Robert Normandeau: Metro Music

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For the first time in its history, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal will showcase a piece in which the musicians won’t play a single note. Tunnel Azur is an acousmatic composition created by Robert Normandeau on commission by the OSM and the STM. The ten minute long Tunnel Azur celebrates, and is entirely inspired by, the 50-year history of the Montréal metro.

“With permission from the STM, I had the privilege to go and record the sounds of the metro at night, afterhours. It is a universe that nobody knows, because the metro is closed at night,” says Normandeau. “I had the opportunity to see what happens at night in the metro. Contrary to what you might think, the metro is not all quiet at night; in fact, it’s a hive of activity. This is when all of the maintenance work happens. This is where they keep the metro on track. We board the handcars, which are used to get around along the metal rails. These handcars make more noise than the metro itself, allowing for a more diversified field recording.”

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He made recordings of the new Azur metro passenger car, which lends its name to the eponymous commemorative composition. The sounds of the Crémazie maintenance facility, where repairs take place, are also featured in the piece.

“Acousmatic music, by definition, is recorded. It is often presented in concert by ‘loudspeaker orchestras’ and the sounds are often spatially dynamic. There is no participation by live musicians. Acousmatic music also includes a practice called “cinema for the ears” which truly reflects the concept of my work. The commission of this piece came as quite a surprise just this past January and finally, on August 11, it was completed as part of the fifth edition of the OSM’s Classical Spree festival. This is the first electroacoustic composition ever commissioned by the OSM as well as the first piece of classical music to be commissioned by the STM.”

The other sources from which Normandeau took his inspiration are Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 as well as the OSM’s new octobass, proudly on display at the Maison symphonique.

“It’s a tribute to Kent Nagano. I had a great musical experience with him at a concert before he was artistic director of the OSM. He was invited as a guest conductor and he led the symphony in a way that I really appreciated. I use the harmonic material as well as the energy of the symphony in my composition, as an homage to Kent Nagano. I transformed these recorded sounds into music so they could be complimentary to Mahler’s Ninth.”

It is important to know that the OSM also commissioned Accelerando, an orchestral piece by composer José Evangelista, which will be played at the same concert.


25 years of the Réseaux des arts médiatiques

Robert Normandeau, originally a bassist, studied electroacoustic composition with Neil Parent at Université Laval where he completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He was then conferred a Master of Fine Arts and a Ph.D. under the stewardship and tutelage of Marcel Deschênes and Francis Dhomont at the Université de Montréal where he received his doctorate in 1992.

“I was the first student to do an electroacoustic doctorate at the University of Montreal,” he said.

Upon completion of his studies, he worked as a freelance composer for several years as well as a lecturer at the Faculty of Music. He was hired as a full professor in 1999 to teach electroacoustic composition.

He co-founded the concert society Réseaux des arts médiatiques / Akousma in 1991 with Jean-François Denis and Gilles Gobeil. The society celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

“The idea was to propose a project commemorating the 350th anniversary of the City of Montreal,” he said. “I already was producing a series of concerts called Clair de Terre at Montreal’s Dow Planetarium. We received a grant from the Société du 350e anniversaire to present my doctoral work, Tangram, which remained on exhibit at the planetarium for about six months. It was a multimedia show that had no astronomical relevance whatsoever; it was purely abstract.”

Subsequently, the Réseaux des arts médiatiques continued its activities to date, with a series of concerts called Rien à voir, devoted solely to acousmatic music. It expanded thereafter with the introduction of Akousma.

Akousma, founded in 2005, welcomes all interested parties to come, share and participate in the world of electronic music. It takes place October 19 to 22 at Usine C. This year, works from over thirty composers are on the program. We will hear Francis Dhomont’s Cycle des profondeurs, in three parts, uncut for the first time in Montreal: Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, Forêt profonde and Le Cri du Choucas.


Translation: R. K. Basdeo

The concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Montreal metro, with Robert Normandeau’s Tunnel Azur and José Evangelista’s Accelerando will be presented at the Maison symphonique on three occasions: October 20 and 22 at 8 PM and October 23 at 2:30 PM.


This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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