One of the wildest albums of the new year comes from Montreal composer Jean Derome. Even a quick look at the back of the CD, and one knows one is in for a treat: 20 performers on instruments ranging from tuned kalimbas to trombones. The tuning is to 60 Hz, the standard tuning of North American electricity, and the album is exactly 60 minutes long (although billed as 59:59). As one might expect, currents abound. Derome is interested in all manner of electricity: “current, flow, power, voltage, resistance, circuit, motor, pulse and frequency.” We hope our readers will forgive the obvious statement: this album is electric.
The performers treat restraints as opportunities, typically improvising around a theme, wherever the conductor has placed their seats. A sweet cacophony builds to overload on “Étagement des fréquences”, implying that all of the performers are having a blast; the ensuing bleats of “Aurores boréales” are like those of a pleasant reveler on New Year’s Eve. And of course some of the instruments require electricity to work, notably the turntable and iPad, while the others rely on currents for amplification and recording.
The eight-note eruption of “Tableau” eventually leads to a restrained explosion of drums, skirting on the edge of accessibility, playing with emotions and expectations. There’s little use for the avant-garde if it’s just noise and meandering. This track serves as a wink to the audience, and is helpful in creating a sense that such moments will be doled out throughout the release. Nothing here will be a hit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make an impact. The onomatopoeia of “Vamp” produces a similar effect, while the army of metronomes in “Fréquences-métronomes” makes it sound like a clock shoppe.
As the album progresses, it veers wildly from side to side like a bowling ball in a bumper lane. The composer draws wide lines, but there are lines, a loose focus that allows for creativity on an expanded playground. If one is tempted to play along, making noises with one’s mouth or tapping the objects in the living room, Derome would likely be pleased. We all have electricity running though us, enough to carry static shocks, fire synapses, and make balloons rubbed in the hair stick to walls. This album highlights our common connection, and celebrates the energy it produces. (Richard Allen)