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.”

Organic music

“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.

Dennis Ellsworth was working in a restaurant kitchen when he realized he was ready to launch his solo music career. The Prince Edward Island native had already cut his first album (Chesterfield Dweller of the Year) while living in Toronto, the city he had relocated to in order to pursue his chef’s training. Returning home to work in Charlottetown, he began writing songs, singing and playing guitar with the alt-country band, Haunted Hearts, recording two albums, winning a slew of awards, and building a solid fan base.

But it wasn’t until he found himself feeling both disenfranchised with the restaurant industry and saddled with the weight of performing with a band that Ellsworth realized it was time to strike out on his own as a musician. On a whim, he decided to send an e-mail to musician and producer David Barbe (Drive-by Truckers, Bob Mould/Sugar) in Athens, Georgia, asking if he’d be interested in working together. “In my mind I’d already decided that if he said alright, I would make an attempt at an honest solo career,” recalls Ellsworth.

Ellsworth embraces a flexible approach to songwriting.

Barbe’s answer resulted in Ellsworth’s 2012 award-winning album, Dusk Dreams, which not only cemented his reputation for honest and contemplative songwriting, but also confirmed that he’d found the right musical path.

Ellsworth, who embraces a flexible approach to songwriting that leaves lots of space for inspiration and collaboration, says he knows within the first few minutes of working on a song if he’s on to something. “If I’m not I’ll go and do something else,” he says with a laugh.

While it’s a far cry from the kitchen, making music allows Ellsworth to tap into the creativity that first drew him to cooking. It’s why he prefers going into the studio with his songs incomplete, allowing his hired players and producers to weigh in with their ideas.

“I try to let things happen naturally because I feel like something is guiding us,” he says about the process that allows him to release his work into the unknown. When he’s onstage, however, Ellsworth, is free to keep the reigns firmly in hand. “When I perform live,” he says, “that’s my chance to be in control.”

Track Record

  • Though he didn’t grow up in a musical family, Ellsworth recalls being drawn to music at an early age. He began writing songs at 15, while playing in rock and punk bands.
  • Ellsworth won Album of the Year and Roots Contemporary Recording of the Year (both for Dusk Dreams) and SOCAN Songwriter of the Year (for the song “Electric Stars”) at the 2013 Music PEI Awards.
  • Thanks to two recent tours, Ellsworth is starting to build a fan base in the U.K., most recently sharing the stage with English folk artist John Smith. The two, who have since co-written songs, met when they were paired through a program run by Music PEI.

Discography: Solo Chesterfield Dweller of the Year (2010), Strange Boat (EP) (2011), Dusk Dreams (2012), Hazy Sunshine (2013) With Haunted Hearts Thank You, Goodnight (2009), Howdy (2010)
SOCAN member since 2000

Clone, Claude Dubois’ Fall 2013 album release, is made up of two recordings whose full duration is almost exactly the same, at just over 34 minutes – a coincidence that’s not so strange when you consider that both discs contain the exact same material in two different music styles: pop and acoustic.

Few artists have ever considered such a dangerous feat, with the possible exception of Michel Rivard, who came back with a solo acoustic version of Roi de rien (King of Nothing), his most recent album, although essentially in the form of downloadable demos.

Finding two completely different versions of the same music on the same release is an unusual home-studio-era achievement that inspires curiosity. So we asked a few questions of Claude Dubois, who explained that “the original idea was to use this album as a vehicle to freely explore the musical possibilities of the pop version of each song without being afraid of alienating my original fan base by exploring more modern sounds. I felt that they would be more likely to forgive me for it if I also provided them with more sober versions of the same material in the same box. And it worked.”

Along the way, Dubois discovered another side of his project that was to strengthen him in his purpose and give it a whole new meaning. “As I was moving back and forth between the two versions of the album’s songs, the meaning of each song started shifting. Early in the process, I had been brash enough to believe that as long as I was using the same tempos and structures, I would be able to use the same vocal tracks for both versions of each song, but it didn’t work out that way.

“I have to create some distance from the music industry to be able to write new songs.”

“Different arrangements called for different vocal treatments. In a pop mode, things are lighter and more relaxed, like in a travel sketchbook. But in an acoustic mode with guitar accompaniment, things become more serious, and you get the feeling that what you’re saying is being heard in a more personal way, so your perception of the song changes.”

Dealing with subjects that are in turn modern (“Textoyable”), personal (“Tout ce que j’ai fait” [“Everything I Did”]), or seldom used in Francophone songwriting (such as the lesbian relationship in “Amoureuse d’une amoureuse”), Clone is the first album of original songs Dubois has released in 10 years. The many reasons for this include the release of duets, Christmas songs and choral albums, a French tour, numerous Quebec concerts and a stint as a judge on the La Voix reality show.

“I have to take some distance from the music industry to be able to write new songs,” he explains. “I can’t be involved in any other activity lest I become influenced by the sounds I hear around me. Bottom line, I don’t find writing easy. Contemplation wouldn’t help either. At one time, probably as an excuse to have a bit of fun in an unfamiliar setting, I used to plan writing on trips, but I find there is more value in just facing a blank page right here at home. I’d rather feel free to take it all in as it’s happening, and them come back home and write a song about it and enjoy it all over again.”

Written between the four walls of a prison cell after being convicted of heroin possession and trafficking at the turn of the 1980s, Sortie Dubois (a wordplay also meaning “Out of the Woods”) is probably the best example of that mental process. “With Sortie Dubois, I was going back to my memories to escape my jail-bird mediocrity. With Clone, I had to make good on my claim that I was finally able to release a new album after so many years,” the musician explains half-jokingly.

In the end, it only took a matter of weeks for Dubois to produce the entire recording on his own label, through a fast-lane self-production process facilitated by the performing right societies and music associations credited on the album jacket, namely SOCAN, SODRAC, SOPROQ and SPACQ.

“I wanted to pay tribute to these organizations as copyright advocates, first of all, but also for an even more selfish reason: they made my life so much easier through the album production process. Any self-producing artist will tell you that you sometimes come up against legal issues that, in connection with Clone, in my own case, went way over my head. So instead of hiring a lawyer or reading hard-to-understand law books, it occurred to me that could call these associations up and get answers. I’m not one to suck up to anyone, but I would advise musicians to take advantage of these resources. They’ve proven invaluable to me.”