Les Poules

Phénix
Ambiances Magnétiques AM 176 CD

Sampling everyday sounds while electronically mixing them with extended and unusual techniques; the Montreal-based Les Poules produces music that is both subtly feminist and sonically expressive.

On their own, each of Les Poules (“the hens” in English) – alto saxophonist Joane Hétu, percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger and sampler-manipulator Diane Labrosse –also composes for dance and theatre companies and performs with such associates as guitarist Fred Frith (Roger); pianist Marilyn Lerner (Labrosse) and saxophonist Jean Derome (Hétu). Arriving at their second decade as a trio however, Phenix is an unbeatable demonstration of their interactive prowess.

Over the course of 24 miniatures, lasting from barely a minute to slightly less than three minutes, the trio creates unique juxtapositions that for example contrast the percussiveness of bass drum thumps and a sewing machine motor; or alternately compare approximations of infant cries, the power of a passing freight train and the rattling of a bell tree. Mostly narrowing her focus to timbres scraped and scratched on cymbals, Roger’s abrasions dovetail with the shrill reed bites, unattached mouthpiece peeps and wide-vibrato growls that Hétu forces from her horn. Meantime Labrosse’s ring-modulator flanging, droning loops of buzzing static and motor-driven grinding underline or connect the shifting tonal centres.

With each woman vocalizing a babble of nonsense syllables, gargles, scat singing, snores and juicy quacking, the jocular result is as much musique de maison as musique concrète. In short Phénix is one hen party you’d be well-advised to attend.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #5