|Recorded live at the Festival Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques 2002, La Machine à explorer le tempo, Robert Marcel Lepage’s latest release, is a work written for the early music ensemble La Nef. Lepage and his 10 musicians are lively, derisive and delinquent: they manage to squeeze viola da gamba, banjo, sackbut and slide guitar into a ripping sound orgy that moves from tango to country and a dilapidated form of waltz!
La Machine à explorer le tempo (The Tempo Machine) will allow our courageous chrononauts to visit three music-time Paradoxes: passing Time, running Time and slipping Time. Each dive will take approximately twenty minutes. Our inspiration tanks allow up to 33 1/3 minutes of uninterrupted diving, but in order to preserve the security of our adventurers and our audience, we will keep to the thirds of an hour as measured by the marking standard at the Time Institute in Paris. The instrumental configuration of our ensemble forms the body of our Machine. It can be driven by many means, such as reading, improvisation, and even auto-pilot. We have two, three, and four-stroke engines fueled by rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, and noise patterns.
First Paradox: Time passes… and the clocks bark. We will leave present Time in destination of the first Paradox at 9:03 PM on March 8th, 2003. Our schedule points out that we will be running on fin-de-siècle musical motifs such as: Confitures de sable, Le Tamponneur de triolet, La Nef en bateau, etc.
Second Paradox: Time flies… like a butterfly. We will begin a second dive toward flying Time at 9:25 PM, unless a delay is necessary, by seguing into North-American ballads like: Le Bivouac, Le Pied-Tendre, La Ballade des patates sucrées and On tue bien les chevaux… que faire des banjos?
Third Paradox: Time slips by… we must seal it. If Time allows us, a third dive will begin at around 9:45 PM and take us toward Hygiène des rebuts, Le Chat dans le tordeur and also Oups! J’ai échappé ma boîte d’accords majeurs. We’ll do everything in our power to catch up on lost Time, knowing very well that Time needs time from time to time. Nevertheless, this is the only show with an expiry date that promises a future discovery.
by Marc Chénard
in Coda Magazine #307 (Canada), January 1, 2005
In this hour-long suite of 18 items penned by Robert Marcel Lepage, the listener is taken on a whimsical trip into the Machine for exploring tempo (a pun which plays on the French equivalent to H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, i.e. La Machine a explorer le temps"). In this instrumental work divided in three acts, the composer actually conducted an eclectic tentet, the core of whom are a baroque ensemble in Montreal called la Nef. Even more unusual is that this ensemble actually commissioned this suite for performance at a contemporary music festival held in March of 2003. And to make things even more curious, when have you have heard a lineup that includes viola de gamba, ritual flutes, sackbut, slide guitare, sampler and tabla? Lepage regularly composes for film, and this is a music of images, of stylistic references galore but of no single or underlying vision. This is light-hearted stuff, which the composer further underscores in his whimsical presentations between the acts. Despite brave attempts to translate parts of his narrations in the liner notes, much of the humor is lost and the spoken tracks will appear pointless to non-speakers of French. In this highly structured music, there is very little soloing, but trombonist extraordinaire Alain Trudel makes the most of his spots. If the music makes you smile, it will have accomplished its aim, so it’s best not to expect any heady stuff. (PS. I attended this performance, and smiled, too.)