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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 3 November 2006

Hats of to Francis Dhomont!

by Réjean Beaucage / November 5, 2006

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Composer Francis Dhomont, who is about to turn 80, has always been closely identified with acousmatic music. In the realm of electroacoustics, acousmatic music, which “is shot and developed in studio, heard in a projection room, like cinema” (François Bayle) is probably the most direct descendant of concrete music, unveiled by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948.

At age 22, in 1948, Francis Dhomont discovered, in parallel with Schaeffer, the surprising virtues of a new medium: recording (on magnetic tape, in his case.) Born in Paris, Dhomont studied under Charles Koechlin (1867-1950, a defender of contemporary music and a stereoscopic photography pioneer) and Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, one of the most influential teachers of the 20th century), and between 1944 and 1952, he composed pieces for piano, organ, violin, voice, and even a symphonic movement (Dimanche, 19451). However in the 60s, his focus turned entirely to electroacoustic composition. Throughout his career, which continues actively to this day, he has been a passionate defender of electroacoustics against those who, like Pierre Boulez, label it as “do-it-yourselfery”; he has been one of the leaders of the genre through his teachings, particularly at the Université de Montréal, where he mentored numerous composers; he also added to electroacoustics several of its most important works, the majority of which are available under the record label Empreintes Digitales.

By the end of the 70s, Francis Dhomont had moved to Québec, “Two things attracted me to Québec: first of all, a young woman invited me to visit, and it was so pleasant! Furthermore, I was very nicely greeted, namely by the Université de Montréal, who offered me their studio, where I was able to write Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, which has been an important work for me2. I was able to feel true warmth in those encounters, and the dean of the Faculty invited me to stay as a resident. I felt great there, and I stayed! There were people in Montreal who were already seriously interested in electroacoustics (I am thinking of Marcelle Deschênes, Yves Daoust, Philippe Ménard3, et al.) but I am probably the one who introduced Quebec to the concept of acousmatic music.”

Chroniques de la lumière (in 1989, on the album Halogènes, under the UMMUS label) was Francis Dhomont’s first work published here on CD, and in 1990 he was included in the 37th volume of the Anthology of Canadian Music published by the Société Radio-Canada. The volume was dedicated to electroacoustic music, and the retained piece was Thème de la fuite, 1984-87. The only thing missing was his own recording with a local label. In 1990, the record label Empreintes Digitales was founded in Montréal and has since become one of the best sources for electroacoustics. Its founder Jean-François Denis joined composers Gilles Gobeil and Robert Normandeau the following year to found the concert society Réseaux des Arts Médiatiques. The ensuing launch of the double-disc Mouvances-Métaphores, was dedicated to Francis Dhomont on his 65th birthday. “It was a wonderful surprise. I had been invited to present my music as part of a concert, but I had no idea that the concert was a celebration… for my birthday! And it was also the first concert of Réseaux, so now, our birthdays coincide!” The concert by Francis Dhomont on November 2, 2006, as part of the event Akousma 3, presented by Réseaux, commemorates the 15th birthday of the organization as well as the 80th birthday of the composer!

By 1997, the concert series Rien à voir, organized by Réseaux, was a success, attracting a rather young public that was discovering the wonders of acousmatic concerts (set in the dark, with an orchestra of about twenty speakers controlled by the composer.) When the series ended in 2004, after its 15th edition, some observers linked its ending with a certain fading of the acousmatic formula, if not of the entire electroacoustic genre. “I am not convinced at all that it is a music of the past,” Dhomont retorts. “I think that, on the contrary, it is still a music of the future. Of course, it is music of research, and, being quite complex, is not destined for entertainment. In that sense, it will never be a success with the general public and I don’t mind that. I know that it bothers some people, some composers who would like their music to be played in front of massive audiences, but I think that these are illusions. Research requires a certain amount of sacrifice, namely that of popular notoriety.”

Considering that Pierre Schaeffer’s first experimentations with concrete music took place only in 1948, acousmatic music is still quite young and evolving. As it is precisely a research genre, it would be wrong to restrain it to a fixed form. In that same line of thought, during the concert series Akousma 3, Elio Martusciello and Ludger Brümmer will present video-music, Christian Calon will play excerpts from a piece conceived for the stage and the Quasar saxophone quartet will play mixed music (for instruments with electronic modifications or for instruments and tape.) Has Francis Dhomont remained a fierce protector of music in the dark? “Ah! You know, they hadn’t specified to me that there would be video-music, but I could bring some, because my wife (Inés Wickmann Jaramillo) and I have done some together. Inés is a sculptor and video artist. She has worked with some music of mine, which I have adapted. I am not opposed to video; and the actual working process is so similar.” During a visit to Francis Dhomont in 2001, while discussing the concert he gave at the 10th edition of Rien à voir, he had showed me a few magnetic tapes he was using in his works. I thought I had found the secret to the “Dhomont difference,” as the sounds used by many other composers tended to be very similar, since everyone was using the same sound treatment programs. “No, I don’t use the tapes anymore… It is impossible now… I can’t find anyone who will fix the equipment. I work with computers, like everyone else. Of course, the problem is the same as with tapes. It is important to try not to exploit only the functions that had been intended by the designer. The true solution is to strive to be original! This can be achieved, for example, by using different processors simultaneously, which reduces the risk of sounding like everyone else. The fact remains that there is a style for the «era», but there was also a style in the 18th century.”

On November 2, 2006, Francis Dhomont will present the North-American premiere of Premières traces du Choucas, a joint order of Réseaux and Musiques & Recherches (Belgium.) It is a preliminary work, part of a current project on Franz Kafka’s universe. Since our last conversation, a videomusic piece called Moirures by Francis Dhomont and Inés Wickmann Jaramillo has been added to the composer’s November 2 program, and it will also be a North-American premiere.

[translator: Luba Marc]

1 Details from Francis Dhomont’s commented list of works, published in Portraits polychromes no 10 (see sidebar).

2 Sous le regard d’un soleil noir was premiered in February 1981 at Université de Montréal and won the First prize for programmatic music at the 9th Concours international de musique électroacoustique de Bourges (France, 1981).

3 Three of the founders, in 1978, with Michel Longtin and Pierre Trochu, of the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustiques du Québec (ACREQ).

L’événement Dhomont

On n’a pas tous les jours 80 ans, aussi l’anniversaire d’un grand créateur comme Francis Dhomont ne passe-t-il pas inaperçu. Coup d’œil sur les productions qui le soulignent.

Computer Music Journal, Volume 30, Number 3 – Fall 2006

La revue américaine publiée par MIT Press consacre sa page couverture au compositeur. Rosemary Mountain, qui enseigne l’électroacoustique à l’Université Concordia, y publie sous le titre «From Wire to Computer: Francis Dhomont at 80» un excellent entretien avec le compositeur.

Circuit – musiques contemporaines, volume 16, numéro 3 – 2006

Le plus récent numéro de la revue publiée par Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal présente un échange épistolaire entre le compositeur Maxime McKinley et Francis Dhomont sur l’évolution et le devenir de la musique acousmatique. Dans le même numéro, un portrait de la société de concerts Réseaux, présenté par Réjean Beaucage. www.revuecircuit.ca

Portraits polychromes no 10: Francis Dhomont

La série publiée par l’Institut national de l’audiovisuel consacre le 10e de ses Portraits polychromes à Francis Dhomont. Entretien détaillé avec Évelyne Gayou, analyses de François Bayle, Jean-Christophe Thomas, Stéphane Roy, Andrew Lewis, Anna Rubin et Katharine Norman, catalogue commenté par Annette Vande Gorne, discographie, souvenirs du compositeur et photos. La totale. www.ina.fr/grm/acousmaline/polychromes

Francis Dhomont: ... et autres utopies

(Empreintes Digitales – IMED 0682)

Le plus récent disque de l’étiquette montréalaise consacré à Francis Dhomont présente cinq œuvres: Here and There (2003), Je te salue, vieil océan! (1998, 2000-04), Voyage-miroir (2004), Corps et âme (2001-02) et Chronique de la lumière (1989, 2005). Le compositeur y démontre, une nouvelle fois, son étonnante maîtrise du genre. www.electrocd.com

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