The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada
The Ecology of Experimental
Music Performance in Canada


Anne-Françoise Jacques and Nicolas Dion, machines, choses

Ace Art Inc., May 12, 2007
Send and Receive, Winnipeg

You'll find better video clips of Minibloc online, but this excerpt archives an important live performance in 2007 that demonstrated the existential links between the Montreal and Winnipeg experimental electronic music scenes. Minibloc conducts playful/serious experiments with small things – rolling dice, construction sets, objects grabbed randomly from a suitcase – all with intensive curiosity and the determination of a toddler determined to fit the square peg into the round hole. The excerpt here comes from their 2007 performance at the Send and Receive Festival in Winnipeg, for which curator and Oral Records impresario Eric Matson was invited to present a snapshot of the Montreal scene. The show, with veteran turntablist Martin Tetreault and UK noisician Andrew Liles is available on CD from Oral as Ostinato 23.

In some ways, Minibloc exemplifies the Montreal experimental electronics scene that has permeated venues around the city, and festivals as diverse as Mutek and the Suoni Per Il Popolo Not only do Jacques and Dion each compose and perform in a variety of groups, but they also founded a record label Le Son 666. In reviewing their 2005 compilation CD Rythmo Tropicale, Steve Guimond underscored the importance of this project to the burgeoning Montreal scene:

Scratch not too far below the surface of the recent spotlight on Montreal and you will find a scene that is screaming for international attention. Local gods le son 666 curate compilation two, Rhythmo Tropicale, a true blue portrait of what is happening in the tight, cool and groundbreaking experimental city noise scene. We are given tastes of the bold (Panopticon Eyelids) and the beautiful (Magali Babin), the tried (Goa) and the true (Dreamcatcher), the quiet ([SIC] & Lasse Marhaug) and the loud (Yomul Yuk). Internationalists Les Georges Leningrad and Martin Tetreault sit comfortably alongside the relative unknown (Glitter Soul Orchestra), a jolt of the 666 empire healthily feeding (Ste-Sophie, Intercom, Minibloc). (Steve Guimond, Hour Montreal, June 22nd, 2006, Various artists - (le son 666) - Rhythmo Tropicale)

We interviewed Minibloc at Mutek in 2006, when the band was fairly new. The following excerpt shows the role that Mutek has played in developing the electronic music scene in Montreal, and also exemplifies the duo's fresh and open approach to experimental music performance.

Minibloc – Excerpts from interview with Ellen Waterman at MUTEK, Montreal June 2, 2006

Anne-Francoise Jacques A-FJ
Nicolas Dion ND
Ellen Waterman EW

Ellen Waterman Can you tell me a little bit first of all Anne-Françoise about Minibloc? What kind of work is there for artists such as yourselves on the Montreal scene?

Anne-Françoise Jacques We have our own label Le Son 666, so our job is making music but we're also really involved in producing it, making recordings, and trying to organize shows. In that way we meet new people, and make new collaborations…We like to meet new people and make projects with them which is something that I think is really happening in Montreal, in the experimental scene and in all the electronics scenes. Then the experimental and more electronic dance/pop scenes are also mixing together sometimes, and that's really interesting.

EW How long has Minibloc been a duo, and what are your musical practices?

Nicolas Dion Minibloc is a baby – it was born in 2004, I think. So we're only 2 years old. We've done our own little 3-inch CD-R release, and recently we just released a full length record that we produced ourselves. We've been working on it for a year or so. We're basically obsessed with sound itself. We're not so interested in composing, but in finding out sounds we love and putting them up front. We do live manipulation of objects, microphones, and also we use field recordings and do live treatments on them, and live improvisation with field recordings in a really free way.

EW And you're making electronic instruments?

A-FJ We're starting to do that—we've been interested in that for a long time and we're now trying to learn how to do that. We never play with laptop—we don't like it. Even if there is a lot of music made with laptop that we really like, we like the fact of physically touching something. Making machines that we can physically manipulate and miss-use.

EW Do you do functional dance music as well as electronic music?

A-FJ We don't make a distinction. We really like the fact that people can do both. We're not very good at the functional music—I don't know why! Nicolas sometimes makes dance music, but not very much.

ND I'm obsessed with dance music. I have yet to produce any decent tracks, but I have another electronic band called Intercom that is electronic with a rock noise thing. There's some rhythm that you can follow and dance if you want. But it won't be played in clubs unless there's somebody that knows what they're doing does a nice remix of us, which is something I'm looking forward to!

EW Can you talk a bit about Mutek and its role in the Montreal electronic music scene? How important is Mutek for you as musicians.

A-FJ I think it's cool that there is an idea in the programming for Mutek where they're interested in finding new people who are not well known, so going to the grassroots. That's what happened with Minibloc…We were just beginning and [a Mutek producer] bought our CD in a little shop. It was actually our first sale (I thought that would be my mother or someone like that!), and we've been invited to play in this huge festival. It was a big thing for us! Since that we've had a lot of invitations. It's really a good thing for us and for other people like us.

ND In Mutek there's different programming—there's parties and the discovery bit of it. The discovery bit is interesting for giving a kick in the butt to some new artists who are just getting used to playing live, most of them. This year is good for that and I'm looking forward to that part of the programming.

EW Do you mean the Plaquard series?

ND There's the Versus Interact thing that's mostly like Canadian artists who have never played live together before. Most of them I know and I really look forward to hearing. So it's a professional setting, because it's included in a huge festival with big parties, but it has that local feeling. It has that feeling that people who go there are really interested. It's the same public as the local shows but with a better machine behind it. If you are a music enthusiast, if you like electronic, if you like experimental then you will go to that part of the programming and you'll go to the smaller shows in town the rest of the year. I see no opposition—it's all good.

EW I'm curious about listening practices for this kind of music—especially on the experimental end where you might expect a close listening audience. What do you make of how people listen?

A-FJ It's actually a question that we've been asked a lot. People are shocked by other people who are not really listening. It's personally something that is not a big problem for me. I really prefer that there are lots of people there. When it's their first experience or they're not really used to this kind of music, and they are kind of surprised or they need to talk to their friends so they don't get overwhelmed. I really prefer that than if there's this really serious in-to-it professional listener, that is able to stay still and then if they are really bored they shut it out. So I prefer that, it's not a problem. We've organized some shows in a venue where people were playing pool, but that's not a problem for me. Those people were obligated to listen to the weird music that we were making at that time and for me that's awesome!

EW Is noise usual when you play in smaller venues in Montreal?

ND Yes, on some occasions. It depends on the context. You choose a venue, you play a show—and if you play in a rock kind of venue and you play really soft music, that's your choice but people are going to talk over it because it becomes background. When you play a rock venue the sound has to be loud. If the sound is loud people have to listen to you. So we do that—in rock venues we play more power style things. But if we're in a better listening environment like a gallery or on headphones, like this weekend we will play more quiet music because we like to do that. The CD we made is more quiet because you can listen to it at home. But when we play out we know that we [have to deal with] the attention span issue. People listen to you, but after 15 minutes they stop listening and they start talking. It's Montreal. People want to have a good time, they want to have a drink and chat to their friends. They come to your show, they know you, but they talk. It's ok. It's alright. But I reserve the right myself to be annoying and loud!

Thanks to Anne-Francoise Jacques and Nicolas Dion for permission to document their show at Send and Receive 2007, and to post excerpts from it and their 2006 Mutek interview on the Sounds Provocative web site.