I began composing (Rouge) during Quebec's “Maple” Spring. As with many, I had been very moved by this spontaneous uprising of students which had generated so much momentum among the greater part of Quebec society.
I myself went to several protests during the Maple Spring and often encountered there the musicians of Quasar. Later, I learned that one of its members had been arrested and detained by the police for several hours. It was in this climate that I started to conceive, or rather to “see” (Rouge).
The initial compositional idea that came to me was that of a scale which, rather than returning to its point of departure across each octave, would extend throughout all the notes of the scale, performed by a saxophone quartet. A scale, much like a social project, that can't be performed alone and which demands that one join up with others in order to be carried out.
All of my piece has been constructed according to this same structure. It consists of a pentatonic hyperscale itself composed of 5 superimposed pentatonic scales deployed across 5 octaves. The pentatonic scale is among the most universal and simple forms in music, from American blues to Chinese music. The entire planet vibrates in pentatonic mode.
(Rouge) is made up of 5 written sections framed by improvised sections.
I am often surprised to note to what degree the number 5 has been important in my work over the years.
Carré (rouge) is a song of hope dedicated to the student movement. It is a melody in unison that unfolds from a central note to swell progressively to the high and low pitched, similar to a large social movement gaining an unexpected breadth.
Peau (rouge) is a war dance dedicated to the cause of the indigenous peoples and, by extension, to all those who engage in a social combat for Quebec. It seems obvious to me that the cause of Quebecers will not be resolved before that of indigenous peoples.
Géante (rouge) evokes those distant stars that have a soothing effect upon us when we look at them in the sky, but which remain no less colossal atomic cataclysms.
The tones of this section made me think of that of the Cambodian mouth organ, so much so that the first title of the piece was Khmer (rouge). I thought of the piles of human skulls that the documentaries on Cambodia showed us. Géante (rouge) could very well be a serene and aloof piece of music, almost cold, modestly accompanying these images of violence and horror.
Tapis (rouge) as in “rolling out the red carpet” evokes the music of the Pygmies. Each performer weaves fragments of the total scale in order to create a very complex polyphony.
Carré de Peau (rouge) presents a juxtaposition of the song of hope and the dance of war. Remaining with the indigenous theme, the performers of Quasar concluded that with Carré de Peau (rouge) I had evoked the idea of a “scalp”. This interpretation did not displease me in the least; almost every morning I appeal for the return of guillotine while reading the paper.
Jean Derome, September 2012