Archive/mémoire (2017)


Commissioned by Productions SuperMusique for a 16-member version of Ensemble SuperMusique: Michel F. Côté (diffusion), Jean Derome (alto saxophone, flute, little instruments), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Lori Freedman (clarinets), Émilie Girard-Charest (cello), Joane Hétu (voice, alto saxophone), Diane Labrosse (sampler), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, alto saxophone), Pierre-Yves Martel (double bass), Craig Pedersen (trumpet), Jean René (viola), Danielle Palardy Roger (percussion), Alexandre St-Onge (bass guitar), Pierre Tanguay (drums etc.), Martin Tétreault (turntables, surfaces), and Scott Thomson (diffusion), premiered on 16 February, 2017, at Amphitheatre du Gesù, Montréal

Archive/mémoire is a fifteen-minute piece for an ensemble of improvising musicians and takes excerpts of recordings of each player’s improvisations (all on the Ambiances Magnétiques record label) as source material. In essence, the recorded improvisations are the ‘part’ that the player is invited to reproduce during the piece, along with new improvisations of his or her invention. Meanwhile, Scott and Michel F. Côté will be diffusing the source samples throughout the hall by means of an eight-channel system. The premiere of Archive/mémoire was the finale of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Distribution Ambiances Magnétiques Etc. (DAME).

Archive/mémoire is dedicated to Robert Rauschenberg.

The following is the program note for the premiere performance:

Archive/mémoire is the product of my desire to furnish Ensemble SuperMusique, dedicated as it is to playing unconventional scores, with a kind of ‘notation’ it has not previously confronted. It stems from my fascination with ­– and desire to question – the distinction that states in simplified terms that a composition can be repeated while an improvisation, on some fundamental level, cannot. The players onstage have been given their ‘parts’ consisting of three brief excerpts of their own improvisations on various Ambiances Magnétiques recordings (ranging, in sum, from 1984 to 2016). During the piece, they are invited to reproduce this material on their instruments, and also to create new improvisations. While most scores serve as a memory-device to help enact the composer’s ideas in sound, and most recordings serve as an archive of those enacted ideas, Archive/mémoire unsettles this distinction. Here, the enacted musical ideas are reproductions of reproductions of the players themselves; the archive of recorded improvisations is thus transformed into repeatable compositions that demand various kinds of memory –– sound memory, muscle memory, various transcription and mnemonic methods –– in their execution. Meanwhile, as the players are playing their parts, Michel F. Côté and I will be diffusing the source samples in the space, activating the archive as generative musical material (with a nod to pioneers in this field, from John Cage to Grandmaster Flash), and perhaps activating the memory of listeners who have heard the ‘same’ material, in a radically decontextualized form, emanating from the stage. Archive/mémoire is an open structure that depends on the real-time creative decisions of the Ensemble members. Thus, each version is essentially an improvisation, never to be repeated.

–Scott Thomson, February 2017