From the infinitely small to the infinitely… resonant. This could be an apt description of Louis Dufort’s compositional approach. Pinpointing this electro-acoustic music creator’s inspiration would be almost as daunting a task as unravelling the mystery of the Higgs Boson particle, but is worth a try since, for Dufort, the process itself often seems to matter more than the result.
The fact that Dufort has never been out of work since obtaining his degree in electro-acoustic composition from the University of Montreal in 1997 (the year he won a SOCAN Award for Concept 2018957) is no accident. Having written some 60 commissioned works for local and European contemporary music ensembles, joined the faculty of the Montreal Conservatory of Music, and collaborated for nearly 20 years on a variety of projects with modern dancer and choreographer Marie Chouinard, Louis Dufort has become a major force on today’s cultural scene.
His newest creation, Les corpuscules agglutinés, his fifth commission from Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal (ECM), provides us with a perfect window on the maelstrom of his creative mind. As he prepares to premiere this piece for 10 acoustic instruments on January 24, 2014, Dufort, who works at a high level of abstraction, explains that, these days, he is “much more likely to speak in terms of energy and matter than in terms of plain notational structure. There was a time when I was writing program music, like on my first album, CONNEXIONS, or dramatic pieces (like the 1999 work Zénith) where a developing story could be heard. These works provided listeners with very strong, easily identifiable perceptual elements – pretty much like a soundtrack does. That’s where I was at then, but things have changed in a big way.” Dufort’s move to music composition 2.0 took place in early 2000. “What really changed,” he explains, “is that I started seeking beauty in structure rather than in any extra-musical aspect of my compositions.”
“I get right into the sound,” the composer continues, “in order to access the sound’s inner matter and use it to create more sounds. Thanks to the computer, we are now able to get inside any note. If you analyze a trumpet note, for instance, you realize that the initial milliseconds are comprised with noise, but that this noise is part of the sound.” Dufort’s new inspiration starts at the infinitely small level, and calls for a new kind of responsiveness. His music is now patterned on natural structural models to be found at a subliminal level in biological organisms (as seen through the lens of a microscope) or in the naturally chaotic organization of natural elements.
“When you spend enough time playing on your computer in real time, you end up literally engaging in a symbiotic relationship with matter – involving the composer, the way he listens to sounds, his perceptions and his parametric control of the sound. As I actively control the sound’s parameters, a perceptive image appears, helping me control the parametric changes I am about to make.” Dufort goes on to point out that he also applies this same process to mixed works and videos as part of a syncretic, non-literal approach to music: “The video’s forward motion is triggered by the wave motion produced by the sound. Placing two media in the same dynamic relationship makes it possible to effect a direct physical connection between sound and image as the visual elements follow the sound’s dynamic curb to achieve synchronicity.”
Inside the sound spectrum
With Les corpuscules agglutinés, Dufort is planning to apply the process just described to acoustic elements instead of computer-generated sounds. “I’m noticing that my writing for acoustic instruments is becoming much cleaner as part of my harmonic search for a more spectral or modal music reminiscent of ancient modes. The same approach can also be observed in the work of today’s young composers, as they show a lesser interest for the discordant writing of the 1960s and the 1970s. The dissonances have become milder. One of my dreams (and I don’t know if it will ever happen!) is one day to write a whole composition on a single note,” Dufort smiles, “and focus on nothing but tone and colour.”
Although Les corpuscules agglutinés is still a work in progress, the placement of performers in the chosen venue has already been determined with musicians being positioned around the audience rather than onstage. “With this work,” Dufort explains, “I want to continue to operate at the microscopic level and make sound particles audible, and placing the musicians in a large circle around the listeners is the positioning that best suits the piece’s overall concept in terms of sound particles, corpuscles, agglutination and mass.”
Before the end of the school year, Dufort is planning to complete a handful of personal audio/video projects that he would love to show as part of European international festivals. As a board member of the Elektra Festival, he is in an ideal position to promote the type of technological musical and visual productions he is increasingly interested in. “This coming May, I’m pulling the plug so I can start working on new works for an upcoming album to be released on empreintes DIGITALes. Plus, I really want to start traveling now that my son is 18!” His dance music compositions for Marie Chouinard (Gymnopédies and Henri Michaux: Mouvements) continued to be performed overseas in November and December 2013, and was heard in January in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary. Also part of Louis Dufort’s work as a contemporary music creator is the documentation of his research activity as described in the papers he contributes to a number of specialized magazines on the general topic of pure music creation.