While protest music is large enough to fill its own category, we seldom encounter the music of protest. This C-20, which documents and reflects upon the Quebec student uprising of 2012, almost needs a category of its own.
What one thinks of protests and the sound of protest depends on one’s perspective. To some, the very word smacks of intrusion. Those who wish to preserve the status quo will always view protesters with jaded eyes. After all, it’s not their rights that are being defended. Such persons would prefer that the Occupy Wall Street crowds, the environmentalists, the Egyptian youth would just go home. And yet, the very same people may look fondly at historical protests such as the American Revolution, Tiananmen Square and the work of Gandhi, while saying, “of course the police were wrong at Kent State.” And for every protest that sparks change, another falls short; in 1982, a million people marched on Washington to urge nuclear disarmament, but it didn’t make a difference.
The Quebec uprising began as an outcry over tuition hikes but grew into a wide protest against the existing government. After months of activity including violence on both sides, the students were rewarded with a tuition freeze. In one sense, this was a victory; in another, nobody won, as peaceful protests had been ruined by a lack of self-control. Stefan Christoff‘s recordings of that time frame, including piano improvisations, have been edited and processed by ACL’s Joseph Sannicandro to form an impressionistic soundscape.
The tone of the tape is different from what one might expect, but highlights the highest hopes, ideals and values of the protesters. One of the most effective sections captures the sound of street drumming, at once reminiscent of national anthems, parade marches and sporting events: controlled explosions of pride. An early cacophony suggests one of the last protests, in which residents of Quebec banged on pots and pans in their homes and on the streets, all at once: sound as weapon or instrument of change. Complementary versions of an old hymn lend the tape the air of the holy, while dusty tape loops grace it with implied historical weight. Is protest meant to be pretty? No – but the ideals are beautiful and pure, unmuddied by those who diverge from their paths. The intruding sounds of helicopters and gas cannisters provides a manner of tension, but the tension continues to be softened by the music, as the form within the chaos. Now looking back, Christoff writes that he seeks neither to “memorialize nor to glorify”, but to provide an opportunity for reflection. In this, he and Sannicandro succeed, as their sonic document stands on its own as a work of interpretive art.
The physical purchase contains two additional downloads: an extended version of the tape loop from Side A and the original 20-minute sound work broadcast on CKUT’s Radio Is Dead. Those interested in learning more about the protest are directed to Christoff’s own zine Le fond de l’air est rouge. While the Quebec uprising may have ended, its political and artistic impact endures. (Richard Allen)