La boutique électroacoustique

Artistes Nicolas Bernier

Nicolas Bernier vogue allègrement entre musique concrète, électronique en direct, post-rock, glitch, ambient, improvisation, bruitisme, field recording, installation, performance et vidéo tout en collaborant avec la danse, le théâtre et le cinéma.

Au sein de cet éclectisme demeure une constante: la recherche d’un équilibre entre cérébralité et sensualité ainsi qu’entre matières organiques et traitements numériques.

Bien qu’entouré de technologie, Nicolas Bernier se nourrit d’une obsession pour les objets vétustes: machines à écrire, vieux mécanismes, diapasons et, oui, l’instrument de musique.

Son travail a capté l’intérêt d’événements tels que Prix Ars Electronica (Autriche), SONAR (Espagne), Mutek (Québec), DotMov Festival (Japon), ZKM (Allemagne), Transmediale (Allemagne) et est disponible sur plusieurs étiquettes de disques telles que Crónica (Portugal), Ahornfelder (Allemagne), leerraum (Suisse) et Home Normal (RU).

Il est doctorant à la University of Huddersfield (RU) sous la direction de Pierre Alexandre Tremblay et Mathew Adkins. Il est membre de Perte de signal, un centre de production, de recherche et de développement de projets en arts médiatiques.

Pour sa pièce frequencies (a), il reçoit le Golden Nica du Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Autriche, 2013).

[v-13]

Nicolas Bernier

Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), 1977

Résidence: Montréal (Québec)

  • Compositeur

Ensembles associés

Sur le web

Nicolas Bernier, photo: Alexis Bellavance, Montréal (Québec), juin 2012

Œuvres choisies

Parutions principales

Farmacia901 / F901 15 / 2015
Misanthropic Agenda / MARO 44 / 2015
Line / LINE 064 / 2014
Entr’acte / E 163 / 2013
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 12114 / 2012
Hrönir / HR 7963 / 2011
Ahornfelder / AH 18 / 2010
Crónica Electrónica / CRONICA 053 / 2010
Home Normal / HOMEN 022 / 2010
  • Rupture de stock temporaire
Ekumen / EK 009 / 2009
Len
No Type / IMNT 0816 / 2008
Ekumen / EK 006 / 2007
Enc
Ekumen / EK 008 / 2007
Ekumen / EK 001 / 2006
Ekumen / EK 002 / 2006

Apparitions

Les blocs errants / LBE ANN / 2012
Artistes divers
Perte de signal / PDS 2010 / 2010
Artistes divers
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 09100 / 2009
Artistes divers
Musiques & Recherches / MR 2004 / 2005
Artistes divers
CEC-PeP / PEP 009 / 2005
Artistes divers
CEC-PeP / PEP 008 / 2004

Compléments

E-Tron Records / ETRC 015 / 2013
  • Hors-catalogue
  • Hors-catalogue
Home Normal / HOMEN 040 / 2012
  • Épuisé
Les blocs errants / LBE ANNCD / 2012
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
  • Hors-catalogue
Leerraum [ ] / LR 060 / 2010
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 050 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
Studio PANaroma / SPAN 199022833 / 2008
  • Hors-catalogue
Ekumen / EK 007 / 2007
  • Épuisé
  • Épuisé
Ekumen / EK 003 / 2006
  • Hors-catalogue
Artistes divers
Ekumen / EK 004 / 2006
  • Épuisé
Ekumen / EK 005 / 2006
  • Épuisé
  • Disponible
Ekumen / EK 901 / 2006
  • Hors-catalogue

Publications web

Zymogen / ZYM 025 / 2010
  • Disponible
12rec.net / 12REC 057 / 2009
  • Disponible
No Type (web) / NT 112 / 2008
  • Disponible
12rec.net / 12REC 042 / 2007
  • Disponible
No Type (web) / NT 091 / 2006
  • Épuisé
  • Disponible

Folio

Misanthropic Agenda / MARO 44 / 2015
Line / LINE 064 / 2014

La presse en parle

Ars Electronica Prix – Nicolas Bernier: tra frequenze e dicotomie

Donata Marletta, Digicult, 21 mai 2013

Nicolas Bernier è uno degli artisti più interessanti e raffinati della scena contemporanea. La sua opera frequencies (a) è stata premiata due giorni fà con il prestigioso Golden Nica per la sezione “Digital Musics and Sound Art” dal festival Ars Electronica.

Nicolas è un artista del suono che lavora con strumenti meccanici e digitali. Le dicotomie sembrano descrivere al meglio la sua produzione artistica: digitale / organico, tradizione / sperimentazione, cerebrale / sensoriale, meccanico / elettronico. Le sue creazioni artistiche e collaborazioni sono varie; è anche membro di Perte de signal, un collettivo e centro di ricerca sulle arti multimediali situato a Montreal, e candidato al PhD in arti sonore presso la University of Huddersfield (Regno Unito).

Il Golden Nica è stato l’occasione per intervistare Nicolas sui suoi ultimi progetti e la recente performance dal vivo di frequencies (a) presentata durante l’ultima edizione dell’Elektra Festival di Montreal, direttore dall’artista e curatore Alain Thibault

Donata Marletta: Mi puoi parlare della performance sonora frequencies (a)? Quali sono state le fonti d’ispirazione per questo tuo lavoro?

Nicolas Bernier: L’idea di lavorare con i diapason mi venne un po’ di tempo fa mentre stavo cercando un modo per integrare toni stabili nelle mie performances sonore che erano per lo più basate su rumore e oggetti. Stavo cercando di evitare l’uso di strumenti musicali tradizionali come elementi tonali. Poiché ho sempre lavorato con oggetti obsoleti, e che spesso mi soffermo sulla relazione tra musica, suono, vecchia e “nuova” tecnologia, l’uso del diapason mi sembrava perfettamente logico. Lo era perché il diapason in passato è sempre stato uno strumento scientifico di precisione, perché è il simbolo della musica tonale, ma soprattutto perché produce un suono che è vicino alla sinewave (onda sinusoidale) pura, uno dei primi suoni utilizzati nella composizione di musica elettronica. A quel punto iniziai una collezione di diversi tipi di diapason, dai pre-440hz del IX secolo ai più recenti, usati in campo medico. Portavo con me i diapason ovunque (a quel tempo stavo facendo un po’ d’improvvisazione) e quindi realizzai un primo album usando i diapason (strings.lines, 2010, Crónica).

Gradualmente fui ossessionato da quest’oggetto che diventò il mio strumento musicale principale. Ancora non ero del tutto soddisfatto perché, attraverso la gestione manuale dei diapason, non potevo essere preciso come avrei voluto. Da questa esigenza mi venne l’idea di automatizzare i diapason.

Donata Marletta: Recentemente hai presentato frequencies (a) al festival Elektra di Montreal. Come hai organizzato l’allestimento della performance dal vivo? Che tipo di strumentazione hai utilizzato?

Nicolas Bernier: Per questa performance il festival Elektra mi ha fornito la condizione più ideale che potessi immaginare: una piccola sala (100 persone al massimo) unicamente dedicata alla presentazione di frequencies (a) per tre giorni di fila. Questo è davvero un lusso poiché di solito i festival di musica elettronica sono alquanto schematizzati: una grande sala, un grande schermo, poco tempo per sistemare le apparecchiature in base ad un nuovo ambiente. C’è una ragione per tutto questo, non è una critica, ma il fatto è che alcuni lavori hanno bisogno di condizioni diverse. Questo è il caso di frequencies (a) in quanto non è stata costruita secondo un formato standard per la presentazione, ma secondo i bisogni specifici della performance stessa. Poiché l’opera ha a che fare con oggetti di dimensioni ridotte (i diapason, piccoli solenoidi, suoni delicati, precisione), il pubblico ha bisogno di stare molto vicino all’opera. È stata creata secondo il principio dell’intimità piuttosto che della grande spettacolarità.

Per quanto riguarda la strumentazione, con l’aiuto di Laurent Loison e Olivier Lefebvre, abbiamo costruito delle piccole strutture in acrilico che trattengono i diapason e i solenoidi, usati per attivare i diapason. Ognuna di esse è collegata ad un microfono e ad un flusso di luce generato dal tavolo luminoso appositamente progettato sul quale sono collocate. Il tavolo inoltre nasconde la parte elettronica (usb / scheda dmx). Tutto il voltaggio inviato alle luci e ai solenoidi è trasferito attraverso la scheda dmx. Il resto è una questione di composizione, di organizzazione delle sequenze audiovisive in sincrono, che gestisco io dal vivo con Ableton Live e Max For Live.

Donata Marletta: Trovo davvero affascinante il modo in cui riesci ad abbinare strumenti analogici e digitali. Come ti poni rispetto a questi due elementi contrastanti?

Nicolas Bernier: Questa relazione tra l’elettronico e il meccanico / fisico è stato l’elemento scatenante che mi ha fatto venire voglia di lavorare nel campo delle arti elettroniche. Oggi il dialogo tra questi due elementi è totalmente fluente ma 10 o 15 anni fa, all’apice della laptop performance, quella combinazione era estremamente attraente in quanto la maggior parte dei lavori erano o esclusivamente digitali oppure non lo erano affatto.

Da allora il mio lavoro ha sempre fatto affidamento sull’uso di elementi fisici processati da un computer. Lo stimolo per un’idea o un progetto viene sempre dal mondo fisico ma il modo in cui voglio presentare l’idea richiede abilità al computer. Per me la cosa più importante è l’equilibrio tra gli elementi, cercando di non precipitare sia nel completamente “naturale” e neppure nel completamente “digitale”. Io credo che non si dovrebbe distinguere tra il naturale e il virtuale / artificiale. Tutto è collegato e comunica reciprocamente, tutto è processato in un modo o nell’altro. Per esempio, l’azione di innaffiare una pianta può essere vista come un processo artificiale.

Donata Marletta: Hai una varietà di lavori e collaborazioni molto differenti, dalla danza, teatro, post-rock alle arti visive, performances sonore e musique concrète. Mi puoi dire quali sono i tuoi punti di riferimento principali e le tue “muse ispiratrici”?

Nicolas Bernier: Sono profondamente interessato alle arti e non capisco perché esistano delle “categorie”, se non per ragioni politiche e storiche. In ogni caso, non posso dibattere sul fatto che il mio mezzo principale è il suono e probabilmente resterà sempre questo. Il mio interesse si ferma ovunque, ed offre una molteplicità di influenze al mio lavoro. Quando sono colpito da qualcosa, non mi chiedo a quale categoria faccia parte. È la stessa cosa quando creo, faccio quello che sento di dover fare, senza chiedermi se la cosa rientra in una categoria o in un’altra. Questo è il motivo per cui, anche se il mio mezzo è il suono, spesso mi interrogo sull’aspetto performativo, teatrale, gestuale, visivo e, ovviamente, musicale.

Per questi motivi le mie muse sono ovunque. Tendo a preferire le persone che mi stanno vicino. Denis Marleau e Stéphanie Jasmin sono direttori di palco con i quali ho lavorato e che hanno avuto una forte influenza sul modo in cui percepisco le arti dal vivo. Olivier Girouard, Jacques Poulin-denis, Martin Messier e tutti gli artisti di Perte de Signal (un centro gestito da artisti di cui sono membro), sono tutti cari amici che mi hanno ispirato.

Se dovessi fare dei nomi, direi: Jim Jarmusch, Pierre Schaeffer, Marcel Dzama, Karl Lemieux, Janet Cardiff, Wong Kar-wai, FW Murnau, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luc Ferrari, Francisco Meirino, Ryoji Ikeda, Hermann von Helmholtz, Sol LeWitt, Alain Bashung, Zimoun, Portishead, Chris Salter, Vilém Flusser, Jacques Rancière, Marc Ribot, Wes Anderson, Sébastien Roux, Carl Andre, Arnaud Fabre, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, The Dillinger Escape Plan, William S Burroughs, Dan Flavin, Mark Fell, Gilles Gobeil, Herman Kolgen, Robert Lepage, Pe Lang… ovviamente questo è quello che mi viene in mente al momento.

Prestigieux prix de musique électronique attribué à Nicolas Bernier

SOCAN, 17 mai 2013

Nicolas Bernier, compositeur de musique électronique membre de la SOCAN, vient de voir son œuvre frequencies (a) couronnée du prix Golden Nica de la catégorie «Digital Musics and Sound Art», dans le cadre du prestigieux concours Prix Ars Electronica, une des plus hautes distinctions des arts numériques.

Le prix a été annoncé le 16 mai dernier, et le gala aura lieu à Linz en Autriche en septembre prochain. Pour connaître les détails du festival et les autres lauréats du concours, consultez son site web — www.aec.at.

Nicolas Bernier, né en 1977 et qui vit à Montréal, crée des installations sonores, de la musique concrète, électronique et post-rock en plus de travailler pour d’autres formes d’art comme le théâtre ou la danse. Il étudie également au doctorat à l’Université de Huddersfield, au Royaume-Uni, sous la direction de son compatriote et membre de la SOCAN Pierre Alexandre Tremblay et de Monty Adkins. Consultez son site web — www.nicolasbernier.com — pour la liste de ses activités et de ses spectacles.

… une des plus hautes distinctions des arts numériques.

Exploring the relationship between acoustic and synthetic sound

Julian Cowley, Musicworks, no 115, 1 mars 2013

Interview with Nicolas Bernier

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, 22 mars 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.

Back to the Futurists

Deanna Radford, MutekMag, 19 janvier 2011

Nicolas Bernier and Martin Messier, as La Chambre des Machines, Wrest New Music from Their Russolo Inspired Sound Boxes

In 1913, Italian futurist Luigi Russolo penned the Art of Noises manifesto where he outlined important facets of music criticism and creation in the face of a young century and an industrialized society well on the verge of world war. Bringing his manifesto to fruition just one year later, Russolo introduced his intonarumori (“noise instruments”) in a series of concerts held in London”. The manifesto “rejected inherited preference for harmony in favour of the dissonant masterpieces that serenade us everyday without our conscious awareness” and instead celebrated “the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations, and underground railways”. Usurping popular understandings of music and conventions of beauty, Russolo laid the groundwork for what we now know as noise music, often inextricably linked with electronic music. Russolo wrote; “The rhythmic motions of noise are infinite”.

Flash forward to 2010, and Nicolas Bernier explains the implications of La Chambre des Machines ’ relationship to Russolo: “We are not going to say; we are children of Russolo. But we are all, because he was more or less one of the first; he made [music] with sound, [the] sound of machines. But now today, politically speaking… we cannot really relate to that. He was in the fascist era and it was the first phase of the industrialization. There is maybe not [a] political but more a social aspect of doing what we do and it’s almost in a position of what Russolo was talking about, because he was talking about using the machine. Because the machine today is the computer, this is our machine.” The sounds that Bernier and Messier’s intonarumori are generated by software along withfound objects like gears, cranks and clocks, and tools like mallets and bows. Says Bernier, this is; “a lot more interesting than the computer.”

Going back a couple of years, Bernier enlisted long-time friend, builder and wood-worker, Alexandre Landry to create their first intonarumori. Says Bernier, “he’s not in the artistic world but in the meantime, when his day job is over he’s going to his basement and he’s super. He has a nice artistic sensibility. Basically, for the first [intonarumori] we did some back and forth. He made a first machine for a show that I did in Québec City at Mois Multi. He has carte blanche, more or less because I’m not, and Martin either, we just don’t know how to work with our hands.”

With the introduction of the second intonarumori, Martin Messier says that prior to its realization, “I had a solo performance with old clocks and [Nicolas] had [a] performance with one box.” Landry produced the second machine in a short time period as Messier and Bernier were pitching La Chambre des Machines to festivals.With the solidification of the second box and in the span of a year, Bernier and Messier performed at MUTEK 2010 and at other renowned festivals including Sonar Chicago and Barcelona and Transmediale in Berlin.

There was some debate between Landry, Bernier and Messier on whether the box should be open or closed. Bernier explains, “the fundamental thing in making a new box was to have it open. When you think of the machines of Russolo and our machine with computer, the parallel is really funny. His box was already closed and we couldn’t see what’s inside. Today it’s the same thing when we go to electronic music performance[s]; there’s this box, this computer. We hear things and we don’t know how the sound is made.”

The duo describes their work as “a sound construction at the crossroads of acoustics and electronics.” Though this is the case, Bernier and Messier are also drawing on musical traditions and contemporary tools in a visionary manner that conceptually, is like the infinite reflection of mirrors upon mirrors; blending the old with the new. Bernier and Messier’s composition that is La Chambre des Machines is built upon traditions open and closed, with laptop to produce digital sound, the use of found objects, traditional music tools like the aforementioned mallet and bow, and consequently, extended playing techniques. The very ways in which these elements are combined are in fact re-combined and appropriated as the well-designed object that is the intonarumori; though the laptop is a closed machine, the overarching concept and box is completely open, sounding as unique as they look.

Unravelling the creative processes responsible for La Chambre…, Bernier explains the dichotomy between old and new: “what’s important to me is the object. What I’m attracted [to] is old; I’m a fan of antiques and when these antiques make sound, now I’m getting really super excited! And that’s because all my creation process is so — there’s something so virtual. You’re in front of your computer and you, your music is in a file and then you want to send your music to a friend and you send it via the web and you receive and you did all this with one single object.” Perhaps in describing another project of his with Simon Trottier (of the Polaris Prize nominated Timber Timbre), Bernier’s statement is equally a propos of La Chambre des Machines. He says, “it’s the fundamental thing I’m trying to do is look at the past and the future and to find a way to be atemporal.”

Both artists have a significant track record of composition for theatre and dance. They bring their experiences from these realms back to their sound-based canvas and explain the influence. Says Messier, “of course there’s a lot of influence that comes from theatre and dance shows that we see and work on and that’s maybe why we’re focusing on gesture and not just on doing the right note at exactly the right place. That’s maybe why also its more about the show and than just the music. We’re really focusing on sound but for this kind of project it’s more about a show. It’s little things; it’s how do I take my clocks and how can I take it with my hands so people can see it… How you use your body — it’s not a huge choreography but it’s a little thing that we’re thinking about so visually it makes a difference.” In performing La Chambre des Machines, Messier and Bernier are fully immersed in the experience, which comes in part from digital sources, and from tactile and physical. They get their bodies behind their playing of the intonarumori and their relationship with these machines is active. With the open-machine in mind, Bernier and Messier share the performing experience with the viewer on both the intimate, small-scale and on a large-scale when they incorporate video for larger venues. The work becomes more immersive for the artists and audiences.

Bernier agrees in that theatre and dance have — “100% had an influence. To work on dance and theatre and to see all that people are doing — it’s just another world completely. That to me, as a music guy, as a sound guy, I would never have been into that world and just to see how they construct things how they think about movement and about light, it’s developing that sensibility.”

Building on this, Messier says, “sometimes, people are telling me what I’m doing it’s theatrical but I’m like ’no, it’s music, I’m just focusing a bit more than you on gesture but it’s obvious for me that I’m not doing theatre because I take this like that and you don’t.’ But we’re still musicians. We want to incorporate lights and all these things but we’re still thinking as composers.”

There is fluidity in the approach that Messier and Bernier take to composing and preparing their works. Whether it is by incorporating elements from theatre and dance or with the programming they do on the digital side of things. Messier says, “I’ve learned a lot from programming because it helps when you have an idea to know ’okay, you have a problem, how can I solve it?’ And it can be applied to whatever you’re doing, it’s not just Max-MSP, it’s when you’re composing, it’s when you want this mechanism to make a sound like [a certain way]. How can I find that?”

With the spirit of Russolo’s railways, iron foundries and underground railways in mind and where Bernier and Messier incorporate a broad palette of influences and sound sources to their work, when asked to consider what place noise has in their music, Bernier explains, “it’s really weird because now I have a feeling that the fashion now is not in electronic sound but more and more in organic sound and I am really shifting into tones and noise. So noise is really important in our lives. Yes, noises are really important. It’s a part of our life! It’s a part of our day to day!”

Yes, noises are really important. It’s a part of our life! It’s a part of our day to day!

Bold

François Couture, Monsieur Délire, 22 mai 2010

Érick d’Orion, Nicolas Bernier et Alexis Bellavance ont donné une prestation saisissante de bruits crus mais bien pensés — beau jeu d’ensemble, cabotinage agréable, démarche solide. Un bon coup de poing pour commencer la journée.

Un bon coup de poing pour commencer la journée.

Interview

Simon, Goûte mes disques, 2 septembre 2009

Depuis qu’elle a découvert Nicolas Bernier avec Les arbres, la rédaction de Goûte Mes Disques en pince grave pour la nouvelle coqueluche electronica / ambient / électroacoustique. À un point tel qu’il était temps pour nous de lui rendre un semblant d’hommage au travers d’un dossier non-exhaustif consacré à l’univers, aux projets et aux nombreuses collaborations de ce jeune Canadien.

Artiste polyvalent et créateur du collectif Ekumen, Nicolas Bernier offre depuis des années déjà son talent à qui veut l’entendre, luttant dans l’ombre au sein d’une frange musicale trop vite qualifiée d’«austère». Et malgré son jeune âge, Nicolas n’a rien à envier à ses maîtres de toujours, bien trop occupé à perfectionner une vision musicale toujours aux limites de la sculpture sonore, de la peinture musicale. Bien plus qu’un simple acte altruiste, vous parler en ces quelques pages de ce coup de cœur instantané relevait essentiellement de la mission morale. Car tout auditeur qui se respecte mérite bien de croiser un jour la route de ce genre d’artistes, à la fois généreux, mystérieux et portés sur l’avenir. Le plus tôt sera le mieux sans doute, et il nous paraissait inconcevable de garder ce trésor caché pour nous seuls.

Amateurs de folk, de grande musique électroniques ou d’ambiances dessinées au scalpel: vous voici donc aux portes d’un monde que beaucoup s’accordent déjà à qualifier d’inédit et d’exceptionnel. Quatre chroniques, une interview et quelques photos, voilà qui constituera ici le kit nécessaire et suffisant pour entrer de manière sereine dans l’univers du génie d’Ottawa. D’avance, merci à lui.

Si tu devais décrire ton parcours en quelques dates-clés pour les lecteurs qui ne te connaissent pas encore?

1977: naissance à Ottawa, dans une région conservatrice du Canada ou l’accès aux pratiques artistiques contemporaines est difficile.

1991: un début de parcours typique: j’ai 15 ans et je découvre la guitare électrique en cette époque de l’apothéose du «grunge». La dépendance à la musique est immédiate et je suis rapidement attiré vers TOUS ses styles: classique, jazz, folk, hip hop, grindcore et toutes les musiques underground.

1998: déménagement à Montréal où je découvre enfin les musiques que j’aurais tant rêvé rencontrer dans ma région natale. Je suis batteur depuis quelques années et m’oriente désormais vers le drum’n’bass organique, le post-rock et l’improvisation libre. Je vais pour la première fois à un concert de musique électroacoustique. Je n’y comprends absolument rien… mais j’en veux plus! Étant du genre à être attiré vers les choses qui me troublent, je décide d’étudier cette musique.

2001-2009: études en composition électroacoustique à l’Université de Montréal. Depuis ce jour, je navigue entre les courants «sérieux» et «populaire» de la musique, en multipliant sans retenue les différents types de projets: vidéomusique, installation musicale sous-marine, musique concrète, performance etc. «Unclassifiable» comme dirait probablement la catégorie de iTunes.

Tes productions sont souvent teintées de folk et de musiques lyriques, comment décrirais-tu ta musique à des gens qui n’ont jamais entendu tes productions?

Mon principal credo c’est de jumeler mes deux mondes: une légèreté que l’on peut retrouver dans la «pop» (dans le sens large du terme) et une rigueur que l’on retrouve dans les musiques «classiques». Bien que cela soit mon signe distinctif, il n’en demeure pas moins que mes activités sont beaucoup plus larges, mais toujours au sein de la grande catégorie connue sous le vocable «expérimental». Mes projets peuvent être parfois plus noise, minimalistes, instrumentaux, conceptuels, improvisés ou ultra-écrits. Malgré cet éclectisme, je tâche de garder une grande cohérence dans chacun des projets, qui se nourrissent les autres des autres et me procurent un équilibre qui m’est essentiel.

On voit qu’il t’est impossible de te séparer d’instruments acoustiques. Comment envisages-tu le lien qui unit organique et électronique?

J’ai effectivement un attachement profond aux instruments acoustiques. Pas étonnant: ce sont des sources sonores qui ont été éprouvés par des siècles de lutheries! Comme je suis fasciné par le son, les instruments acoustiques me fascinent tout autant que les autres sons sur lesquels se construisent souvent les musiques électroniques/électroacoustiques.

Il reste que mon intérêt vers les musiques électroacoustiques est né grâce à la possibilité de collectionner des sons concrets, des fragments de vie seuls mon microphone et moi sommes les témoins en direct. De prendre ces photographies sonores et d’en faire de la musique relevaient, et relèvent encore, pour moi, de la pure poésie, voire de la magie.

Je n’utilise jamais de sons purement synthétiques dans mes musiques. Tous les sons, qu’ils soient instrumentaux ou non, proviennent originellement du réel terrestre. C’est très old school comme démarche, très «musique concrète», mais j’ai un blocage psychologique avec l’utilisation des sons synthétiques qui sortent de toutes pièces de l’ordinateur. Ce qui compte pour moi, c’est qu’il n’y ait AUCUNE LIMITE dans la création. Des barrières, je n’en veux pas. Les matières électroacoustiques sont pour moi une extension du réel. Elles permettent la création d’extension à l’infini des matières qui proviennent du réel. Une de mes intentions est de faire ressentir l’humain derrière ma musique, non pas seulement la machine. Cela est très important pour moi même si la musique est indubitablement fabriquée à l’aide d’un ordinateur. Cette humanité ne passe pas seulement par l’utilisation d’instruments acoustiques, mais par n’importe quel objet acoustique qui ne nous semble pas sortir d’un synthétiseur.

On peut souvent penser à Fennesz à l’écoute de ta musique. Comment envisages-tu les rapports qui unissent les musiciens de cette scène? Quelles sont tes sources d’inspirations, tant sur le plan musical qu’imaginaire?

Je suis inspiré par la matière, qu’elle soit sonore ou physique. Je suis surtout attiré par le vieux: objets antiques, théories obsolètes, livres désuets. Cela pour me rappeler que je ne vis pas que dans la virtualité aseptisée de mon outil de création informatique, mais bien dans un monde poussiéreux. L’inspiration me vient aussi de mes obsessions. Il y a toujours quelque chose qui m’obsède, alors j’y pense sans arrêt: j’écris, je lis jusqu’à ce que cette obsession se transforme en musique. Pendant des années, une de mes obsessions a été Les arbres, titre d’un album. J’ai aussi été obsédé par les mots de William S. Burroughs sur lesquels j’ai fais une pièce de musique concrète lors d’une résidence au ZKM en Allemagne.

Dans la littérature se trouve d’ailleurs une inspiration récurrente. Je me promène beaucoup chez les libraires pour nourrir de nouveaux projets. Par exemple, je travaille en ce moment sur un projet inspiré par le vent. Un libraire m’a parlé de ce livre publié par l’École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Bretagne: Vents: invention et évolution des formes. Ce titre… c’est de la musique! Non? On y parle de comment le vent sculpte des formes, change le paysage, comment il détruit et construit. Voilà le genre de choses qui m’inspire! Cela dit, il reste que ce qui compte, c’est le résultat musical alors je tente de ne pas trop rester prisonnier des concepts et des lectures. Il faut savoir en déroger afin de laisser une liberté à la musique.

Concernant les liens entre les musiciens, c’est un processus très organique. Untel inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel, qui inspire untel. Le grand cycle de la vie.

Comment t’est venue l’idée de créer un micro-label/collectif de producteurs en ces temps difficiles de crise du disque? Comment se passe la «mise au monde» d’un disque sur Ekumen?

Au départ Ekumen.com était un site Web personnel où je parlais de mes projets. Comme je multipliais les collaborations, je trouvais frustrant de ne pouvoir parler que de moi j’ai donc voulu faire profiter mon entourage de cet outils et ainsi faire découvrir leurs projets à tous. Ekumen est donc devenu une compagnie à la croisée du collectif, du label et du producteur. Les artistes d’Ekumen partagent tous cette ouverture d’esprit vers les formes d’arts et les esthétiques hybrides ce qui fait en sorte qu’il était plus facile de nous produire nous-mêmes que d’entrer dans un réseau déjà existant. Par exemple, je viens de terminer un disque qui est trop bruitiste pour certaines étiquettes et trop pop pour d’autres alors que je sais que pour Ekumen, cette hybridité est toute naturelle.

La mise au monde d’un disque sur Ekumen est des plus artisanales. Nous devons trouver du temps et de l’argent évidemment, et hop, nous allons de l’avant. J’ai la chance de collaborer depuis une dizaine d’années avec un excellent artiste visuel qui nous aide beaucoup chez Ekumen: Urban9. Il partage notre sensibilité et est prêt à s’investir dans nos projets et cela nous aide énormément dans la production.

Ekumen est présentement dans une période de croissance et de structuration. Nous peaufinons l’organisation de la compagnie. C’est d’ailleurs désormais mes collègues Jacques Poulin-Denis et Martin Messier qui dirigent la compagnie. Je suis pour ma part nouvellement directeur artistique de la compagnie Réseaux, qui produit des concerts électroacoustiques, et je dois concentrer mes énergies sur ce nouvel emploi. C’est très excitant de pouvoir inviter à Montréal des artistes que j’aime!

Justement, pourrais-tu nous parler brièvement d’Urban9?

C’est une histoire d’amitié. Ça fait mine de rien plus de 10 ans que l’on se connait et on grandit ensemble, on s’influence beaucoup. J’ai rêvé d’être designer pendant des années… et je crois que lui rêverait d’être musicien!

Je l’ai rencontré dans une autre vie alors que je travaillais dans le Web. Ça a cliqué et depuis ce temps nous travaillons ensemble. Mais nous ne nous voyons que très rarement parce qu’il fait tout ça pour le plaisir, après le travail, et sa vie familiale est déjà très chargée. Il est bourré de talent mais travaille un peu dans l’ombre. Il fait plein de travail plastique, des gravures, des collages… mais personne ne le sait!

As-tu le sentiment que ta musique est suffisamment mise en valeur? Que signifie pour toi le terme “expérimental” parmi les autres musiques disponibles? Souffres-tu du cliché «intellectualiste» qui entoure ta musique?

Comme c’est une question culturelle, je peux surtout parler du cas de ma métropole. À Montréal, nous sommes dans une phase que je qualifierais de «pop ou rien»! Au tournant des années 2000, je sentais un vif intérêt pour les musiques de création. Ces musiques «expérimentales» avaient une bonne présence dans certains festivals et dans les médias et, surtout, dans le public. Mais depuis quelques années, j’ai l’impression que Montréal s’est fait piéger par la popularité de ses groupes rock. Désormais c’est festif ou rien d’autre. Même la radio d’état est tombée dans le panneau. Mais bien que la différence musicale n’ait plus la cote, il reste ici beaucoup d’événements et d’artistes dit «expérimentaux». La scène demeure ultra-vivante. Il est pratiquement possible d’aller voir un concert par jour. Grâce à Internet, la communauté grandit et se soude plus facilement à l’échelle planétaire.

La musique «expérimentale», c’est pour moi sortir des terrains battus. Parce que l’on peut communiquer des messages d’autant plus riches quand l’on trouve une façon non convenue de le faire plutôt que de marteler à l’auditeur sans cesse le même genre de phrases.

La collaboration avec d’autres artistes est devenue un mode courant de création chez toi, que recherches-tu dans la musique des autres? Que t’apportent-ils que ta musique n’ait déjà?

J’aime le travail d’équipe, l’échange humain. J’adore également le travail solo, mais c’est dans l’équilibre des deux que je trouve ma voie. Quand j’ai commencé la musique électroacoustique, la collaboration m’est venue naturellement de par ces années passées au sein de groupes rock où la création se faisait en collectif. Mais ce désir de collaborer vient surtout du fait que travailler seul devant un ordinateur, c’est moche. À deux c’est mieux! La collaboration apporte de l’humanité aux projets. Le travail à deux, c’est deux fois plus de matière grise et de stimulation… et de querelles qui sont essentielles à la remise en question. Quand je travaille avec Jacques Poulin-Denis, nous trouvons beaucoup de stimulation à souvent être en désaccord sur les décisions à prendre ou sur les bases à établir au début d’un projet. Le travail avec le guitariste Simon Trottier est quant à lui complètement différent. Je ne pourrais jamais jouer de la guitare comme Simon, et lui ne pourrait jamais effectuer les traitements que je fais subir à sa musique: c’est donc un projet qui ne pourrait vivre autrement qu’en collaboration.

Quels sont les 5 disques préférés de Nicolas Bernier? Et les 5 plaisirs les plus coupables musicalement?

Ouf, nous voici à la question la plus difficile! Il est sûr que le mythe de l’intello dans son coin qui écoute que de la musique intello ça ne colle pas avec moi. Dans mes tops tu trouveras du ska, du trip-hop, du hip-hop et même du gros méchant math-métal (ou je ne sais trop comment ce style se nomme). Et je n’ai que du plaisir… je ne me sens coupable de rien. Par contre, ce que tu veux savoir je crois c’est que… je suis un méga-fan du Madonna des années 80!

Top «plus ou moins» 5: Pop

  • Me, Mom & Morgantaler: Shiva Space Machine
  • Portishead: Portishead
  • The Roots: Things Fall Appart
  • Loco Locass: Amour Oral
  • Félix Leclerc: L’Encan
  • Daft Punk: Discovery
  • The Dilliger Escape Plan: Calculating Infinity
  • Serge Gainsbourg: L’entièreté de sa discographie

Top 5: Électroacoustiques/classiques

  • Bernard Parmegiani: De Natura Sonorum
  • Anton Webern: Musique de chambre pour cordes
  • Luc Ferrari: Toute la discographie
  • Morton Feldman: The Viola In My Life
  • Ryoji Ikeda: Test Pattern

As-tu un(e) affection/rejet particulière envers les autres scènes de la musique électronique (house, techno, abstract)? Pourrais-tu faire de la musique pour club?

Je n’ai pas de rejet pour des styles de musique en soi… mais il y a des musiques que je trouve mauvaises. C’est assez rare mais ça arrive. Je tente toujours d’aller chercher le bon dans ce que j’entends. Concernant les «étiquettes» apposées aux musiques, je suis complètement à l’écart. Je ne connais pas tellement les étiquettes alors je pourrais mal vous dire si j’apprécie un style plus qu’un autre. Je lisais récemment que mon disque “Les arbres“ était «néo-classique», ah bon? Je ne sais même pas différencier les styles de musiques électroniques mais, oui, je peux apprécier les musiques dansantes, bien que ce ne soit pas ce que je vais chercher à entendre naturellement.

Quels sont tes projets à court/moyen/long terme?

Il y en a toujours des tonnes! En voici quelques uns:

  • Courant.air: je travaille présentement sur une nouvelle pièce pour le festival Sound Travels à Toronto. La pièce inspirée par le vent dont je parlais plus tôt. C’est une pièce avec la guitare acoustique de Simon Trottier mais dans laquelle la musique est hyper-construite contrairement à nos projets précédents qui émanent de l’improvisation. Pour ce même festival, je prépare une version surround du projet Les arbres.
  • Musique For Tuner, Strings and Other Things: mon prochain grand projet (à moyen terme) après Les arbres. C’est le genre de projet où je ne m’impose aucune date de tombée, préférant prendre le temps qu’il faut. Projet dans lequel je tente de tracer une ligne entre sons acoustiques et électroniques, utilisant des sons de diapasons acoustiques qui sont mélangés à un violon et une viole de gambe. C’est un projet à caractère minimaliste mais toujours avec un côté très impur.
  • Musique de livre: un de mes plus anciens fantasmes musicaux est de faire la trame sonore pour un roman. J’y travaille présentement avec l’auteur Marc-André Moutquin.
  • The Dancing Deer. The Dead Deer.: court disque avec deux longues pièces que je viens tout juste de terminer. Un projet à la croisée du bruitisme et de la chanson électroacoustique. Disque toujours à la recherche d’une étiquette d’ailleurs… avis aux intéressés;)
  • Je pars à l’instant pour une résidence de 2 mois au Banff Centre ou je pourrai me concentrer et achever mes nouveaux projets!

Pourra-t-on apercevoir Nicolas Bernier en Europe d’ici peu?

Je l’espère! J’ai fait quelques voyages en Europe ces dernières années mais cela fait un bout que je n’ai pas eu d’invitation…

… coup de cœur instantané…

Du bruit au Mois Multi [et quelques autres considérations sur le son]

Nathalie Bachand, Inter, art actuel, no 103, 1 septembre 2009
Il faut nécessairement souligner la pertinence des artistes qu’Érick d’Orion, commissaire pour l’occasion, a finement sélectionnés.

Les artisans du son

Khadija Chatar, L’Express, 4 août 2009

Un festival électroacoustique sur le son environnant! Cela peut paraître assez futuriste et pourtant cela fait 11 ans qu’à Toronto se tient le Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art présenté par New Adventures in Sound Art. Les 7 et 8 août, au Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 rue Christie), plusieurs francophones, dont Nicolas Bernier, Annette Vande Gorne et Hervé Birolini, viendront divulguer leurs nombreux talents à jongler avec tout ce qui fait du bruit!

«Le 7 août, je vais présenter deux spectacles, Courant.air et Les arbres. Dans Courant.air, il s’agit de combiner une couleur folk avec de la musique électroacoustique que j’aurais déjà préalablement enregistrée et sur laquelle Simon Trottier jouera en plus de sa guitare acoustique», annonce le Montréalais Nicolas Bernier.

Dans les enregistrements, M Bernier a pensé à inclure quelques éléments spécifiques au titre, Courant.air, comme le bruit du vent. «Le vent a été réellement l’inspiration. Je voulais que l’on se rende compte de son existence. C’est comme de la musique que l’on ne voit pas. Il est pourtant là, et il est créatif. Il fait des vagues et des formes», dit-il.

Son deuxième spectacle intitulé Les arbres est un projet qui lui tient très à cœur et pour lequel il a consacré de nombreuses années sans pour autant estimer l’avoir encore achevé. Cette pièce, généralement, présentée avec violon et violoncelle, aura une petite touche qui se veut plus «post-rock», comme Nicolas Bernier aime à le dire.

«Ce sera une nouvelle version avec guitare électrique. C’est un drôle de mix qui travaille sur le son et sa matière. Je dirais que c’est un peu intellectuel d’un côté et pas du tout de l’autre.»

Autre point, le concert Les arbres sera présenté avec une projection vidéo réalisée par un certain Urban9, avec qui Nicolas Bernier travaille depuis longtemps sur le projet.

Pour permettre à l’auditeur d’entrer davantage dans l’univers électroacoustique, les deux musiciens, Nicolas Bernier et Simon Trottier, ont pensé à se placer en plein milieu de la salle. «Notre but c’est que le public ne s’attarde qu’au spectacle. Nous voulons qu’il entre dans le son sans se laisser divertir par les gestes des musiciens», confie-t-il pour terminer.

D’autres artistes francophones venus cette fois-ci d’un petit peu plus loin seront aussi présents au Artscape Wychwood Barns.

Le 7 août toujours, le Français Hervé Birolini s’aventurera à bercer les auditeurs à l’aide des mélodies coupées et recoupées de son saxophone.

Son concert qui s’appelle Ozone promet d’en intriguer plus d’un, selon le directeur artistique du Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art, Darren Copeland. «C’est une pièce écrite à partir de différents sons enregistrés qu’il transforme pour en recréer de nouveaux. C’est assez spécial comme musique», dit-il.

Le samedi 8 août, la Bruxelloise Annette Vande Gorne, artiste plus traditionnelle et plus scientifique présentera Two Portraits. «Nous sommes très contents qu’elle soit là avec nous. Elle a publié plusieurs ouvrages importants sur la composition électroacoustique et a enseigné pendant très longtemps sur le sujet», déclare M. Copeland.

À son concert l’auditeur aura donc l’occasion d’écouter mais aussi d’observer le son sous une autre facette.

L’atmosphère ambiophonique créée par les 20 haut-parleurs permettront à Annette Vande Gorne de transformer la salle en un laboratoire où le public deviendra l’outil de mesure et le son, le sujet d’étude, rien que ça…

Le Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art se poursuit jusqu’au 31 octobre avec plusieurs autres spectacles et concerts.

Nicolas Bernier, Annette Vande Gorne […] viendront divulguer leurs nombreux talents à jongler avec tout ce qui fait du bruit!

Ni de l’art sonore, ni de la musique

Charles Prémont, Le Lien multimédia, 8 février 2008

Nicolas Bernier est un artiste multidisciplinaire. Entre compositions électroniques, vidéos et design, il tente de rejoindre plusieurs publics. Son duo, Milliseconde topographie, qu’il complète avec Delphine Measroch, joue sur la frontière entre art traditionnel et numérique. «Il y en a qui font de l’art sonore, d’autre de la musique. Nous, on ne fait ni l’un ni l’autre, alors on ne «fit» jamais nulle part», explique, en guise d’introduction, Delphine Measroch.

Le «problème identitaire» de Milliseconde topographie est bien réel. «Les critiques ne savent plus où donner de la tête. On envoie nos DVD à des critiques de musique, ils disent que c’est de l’art visuel, on l’envoie aux critiques d’art, ils pensent que nous sommes des musiciens», déplore, impuissant, Nicolas.

Tirer dans tous les sens, voilà ce qui l’allume. «J’ai besoin d’explorer plusieurs avenues pour être satisfait. C’est ce qui a bien marché avec Delphine: elle s’intéressait aussi beaucoup à d’autres formes d’expressions que simplement la musique. Dans le milieu, c’est très difficile de trouver son «âme soeur» artistique», avoue-t-il.

La technique utilisée par Milliseconde topographie pour créer leurs sons traduit parfaitement leur goût du compromis. En utilisant le logiciel Max/MSP, Delphine et Nicolas enregistrent des instruments conventionnels, mais aussi des bruits de jouets, de vieilles caméras Super8 et des sons ambiants, pour ensuite y ajouter des effets.

«Ce qui est super, c’est que l’on peut enregistrer la même note sur dix pistes différentes et mettre un effet sur chacune d’elle. Ça donne un son «électro», mais on s’arrange toujours pour que l’on reconnaisse la facture de l’instrument organique. On veut transcender la froideur de l’art numérique», explique Nicolas.

Le duo a vu le jour en 2004, peu après que Delphine et Nicolas se soient rencontrés sur les bancs d’école. Les deux étudiaient dans le programme de composition électroacoustique de la faculté de musique de l’Université de Montréal. «Je décrirais Milliseconde comme de «l’électro-subtile», c’est quelque chose d’ambiant où l’on reconnaît des sons de plusieurs provenances», explique Nicolas en riant.

Mettant à profit leur goût pour le visuel, ils ont produit un DVD et même des «affiches à disques». C’était en 2005. «C’était un projet que l’on a fait avec un ami artiste, Urban 9. Nous avions fait plusieurs affiches en sérigraphie et nous y avions collé des enveloppes avec un disque à l’intérieur. Urban partait le soir et les affichait un peu partout en ville. Les passants pouvaient ainsi se procurer notre musique», raconte Nicolas.

D’autres projets

Nicolas n’a pas que Milliseconde topographie comme projet. Pour vivre, il compose, principalement pour le théâtre et la danse. «Je travaille présentement pour la compagnie de danse O Vertigo. Avant, j’ai fait Ubu et Othello à l’usine C», assure-t-il.

Un autre de ses essais est un duo électro-folk qu’il complète avec Simon Trottier. «C’était écrit dans le ciel qu’on ferait de la musique ensemble. On a fini par trouver deux jours où l’on était libre, on s’est enfermé dans un studio et on a produit un album», raconte Nicolas sous les rires de Simon. Ils seront du «Mois Multi» à Québec, un festival d’art multidisciplinaire qui se déroule du 13 au 24 février prochain.

Les deux compères s’apprêtaient à livrer une performance lorsque le Lien les a rencontrés. Heure de tombée oblige, il fut impossible de rester pour livrer une critique en bonne et due forme. Vous pouvez vous faire votre propre idée en allant sur le site de 12rec, l’étiquette net qui les a pris sous leurs ailes.

Entre compositions électroniques, vidéos et design, il tente de rejoindre plusieurs publics.

trans_canada Festival: Trends in Acousmatics and Soundscapes

Wibke Bantelmann, Computer Music Journal, no 29:3, 1 septembre 2005

The trans_canada festival of electroacoustic music by Canadian composers at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe was certainly no everyday experience for the interested German public. A festival of acousmatic music—and acousmatic music only—is quite unusal. The German avant-garde music scene is still uncommonly lively, but most composers prefer either instrumental music (with electroacoustic elements) or multimedia works. The idea of invisible music seems not to touch the German musical sensibility.

Despite this, 460 visitors found their way to ZKM. During 10-13 February, 2005, they experienced a four day-long plunge into the Canadian way of composing, and had the opportunity to learn more about the “Canadian Example” as Daniel Teruggi of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) called it in his paper. According to Mr. Teruggi, the liveliness and outstanding quality of the electroacoustic music scene in Canada is the result of good composers but also of academically sound research and training and a wide range of philosophical approaches to music. The opening of the festival showed another aspect of this “example.” Paul Dubois, the present Canadian ambassador to Germany, came from Berlin to open the festival—cultural policy in Canada apparently knows and supports the electroacoustic scene intensely, quite contrary to German policy.

Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau, Gilles Gobeil, Nicolas Bernier, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Louis Dufort took part in the festival and presented works (Ned Bouhalassa was invited but for health reasons was unable to attend). Nine pieces were commissioned by ZKM and received their world premieres at the festival.

trans_canada not only offered an occasion for Germans to learn about Canadian acousmatic music; apparently, it also connected the Canadians themselves. “It seems we had to come to the ZKM in Karlsruhe to get together,” said Robert Normandeau at the last concert. And so, the Francophone composers from the east, rooted in the Paris school of “musique concrète,” met the Anglophone soundscape composers from the West coast. “I was very much surprised when Francis Dhomont told us that he does not like the original sounds to be changed so much that you can’t distinguish their origin any longer,” said Hildegard Westerkamp. “We are not as far away from each other as I used to think.”

This proved to be quite true, as could be heard. The parallels between their new works, Brief an den Vater by Mr. Dhomont and Für Dich—For You by Ms. Westerkamp, were striking. Both compositions were not only inspired by but also formally based on literature and the structure, the sound, the rhythm of the text. The work by Mr. Dhomont, with the scraping of a pen as a sort of leitmotif, was no less abstract than Ms. Westerkamp’s music with its sea-sounds (gulls, wind, waves). And her fantasy land called “home” is not more “real” then his world of inner struggle. Both works showed an extreme sensitivity for subtle, delicate sounds which were spread in many layers, throwing shadows of sound, and constantly and slowly developing into new shapes and shades. The differences between the works seemed after all (to this listener at least) to be ones of personal style and expression than of basic principles.

Another new work with words came from Darren Copeland. I don’t want to be inside me anymore was quite singular in the festival due to its definite focus on content, on a “real story.” This fact gave the piece a strong dramatic quality leaving hardly any room for imagination. The intention of the sounds to build around the absorbing, sometimes even vexatious, words seemed to force the listeners to constantly keep their full attention on the meaning of the text. It was a deeply impressive piece, even if it was to a certain extent more dramatic than musical. (Although other listeners might experience it differently if they do not understand the German text.)

In a way, this work resembles a compositional style of a very different kind, that of Barry Truax. The connection may be found in the very sense of reality in both composer’s works: the reality of the feeling of isolation on one hand, and the reality of an existing landscape (streams, peaks, caves) on the other.

Even Gilles Gobeil’s magnificent medieval drama, Ombres, espaces, silences…, followed roughly this direction. This piece was not about feeling or landscape, it was about reality, too, in this case the reality of history, only by far more sublime, sensitive, and imaginative. Not “cinema for the ear” but a “novel for the ear” (something like The Name of the Rose?)! However, the form and structure of this work is by far more of a narrative nature than strictly abstract-musical.

It was Robert Normandeau and the youngsters of trans_canada who were most abstract, and therefore the strongest advocates of a true “invisible music.” It was not only not to be seen, it was not to be imagined. There was nothing real, nothing you could get hold of, it was more or less a complete deconstruction of sounds, ideas, narration. They appeared not to start from any landscape, be it imagined or real, inside or outside the head; they started from ideas, ideas of sound, ideas of form. Even the antique Writing Machine in the work by Nicolas Bernier was more a (slightly exotic) sound than a sense, more a historical reminiscence than an element of form.

Coincidence shows her unaccountable face, experiment and surprise follow. You could hear experience and mastery in the work of Robert Normandeau, of course. You were always sure that it was him who played with coincidence and not the other way round. His world premiere, ZedKejeM, was highly dynamic, with the energy and rhythm from a dancefloor, but still showed the deepness, density, and versatility of a deep-thinking organizer of energy and fantasy. Every single sound seemed well calculated, the effects carefully set.

The music of his younger colleagues, Mr. Bernier and Louis Dufort, was more spontaneous, wandering dreamily through all the possibilities of technique and sound, to find out what would happen. Mr. Dufort spread a richness and variety of colors in a free, open structure that simply followed the beauty of the sounds created. In contrast to that, Mr. Bernier followed an intellectual plan, he set his rules and let them work. One always sensed the will behind the music, one always tried to follow and understand the experiment instead of just enjoying the result. But, on the other hand, this method produced a certain strong energy in the work. This composer had the power to raise and hold the intellectual interest of the listener.

All in all, it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities, and to learn a little about their methods.

trans_canada also provided the chance to meet the composers in person. Each of them delivered a paper about their work. They could only give a rough survey, of course, in a 45-min talk. Rather than concentrating on techniques or software, most composers just tried to acquaint their colleagues and the small number of other interested people with their sources of inspiration, their opinions, their philosophy. Remarkable was the clear delivery of all the composers and the relaxed atmosphere of these sessions. There seemed to be no need to impress anyone, and not so much need to discuss, let alone debate. Everybody was open-minded and respected the others, as if trying to learn and understand, not to question fundamentals.

It was like a good talk between colleagues and friends. Mr. Normandeau provided insight into his large archive of sound and his permanent work on the human voice. Mr. Gobeil expressed his preference for the sound of exotic instruments (like the Daxophone) and his dislike of techno music (inducing him to write a techno-piece). Mr. Dhomont talked about the relation between accident and control in his work, marking his own position somewhere between Pierre Boulez and John Cage:Boulez would say: ‘This is incidental, throw it away;’ Cage would say: ‘This is incidental, so I take it;’ I say: ‘Look, there is an interesting incident, but should I take it?’” He also used the opportunity to call for more polyphony in electroacoustic music instead of the exclusive concentration on creating the most original, most exotic new sound: “In an orchestra, you mix different instruments, but the single instrument becomes not less beautiful.”

The exceptional environment of ZKM supported this beautiful richness of sounds and the inventiveness of the composers immensely. The two concert venues offer exquisite acoustics. They were equipped with 70 concert loudspeakers, placed in either circles or in a kind of “acousmonium surround environment.” This, in conjunction with the timbral and spatial qualities of the works, created an extraordinary musical experience.

… it was fascinating to take in over a few days such a wide range of styles and personalities…

Étoiles montantes

Danielle Dubois, La Scena Musicale, no 10:6, 16 mars 2005

[…] Nicolas Bernier, compositeur (musique électroacoustique); âge: 27; ville: Ottawa, ON; école: Université de Montréal; professeurs: Robert Normandeau, Jean Piché. Compositeurs préférés: Maurizio Martusciello (Italie), Robert Normandeau, Louis Dufort, Gilles Gobeil, Francis Dhomont, Stéphane Roy, Martin Bédard (D’Amours métal), Luc Ferrari, Serge Gainsbourg.

«À chaque fois que je gagne un prix ou qu’une de mes pièces est sélectionnée pour un festival, je suis bouche bée», raconte Nicolas Bernier, qui a d’abord essayé d’approfondir ses connaissances sur la musique électroacoustique en lisant des traités. Moins de cinq ans plus tard, il ne cesse de décrocher prix et stages un peu partout. Son approche de la composition est simple: «Je crois que le meilleur sort quand la composition se fait rapidement et intensément». Il affirme fonctionner d’abord avec ses oreilles; le travail intellectuel vient plus tard. Nicolas est reconnaissant envers ses amis, qui lui font découvrir des musiques qui ne sont pas étudiées à l’université. Bien que certains d’entre eux considèrent sa musique abstraite, ils sont capables de l’apprécier. De l’enthousiasme, Nicolas en a en réserve, pour une carrière qu’il entrevoit comme hétéroclite. «Je veux toucher à tout tout tout! Musique acousmatique, musique électro plus populaire, installation, vidéo, développement d’outils, etc.» À plus long terme, Nicolas souhaite développer la scène culturelle dans sa région natale de l’Outaouais. Son prochain projet: une installation avec haut-parleurs et vidéo sous l’eau, dans une piscine. «Un projet très excitant, qui nous permettra de renouveler nos maillots de bain!», affirme-t-il. […]

Moins de cinq ans plus tard, il ne cesse de décrocher prix et stages un peu partout.

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