If you’ve ever taken a ride on Montréal’s metro, you know it has its own kind of music. Whether it’s the wind when the train pulls into the station; those indecipherable announcements on the P.A. system of each station; or those famous notes the train hums when it leaves each platform… Those are the sounds that surround the thousands of Montréalers daily, who remain seemingly oblivious to them.

Yet, Robert Normandeau dove head on into this sonic universe. The electro-acoustic composer is used to gathering all kinds of sounds to create his works, but he never expected the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), in collaboration with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), to tap him to celebrate the metro’s 50th anniversary. “To be honest, when I heard the message on my voicemail service, my initial reaction was… not to call back. It seemed so unlikely that I thought it was a bad joke,” says Normandeau..

One can see where he was coming from, because it’s indeed a bold move on the part of the MSO, which also commissioned an orchestral piece from José Evangelista for the celebration of the metro’s birthday – which will take place during three concerts at the end of October 2016. Bold, because it’s probably the first time an orchestra has commissioned a composer for a piece that it won’t even be able to play, since Tunnel Azur is a multi-phonic, electro-acoustic piece played by a dozen loudspeakers. The orchestra won’t even be onstage when it’s created.

Almost all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau


“It’s surprising, but it’s a tribute, on the one hand, to the fact that Montréal is one of the world’s capitals of the electro-acoustic scene,” says Normandeau. “And on the other, which must be saluted, of the incredible open-mindedness of the orchestra and its conductor, Kent Nagano.”  As a matter of fact, the composer decided to tip his hat to the orchestra and its conductor by citing excerpts from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his favourite, which he heard Nagano conduct back in his Berkeley days. He also used a mind-blowing instrument recently bequeathed to the orchestra by a patron of the arts: the octobass, a huge acoustic bass that’s more than four metres tall.

For the rest, all the sounds the audience will hear were recorded in the metro by Normandeau. “I went during the day, with all the door and crowd noises, but also at night, when maintenance crews go to work,” he says. “At first, they thought I was a little weird, but they rapidly grew interested in my work and started proposing that I record all kinds of sounds their equipment makes.”

Some of them will attend the concert to hear their universe re-imagined by an avant-garde artist. We’d love to hear their comments afterwards! “I hope they enjoy it!” says Normandeau. “I admit I was a little weary when I presented the piece for the first time.” The MSO people, even though they might not be electro-acoustic aficionados, are familiar with this approach simply from working in the music industry. But what about the STM people? “I proposed two versions of the piece,” says Normandeau. “One with images and the other without, and I was surprised when they told me to drop the images because the music carried the story in and of itself.”

Normandeau has become a specialist of what are called “ear movies,” meaning that there’s truly a narrative in his work. “It’s electro-acoustic music that tells a story,” he says. “For the listener, it’s a highly referential piece: basically everyone who’s ever visited Montréal will recognize those sounds. Besides, it’s a path, a journey…”

Speaking of references, we’ll obviously hear those famous notes that each train makes when it leaves a station. The fascinating thing is, those notes are merely an accidental by-product of the subway train’s electrical propulsion system. A mechanism called a current chopper feeds the system in increments instead of sending hundreds of volts all at once. That’s what creates the characteristic, “doo-doo-doooo.” One can hardly imagine a better example of musique concrète.

But contrary to your average ride at rush hour, travel in Tunnel Azur will only be First Class, since it’ll be the first electro-acoustic concert played at the Maison Symphonique. As a matter of fact, Normandeau will be the first one to use the venue’s speakers, some of which were still packed in their boxes until recently. The piece will be played on Oct. 20, 22 and 23, 2016, alongside pieces by Schumann, Strauss and José Évangelista’s creation. It will also be presented during the Akousma festival, held at the same time.

More details on the Kent Nagano Celebrates the Montréal Metro event.

At 30, Adam Baldwin could be considered rather a late bloomer as a solo artist. Right now, however, everything’s coming up roses for the Dartmouth-based singer-songwriter. Released in June, his debut full-length album, No Telling When (Precisely Nineteen Eighty-Five), has been earning unanimously positive notices for its combination of free-spirited, guitar-fueled rock ‘n’ roll and perceptive lyrics that often tackle social and political themes.

Produced by Liam O’Neil (The Stills, Metric), the album features Josh Trager (of Sam Roberts Band), Brian Murphy (of Alvvays) and Leah Fay (of July Talk).

Baldwin is bringing the material to vivid life onstage, touring the album as a support act for the likes of The Temperance Movement, Sam Roberts Band and Blue Rodeo, and national dates with July Talk begin in November 2016.

Fine company to keep, and Baldwin is suitably appreciative. Interviewed after a show in Montréal, he says, “I’m lucky to have friends in the right places. These guys don’t have to have me on their bills, as they sold the shows already. I’m sure I’m the envy of a lot of Canadian acts right now.”

The response to No Telling When is similarly gratifying. “It surprises me anytime there’s any praise,” says Baldwin. “I tend to be self-deprecating and maybe I lacked the confidence I should have had over the years, if you’re in a business where you’re judged for your art.”

“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be.”

Baldwin has gained real peer respect over the years, primarily as a guitarist in Matt Mays’ band. But, he says, “I’ve been writing songs a long time. They just weren’t good, and I was focused on playing in other people’s bands. When I was 25 I had a child, and that rather made me realize this is the thing I’m best at, so I really did want to try my hand at [my own] music as a career.

“The only way to do that is to stay busy. It’s great playing with a guy like Matt, who’s frequently busy, but when he’s not busy I’d just be at home, maybe playing in cover bands. I decided it was the right time to put some songs out and test the waters, and it has worked out.”

Adam BaldwinBaldwin’s first solo foray was a self-titled 2013 EP, one that earned him the Male Artist Recording of the Year Award at Nova Scotia Music Week in 2014 (he was also named Musician of the Year). While pleased with the accolade, Baldwin says, “I can’t depend on radio play or awards to validate what I’m doing. I tend to look at the crowd response, and what people who buy my music are saying about it.”

The bulk of the material on No Telling When was written after the EP was released. “I wrote it when I moved into a house that had a piano,” says Baldwin. “I played as a kid and I wrote just about everything on piano, oddly enough.

“I’m not a guy who writes 100 songs and gets three from that. I’d rather just write a song and chip away at it until I feel it’s where I need it to be, and says what I wanted.”

Baldwin cites fellow Nova Scotians Joel Plaskett and Matt Mays as real inspirations, career-wise. “’I’m so lucky to have grown up listening to those guys from high school as I was learning to play guitar,” he says. “They were guys from where I was who were making a go of it.

“They are certainly heroes of mine, and I’m lucky to count them as friends. I can ask them for advice about anything, though I tend not to ask them much about songwriting, as I have my own process. They’re important people to have around in my life.”

Baldwin is candid about his most crucial musical influence. “It’ll be no surprise to anyone that Bruce Springsteen is my high water mark,” he says. “I studied him the way a chemistry student would study at university. I feel I have a degree in Springsteen!’

That’s apparent not just in the rousing and anthemic feel of some Baldwin songs, but in his willingness to address social issues.

“I was always the kid who read the newspaper, from age eight,” he recalls. “I try to make myself aware of things, and the only things I know how to write about are those I know. It so happens that some of the things I know and understand I don’t agree with. I think there’s a place for that in music.”

A striking example on No Telling When is “Rehtaeh,” based on the tragic real-life story of rape victim Rehtaeh Parsons, who committed suicide. “I got in touch with her parents, to tell them my intentions for the song,” Baldwin explains. “They were receptive, as they want her story to be heard, to further things along

“Every cent from that song goes to the Rehtaeh Parsons Society, so they can go out and speak to schools and try to change the antiquated legislation around sexual harassment and rape laws that are currently on the books.”

Looking ahead, Baldwin plans to balance his solo career with continued work in Matt Mays’ band. “I love the guy and I love playing the songs,” he says. “As long as he’ll have me, I’ll be there!”

It’s April 14, 2013, and Jérôme Couture is a finalist on La Voix, the Québec edition of The Voice, itself and  immensely popular TV singing contest followed by millions of viewers. The artist, who Marc Dupré took under his wing, didn’t win, but he still won the hearts of millions in the province thanks to the show. But above all, he’s since gained a tremendous amount of experience, that he still uses to this day as he places hit after hit in the Québec pop charts. But few people know that Couture didn’t get to where he is because of luck alone. The dynamic, Saguenay-born singer-songwriter worked relentlessly for a decade before reaching the height at which he now stands, determined to make a place for himself in the hearts of his audience.

As a matter of fact, Gagner sa place (Making One’s Place) is the title of his second album, launched this fall. The album’s first single, “My Sweetest Thing,” was No. 1 on the pop radio charts when we met. The song, a highly addictive earworm, makes you want to move, and puts a smile on everyone’s face. “We treated ourselves on this album, we explored different styles – like soul, retro sounds and even electro-pop accents that border on disco!” says Couture, visibly pleased with the end result.

To better understand the formative stages of the young star, one has to go back about 15 years, and take heed of the incredible amount of work Couture has put in, both in the studio and onstage. While studying jazz singing at Université Laval, a demanding program in and of itself, the young man took on any and all opportunities that were offered to him. He played in Québec Issime’s productions, then on to Elvis Story, Les Misérables, and the Oh Boy musical review, where he garnered the attention of Matt Laurent, Martin Léon and France Castel, all of whom gave him precious advice. “I don’t believe in chance,” says Couture. “Everything that happens to me happens because I’ve worked for it. I give everything I’ve got, in all my projects.”

Being a contestant on La Voix gave Couture a level of exposure of which others can only dream, but he got there as well-prepared as can be. Unpretentiously, he explains that all those years singing onstage, perfecting his art, and believing in himself made that challenge accessible when the occasion materialized. “I can’t deny that it’s quite dizzying when the production assistant asks you if you’re ready to sing for three million viewers,” he says, “but I’d decided to go into this having fun, to focus on myself and to give it my all, so that I could walk away from that experience with pride, no matter what the outcome was.” And in doing so, he won the hearts of tens of thousands of fans charmed by his authenticity and positive attitude.

Ever since he started writing songs that are true to who he is, success has been his constant companion. “I’m a positive guy who likes to be on the move,” says Couture, “and you can feel it in my music. I think of being onstage a lot when I Jérôme Couturewrite: I need to feel like dancing!” His new album definitely communicates this enthusiasm and drive.

The hard-working young man is also rigorously self-disciplined. Every morning, with his first coffee, he grabs his guitar and writes, then records his work. “If a song passes the next-day test, I’ll keep it and improve it.”

The musician fully recognizes the influence of many people he’s met, but he has only praise for the man he now considers his mentor, Marc Dupré. “I found the person who took me to the next level,” says Couture. “He’s an amazing writer and composer. His advice is precious. He doesn’t hesitate to point out stuff that I need to improve. A verse to re-write, an arrangement that should be changed, a line to sing differently… He’s very detail-oriented, just like me, and isn’t satisfied with a song that doesn’t live up to its full potential. Working with him is like a dream come true.”

Couture is proud to have written and composed, sometimes with the help of collaborators, 11 out of the 12 songs on his second album, a tribute to the amount of road he’s covered. This time around, he worked with John Nathaniel (Alexe Gaudreault, Final State), a newcomer to his already solid team of songwriter Nelson Minville, musical director Marc Dupré, and Gautier Marinof helming the production. Couture is also very involved in his arrangements, an art for which he developed a deep interest during his musical studies.

Now, the young singer-songwriter hopes to shine on Europe’s biggest stages, and maybe even pursue a career in English. And why not? “I don’t set limits for myself,” he says. “Others have done it; I don’t see why I couldn’t!” You can bet he’s already working on it.