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Au Coeur du Litige
François Houle, clarinets, voice, piano (prepared piano),
flutes, electronics, tape realizations
Dylan van der Schyff, percussion, electronics
Chris Tarry, electric bass, voice, electronics
Ron Samworth, electric guitar, electronics
Tony Wilson, electric guitar
Dan Gagnon, turntable sampling
John Korsrud, trumpet
Catriona Strang, Nancy Shaw, readers
Produced by François Houle.
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Pierce for Maximum Music Ltd.
at Blue Wave Studios Vancouver, BC, February 10-11, 2000.
Au Coeur du Litige is a radiophonic work consisting at its core of a series of solo clarinet improvisations. Subsequently stripped of their innocence and simplicity through digital manipulations these solos become a dense web within which there is a multiplicity of threads to explore. The project, inspired by the ice storm that ravaged large parts of Quebec and Ontario, makes use of an innovative live interactive electroacoustic set-up inspired by current works in the field of audio research. Technically speaking, the work aims to free the instrumentalist from the electroacoustic domain's usual constraints, and to generate a sound world more akin to improvisation-based environment, in which the performer plays a decision making role.
—Excerpt from François Houle's liner notes
What the critics are saying:
*** —Penguin Guide to Jazz on cd Seventh Edition
"Houle stands first among equals in this interactive, well-integrated ensemble. He supplies a theme, then blends the cool tones of his clarinet with an array of voices including Peggy Lee’s cello and Brad Turner’s trumpet. Houle’s unpredictable compositions occupy a wide spectrum, embracing the ominous stillness of “Palinodia,” the Monk-like swing of “Asymptote” and the raucous guitar riff of “Keystream Mystery.” His encoded liner notes acknowledge clarinetists Anthony Braxton and Michael Moore, whose influences may be heard in the compositions. This can be puzzling, somewhat cerebral music. It may take a few listens to break the code and unlock its mysteries.
From his home in Vancouver, Houle experienced a vicious ice storm that ravaged Canada. Au Coeur Du Litige (the “heart of the matter”) reflects his electroacoustic impressions of the storm through such diverse forms as jazz ensemble, found sounds, words and electronics. On the first disc, Houle’s forlorn clarinet improvisations evoke a lonely human voice lost in the storm’s electronic fury. You hear wind, rain and sleet raffle windows while distant radio announcers chatter about power outages. The second disc introduces Houle’s ensemble, as spoken texts and poems provide additional perspectives. Most sounds are subject to electronic processing and manipulation, which may alter or disguise the instruments.
Houle balances musical structure with the seeming randomness of musique concrete. Au Coeur Du Litige takes a step further away from jazz, but this ambitious project should appeal to adventurous listeners intrigued by improvisation within an electroacoustic context." ***1/2
—Jon Andrews, Down Beat, August, 2001
"Concept albums sometimes collapse from their own weight, their seriousness an albatross that restrains creativity. Clarinetist François Houle is too accomplished a player to be tied down by concept, and this remarkable two-CD set inspired by the Canadian ice storm of 1998 avoids the obvious traps. The title, Au Coeur du Litage, roughly translates as "the heart of the matter," by which Houle means that the storm dug deep, devastatingly so. By utilizing voices, turntables, electronic manipulation, and his own clarinets, he creates a sort of impressionistic sound montage that incorporates news clips with spacy, atmospheric escapades. The clarinet's high pitch perfectly depicts the icy bluster and the havoc caused by the storm. Houle is a master musician who boasts a prodigious technique and a wide vision. While this is a more esoteric project than he usually participates on, it is stimulating fare that encompasses commodious swatches of color, with electronics, percussion, electric guitar, and clarinets hurled into the brew. While at times the going gets harsh and rough (as on "Watt," for example), these are the exceptions and mostly there is an expansive mood that vaguely recalls the isolation, loneliness, and desolation of the storm's devastation. Even divorced from the storm's theme, this imaginary soundtrack stands on its own, with fascinating textures and a splendid show of clarinet finesse."
—Steve Loewy, All Music Guide
"Au coeur du litige is a masterpiece, a bomb and a revelation. ... With this work, Houle delivers one of his most important and meaningful accomplishments. There is no doubt in my mind that this album will be one of the most significant ones in 2000. This is worth my strongest recommendation."
—François Couture, Unheard
"There are few works as ambitious in recent Canadian music as this two hour, 2 CD set. Spool is calling it "Sound Art," though that only hints at it. ... The cumulative work is one of daunting scale, one that shifts meanings with each rehearing because the listener's ear is inevitably caught by a different stream of detail."
—Stuart Broomer, Opus
"My opinion is that no matter how you listen to it or analyze it, Au Coeur du Litige is a sensory experience confirming Houle as a composer and instrumentalist setting the highest of standards for the international contemporary creative musical scene."
—Laurence Svirchev, Planet Jazz
"True, it is a document of our time, but it definitely points to the future. This is a most welcome recording by one of Canada's leading new music personalities."
—Marc Chenard, Musicworks
"Houle and his troupe of improvisors traverse a number of sonic terrains, some forbidding and icy, others warm and inviting. The quartet with Samworth, Tarry, and van der Schyff is splendid, alternately whipping up new storms of sound or creating quiet repose. And throughout, Houle's warm and woody tone blends in well with the electronics, creating soundscapes of great detail. The solo improvisations that occupy the heart of disc one (many of which comprise the bulk of the Ice Storm recreation) are stunning. ...This is yet another strong entry in Houle's important oeuvre."
—Jason Bivins, Cadence
"Houle's multisectional composition is neither program music or documentary; it is more of a collage of environmental tapes, texts (news reports, interviews, and poetry), carefully designed and improvised sounds, and electronically manipulated material -- an intentional confusion of voices (human and musical, recognizable and unaccountable,) somewhat akin to a Cagean "opera" -- which evokes a sense of the elemental and often incomprehensible workings of Nature along with the multiplicity of effects (physical and psychological) an event like this has on individuals and a community. ... This is an impressive achievement, risky and rewarding from a musical and extramusical perspective, displaying considerable musicianship and imagination. Highly recommended."
—Art Lange, Fanfare
At its heart, though, Au Coeur works best as an enormously affecting reprise of a time that, for many not directly involved in the emrgency, sparked conflicting emotions of horror and voyeuristic curiousity, empathy and incomprehension. You will feel all those things listening to this CD -- and yes, if you are of an analytical bent, you'll know that you are being made to feel those things, through Houle's masterful manipulation of his medium. But it won't matter. You'll be too intrigued by his methodology, too seduced by his sound, and too swept up in the work's abstract yet compelling narrative drive to care."
—Alexander Varty, Georgia Straight