Liner Notes

About Résistances

As an artist (and a plugged-in one!), I have long been interested in currents: water currents, the flow of ideas, of thought. It was in this spirit that in 2000 I composed Canot-Camping, a vast territory comprising improvisatory game pieces and written material for a group of eleven improvisers led by conductors’ cues: lakes, rivers, rapids. Fifteen years later, it is as if the river has led me to a hydro-electric dam. The river’s current has been transformed into electricity, but the voyage continues.

Québec is one of the world’s biggest producers of electricity. It is generated primarily at Northern Québec’s mega-dams and then transported to the power-hungry cities to the south through 735,000-volt high-tension wires perched on an army of towers planted like samurai across the land.

Peculiarly, the province’s electrical system uses no conventional grounding mechanism. Instead, the electricity in each house is connected to the plumbing; it’s the St. Lawrence River that ‘grounds’ all of Québec.

Electricity exists in waves, like sound. North American electricity is calibrated to one frequency, 60 cycles per second (Hz). This frequency must be kept continually stable by controlling turbine rotation. The smallest discrepancy desynchronises factory machines and causes blackouts, so the entire continent remains in sync, day and night, within a fraction of a second.

Even solar flares influence and undermine our system by bombarding it with electromagnetic waves. That’s what the northern lights are: bombardments that have been serendipitously deviated by the planet’s magnetic field. But they are channelled into the earth all the same through its poles, on which it spins like a magnetic top.

Specialists track solar flares to predict and analyze their effects on electrical frequency, which they detect through the harmonic distortions any modulation produces — like the fuzz of a gigantic electric guitar!

A frequency is at once a sound, a measure, and a rhythm. This vibration, 60 Hz, is the point of departure of Résistances. The piece is built on multiples of sixty that continue through to 60 minutes and — why not? — the 60 years of life that I’ve celebrated, in part, by creating it.

This frequency is not typically found in music (60 Hz sounds halfway between B and B-flat) but, in Résistances, the orchestra is tuned to 60 Hz so that, for once, the buzz of the guitar amps is in harmony with the music, and even contributes to it.

Let’s ‘get a good buzz on!’

Jean Derome [English translation: Scott Thomson, ii-15]

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