Les Poules, Geneviève Letarte, Chantal Dumas — Western Canada 2000

  • Thursday, November 23, 2000
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street – Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada)
  • Friday, November 24, 2000
Western Front
303 East 8th Avenue – Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2000
Open Space
510 Fort Street, 2nd floor – Victoria (British Columbia, Canada)
  • Sunday, November 26, 2000
Western Front
303 East 8th Avenue – Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada)

In the press

Improvisation: Les Poules and the art of listening

Jessica Gin-Jade Chan, The Martlet, December 1, 2000

My first introduction to Les Poules was a listen to their 90 minute demo The sounds vrere interesting enough, minute after minute of soft squeaks, punctuated with metallic rattles in the background, followed by 10 full minutes of what sounded like four people french kissing. All this intimacy was very frustrating because I wasn’t part of it, and those people didn’t seem to need to come up for air. I was certain I was really supposed to hear something else I turned up the volume {somewhere past midnight).

And chanced upon one of the six occasional piercing screams packaged in the demo It was LOUD I had to reassure my considerate neighbour. I wasn’t being slaughtered up for some meal.

By the time I got to see this trio perform, I was pretty psyched. During my last three days with their music, I had become sexually exasperated, had been accused of all kinds of things, from sacrifice to suicide, and had been issued a warning by my landlords for being noisy in a non-sexual activity. I had listened to plenty of music before, but none of it had actually affected my life. All this interactivity was fascinating.

At the performance, I sat still for two hours, trying to make out where the various sounds came from. I was introduced to more oddities the hiss of air on wood, the humming of two hands. I craned my neck, shifted left and right all night to learn all I could I worked so hard that I fell out of my chair with an eeeeeeeee ah, thomp. Some people looked at me and decided I was part of the performance. They started to clap, then changed their minds. At the end of the night, I had a new bump on my rump. I had also learnt some things: vocal training on make one person smacking her lips sound like four people kissing, shaking two zip-lock bags of rivulets can sound musical in a digibl recording, and sounds become clearer when their sources can be seen.

Les Poules improvises what they callsoundscapes.” The Montréal trio places emphasis on capturing the emotional elements of sounds.

This interaction between the listener and musician is the key note in improvised music. The emphasis placed on this relationship is part of the creative energy present in improvised sounds. Since theflesh” of the musical composition is created on the spot, no one present is prepared for the results of the performance. Improvisation audiences do not have the luxury of hopping off to the next record store to purchase a pre-recorded version of the music. The option of singing yourself into the mood for the concert is not available. All you can do is prep yourself for the unusual and go to the performance with an open mind.

The members of Les Poules incorporate technology and banal sound production methods in theirsoundscapes.” Their choices reflect their creativity, ranging from the projection of taped sea waves to the simple flapping of a piece of paper. However, the trio’s performances are less about kidnapping an aydience’s concentraffon. Their real focus is on giving something back to their listeners.

The sounds generated by Les Poules serve as muse for the appreciator. The trio aim to translate the physical into creative forms of inspiration. Labrosse believes that the best concerts she attends are the on” that make her want to make music.

For the trio, becoming source of inspiration involves translating their views into aural and vocal expressions. This is the essence of theirsoundscapes.” Labrosse is quick to elaborate on their musical concept.

Perfommers see improvisation, a contemporary genre in music, in a multitude of ways. While the basic concept behind improvised music is the creation of performance material on the spot, there are practical purposes that limit this idea. Some of these limitations are obvious: the need for a set duration for live perfommances and a viable means to organize the sounds.

Les Poules operates within boundaries they deem necessary for themselves.

Their performances are created in set time frames - , sometimes they introduce themathematics of music” into their creations. This math involves dictating performance time to only certain members within a set. The members of Les Poules have been partner in musical improvisation for almost 20 years. However, even their familiarity and set rules do not guarantee a mind-blowing perfonmance. Roger explains the mechanics behind their harmonic dissonance.

Improvisation is the experience of listening to other people, it is a conversation of sounds you need to blend with the other person. Music is a question of listening mostly when you improvise. It’s more important to listen than to

Shock of the New

Ian Cochran, Victoria News, December 1, 2000

When thres prominent members of Montréal’s thriving new music/improv scene paid a rare visit. Victoria last Saturday night, local devotees-all 43 of us—turned out in full force. Actually, interest in this always challenging, often frustrating and sometimes downright transcendent genre is building incrementally here, due largely to the efforts of Open Space music programmers Don Chessa and Ron Rounds, who have introduced the likes of Toronto’s Forty Fingers and Vancouver’s VIEW Ensemble to local audiences in search of adventurous sounds.

Saturday’s show reunited alto saxophonist/vocalist Joane Hétu, percussionist/vocalist Danielle Palardy Roger and synthesist/vocalist Diane Labrosse as Les Poules, a name they last used in the mid-’80s. All three are members of the Ambiances Magnétiques collective, which was set up in 1983 to support, record and distributeunclassifiable music by unbreakable musicians”. (The slogan works better in French: musiques inclassables faites par des incassables.)

Almost by definition,new music” combines composition with improvisation in ever-shifting proportions, and it’s seldom clear to the audience what is written down and what is spontaneous. Les Poules’ first set on Saturday had the feel of an extended improv, but perusal of the notedly non-definitive program notes revealed that it mainly consisted of Hétu’s work Seule dans Ies chants, which emphasizes its composer’s remarkable vocalizations.

Only partly sung, at Ieast in the traditional sense, Hétu’s part relied on a seemingly infinite variety of human sounds from grunts, pants, growls and sighs to vibrating the lips with a moving finger. Roger’s percussion and, particularly, Labrosse’s sampler produced such sympathetic sounds that it was often hard to tell whether we were hearing a voice, a rattling object or an electronic simulacrum. Sonically, this was all very interesting, but musically it didn’t seem to quite hold up.

The trio’s second set was more focused. For Labrosse’s Petit traité de sagessse pratique, the composer largeIy dropped the insect, animal and broken glass sounds she had been drawing from her sampler in the first set, in favour of string and organ tones. Hétu’s vocal performance included not only bouts of laughter and sobbing, but also a fine imitation of Yma Sumac’s Peruvian sun-virgin shtick, while Roger’s drumming came close’ to keeping steady time and Labrosse’s sampler even flirted with actual melody once or twice. The piece ended with something that sounded awfully like a pibroch, the Scottish lament for the dead, with Hétu’s alto sax swirling over Labrosse’s drone and Roger’s drums roiling underneath.

The last piece, Roger’s Garagognie used a text by poet Claude Gauvreau,Howling at the Moon”, and the trio certainly took the sentiment to heart. More energy, more wildness, but a tad more structure would have been nice. In sum, an interesting show sonically, but short on musical transcendence.