Kevin Lau’s appointment last year as the RBC Affiliate Composer of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was no accident. Lau has single-mindedly strived for a career as a composer of large ensemble works since beginning his doctoral music studies at University of Toronto a decade ago. The TSO announcement came the day before his graduation and commencement from the University of Toronto.

But there’s lots of young composers pursuing music PhDs. It was Lau’s other work as co-founder (with conductor Victor Cheng) of the amateur Sneak Peek Orchestra and a stint as Composer in Residence with the Mississauga Symphony that really sealed the TSO deal. And there were other compositions and commissions as well, for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Ensemble Paramirabo, Orchestra Toronto, Kindred Spirits Orchestra, South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic and Hannaford Street Silver Band, among others. Lau had clearly demonstrated his passion, drive and talent.

As Affiliate Composer for the TSO, Lau is expected to compose a new work each year for two years; his first piece, Treeship, was conducted by Peter Oundjian at Roy Thomson Hall in July 2013, and his second effort will be performed as part of the orchestra’s New Creations Festival in March 2014.

“I love composing so much that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

In addition to composing for the orchestra, Lau’s other TSO responsibilities include education outreach, programming, and Canadian content advocacy.

Lau says he started writing “the moment I got the news of the appointment. Treeship is only a 10-minute piece, but it took me longer to write than anything I had done before it. And it took the whole time I was allotted.”

Hearing the work performed at Roy Thomson Hall was a thrill for Lau but the process, from first reading through rehearsals to opening night, was nerve-wracking.

“You have to prepare yourself for it and they don’t make it easy on us,” says the composer. “The musicians are amazing and they’ve seen and played so much great repertoire. So you want to make sure you write something that’s worthy of their performance. They’re not only older and more experienced, but there’s a lot of them. The TSO is about 80 pieces with a big string section, bigger than I’ve ever worked with before.”

Lau knew his first work for the TSO would not be his last, but he still wanted to give it everything he had in terms of musical ideas.

“The first piece was about exploring what I could do with the symphony,” he says. “My new piece is a bit darker and I’m being more careful with what I want to express.

“I feel very privileged,” he says. “This position has given me amazing opportunities. I love composing so much that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Cargo Culte is basically the result of a chance meeting between rapper/lyricist Éric Brousseau (formerly known as Seba, a member of Gatineau) and the bass guitarist Jean-François Lemieux (Daniel Bélanger, Jean Leloup) in a video club. “I was working at the desk,” Brousseau recalls, “and J-F happened to drop by. We talked about music and shared our vision of what a rap group should sound like. Nothing happened for a while, and then, six month later, I got in touch with him. He asked me to come over, and we began building songs while keeping an eye out for a third musician. Soon afterwards, I get a call from Alex McMahon (Plaster) telling me that he would be interested in helping me make a rap album on drums and keyboards. A few days later, all three of us got together to make a small demo, and the rest is history.”

Les temps modernes [Modern Times], Cargo Culte’s April 2013 10-track CD, is reminiscent of the raw energy of Gatineau’s early days, and reveals a more mature approach harking back to the solid Beastie Boys sounds of the Check Your Head period with Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against The Machine) overtones. “I wanted something real heavy,” Brousseau explains. “I listen to a lot of punk music, Nirvana and so on, and I felt that Gatineau’s last album [Karaoke King] was far too soft. I couldn’t identify with it. Neither could the listeners, for that matter. Playing it in concert was a painful experience. I was born for the stage, and I couldn’t blow up the way I like. So, I wanted to get things going with a hard product, something that Gros Mené could come up with if they did rap.”

“I’m looking out for the next Kurt Cobain to shake things up. What we need is another music revolution.”

While he had been known for giving strong directions to his Gatineau cohorts, Brousseau tried to leave more freedom to his Cargo Culte associates. “In the new project’s early days, I wanted the drums and the bass to sound exactly the way I had in mind, but after a while I shut up. I just let them be. In the studio, we decided to record everything from morning to night, and everything was pretty much improvised on the spot. I came in with lyric snippets, and the guys started to jam from there. At night, we’d bounce a tune off, and that’s what ended up on the recording.” McMahon “J-F and I,” McMahon added, “also had a few beats in our chest drawers. Old things we’d done on our laptops over the years. We used some of that.”

Straightforwardly delivered in Félix Leclerc’s language, Brousseau’s sometimes acid in-your-face lyrics, which are reminiscent of those of Biz (Loco Locass) and largely inspired by Noah Levine’s Dharma Punx, contribute to the album’s deep spiritual side. “People are going to draw parallels between our sound and the Beastie Boys,” Brousseau cautioned, “but it goes much deeper than that. I’m a keen observer of life, and I like to write about love and sexual relationships. ‘Le chien de madame’[‘My Lady’s Dog’] and ‘Champs de bataille’ [‘Battlegrounds’] both depict heavy relationships I went through. The stories I’m telling are often personal, but songs like “L’enfer, c’est les autres’[‘Hell Is Other People’] are about… other people! In the past, I often ended up on my own on the lyrics side because no one had the nerve to criticize me. But I got a lot of input from Alex for this project. He helped me a great deal on the direction things should be going.”

All Cargo Culte members earn their living exclusively in the music business by now. Brousseau deejays two nights a week and teaches rap music in a youth centre when he is not at home creating rhymes. The other two group members work as musicians and producers for other artists. The key to survival, Lemieux explains, is to work on as many projects as possible. “Still,” he admits, “this frightens me sometimes because all I’ve ever done in my life is music. Thirty years of it pretty soon. Looking around the industry, I find lots to worry about. Great things continue to be done, but it’s getting crowded out there. Album budgets are shrinking. I’m still working a lot, but I’m making less money. What really keeps me going is working on personal ventures like Cargo Culte.”

At press time, the trio was hoping to be able to present a monthly show as the resident band of a yet undisclosed Montreal venue, a stint that will be followed by new studio sessions with guest artists for the next, “more open” Cargo Culte album. “I’d like something on the level of the Bran Van 3000 gang,” Brousseau explains. “Something I’ll want to listen to over and over. The only albums I’m still playing are old releases from Sonic Youth or A Tribe Called Quest. Everything seems to be formatted these days. It all sounds the same. It’s interchangeable. I’m looking out for the next Kurt Cobain to shake things up, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. What we need is another music revolution.” Led by Cargo Culte, maybe?

Paroles & Musique: Take us through Intermède Music’s creation and evolution until now.
Françoise Morin: Christopher J. Reed created Les Éditions Intermède in 1973 to fill a need in the Quebec music publishing industry. With a mission to comply with and enforce its represented artists’ financial and moral rights, the company rapidly acquired a solid reputation and was joined over the following years by many prominent artists including Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Diane Tell, Sylvain Lelièvre and Jim Corcoran.

In 1980, Christopher J. Reed created Intermède Média, a production music company assisting communication professionals working in film, advertising, video, television, radio and multimedia, while also providing interested producers with a music consultancy service. As a music consultant, Intermède PikMusik provides clients with search and music selection services while supplying them with the music they are looking for. The company also guarantees the granting of the duly authorized synchronization licences producers need in order to be able to sell their programs.

In 1986, Intermède Communications was created to bring together all Intermède publishing companies and for the administration of the catalogues acquired over the years. Intermède Communications puts together and produces internationally distributed instrumental music recordings that are not retailed, but specifically meant for   audiovisual producers.

Now that Christopher Reed is no longer with us, do you think that your company might be looking to more original music publishing projects or increased sub-publishing or other activity?
We are now carrying out Christopher’s decisions while continuing to convey his values. We emphasize the production of original works created by Canadian composers while incorporating new musical genres and styles. We also continue to develop our international profile. As our catalogue is now being distributed worldwide, we’ve realized this is an excellent way to promote Canadian musicians’ talent and production.

“I believe there will always be a need for music publishers.”

We remain active as a sub-publisher in Canada and have signed agreements with more libraries to provide users with access to a very broad choice of quality music being produced on every continent.

What are your short and medium term plans for your publishing company and its authors? Are you now signing new authors, for instance?
To support Canadian composers at home and around the world, we continue to emphasize the search and discovery of new talents for our new productions. We are also negotiating with sub-publishers working in territories we are not yet covering, once again with the goal of promoting our artists.

We are also facing the new challenge of going all out to help music regain its true value. It is very important that composers be aware that it is not in their interest, nor in the industry’s interest as a whole, to give their music away for free. What now looks like a short-time benefit will become a long term loss. There is a lot of work to be done in that area.

Can you tell us about the repertoire you represent, and how this is being developed and tapped here and around the world?
Of course, we embrace technological developments and benefit from the digital world, particularly the Internet, which makes it possible for users to access our repertoire at all times. Our catalogue has been accessible online for a few years now on our search and download engine for our domestic clients. We can control access and follow up easily thanks to a particularly efficient back office system patterned on our specific needs. May I add that it is a Canadian system that we are proudly promoting to our domestic and international colleagues.

We are also working very closely with our sub-publishers in a number of countries while continuing to expand our reach. Some of the relationships that were established at the time Intermède was created remain operational, and these publishers show a deep respect for composers and empathize with their current situation.

Where do you think music publishing is headed in light of today’s technological changes?
I believe there will always be a need for music publishers, and also that we must never forget about our primary objective of promoting authors and composers while advocating and enforcing their rights. A lot of work has already been done, notably to make sure that the creators whose works are being distributed online can collect royalties either through collective societies or through music producer and publisher associations, but also thanks to the great work of APEM (Professional Music Publishers’ Association), of which we are a member. We are slowly beginning to see results, but a lot remains to be done considering that, as a medium, the web stands to replace television.

In my opinion, our composers too have a major role to play. We must work together to make sure the next generation of music creators are fully aware of their rights. We’re here to protect and support composers. I am convinced that, with patience and hard work, things are going to settle down, and quality music will be restored to its formal glory.