La boutique électroacoustique

Artistes Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay est compositeur et interprète à la guitare basse et aux dispositifs de traitements sonores, en solo et au sein des groupes ars circa musicæ (Paris, France), de type inconnu (Montréal, Québec), et Splice (Londres, Angleterre, RU). Il est aussi membre du collectif londonien Loop. Sa musique est disponible chez empreintes DIGITALes et Ora.

Il a étudié la composition auprès de Michel Tétreault, Marcelle Deschênes et Jonty Harrison, la guitare basse avec Jean-Guy Larin, Sylvain Bolduc et Michel Donato, l’analyse dans les classes de Michel Longtin et Stéphane Roy, et les techniques de studio auprès de Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau et Jean Piché.

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay est présentement professeur de composition et d’improvisation à la University of Huddersfield (Angleterre, RU), où il dirige aussi les studios de musique électronique. Il a travaillé en musique populaire comme réalisateur et comme bassiste, et s’intéresse à la vidéomusique et à la programmation.

Il aime passer du temps en famille, boire du thé Oolong, feuilleter les dictionnaires, lire de la prose, et faire de longues randonnées. Fondateur du collectif no-tv, il ne possède pas de téléviseur fonctionnel.

En 2016 il reçoit le Prix Jules-Léger de la nouvelle musique de chambre décerné par le Conseil des arts du Canada.


Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

Montréal (Québec), 1975

Résidence: Huddersfield (Angleterre, RU)

  • Compositeur
  • Interprète (basse électrique, ordinateur)

Ensembles associés

Sur le web

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, photo: Claudine Levasseur, Huddersfield (Angleterre, RU), samedi 3 août 2013

Œuvres choisies

Parutions principales

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 13123/124 / 2013
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 11109 / 2011
Ora / ORA 15115 / 2011
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0999 / 2009
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0680 / 2006


Collection QB / CQB 1618 / 2016
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0898 / 2008
Ora / ORA 12095 / 2008
Ora / ORA 11089 / 2007
Ora / ORA 09075 / 2005
Ora / ORA 07062 / 2003
Ora / ORA 06048 / 2002
Ora / ORA 04035 / 2000
Ora / ORA 03029 / 1999
Ora / ORA 01016 / 1997


Bruce’s Fingers / BF 133 / 2016
  • Hors-catalogue
Confront Recordings / CSS 69 / 2016
  • Hors-catalogue
Kohlenstoff / KOHL 031 / 2016
  • Hors-catalogue
Loop Records / LOOP 1022 / 2013
  • Hors-catalogue
Ora / ORA 16121 / 2012
  • Hors-catalogue
Loop Records / LOOP 1013 / 2011
  • Hors-catalogue
productions indépendantes / RCPAT 2009 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
Radio France Signature / SIG 11063 / 2009
  • Hors-catalogue
Seven Seas Entertainment / SSE 70012 / 2000
  • Hors-catalogue


empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0680 / 2006

La presse en parle

HCMF 2016: Seth Parker Woods […]

Simon Cummings, 5:4, samedi 26 novembre 2016

Friday at HCMF began with a recital by rising star cellist Seth Parker Woods. I’ve had the opportunity to see Woods play once before (at HCMF 2014) and the experience was a highly impressive one, so I was very much looking forward to seeing him in action again. He did not disappoint, performing four challenging works, two of which involved live electronics. […] The unquestionable highlight of the concert, though, was Pierre Alexandre Tremblay’s asinglewordisnotenough3 (invariant), which provided both a composition masterclass in its seamless, aurally non-hierarchical interaction between acoustic and electronic, as well as a performance masterclass in its bravura display of frantic virtuosity from Woods. The work’s narrative was excellent, progressing through a series of evolving episodes each fuelled by the cello, many of them rhythmically taut (though never sounding metrically fixed) with a tendency later to expand out into more sustained soundscapes where the cello’s material was more buoyant. Utterly thrilling, and Woods unstoppable performance was outstanding. […]

… a composition masterclass in its seamless, aurally non-hierarchical interaction between acoustic and electronic…

P. A. Tremblay, de souffles et de machines

Veneranda Paladino, Dernières nouvelles d’Alsace, mercredi 18 mai 2016

Proposés par le LabEX GREAM et l’Université de Strasbourg, une masterclass et un concert déploient la versatilité du compositeur et improvisateur québécois Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. […]

Liverecensies: CTM 15 Un Tune I — Onderzoek naar de lichamelijkheid van geluid

Sven Schlijper, KindaMuzik, jeudi 5 février 2015

[…] Adembenemend

Soms schieten woorden te kort. Dan valt het gesprek feitelijk stil. Dan voel je alleen nog maar en neemt de muziek je mee. Je geeft je over. Zoals bij de wereldpremière van nureinwortgenügtnicht van multi-instrumentalist en componist Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Over twaalf kanalen stuurt hij onder andere vooraf opgenomen partijen uit. Een deel van het surroundgeluid wordt live gevormd. Dit doet Tremblay in intrigerende wisselwerkingen tussen performer en microfoon. Heather Roche jaagt haar basklarinet door vele tonaliteiten en texturen. Daarmee haalt ze vooral qua detaillering en frasering Colin Stetson rechts in, zodat hij op slag lomp lijkt. Adembenemend is ook de vocale serie erupties vol overtuigings- en zeggingskracht die sopraan Peyee Chen brengt.

In Tremblay’s lange nieuwe stuk zijn flarden te herkennen die al op zijn album La marée staan. Ingebed in dit veelzijdige livenarratief is de muzikale brille rijker en dieper dan tevoren. Dit werk verdient absoluut een plek op het Holland Festival. Het is immers een stuk dat betoont hoe divers een muzikale luisterervaring anno nu kan zijn, ook — of juist — in gecomponeerde muziek. Caleidoscopisch, bedwelmend en zo tastbaar emotioneel dat het lichamelijk wordt. […]

Caleidoscopisch, bedwelmend en zo tastbaar emotioneel dat het lichamelijk wordt.

Touched totally

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, dimanche 2 mars 2014

Composer Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is looking for human gestures in an electronic environment.

“I hate computers”, says Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Quite a surprising statement for an artist who has made working at the cutting edge of electronics one of his main areas of interest, perhaps. And yet, it makes perfect sense in the bigger context of Tremblay’s body of work, which has ranged from contemporary composition to jazz as well as complex group improvisations and never sought to use electronic systems for their own sake, but foremost to amplify human emotion. Perhaps it is for this very reason that he considers his current teaching position as a professor of composition at Huddersfield University as “the best situation by far” and enjoys being kept on his toes by his students: Naturally, in the absence of any serious alternatives and the range of possibilities they’re offering, Tremblay doesn’t really hate computers. He’d just wish they weren’t necessary.

You once asserted that “writing for electronics requires the same knowledge as writing for orchestra”. I would be interested in what this says about your quality criteria for working with electronics. What qualifies a piece as a success and what, as you put it, as a ’disaster’?

Wow! This is a very interesting question that needs a little unfolding. On a very visceral level, for a piece to be a success to me, it has to be a shared moment of grace, a sort of magical event where we loose ourself, where the music fills the space and the listeners transcend where they are and what is happening. A moment where we are touched totally, physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Now, this is a serious challenge, where many intuitions have to come to fruition… so as an answer to your question on a more concrete ground, for it to be a success, my piece has to satisfy 3 groups of people: a certain audience, the performer of the premiere, and myself.

For the audience, I say a ’certain’ audience because I am aware of the limits of the music that I do: it is contemporary chamber music, which aims at expressing a full range of human experiences and emotions. Even if I include a wide range of places as valid for this music, i.e. a free jazz venue, a gallery or a quiet café, or a small concert hall: in fact, anywhere where people will stop talking and listen to the music when the piece starts, and that is small enough for the listener to feel the performer’s presence. This makes it quite remote from light entertainment… not that I snob any artistic experiences, including light entertainment: I require and enjoy non-cathartic music regularly too!

What I want to create for this audience is what I do when I go to other people’s gig. I want them engaged, challenged, questioned, shaken, and that makes me quite a romantic person. I also want them to go places… but I don’t want them to need a degree in music to get something out of my music! So, one way of democratising it is to go for a certain immediacy, without falling into the demagogic discourses of clichés. Another thing that I want my pieces to do is to be able to pass the test of a second listening, which means I need to give them enough subtlety to survive scrutiny… without betraying the idea of immediacy and democracy, but not falling into the trap of preciousness and inside jokes! To check if I strike this thin balance, I usually play work-in-progress to people around me whom I trust, some of them being musicians, some of them being music-lovers…

For the performer’s perspective, it is a matter of listening to what they say when I bring the early material to them. I think it is important that we (the composer and performer) form a team, and by commissioning me they already show an openness that I should reciprocate. Again, it’s not about bowing to a discourse of cheap seduction, but to try to engage with what they are looking for in my music, and in performance practice in general. I sincerely think that a given musical idea can be written or developed in many different ways, and adapting to suggestions usually means that the performer will own the piece more, yielding a much better performance, which is again to everyone’s advantage: the public, the performer and myself.

If I manage to fill all of the above, and that the piece has enough personality to have an identity, I will be happy. Never totally, there are always elements one wants to change, but there is a point where I need to let go and let the piece be. I learn more that way: some things sort themselves with time, others can be taken onboard in the next project.

Tell me about your studio, please.

I presume you mean the composition studio, which is one of four types of studio context in which I find myself regularly: my home-based composition studio, the recording studio, the mixing studio and the residency studio.

My home studio is a room in which I will have put a pair of loudspeakers symmetrically, dampen its acoustic, and calibrated its listening position. There will be my laptop in the middle, my bass guitar at hand, and a couple of data entry devices: usually a MIDI keyboard and an iPad. There will also be my little composition book, full of ideas and thoughts, a pair of headphones and my taiwan probably brewing oolong tea.

It is based around a computer, but I hate them. Nevertheless, they are the best tool to get to my intended results. I have a lot of music accessible at hand, and all the software I use, but I think that computers are an uninspiring tool. I therefore rely on my aforementioned composition book to have ideas, and I sit at the computer to render them. From listening to these rendering-in-progress, more ideas go into the book, so I never lack of stuff to do! I try to discipline myself to write regularly. It allows me to trash a lot of musical material. When my creativity is stuck, I like to do coding — Max and Supercollider, and C at times — to try new ideas, usually from the composition book!

What about the other two studios?

The recording and mixing studios are mostly at the university. I use the former for the workshop with the composers, and to record the final versions, and I use the latter to mix in multi-channel with high quality loudspeaker. I’m very lucky to have access to those.

Finally, when I have the chance to be in residency somewhere, I usually spend a lot of time on their analogue synthesisers. I am a big fan of modular analogue synths and there is in the last couple of decades a strong revival of interest in those. I don’t own one yet for a simple reason: I had the chance to work on some of the best vintage synths of the 60s and 70s so my quality threshold is above my monetary means!

Over the past few years, more and more electronic musicians are returning to more tactile production means. How important is physicality for you when composing and what are some of the interfaces that work best for you personally?

Embodiment, physical performance of sound design, and recognisable human gestures in recorded material, are at the basis of my music and of the music I enjoy, independent of style. And this has always always been: I was even accused by a canonical acousmatic composer to be too “instrumental” in my tape music!

I perform processing in a post-free-jazz setting on bass guitar and laptop, so these are my two main ways of manipulating sound. The bass is a very rich source, and I use real faders or virtual ones to control the laptop. I also have done some research of controlling granular synthesis with the bass, and it is quite interesting, if still in its infancy. I’m obviously not talking about a MIDI bass, but real expressive multi-dimensional manipulation: pitch, loudness, brilliance, noisiness, sharpness, etc.

Finally, I also use my voice quite a lot, mostly to sing an idea that I will render with other means after: sequencer, synths, processing, samples, automation of the DAW, etc. I find the voice allows to fix in a moment a nuanced multi-dimensional musical gesture, which I can then spy through repeated listening.

How important are new instruments and tools for the creation of new music?

I think that instruments do what they are told to. New music happens in the head of inquisitive musicians, whatever the instruments. New instruments can be a mixed blessing, as most music out of them usually sound like a feature demo at first. It usually takes a certain time for the artistic community to assimilate and digest the real potential of newer technology, and make it sing something else than the obvious. That said, I’ve got nothing against new instruments, or old. I have problems with pastiches and demos.

With regards to your position as a teacher at Huddersfield University, how, can universities avoid being alternative realities and how can they become more relevant to the life going on outside them?

I think that the walls of academia have never been more porous than now, and that elements of this new reality is great and some of it is dangerous.

Expecting immediate relevance is a dangerous goal. I think the Higgs boson is a good example: as a society, we need to leave some people to dream up ideas, and some of them will be fruitful in their own time. Short-term accountability to research implies short-sighted research, and this type goes nowhere except where we know it goes: places we know.

That said, there is a very interesting diversity of musical academic practice-based research in the UK, most of it from sources that were not long ago outside of the walls of the institutions: the new academic could be a combination of a noise artist, a curator, an improviser, a DIY circuit bender, a performance artist, a programmer, a post-acousmatic composer, a live coder, a new interface designer, etc. And all of that with or without the more traditionally academic musicology, be it historical, analytical, psychoacoustics, dsp engineering, etc. Actually, very few of these new academics only practice one discipline: the new academia is an interesting mesh of cross-discipline practices and practitioners, with strong links outside of the institution. It also provides a place where experiments can be held more freely, and that in turns feeds back in the community.

A good example of such fluid back and forth process is the convolution reverberation of the latest Ableton Live application, which was built with tools Alex Harker and I developed for some mixed music pieces on my album. The tools were not designed for reverberation, but for manipulation of impulse responses in order to solve two live sound quality problems in chamber mixed music. The methodological research we carried out, as well as the tools we designed, allowed a tailored design of the Ableton reverb; moreover, some feedback and request from their perspective fed directly back in our research.

But there is always a danger of ghettoisation. In order to avoid this for my students, and not to make of the university a cocoon completely isolated from its society, I ask them to try it all — not to love it all — and to approach what they love and do outside of the walls of the uni in the same inquisitive way. I want them to digest it all in new musical proposals: not mere collages, but a real hybridisation.

How important is the audience in your concepts of music and what role does it play in creating the music in conjunction with the composer and the performers?

As mentioned above, a “certain” audience is at the centre stage of my quality control. This answer is not as straightforward as it seems though: what is ’the audience’? Is it my friends? My fellow musicians? The contemporary music concert goer crowd? The free-jazz one?

I find this question, which I continuously ask myself, to be extremely vague, and my answer tends to vary around this: I consider my public, present and maybe future, as my judge. It is made of those who dare to engage with active listening, at home or live. It is not a large group of people, but it shares this curious inclusive approach to the musical experience, as rich as all human experiences themselves. That way, I hope I make sure it is as wide as possible, without falling in demagogic traps.

Tune of the Tides

Tobias Fischer, Tokafi, mercredi 29 janvier 2014

On La marée, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is exploring the nuances between extremes.

For Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, composer and professor of composition at Huddersfield University, tea is vital. In his home studio, next to his note books with ideas and thoughts, a keyboard and an ipad, “there will be my Taiwan kettle probably brewing oolong”. Little wonder, then, that he should dote on the miracles of the tea ceremony in the booklet to his latest double-CD La marée: “What a nice way to contemplate various life cycles at a glance! So much beauty within these infinite nuances, when one takes the time to dwell upon them”, Tremblay writes about the gradual development of sound, aroma and taste in his favourite leaves. Tea and music go hand in hand: The reflections serve as an introduction to Mono no aware, a seventeen minute composition for “processing, interactive system, multitrack fixed sounds” and the custom-made Babel table. Just like the four other works included on the album, it is a mixed composition pitting a human soloist against dynamic amplified processes and observing the results in real-time. Although Tremblay has referred to these processes as “power games”, the music is less about confrontation, as it is about the gentle gradations between extremes, about evanescence, transience and constantly changing constellations. To an outside observer, these intense games may sometimes be emotionally overwhelming and confusing to the senses. And yet, just as with a good cup of oolong, the real effects are taking place on the inside, leading the listener to a realm of pure, undiluted experience — and complete clarity.

Tell me about the challenges of meeting your personal quality standards when writing the pieces on La marée.

Each piece had its own struggles and epiphanies during the composition period. I would say that I am happy with them because I left enough time within my writing process to be able to trash everything I was not happy with. In certain cases, it was a lot of the early versions that went to the bin! I usually work with the performers a fair amount of time, doing different trial-and-errors with ideas of sound worlds, processing and interactions. This allows me to finalise a piece that I am happy with, as many ideas have been rejected at the onset.

Now, I can say that mixing the album of 5 mixed pieces was a great reality check: these works were composed over a long enough period to let me forget my mannerisms and putting them in close proximity on an album was an interesting experience: I could see clearly what constituted my approach of mixed music between 2005 and 2013. There are definitely common elements in the vocabulary, elements that I have moved away from - and elements that I did quite well but should stop doing!

The contrasts between ’acoustic’ and electric/electronic sound sources is just one of the many polarities on La marée, but it may be one of the most exciting ones. How do you see this relationship and why does it form such a fruitful point of departure for you?

I think that dualities are interesting and potent as they are immediate and allow the discourse to move forward. I also think that, in mixed music, a listener will identify with the human agent, and again this is full of expressive potential.

Now, to nuance a little: I tend to consider every duality as extremes of an axis, of which I allow myself to explore the intermediary nuances. Acoustic/electronic is one of those axes. An example of such an intermediary position is where the electronic part is merely extending the acoustic sound, allowing me to gel the sound world as a single unified whole, bridging the gap between acoustic and electronic sounds.

You’ve described some of the interactions on the album as “power games”. What, to you, is rewarding in a confrontational approach, rather than one based on consensus?

First, let me say that I think there are always powers at play, even in consensus. So, in line with the idea of exploring the nuances between extremes, I also consider the full range of power relations, from equal-powered-consensual, to power struggles with cohabitations of contrasting ideas, to sheer domination by one part, to negotiation/seduction dance! I think that varying levels of power relation are again a very potent imagery. How it is perceived by the listener is more complex and probably equivocal; nevertheless it allows me to move the discourse forward.

What are benefits and challenges of real-time processing from your perspective?

As often as I can, I do lazy real-time processing: I will do everything I can in deferred/studio time. But, going back to my goal of making sure the performer owns the music, I make sure the music is adaptable to the performer’s interpretative decisions, in the moment: playing a section slower, more legato, louder, sharper, etc. These elements of freedom are important for them to feel that they play in a chamber music setting, and not with a karaoke track! This most probably stems from my work as performer within my bands: I appreciate the freedom and the nuances that playing with other musicians procure, and I make sure that the electronic part in my pieces is (almost) as comfortable as playing with a human counterpart.

On a more technical level, there are many different approaches to how ’real-time’ things are in my pieces. Sometimes, the liveness is strictly in the ear of the listener, sometimes it is all live and sounds as tight as pre-recorded material… but most times it is a combination of many approaches. The only important aspect is how it works musically, both for the performer and the listener.

On La marée, questions of timbre and questions of composition are intricately interwoven. Tell me a bit about your view on these two aspects and how they manifest themselves in your writing.

Simply, I don’t separate them at all: I think of it as a multi-dimentional entity. In most music that I enjoy, the ’sound’ and the ’composition’ form a single unity. Pop acts, free improvisers, electroacoustic composers, all have a strong sonic signature made of preferred modes, timbres, gestures, forms, etc. And I stand by this idea in all my musical endeavours: when I was producing rap beats, the same way I do when I compose (post)-acousmatic, or when I perform with my bands, the timbre is part of the complex musical phrasing, and will induce a sound world which I hope is unique to the piece.

Over on Facebook, you wrote, “Huddersfield rocks”. In which way?

I was told to be careful about Facebook! Seriously, the music department here is amazing. First, it is department with a strong agenda of defending the highest level of practice-based research, where composers and performers push the limits of their field by proposing new ways of practicing their art. My colleagues here are fantastic, and by that I don’t mean that we all do the same things. We actually cover a wide range of positions, converging or diverging with respect, questioning each other.

Moreover, the support we get here is impressive, with great studios, well equipped, and other different helping gestures on our current projects. There are also two festivals, the world-leading HCMF, and the more modest Electric Spring, the latter which I co-curate with Monty Adkins. Both festivals bring to this lovely Yorkshire countryside town some of the world’s most inventive musicians, which is great.

Finally, we have some fantastic students, again all busy pushing their research on where music should be and go next. A vibrant environment!

What are some of the personal enjoyments of teaching music for you?

There are mainly two reasons for which I like teaching. The first is the same reason why I really enjoyed my past experiences as a record producer: you help an artist develop and give birth to a work they are proud of. Moreover: a single voice is emerging, and they discover a lot more than writing techniques. This is a moment of shared pleasure. It requests a certain amount of discipline to forget what I would do at their place and to try to find out how to help them do what they want to do. It can be exhausting, but with good students, the result is amazing! I was lucky to get such good teachers, and I hope to be able to give back what I received.

The other reason is a little more selfish. Sharing musical and intellectual space with the new generation is keeping me in touch with a wide range of music that I could not explore just by myself. Also, it keeps me on my toes: they take nothing for granted, and their questioning forces me to question myself and what I assume as obvious. This feeds directly in my music, be it composition or improvisation.

So teaching can be a win-win situation.

Does having a “day-job” feel like a compromise or does it instead give you a real independence and freedom to write exactly the kind of music you want?

Apart from the win-win situation described above, the access to resources and the salary do provide a level of freedom that none of my friends who make a living as musician/composer have. Now, reality is much more nuanced than this idyllic description: teaching the less-than-good students is definitely not a win-win situation, marking is very difficult if you want to do it properly, and the administrative burden is awful.

That said, when I was partly freelance in Montréal, I had to spend a lot of time doing admin for free, almost as much as the ’compromised’ side of my current position… for no salary and no resources and no interaction with good students and colleagues! So in the real world where I need an income as much as freedom to pursue musical research outside of current trends of financially sustainable music, this is the best situation by far!

It has taken many years to establish music at university, awarding it a more objective characteristic. How do you personally feel about the idea of music as a science?

For me practice-based research in music is not as science… but it does not have to be to be a valid research field. I am surrounded in my family by many scientists of post-doctoral level, and I think they share my view: what imports is to push further the limits of human knowledge.

If you systematically explore a musical universe that is pushing the limits of its current existence, you are doing research. Scientists are doing the same thing. They have their own set of constraints, as musicians have theirs. If you do this systematically enough, there are elements that will be transferable to others: the works, its goals, its failures, its influences, its approaches, its techniques.

You recently shared an article — — about academics feeling like frauds, indicating that it may actually be right in some points. What’s your position on the state and ongoing relevance of universities and academia for music?

I think this article is right on a lot of points. What it says is that people in my job are overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them… mostly by themselves, to be honest! But this applies to artists too.

Academic posts, and artistic careers, usually attract a certain type of person that will want to do well what they set themselves to do. I think that in our overwhelming, information-overdosed world, perfectionists are always under the pressure of self-doubt, of pushing boundaries, of exploring new avenues, of knowing everything… there is so much to do, and so little time. Books and albums are being churned out at an every increasing speed, it is just impossible to stay afloat. With a little more nuance to this dramatic view though, there is also the factor that the more you know, the more you are aware of the immensity of what you don’t know.

Couple this with academia being busy with fake accountability, it makes the job worse than ever. Artists are stuck with the same problem: they are expected to be publicists, web designers, producers, tour managers, grant application specialists… and be at the top of their art if they find the time! So I often feel that I would need a couple of lifetimes to get to do what I am credited for already, let alone what I want to do next! But I am also aware of how lucky I am in my current position… a Facebook post is quite a dangerous half-confidence!

Tea and music go hand in hand…

Cage and Stockhausen meet their match as the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival hits 30

Guy Dammann, The Observer, dimanche 7 décembre 2008

“The British may not understand music but they absolutely love the sound it makes.” So quipped Thomas Beecham, and he certainly put his finger on something. For while the conductor and one-time pillar of the British musical establishment was no friend of the musical avant-garde, one of its guiding principles has none the less been to liberate the sound music makes from the various kinds of ’understandings’ with which it has been reined in.

It should be no surprise, on Beecham’s account, to find that the British play host to one of the best-loved avant-garde music festivals, where musicians from all over the world come each November to witness the latest fruits of musical experimentation in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. That said, with the festival reaching its 30th anniversary, this year’s event had a distinctly retrospective flavour to it, with the closing event consisting of a modified recreation of a John Cage concert organised in 1958 by the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

The original concert was a riot, the musicians protesting as loudly as the audience against the minute unpredictability of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra, an hour-long work in which the pianist struggles through 60 pages containing 84 different kinds of notation. The Huddersfield recreation, masterfully handled by Philip Thomas and the Apartment House group, was an altogether tamer affair, a reminder that much of Cage’s output is, while still fresh, classic primarily in the documentary sense of that term.

The first part of the concert, though, revealed Cage at his lasting best — in particular the Webernesque miniatures of 1934’s Six Short Inventions and 1943’s muted She is Asleep — and the second part departed from the original by presenting six new compositions. Witty tributes from Alvin Curran and Philip Corner framed offerings from younger composers — short pieces by Markus Trunk and Claudia Molitor confirming that Cage’s musical influence remains a powerful force.

Stockhausen was also well served during the festival, particularly by the mesmerising talents of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, who performed his 1968 work Stimmung. Performers of Stockhausen must be accomplished acolytes as well as musicians, and witnessing the weird sounds and occult antics required by ’the master’ in performance can yield the impression of a musical L Ron Hubbard, perpetrator of an inconceivably vast aesthetic con trick. Stimmung consists of six voices passing around intricately worked-through motifs, interrupted by occasional ejaculations spoken in various languages. “C’est complètement nul!” one of them shouts, some way in, seemingly inviting the obvious affirmative response. But in fact the piece both anticipates and quickly absorbs any attentive audience’s responses, literally ’reattuning’ them to their environment.

The great discovery of the festival for me was James Tenney, a theorist and composer who worked with both Stockhausen and Cage. Before he died in 2006, Tenney amassed a significant and still relatively untapped body of extremely concentrated work, unfolded in a series of three concerts by the enterprising and gifted Canadian string quartet Quatuor Bozzini. Though diverse in terms of the techniques employed and soundworlds explored, Tenney’s œuvre is unified by its single-minded investigation of the listening experience. Especially memorable was Koan, a work in which five melodic lines move steadily towards and away from each other by microtonal degrees. There’s nothing to ’get’, no complex puzzle to solve, simply blissful sounds sliding into and out of existence, like patches of forest floor illuminated fleetingly by the sun’s slow arc above the canopy.

Two further highlights included the Piano Baschet, a visually and aurally arresting exploded piano mechanism fitted with pyramidal cones which catch the eye as well as sustain and alter the vibrations of the instrument. Of three newly composed works for the object, reconstructed by Pierre Malbos, only Pierre Alexandre Tremblay’s imaginative evocation of the casting of bells seemed to make full use of the instrument’s oddly restricted sonic capabilities. Another was Dutch composer Peter Adriaansz’s Prana, which uses electric-magnetic bows to turn a piano and three guitars into powerful sustaining instruments, generating slow-moving progressions, rich in overtones, to unfold a minutely constructed eternity.

Fundamentally static, devoid of the grand emotions associated with the classical repertoire, such music prompts many to ask what the point of it is. After a concert of Tenney and Stockhausen, when you emerge into the dull, cacophonous roar of the city, you may find that it suddenly yields a gentle, secret harmony. At this point, though your question may remain unanswered, you’ll certainly have forgotten why you asked it.

… enterprising and gifted…


Réjean Beaucage, Voir, jeudi 1 décembre 2005

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: «Je ne suis pas confiné à un style en particulier».

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay participe à la deuxième édition de la série de concerts Akousma, présentée par Réseaux. La musique électroacoustique dans tous ses états…

Ceux qui ne connaissent Pierre Alexandre Tremblay que comme bassiste du groupe de jazz contemporain [iks] pourraient être surpris de le voir participer à un événement organisé par la société de concerts Réseaux. Ce serait ignorer que notre homme vient de compléter un doctorat en composition électroacoustique avec Jonty Harrison, à l’Université de Birmingham en Angleterre. C’est d’ailleurs là qu’il habite depuis août dernier, soit depuis qu’il est lui-même professeur de composition à l’Université d’Huddersfield. Voilà qui risque de ralentir les activités de [iks], qui faisait paraître l’été dernier son sixième disque (Inner Whatever, chez ORA), l’une des meilleures productions québécoises de l’année. «Évidemment, nous n’avons plus nos deux répétitions chaque semaine, explique Tremblay, mais le groupe a muté en un ensemble qui fonctionnera plutôt par projets. Avec la cohésion que nous avons développée au fil des ans, on peut se permettre ça.»

Le compositeur a tout de même de quoi s’occuper entre deux cours: «Je termine actuellement un disque qui paraîtra chez empreintes DIGITALeses, je travaille à une composition pour le piano rythmique Baschet (commande qui sera créée à Paris), je ferai pour la première fois cette semaine un set en solo à la basse électrique avec traitement en temps réel, et puis j’ai commencé à faire de la vidéo, alors je ne chôme pas!»

Tremblay a une palette stylistique assez large: du rap aux musiques improvisées en passant par la musique électroacoustique.

«Les trois mondes que l’on considère généralement comme étant séparés, pour moi, c’est une seule chose; je ne suis pas confiné à un style en particulier.» Le programme qu’il présentera durant la série de concerts Akousma en fera la démonstration.

Les directeurs de Réseaux se font un point d’honneur d’offrir une place à la relève. Ainsi seront présentées en première partie des trois premiers concerts de la série les compositions primées lors du dernier Concours des jeunes compositeurs de la Fondation SOCAN (catégorie électroacoustique). On y entendra donc les musiques de Mathieu Marcoux (premier Prix, 6 décembre), de Martin Leclerc (deuxième Prix, 8 décembre) et de Sylvain Pohu (troisième Prix, 9 décembre). Ce dernier, qui diffusera sa pièce Le Temps des cerises (2005), est nul autre que le guitariste et cofondateur de [iks]! Il était donc normal que sa musique ouvre la soirée consacrée à Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. «C’est super, Sylvain a toujours été mon premier auditeur, et vice versa, alors c’est très agréable. Il y a aussi Stefan Schneider, le batteur de [iks], qui participe au concert. Il y aura donc les trois cinquièmes du groupe dans ce programme!» Également au programme, Au Croisé, le silence, seul, tient lieu de parole (1999), une pièce qu’on pourra entendre sur le disque que complète actuellement Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. «C’est ma pièce pour bande préférée, et elle n’a pas été jouée si souvent, alors ce sera une bonne occasion de la réentendre.»

Le concert se terminera sur une longue pièce d’une cinquantaine de minutes, La Rage, pour batteur de free jazz, traitement en temps réel et bande octophonique. «C’est aussi la pièce de résistance de mon doctorat, explique le compositeur; ça a été quelque chose d’exigeant à composer. Il s’agit d’une œuvre en 30 mouvements, très narrative, et je peux dire que c’est dans ma tête depuis 15 ans. C’est basé sur le roman de Louis Hamelin, que j’ai lu à mon entrée au cégep et que j’ai trouvé hallucinant. Je m’identifiais assez bien avec l’espèce de punk à lunettes qu’on y rencontre!»

Akousma présente aussi des soirées avec le Vancouvérois John Oliver (le 6), le [Français] Patrick Ascione (le 7) et le Montréalais Ned Bouhalassa (le 10).

Tremblay a une palette stylistique assez large: du rap aux musiques improvisées en passant par la musique électroacoustique.