André Duchesne is a giant of musique Québecoise. His breezy, melodic compositions betray his guitar technique – buoyant, gleeful, ludic, even nonchalant. But his penchant for rich, modern orchestration adds layers of hatched lines, pleasantly distracting the listener from the basic chord structure.
Duchesne’s art is representational, but also emotional. Yet for all their intensity, the emotions that his music exudes are never extreme – the melodic narrative is alternatively hurried (but not stressed), uplifting (but not ecstatic), somber (but not depressed), sorrowful (but not distressed), expectant (but not overly confident).
He first gained fame for his intricate classical guitar interplays on Conventum’s LPs in late 1970s. To this day, these recordings remain a classic of chamber rock. Since 1984 onwards, thanks to Montreal’s legendary Ambiances Magnétiques label, Duchesne regularly revisits our unconscious with his ornate instrumentals and impromptu chansons.
The track surfaces on a hard-driven, guitar-led jazz run. The conventional expectations are dashed when Stéphane Allard’s violin sweeps in with fluent touches. Allard’s tone is brighter than Leroy Jenkins’s and here lies the novelty of this juxtaposition. We are then served with Duchesne’s trademark, high-pitched electric guitar. Allard is joined by the rest of the string quartet (Mélanie Bélair, Jean René, Christine Giguère), which complicates things – the strings seem to be gliding across, rather than along the metric advance. The band pauses shortly for some atonal pizzicato and isolated up-bow fragments. A solo on a buzzy guitar follows, and a conversation with violin terminates this first invitation to “Cordes à danser”.
Mon pays c’est une shop
A mellow guitar line, supported by strings opens an indeterminate but rosy theme propelled by an agile bass-drum section. A repetitive pattern sets in, building up tension through string quartet’n’drum interplay, thus allowing the guitar to improvise freely. Pierre Tanguay will also throw in his precious 3 Canadian cents on skins solo. The sanguine, tuneful theme then sees some evolution in synchronous lead by the guitar and le quatuor à cordes.
Cowboy ahuri dans une forêt de cheminées
The high range guitar buzz splashes tenebrous daubings with appropriately contrived sustain. Slowly, a crescendo rises, hammered up by monometric drum and bass. The string quartet first contents itself with mere responses, but then Jean René’s viola makes wistful comments on its own. Buzzing guitar and the violins instill some drama into murky thundering until sampled crackle’n’noise switches it off.
Jumper le train de Robervay Saguenay
The guitar maintains just enough sustain to live up to unison requirements posed by the strings. Then they bifurcate: the strings slide to and fro and the guitar adopts a more pristine timbre with a sense of a train-like urgency. One wonders if this is not a quotation from Duchesne’s own “Locomotive”, albeit augmented here by the nimble quatuor. Once again the rhythm section of Patrick Hamilton and Pierre Tanguay is tight and disciplined. The “train” progresses smoothly, leaving behind a light, lyrical touch.
Boues rouges (lacs de bauxite)
Enter wah-wah guitar and a harmonic bass. The violins’ clear, E-string focus leaves the center range unoccupied, which makes the projection of the bubbly guitar so much more prominent. Tanguay remains very discrete here, surreptitiously bolstered by another rhythm guitar track. The wah-wah meanders, letting the quartet fall into a succession of serene glissandos.
Ca serait plaisant si les quananiches étaient éternelles
Tabla and a more insistent quartet drag us into a decisive, forceful combination of repetitive, soft guitar mélange. The track rides on unassumingly, based on multilayered guitars and violins’ springtime interventions.
Autant de lunois que de linge sur la corde à linge
Changement du décor: orientalizing strings’ gabled notes wrap around Middle Eastern darabukke’s dry fingerprints. The notes, bent and mangled are cut halfway through the meter. The guitars merely add a gossamer web of harmonic perspective. This the realm of Light Rain minus the frenzy of Levantine skin galore. Overlaid guitar tracks make it however much more than a Paul Klee-like reminiscence of Maghrebian deserts. A lustrous guitar alternates with the strings. A scorching guitar whittles down.
Des cheminées des cheminées des cheminées
All participants are pinned down by three sustained guitar notes, engraved repeatedly against the evanescent, wavelike string background. A promissory drumset remind us of Duchesne’s vintage orchestral scores in the late 1980s. The three-note tidbit echoes on and on, as if sampled. The restrained, almost taciturn live guitar will test the limits of the format, with colorful, dramatic tones squeezed out from the instrument’s neck. This research will eventually cede to a fast-picked guitar fragment that closes this track.
Jean René conducts the string section into a more mobile, tensile performance. The violins are scored against the duo of viola and cello, or against cello solo (Christine Giguère). The quatuor advances ably, wheeled on by Pierre Tanguay’s circularly shaped instruments and snappy bass. A gargling guitar shortly chips in. Then the drumming stops and the strings plunge into some very contemporary atonality. It is all clipped much to soon.
Naître jonquière (un vendredi soir, après le souper)
At the beginning, the strings perform a purely rhythmic role, but with none of the manic attacks of early Art Zoyd. Instead, a rebellious guitar tells a story. When it begins to sizzle, the motif is instantly taken over by the first violin – hats off to the mixing engineer (the author himself) for synchronizing this effect with guitars recorded almost a year after the strings.
Route 175 (à défaut de)
The final and longest composition on this record introduces us to a sustained high note from the strings and some muffled drum arrhythmia. Two guitars – one mellow and narrative, and one incandescent and searing appear somewhat oblivious to each other. The former will tell a us story, the latter will circulate around us like an annoying insect. Another guitar track with Arabian overtones procures additional pigmentation to the pleasantly advancing cause. Suddenly there are more guitar participants – a trembling “mandolin” among them. It is up to Patrick Hamilton to keep the pace, as Tanguay occasionally forays into intra-meter hand figures on his skins. The main guitar-led narrative alternates between childlike why-regress, through solitary ruminations to proud harangues. The stately strings, as if cognizant of the imminent closure, surge like a chorus in a Greek drama, soaring with pathos.
André Duchesne’s records fall into three categories – richly arranged instrumentals, pensive songbooks and solo guitar excursions. He also formed a number of guitar formations, the most famous of which was Apocalypso Bar in the late 1980s. Of his output, I particularly strongly recommend his first, poetic solo LP as well as the guitar quartets and the last two – albeit very different – collections from this decade.
André DUCHESNE: “Le temps de bombes” (1984)
Les QUATRE GUITARISTES DE l’APOCALYPSO BAR: “Tournée mondiale” (1987)
Les QUATRE GUITARISTES DE l’APOCALYPSO BAR: “Fin de siècle” (1989)
André DUCHESNE: “L’ou’l. Concerto pour un compositeur solitaire” (1989)
André DUCHESNE: “Le royaume ou l’asile” (1988-1990)
LOCOMOTIVE: “Locomotive” (1992)
André DUCHESNE: “Réflexions” (1999)
André DUCHESNE: “Polaroïdes” (2000-2001)
André DUCHESNE: “Cordes à danser… suite Saguenayenne” (2005-2006)
André DUCHESNE: “Arrêter les machines” (2006)
Duchesne’s music can also be heard on a number of festival sets and compilations, such as: “Association pour la diffusion de musiques ouvertes Vol.1”, “Ré Records Quarterly Vol.1 No.4”, “Festival MIMI’87”, “Une théorie des ensembles”, “Ambiances magnétiques vol.3 Inédits”, “Ambiances magnétiques vol.5 Chante!”, “Super Boom”. Few of these compositions can also be found on his solo records.