Shuddering fragments — Boucher's montages

(I interviewed Boucher in December for the Link Newspaper)

Synchronicity binds elements within Myriam Boucher's work in such a way that they become almost sentient. Conversely, it also reveals her precision. Each definitive space within Boucher's audiovisual work is reinforced with saturative sequences. For instance, between 0:09-0:23 in headNoise, the inundating waves of fleshy rose and clay colours that could, on their own, appear comforting, bombard the observer in a instantaneous rush of sound.

The channels that lead through her vidéomusique move seamlessly between tension and emptiness. I do not feel calm, transitioning from shuddering textures to blaring panels of red, yet the intensity is gripping. Nothing can prepare you for each transition. Boucher's art can be viewed from anywhere, yet it is an injustice to limit it to a computer screen and headphones, even if you are a sound artist. They are made for cinematic screening and listening.

My most recent encounter with Boucher's artwork was at CIRMMT, McGill University's Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media, and Technology. There, I saw Nuées for the second time. The work pulses with movement — embodied through auditory and visual motifs of birds. In one instance, the frame rate decreases and accelerates, accentuating the nuances of birds in flight. Flocks are silhouetted in black against pale yellow, ochre, or upon other dark flocks themselves, evoking both magnitude and proximity. Boucher segments these panoramas with consecutive images of a bird's wingspan through cubical frames. Of course, she extends beyond the mentioned aspects within Nuées. Boucher is thorough in providing the observer with countless reinterpretations of our experiences—Nuées is one of many.

Loops through acoustic cascades

(Also published on the Link Newspaper website)

Standing in a synth wave, it can appear shrill, heavy, even alien. So often, modular synthesis produces sounds that are not found in our daily lives.

But my body is always curious to know where that wave is taking me. Is it from the convergence of an estuary to the flux of an electrical current wired, rewired, and broken? I think the answers our imagination provides us with are remarkable.

I would venture to have traversed someplace between a wire and a river, during the performances of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani. The concert took place in early October at Eastern Bloc, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy. A performance—somewhat. An immersion—definitely. The back-to-back sets of both artists instilled a room of coursing body heat with circular undulations.

If you have followed the program of the Academy, you may notice that the seemingly lucrative pitch of showcasing “young fresh talent” is not what makes it appealing.

As it seems to me, the festival is an invitation into the origins of music creation. Among other things, this is a meditation on the milieux in which music is created, but also the aesthetic exchange that brings about experiences too beautiful and strange to be articulated.

Ciani, craftsman and navigator of the Buchla synth system recently collaborated with Smith to create Sunergy, an ambient work of rattling drone, melodic urgency, and acousmatic waves.

Alongside the music video, the auditory elements of their album translate directly into the concrete, through its footage of waves and the shoreline, in addition to the dynamic process of composition with a Buchla.

I only recently learned about the Buchla system and the thought of navigating one seems terrifying. It appears to be the continuous and random insertion/removal of cables from a panel. Would that make the poetics of synth playing a minefield of caesuras? This was not the case for Ciani or Smith.

My experiences with their work as it is produced live and recorded, leads me to believe otherwise. If you spend as much time as they have with the Buchla, constantly redelivering harmony to people’s ears restructured and retextured is always possible, but it takes devotion.

While they did not play together at Eastern Bloc, their performances complemented each other enough that lingering with the sound of one artist was akin to being with the other.

This concert marked my first visit to the venue, so I had no indication as to whether the luminescent, fleshy cables spanning the length of the room upon the ceiling were part of the installation, or part of the venue’s permanent aesthetic. Trailing up to Smith’s console, however, their supernatural texture seemed a quaint reminder of the path she walks between tonal and organic sound.

Smith played most of the tracks from her album Ears, an auditory waltz through singing vapours and supernatural marshes. Whatever you imagine or feel out there, in parts of the world where nature is the only aesthetic before you, appears transcribed onto Smith’s album.

Existence in the Unfurling was her penultimate song, whimsical cycles of bass, spaciousness, humming vocals, and resonance. Being with such a piece was a few degrees short of transcendence and it was easy to receive.

Ciani brought the ocean with her as she opened her set. What followed were playful, yet periodically abrasive peaks in sound. Melodies seemed to come in segments, like the tides in the Sunergy music video.

So well directed was Ciani’s music, that you missed a wave standing against the wall. Yet, while the evolution of her music was contained, stepping into and out of it was equally as pleasing as being rooted to the ground.

Eastern Bloc provided a pleasing sound system, but it was the navigators who redefined the space.

Moving beyond the screen — Schoen

I have followed the work of Matthew Schoen for a few years now. I first saw Vehicles over a year ago, when Schoen was completing his studies at Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal. The layers of humming that drive this piece epitomize, for me, the unexpected, mesmerizing quality of music without tones.

Yet, Vehicles is not absent of tonal harmony. It seems redundant, but I truly think a difference can be observed between harmony out of chaos (poetic or political), and chords. In the case of Vehicles, it is one that hovers just beyond your immediate perception. It reminds me of the experience Richard D. James compares his Selected Ambient Works II album to: that of standing in a power station.

On another tangent, Vehicles also reminds me of the time I walked into a room thinking my coworkers were playing a musique concrète piece. In fact, it was the soda fountain and coffee machine running their cycles. There is music hiding in unexpected places — Schoen's work exemplifies this. The whir, hum, pulse, and rush of mechanisms in Vehicles come together to produce an ultimate, collective sound. It is profound, yet charming — the cadence of an artificial choir ushering you past the screen into an intricate, brighter atmosphere.

Sound of the falaises

Reflection on two performances from Soundwich VI at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal:

Samuel Béland created movement via encapsulation and the converse. He presented an acousmatic piece filled with air, glass, vapour, emptiness, and momentum. I envisioned rooms rushing past me, as well as moving through the rooms themselves. Water and glass morphed without pause from one into the other. The listener who received the piece would have been weightless, carried through states of matter and moving from the experience of an observer versus a feeler.

The final performance, both digital and acousmatic was entitled Falaises by Guillaume Côté, Alexei Kawolski, and Dave Gagnon. The set featured an oblong cube of glass, a large projection screen, and the typical perimeter of speakers used in the "salle de multimédia" of the Conservatoire. At times, the glass pane of the cube mimicked the images presented on the screen. Alternatively, the screen seemed to project images taken within the cube itself.

Falaises was gripping in its ability to hold the listener/viewer in a base of abstract sound, which undulated like the projected waves. The beginning of the piece carried the viewer into whirring static creating a small amount of tension. The dark waves were pierced by glitchy pulses on the screen, mirrored within the glass cube. There were shifts between footage seemingly taken within the cube (vibrant and alight), multiple returns to dark waves, an array of lines ascending and descending on the screen. The lines appeared to extend beyond their frame, however. They were complemented by the superimposition of footage showing the artists perform the piece in realtime with timecodes. The last two aspects nearly lent a metaphysical quality, as though the images and sounds experienced by the viewer were part of a previous, concrete experience.

Overall, Falaises was a continuous shift from the natural to the digital/artificial. These aspects were constantly in flux, like the graphic hand twisting on the screen about halfway through the piece. Gestures of “update,” “refresh,””process.” Scintillation, static, digital/elemental void alive and dynamic.