Getting Plein Jeu Under Way

By Myriam Lambert

When a friend proposes a crazy project with their eyes all lit up, and you’re hooked from your first conversation, it’s hard to resist. Especially if this utopian idea is contiguous with the artistic aims of the art centre for which you work. This is exactly what happened with Plein Jeu, a madness that became a dream and then a reality.

Let’s start at the beginning.

For over twenty years, Avatar has invited artists to create works on its Disklavier. Likewise, many people have come to Avatar to study this MIDIfied piano.

In 2018, Jocelyn Robert, artist, Director of the ORCA research group, and professor at the Art School of Laval University, began exploring the majestic MIDIfied pipe organ at Palais Montcalm, not only for his own creations but also those made with a group of students from the research group.

Robert informed our team that although this is often a little-known and underused feature, modern pipe organs are typically equipped with a MIDI system. This lit the spark. Avatar saw this as an opportunity to develop its research and encourage the creation of works that explore the control possibilities offered by instruments with MIDIfied keyboards. In 2020, realizing the scope of all this, Avatar and ORCA began a close collaboration. We had many discussions with the aim of conceiving a project that would reflect on the various creation and development prospects offered by the pipe organ and computing. Subsequently, Athénor scène nomade – Centre National de Création Musicale signed on to the project as a dissemination partner.

That same year, in order to deepen these explorations, Avatar invited artists from different disciplines to participate in collective research and creation residencies of long duration. These residencies were as follows:

Interstices ductiles Simon Elmaleh, Nataliya Petkova, Jocelyn Robert, and Vincent Thériault

Musique pour sièges vides [Music for Empty Seats]: Bruno Bouchard, Benoît Fortier, and Philip Gagnon

Vicomte de rien [Viscount of Nothing]: Jocelyn Robert

During these residencies, several MIDI and computer interfaces were developed and connected to the organ at Palais Montcalm. The artists were able, therefore, to invest themselves fully to creating sound works that use digital devices and make the organ and entire Palais resonate without even touching the keyboards. The programming and the artists’ various interventions made the wind instrument vibrate. With a view to combine even more disciplines, we also commissioned two video works that slowly unfold over time, one from Josiane Roberge for Interstices ductiles and the other from Julie Bouffard for Vicomte de rien. Immersive sequence shots accompany the sound works, plunging the audience into the imagination of the audio artists. The videos, the documentation of a performance, and the sound works are released with this publication.

Avatar also invited seven people to reflect on the project’s various aspects and produce a piece of writing for this publication. In his essay “Origins and Futurities,” Jocelyn Robert retraces the organ’s history from its beginnings to today and describes the outcome of MIDIfying the king of instruments. Anne-Marie Bouchard explains the importance of the pipe organ to Québec’s musical and architectural heritage. Out of the curiosity awakened by working as project manager to set up Plein Jeu, Pascale LeBlanc Lavigne offers a technical reading of the instrument and its MIDIfication that draws a parallel between the organ and the human body. Having closely listened to each work created during the Interstices ductiles and Vicomte de rien residencies, Louise Boisclair draws us into their universe through poetic descriptions. Manon Tourigny meets with the creators of Musique pour sièges vides to write about their creative process and the approaches they took to play the organ in another way. As a member of a collective formed for Plein Jeu, Philip Gagnon evokes the residency he experienced in a finely-wrought allegory. Lastly, as an observer of and participant in ORCA’s activities, Andrée-Anne Laberge interviews the artists and meddles in their meetings in order to reflect on the notion of collective creation and its offshoots.

In conclusion, through this publication about Plein Jeu, Avatar wishes to shed light on the many facets of this major project: exchanges between artists, long research and creation residencies, inventions of MIDI and computer interfaces, technological advances, theoretical considerations, works for MIDIfied pipe organ… but also collectives of artists, collaborators, and partners and a wonderful, dedicated team, in other words, humans coming together to think and create, to develop an idea, a common dream.