y abisal de // Post, el primero de los seis cortes de generoso minutaje — sólo dos bajan de los siete minutos — y estructura mutante que conforman un álbum que surge como resultado de un proceso de colaboración bidireccional mantenido en el tiempo entre el compositor Nicolas Bernier y al artista urban9. El último se ocupó de desarrollar conceptos visuales — seis de ellos, uno por cada canción, acompañan al disco en forma de tarjetas postales — inspirados en los primeros esbozos musicales de Bernier, imágenes en constante re-construcción que a su vez iban interfiriendo en la composición, el desarrollo y los tratamientos de unos paisajes sonoros de arquitectura electroacústica dibujados a base de texturas crepitantes — densas, por momentos aislacionistas o casi industriales, en transformación constante —, grabaciones de campo de corte naturalista — puedes reconocer el cricrí de los grillos, las voces anónimas de unos niños, respiraciones, etc. —, precisas articulaciones de microcirugía digital e instrumentaciones mínimas — de filiación compartida entre el post-rock más sedado y contemplativo, la composición clásico-contemporánea, las orquestaciones propias de la escena electrónica neoclásica, el folk de cámara o el jazz blanco, sosegado y prístino de la escuela ECM — urdidas a base de guitarras, metales, vibráfonos, pianos preparados, flautas, acordeones y cuerdas.

El canadiense Bernier evita con soltura el peligro de la frialdad digital gracias al constante recurso a los más amables timbres acústicos, pero no parece haber jerarquías entre sonidos. Aunque la escuela clásica de Bernier — esa noción académica de la acusmática — se deja notar en algunos tratamientos sonoros — términos como audio photography, audio transfiguration, audio reformation, audio alteration o audio bricolage sucediéndose en los créditos de todos y cada uno de los cortes del disco — un tanto exagerados, aquí priman la textura, el clima y la atmósfera como señas de identidad de una música que a pesar de ser extremadamente meticulosa y técnica consigue sonar humana, orgánica, subyugante y conmovedora, cerebral a la vez que sensual.

Si necesitas nombres para ubicarte, piensa en algo próximo a lo que saldría de viajar hacia el norte agitando en una misma maleta los discos de Eluvium, el primer Encre, Radian, Fennesz, Elegi, Bill Frissell, Svarte Greinerng, Mark Templeton o Ljudbilden & Piloten. Agradabilísima sorpresa.

El canadiense Bernier evita con soltura el peligro de la frialdad digital gracias al constante recurso a los más amables timbres acústicos, pero no parece haber jerarquías entre sonidos.

Tapage nocturne

Bruno Letort, France Musique, October 2, 2008

«C’est en utilisant quelques sons du quotidien que deux artistes montréalais, le musicien Nicolas Bernier et le graphiste Urban9, ont créé une œuvre audiovisuelle alliant musique électroacoustique et images fixes. Tous deux ont utilisés des techniques et des moyens à la fois numériques et analogiques et ont élaboré leur projet de concert, s’inspirant, se nourrissant chacun du travail de l’autre sur plusieurs années. Alors je pense que la plupart d’entre vous on déjà été séduits par une pochette de disque et en on fait l’acquisition dans la simple perspective d’imaginer la musique qui y serait présente. Et bien la le phénomène fonctionne ici dans ce sens et les 6 cartes postales présentes dans l’album et les 6 compositions musicales s’harmonisent avec une très grande précision dans un climat emprunt de douceur, de nostalgie et d’une élégante naïveté. Alors la musique, nous allons l’entendre bien sûr, mais je vous donne quelques indications sur les images, elle sont dans des teintes grises et mettent en scène des arbres et des enfants. Les arbres sont sans feuillage (est-ce une évocation de la tristesse, de l’absence, de la lenteur ou de la mort?) et les enfants à leur tenue semblent venir d’une époque révolue mais ils contrastent par la forte impression de vie qui émane de leur seule présence dans ces paysages désolés. Graphiquement et musicalement ce n’est pas une sensation de tristesse qui domine mais plutôt une véritable force vivante, sereine et poétique.»

… une véritable force vivante, sereine et poétique.

Critique

Benoît Richard, Ondefixe, October 1, 2008

Connu pour ses créations à caractère expérimental, le canadien Nicolas Bernier s’associe ici avec le graphiste Urban9 pour donner vie à une œuvre construite conjointement et mutuellement à partir du travail de chacun. Un travail d’improvisation qui débouche aujourd’hui sur le CD Les arbres.

Au programme 6 compositions qui chacune trouve une correspondance avec une carte postale livrée avec le disque. Une manière de plus de faire coïncider le son et l’image. Dans les compos de Nicolas Bernier mêlant sonorités électroniques et sonorités acoustiques on découvre un univers riche et foisonnant, où chaque ambiance semble travailler jusqu’à l’extrême, histoire de faire ressortir le maximum d’impressions, d’images, de ressentis chez l’auditeur.

Expérimental dans la forme et dans l’idée, mais très facile à écouter, Les arbres dévoile des harmonies profondes, où le son du piano, de l’accordéon, de la guitare et du vibraphone viennent se frotter en permanence aux triturations sonores du canadien. Ce qui donne un assemblage sonore très moderne dans sa conception, étonnant. Une manière, pourquoi pas, de découvrir et se familiariser avec la musique électroacoustique.

… on découvre un univers riche et foisonnant, où chaque ambiance semble travailler jusqu’à l’extrême, histoire de faire ressortir le maximum d’impressions, d’images, de ressentis chez l’auditeur.

Oursins chroniques

Laurent Catala, Octopus, October 1, 2008

C’est dans un climat d’étrange transfiguration qui n’est pas sans rappeler les ambiances floues, autant mystérieuses que nostalgiques, du Grand Meaulnes d’Alain Fournier que se tisse la collaboration noueuse entre le musicien Nicolas Bernier et l’artiste visuel Urban9 qui sert de cadre à ce disque. Élève de Robert Normandeau et de Jean Piché, et par là même dépositaire d’une certaine tradition acousmatique québécoise, Nicolas Bernier articule textures travaillées (provenant pour l’essentiel de sonorités instrumentales et acoustiques retravaillées électroniquement) et sens minimaliste contemplatif pour asseoir un paysage musical sensitif, appliqué et mélancolique, évoluant finement au gré des interventions prolixes du compositeur jusqu’à atteindre les rivages d’une musique de chambre isolationniste et trouble sur le paradoxal final // Ouverture. Une œuvre empreinte d’un certain spleen, comme le souligne encore davantage les illustrations photographiques années 30 et les dessins paysagers mortifères d’Urban9.

Nicolas Bernier articule textures travaillées […] et sens minimaliste contemplatif pour asseoir un paysage musical sensitif, appliqué et mélancolique…

Recensione

Sara Bracco, SentireAscoltare, October 1, 2008

Neo-modernista per eccellenza, Nicolas Bernier inizia la sua indagine sulla forma sonora tramite la musica popolare, ma la curiosità finisce per avere la meglio e lo porta ad inscenare un dialogo tra suono e video, danza, cinema, installazioni. Nel 2004, con la compositrice Delphine Measroch, fonda Milliseconde topographie e nel 2006 Ekumen, netlabel dedicata alla promozione delle arti elettroacustiche. Les arbres mette in gioco la vista e l’immaginazione, sei immagini in dimensione cartolina curate dall’artista Urban9 per sei tracce di pura materia organica e digitale la cui chiave di lettura si ispira e a tratti si rivela nell’ onirico mondo dell’infanzia, palcoscenico ideale la cui mutevole forma si tinge di incubi, sogni, magici mondi paralleli e creature immaginarie. Destrutturati collage elettroacustici dall’animo noir, linee essenziali di piano, chitarra e vibrafono, triturate filtrate e ferite (// Post): sonopresagio di un divenire, un timore dai beat sostenuti che avanza, a tratti soffocato da una tempesta glich, una lotta a tratti lenita da un’ anima gentile di violoncello e accordeon (// This Is a Portrait).

Un timore dall’animo fantasma e una pioggia di drones e sottili stratificazioni ambientali, manipolazioni sonore, dilatae note che si riflettono nello spazio e vuoti silenzi che disegnano forme e rifugi per poi riscoprirsi rotolati in nuovi luoghi oscuri (// Piano). Mutamenti per riprendere contatto con il proprio essere fragile, un’anima acustica di accordeon e un flebile ultimo respiro di archi (// Spleen), fragilità che rende comuni il dialogo tra la sensualità di un violoncello e l’imprevedibilità digitale (// Bora), che lotta con le ombre di un basso elettrico e le urla disperate di un violino rincuorato dai cori sibilanti di synth e beat (// Ouverture). Installazione in formato digipack, pillole di sound-art in dimensione tascabile tra acustica purezza e contaminazione digitale una nuova lettura dell’arte in cui mettersi in gioco tra percezioni ed emozioni; “… musica che non possiede un inizio definito o una fine predeterminata, che entra in una nuova fusione con i fenomeni visivi e non vuole altro che mettersi a disposizione di chi ascolta…” (Bernd Schulz). 7 / 10

… pillole di sound-art in dimensione tascabile tra acustica purezza e contaminazione digitale…

Review

Pierre-Nicolas, Boing Poum Tchak!, September 25, 2008

Good experimental sound-track of the Fall from Québec boy Nicolas Bernier. This album has a very nice presentation with cards which symbolize each song. // Ouverture is a beautiful track with intimate strings.

// Ouverture is a beautiful track with intimate strings.

Kritik

Jurgen Boel, Goddeau, September 10, 2008

In deze tijden waarin zelfs groepen steeds korter op de bal spelen en pas twee dagen voor de release aankondigen dat hun plaat te downloaden valt, met dien verstande dat een fysiek exemplaar later volgt, is dat laatste een verademing, vooral als het artwork een pareltje is.

De Canadese electro-akoestische componist Nicolas Bernier liet zich inspireren door visueel artiest urban9 en vice versa bij het maken van Les arbres. Het album wordt vergezeld van zes tekeningen/collages die elk bij een nummer horen. In de beelden van urban9 overheersen donkere kleuren (verschoten groen en zwartbruine tinten) waartegen haast witte figuren afgetekend staan. De link met de muziek of titels is niet altijd even duidelijk, hoewel in beiden zowel een onbestemd soort droefheid als een onbehagen schuil gaat.

In // Post verbergt de piano zich vijf minuten lang achter ruislagen, dreigende echo’s en onbestemde klanken. Wanneer ze zich in de tweede helft van het nummer dan toch laat kennen, zweert ze bij etherische melodieën die zelfs in de hogere sferen een onvervuld verlangen en rusteloosheid tentoonspreiden die niet willen behagen maar veeleer het evenwicht verstoren. De afbeelding, enkele kale bomen en een eenzame vrouw maken de luisteraar noch kijker iets wijzer.

Het verloren gelopen jongetje dat een lammetje vastklemt, belooft niet veel goeds voor // This Is a Portrait. Het nummer laat zich kennen door een vollere klank en een minder instrumentgebonden geluid. De aanwezige cello en accordeon worden pas in de laatste minuut onderscheiden (of aanwezig?) binnen het veelvoud van geluiden. De sfeer van het nummer laat zich minder eenvoudig vatten in vastomlijnde begrippen en roept vooral tegenstrijdige emoties op, die naargelang de eigen gemoedstoestand een invulling krijgen.

// Piano ontwikkelt zich tot de soundtrack bij een obscure alsook elitaire Aziatische horrorfilm. De piano-impulsen, hartslagen, nauwelijks hoorbare klikken en dies meer creëren samen een gevoel van nakend onheil dat tergend langzaam dichterbij sluipt en nooit zijn ware gelaat toont. Geen wonder dat in de bijhorende afbeelding de gezichten van beide meisjes achter een donkere vlek schuilgaan terwijl hun witte kleedjes nauwelijks iets van hun pracht verloren hebben binnen de allesoverheersende grauwheid.

Vreemd genoeg loochenen de spelende kinderen (en de boom die ze beklimmen) net de track die ze vergezellen. Want ook al is // Spleen niet zo donker als de andere, de aanwezige accordeon noch cello kunnen verhullen dat ook ditmaal een weifelen en een knagende onzekerheid aan de basis liggen. De dualiteit van afbeelding en muziek is minder prominent aanwezig in // Bora, al blijft alles (in het bijzonder achteraf) voor interpretatie vatbaar.

De snijdende klanken roepen niet alleen de geest van de wind op maar impliceren ook een blazerssectie die er niet is. Geen enkele andere track op het album weet niet alleen zo goed muziek en titel te verzoenen maar ook minimalistisch electroklanken te koppelen aan een klassiek intermezzo (opnieuw de cello). De trompet op // Ouverture is wel degelijk een echt instrument, al weet Bernier opnieuw hoe alle geluiden en klanken in elkaar over dienen te vloeien.

Net als in de afbeelding, een vreemdsoortige zeppelin boven een kaal en uitgedund bos, weerklinkt iets tragisch-heroïsch in het nummer. Een verval dat eigenhandig ingezet werd, wordt nog steeds beweend. Wanneer de violen spreken, verdwijnt alles tijdelijk naar de achtergrond om daarna het contrast nog duidelijker in de verf te zetten. De ene huilt terwijl de andere registreert en voortleeft in verminkte vorm.

In Les arbres vormen de (kale) bomen een rode draad doorheen de begeleidende tekeningen. urban9 weet treffend de (voornamelijk) elektronische composities van Bernier visueel bij te treden door voor eenzelfde mix van grauwe desolaatheid en dubbelzinnige onduidelijkheid te kiezen. Zoals zoveel electro-akoestische composities vergt ook Les arbres veel van de luisteraar: de zes nummers hinten weliswaar naar een bepaalde gevoelsstemming maar een standpunt nemen ze nooit in. De keuze ligt in de handen van wie luisteren (en kijken) durft.

Critique

Charles Prémont, Le Lien multimédia, September 4, 2008

Électroacousticien de formation, musiciens aux multiples projets, nouveau directeur artistique de Réseaux, on ne peut pas dire que Nicolas Bernier a l’âme d’un chômeur. Et ça se ressent dans son dernier disque, Les arbres. Un album soigné, composé avec soin, qui nous emporte dans un monde qui flirte avec une sonorité expérimentale tout en demeurant musique au sens le plus commun du terme. Un effort remarquable de 45 minutes qui nous fait planer et prendre plaisir à décortiquer l’amalgame préparé par l’artiste.

Album tout en douceur, c’est d’abord une ambiance que nous propose le musicien. Composé avec précision, c’est avec plaisir que notre oreille accroche sur la variété de sons qui nous sont proposés. On perçoit toute la profondeur du compositeur dans sa musique, ses mélodies qui nous portent, qui veulent se faire écouter. L’artiste apporte une touche d’harmonie en utilisant des instruments «organiques» dans plusieurs compositions, ce qui apporte beaucoup à l’ensemble.

Nicolas Bernier a pris un risque avec un album qui demeure très près de ce qui se fait en électroacoustique. Les amateurs du genre reconnaîtront plusieurs sons et ambiances qui proviennent directement de cette musique électronique pour puriste. L’habileté avec laquelle il réussit à rester près du genre tout en innovant dans la forme est impressionnante. L’album a du succès là où beaucoup de musiques électroniques échouent: il fait le pont entre les amateurs et les néophytes.

Un album qui mérite qu’on s’y arrête, que l’on soit amateur ou non. Il ne s’agit peut-être pas là de la musique la plus accessible, mais elle n’est certainement pas indigeste. Ceux qui sont déjà plongés dans l’électroacoustique aimeront la fraîcheur et la technique de l’artiste; ceux qui n’ont jamais fait l’écoute de ce genre musical pourront faire une jolie découverte.

L’album a du succès là où beaucoup de musiques électroniques échouent: il fait le pont entre les amateurs et les néophytes.

Recensione

Stefano Isidoro Bianchi, Blow Up, no. 124, September 1, 2008

Nato dalla collaborazione col visual artist Urban9, Les arbres del canadese Nicolas Bernier parte su toni soffusi e malinconici per field recordings, pianoforte, chitarra, vibrafono, fisarmonica e archi appenna accennati, sfiorati con timidezza e ritrosia. La poesia dei primi brani si carica poi di soffici nubi jazz e rumorismi gentili che adombano atmosfere leggermente più disturbate pur mantenendo sempre un mood profondamente nostalgico e struggente. È una soundtrack carica di sentimento, che ti entra nella pelle per non uscire più. [7]

È una soundtrack carica di sentimento, che ti entra nella pelle per non uscire più.

Review

Pavel Zelinka, His Voice, September 1, 2008
The images and sounds of Les arbres work both as works of art in their own right and as a multimedia experience which encapsulates its audience in a nostalgic, discreetly melancholic and romantic emotional bubble.

Review

Stephen Fruitman, Sonomu, August 28, 2008

A real coffee-table book of a package. Housed in its handsome slipcover are a slim CD case and six quality postcards, each featuring a montage by visual artist Urban9, with its title on the back.

Each title naturally corresponds to a complementary track by composer Nicolas Bernier. The idea behind this project was to collaborate over disciplinary boundaries, allowing the images to inspire the music and the music aid in assembling the visuals. If I understand correctly, this give-and-take process went back and forth through to a final revision.

The montages of Urban9 are composed on grey on grey backgrounds with patient balance and painful symmetry, which becomes all the more apparent the deeper you look into each image. At the centre of each but one stand photographs of children, removed from their original context in some family album from the Victorian age or the 1940s, to judge by their clothes. In some, faces shine brightly, even preternaturally, while in others they are partially or wholly obscured. Gazing deeper into the frame there are the eponymous trees, of course, featured in every piece. But the trees are uniformly denuded, bereft of leaves and possibly also of life. Gaze even deeper and you find ghost writing, flower X-rays, an owl, and other eggingly incongruous elements, all drawn together to form a very cohesive whole. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be the second image, // This Is a Portrait, with its young schoolboy cradling a lamb in his arms, unexpressive eyes fixed directly on the photographer’s lens, impatient to get this over with.

I am also very attracted by the music for this piece, which features longtime Bernier collaborator Delphine Measroch on accordion and cello with Bernier on guitar and “audio transfiguration.” This piece is as truly murky and deep with layers as Urban9’s visuals.The strings and accordion even add a hint of French-Canadian folk music, if only by mere presence rather than express style.

With his computerized hammer and chisel, Bernier has sculpted each piece out of sparse instrumentation — a guitar or two, some brass, piano, strings and the above-mentioned squeeze-box.

At times his interpretations are much more literal — “sound-effect-y,” if I may coin an unwieldy term — than expected, or necessary. When this happens it appears that more restraint at the computer keyboard would have been preferred.

However, most of the time his electronics complement his acoustics admirably, lending them just the righ patina. Les Arbres is gloomily enchanting, for example // Piano, where the thoughtful depression of a deep piano note is allowed to swell and subside before venturing a new one. // Bora, an “audio bricolage” according to the composer, is not my favourite track — too much of the sound-effectery mentioned before — but the foghorn rumble he has his sampled trombones emitting is almost physically seductive. The sentimenal violin of Pierre-Olivier Gaudreau on the closing track (perversly titled // Ouverture) is peppered with very unsentimental electronic debris but this sonic juxtaposition only works to enhance the feeling of oneness between the visual art with its layered depth and the musical art’s similarly stratified sonic geography.

An exciting, possibly even profound work from a young composer, and an introduction to the work of one very interesting visual artist.

A real coffee-table book of a package. Housed in its handsome slipcover are a slim CD case and six quality postcards…

Kritiek

Arno Peeters, Radio 6, July 29, 2008

Drie nieuwe releases van over de hele wereld: frisse elektronica op de EP Stunt van de Italiaan Giuseppe Ielasi, strijkers en klanklagen van de Japanner Yasushi Yoshida op Little Grace en tot slot ambient van de Canadees Nicolas Bernier van zijn CD Les arbres.

[…]

De derde nieuwe release is die van de Canadees Nicolas Bernier; hij maakt zijn debuut met een mooi gevarieerd album op het NoType-label: van subtiele glitches tot monumentaal klinkende klankvelden en ijle klanken, gepareerd door krakerige laptop-patches: Bernier weet er raad mee.

Bernier weet er raad mee.

Wie aus Laptop und Kammerorchester ein Baum wird

Michael We, Nonpop, July 8, 2008

Nicolas Bernier fiel schon in der Schule durch seine Leidenschaft für musikalische Experimente auf. Den Frankokanadier, der mit dem französischen Komponisten des 18. Jahrhunderts einen berühmten Namensvetter hat, zeichnete ein starker Forscherdrang aus. Vor allem untersuchte er zahllose Möglichkeiten der digitalen Klangerzeugung. An der Universität studierte der 1977 geborene Bernier zunächst Marketing, stürzte sich dann als Programmierer auf visuelle Themen wie Grafikdesign, um sich in den vergangenen Jahren endlich doch seiner ersten und größten Liebe zuzuwenden: Unter der Anleitung diverser namhafter Videokünstler und Komponisten machte er an der Hochschule in Montréal seinen Abschluss in ‘Elektroakustischer Musik’. (Der Begriff ‘elektroakustisch’ wurde im vergangenen Jahrhundert eingeführt, hauptsächlich in Abgrenzung zur elektronischen Popmusik. Außerdem deutet er an, dass auch in der ‘ernsten’ elektronischen Musik immer wieder akustische Instrumente Verwendung finden.)

Große Erfolge feierte Bernier in jüngster Zeit mit der Kombination seiner erlernten und erforschten Fähigkeiten, also einer Mischung aus Bild und Ton, die gemeinhin als ‘Videokunst’ bezeichnet wird. Seine Installationen gewannen auf Festivals rund um die Welt, etwa in Japan, Belgien, Kanada oder auch Deutschland (“Transmediale”), viele Preise. Die audiovisuellen Ideen entstehen häufig in Zusammenarbeit mit Delphine Measroch, einem Ex-Kommilitonen, mit dem er vor vier Jahren deshalb das Duo Milliseconde topographie gründete, das sich auf die Mischung aus Video und Klang spezialisiert hat. 2006 vereinte der damals gerade 29-jährige Bernier weitere Freunde und -kollegen unter dem Namen Ekumen; ein loses Kollektiv, das im Moment aus sieben jungen, kanadischen Künstlern besteht. Diese Gruppe fügt sich nahtlos ein in das Bild einer sprudelnden, agilen Szene kanadischer Elektronik-Bastler, über die wir schon ab und zu berichtet haben. Zu Ekumen gehört auch Urban9, ein Bildender Künstler, der in einer Mischung aus Malerei und Fotografie die sechs Postkarten gestaltet hat, die Les arbres beiliegen.

Wenn es hauptsächlich um Musik geht, verwendet Bernier seinen eigenen Namen, unter dem er bereits mp3-Alben und CD-Rs veröffentlicht hat. Mit Les arbres (‘Die Bäume’) präsentiert er seine erste offizielle CD.

Auf vielfältige Weise schafft der kanadische Komponist in 43 instrumentalen Minuten die Kombination verschiedener Ebenen, die sonst unabhängig voneinander existieren, sich hier aber ganz selbstverständlich ineinander schlingen wie DNA-Stränge. Bernier findet zuallererst eine Balance zwischen elektronischer und akustischer Musik. Noise meets Sigur Rós meets Neoklassik. Oder verspielt wie TThe Notwist. Oder auch ganz anders. Eben noch zischt, fiept, pfeift und schleift es, dann gehen die Elektrosounds in Piano, Cello, Geige, Vibraphon oder Akkordeon über, nahtlos, als ob sie schon immer miteinander verbunden gewesen wären. Hier die typisch digitalen Geräusche, dort einzelne, in ihrer Bedächtigkeit umso organischere Töne. Auch unter Bezug auf den Titel, die Bäume, können trefflich sich vereinende Gegensätze in die Musik hinein interpretiert werden: Digital werden die Geräusche nachgebildet, die raschelnde Blätter, knackende Äste hervorrufen können. Akustisch sind es die von Bäumen ausgelösten Emotionen: Kindheitserinnerungen, bestimmte Gerüche, der Wunsch nach Schutz, die Bewunderung von Erhabenheit. Und zuletzt natürlich vereint die CD, wie schon angedeutet, Musik und Bilder, denn die sechs Karten von Urban9 nehmen das Thema und die von Melancholie durchzogenen Klanglandschaften auf und bearbeiten kahle Bäume in Grautönen. (Ein Beispiel ist am Ende des Textes zu sehen.)

Zart und filigran ist Les arbres meist, die leisen Töne überwiegen und weben ein Netz, das beim Versuch, sich fallen zu lassen, aber auch zerreißen könnte. Denn überraschend bleibt die Musik immer, häufig verliert sich ein Rhythmus schon nach ein paar Tönen, um hinter dem nächsten Ast verändert wieder aufzutauchen. Trotz durchweg hoher Qualität herausragend ist // This Is a Portrait (2), entnommen aus einer Arbeit von Milliseconde topographie. Das Stück beginnt rein elektronisch, verdichtet sich zwischendurch zu einem rauschenden Digital-Sturm und fädelt mittig in die intensive akustische Wärme eines Minimal-Orchesters aus Klavier und Akkordeon ein. Diese Intensität verliert auch nach mehrfachem Hören nichts. Ein ebenso genialer Streich lässt im letzten Stück traurige Trompeten blasen zwischen aufblinkenden Beeps, die ein Computerspiel aus den 1980er verloren hat.

Eine gesunde Skepsis ist beim weiten Feld der ‘Neuen Musik’ anzuraten; zu viele groteske Experimente finden sich darunter. Dieses hier ist allerdings äußerst gelungen und wird hoffentlich um weitere Versuchsreihen ergänzt.

Dieses hier ist allerdings äußerst gelungen und wird hoffentlich um weitere Versuchsreihen ergänzt.

Review

Frans De Waard, Vital, no. 633, June 30, 2008

So far the name Nicolas Bernier popped when doing collaborations with other people, so Les arbes may be his first solo release. The title means the trees and, well, ok, its also a collaboration, even when only through the visual side, with Urban9. A set of card by him is part of the package. So far, also, we thought of Bernier as a laptop musician, but for this release he has expanded his methods of musical expression to using piano, vibraphone, guitar and even brass instruments. Other than his previous works too this seems to be less a work of improvisation and more a work of thorough composition. This is where digital music and acoustic music meet and melt. Glitchy rhythms, sounds of crackle, but also warm guitar parts, brass section and sustained strings. Not right from the start and not all the way clear, but as things move along, you could almost as suddenly find yourself inside a modern classical piece of music, in // Piano or // Spleen, with flutes, crescendo violins and piano. This is quite an amazing CD, with great ideas, perfect execution, nice packaging and a way out of the locked in microsound artists. Bernier plays microsound, mixes it with real instruments and comes up with something new.

This is quite an amazing CD, with great ideas, perfect execution, nice packaging and a way out of the locked in microsound artists.

Just Another Genius: Nicolas Bernier

Sven Swift, 12rec.net, June 21, 2008

In concert with Simon Trottier, Nicolas Bernier provided one of the most astonishing, most beautiful, most adventurous 12rec.net-releases. Probably many of you remember Objet abandonné en mer. The guys were quite active during the last year, working hard to bring Objet to stages around Montréal. But Bernier’s musical output is far more versatile. In close cooperation with his own Ekumen collective and No Type Netlabel, several records had been published before. Now, two new records are available for download and CD-purchase.

First of all, there’s a fine EP of collective improvisation music to fetch at No Type. Alongside Alexis Bellavance and Érick d’Orion, Nicolas Bernier provides expanded electroacoustic collages, field-recordings and subtle ambient textures. Especially the first two tracks Le duel and Paysage made me listen up. The art of this Montréal triple is to bring their academic sonic research to musical forms. Fresh!

Second — and here we need a drum roll!Nicolas Bernier published his first real solo record. The album is entitled Les arbres and comes off as a CD with six fine poster cards by graphic designer Urban9 (who also did the art for Objet). Six exquisite songs of crackling textures, harmonic drones and ambient extravaganza. Les arbres is released at No Type but no free download. This is what the label says about it:

“Sonic landscapes and slow textures meet with precise articulations, all this resting on a minimal orchestration made of guitars, brass instruments, vibes, accordions and strings. In short: a stimulating record, a remarkable attention to detail and excellent production quality, making for an unfailingly rewarding listening experience.”

Purchase, baby!

Six exquisite songs of crackling textures, harmonic drones and ambient extravaganza […] Purchase, baby!

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