Photo credit: Lou Scamble
PAN M 360: What was the genesis of the album? What made you decide to do it?
Jeffrey Stonehouse: The creation of the album was motivated by a deep fascination with James’ music. After collaborating with him on the creation of his work AMONG AM A in 2015, I called upon him again for a Carte Blanche concert in our 2018-2019 season. For this concert, Paramirabo’s musicians had the chance to discover his other sextet and create a brand new work, Alone and Unalone. Its title has become the title of our album, and resonates in a singular way in these strange times we live in.
PAN M 360: Was there a particular concept for the content of the album? Apart from the fact that it’s monographic.
James O’Callaghan: There is a curious conceptual thread throughout these works, based on the apparent contradiction of recording them for an album. The pieces were all conceived for the concert hall, and they play specifically with this context. There are therefore many spatial aspects to the music, movement of the musicians on stage, and more fundamentally, a reflection on the function of concert music.
The album has then become an opportunity to experiment with spatial illusions and imagery in the mix — how to “simulate” the musician’s movement, electroacoustic spatialization, the distinction between an acoustic or an amplified sound, etcetera on a stereo recorded medium. For example, we spent a lot of time recording footsteps and chair-squeaking in the space in order to “manufacture” this artificial human presence. These moments of the session were particularly fun and captivating.
PAN M 360: How did the recording go?
JS: The recording process was a little, how shall I say, surreal. As performers, we rarely have the opportunity to immerse ourselves for so long in a composer’s sound universe. The instrumental parts of James’ works require special attention to the rhythmic synchronicity of the ensemble, so that the hits are perfectly coordinated. I consider these moments of tutti attacks to be highlights of James’ writing. As we’re an undirected ensemble, it adds spice to our recording sessions because we all have to perceive the music in the same way at the same time.
PAN M 360: How would you describe James’ music?
JS: What I love about his music is that you can’t tell the difference between the acoustic and electronic elements. It’s crazy because sometimes you listen to his music and you can’t tell the instruments from the sounds in the band! You feel as if you’re walking around in an environment where the sounds of nature or the city are mixed with the instrumental writing. I don’t think there’s a composer out there right now who can achieve such a mix of acoustic and electronic elements. It’s a fascinating music. Strange, but fascinating.
PAN M 360: How would you describe the interpretation and playing of Paramirabo?
JOC: Fearless. And that’s why I feel free to take risks and try strange new things with them. I have a beautiful memory of thanking the ensemble for being so open, and Jeff responded, “it’s not our first rodeo!” The ensemble has a relatively polystylist artistic direction, and so the musicians are incredibly flexible and experienced in many different techniques and approaches to performance. It doesn’t hurt that they are all also incredibly talented.
PAN M 360: The album is nominated for a Juno Award, how did you take the news?
JS: I found out from a text message from a friend who was listening to the live release. What an incredible surprise! Especially after receiving the Opus Performer of the Year award… To be selected alongside Marina Thibeault, James Ehnes and the Quatuor Molinari, among others, is a great honour and shows a great openness on the part of the Junos.
JOC: It was especially meaningful because it’s relatively rare for an album of experimental contemporary music to be nominated in this category, alongside performers of the classical giants.
PAN M 360: What is the impact of the pandemic on your season and your career?
JS: Phew! The impact on Paramirabo is huge. It goes without saying that the musicians of the ensemble, who are all freelancers, have lost a lot of work. Paramirabo had to cancel two self-produced shows in Montreal that included three original works. A Montreal revival of Alone and Unalone was scheduled for April 3, at the same time as the premiere of Philippe Leroux’s arrangement of Voi(Rex) for male voice at the IRCAM Forum in Montreal. It’s grievous for the ensemble, especially since we had already started rehearsals. In addition, Paramirabo had to postpone a concert in Berlin – again in collaboration with James. Finally, there is the cancellation of the Musique Nouvelle workshop at Domaine Forget where we were in residence. But above all, to no longer see each other and make music together is infinitely sad. We can’t wait to get back together!
JOC: It’s somewhat demotivating, to be honest. But at the same time, I am very lucky as a composer that my income is largely based on commissions, and so, contrary to performers, my means of subsistence are not really in jeopardy, and I continue to work on my different projects toward an uncertain future.