Bratislava bound but Made for Modulus: Nicole Lizée’s TARANTINO ÉTUDES

I first met Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée almost exactly two years ago: the Little Chamber Music Series That Could and I had co-commissioned her to write a new work that dealt with grief for LCMSTC’s All Souls event at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery. The resulting commission, Ouijist, is a piece that still haunts me: dark, touching, and a warhorse virtuoso role for percussionist Ben Reimer. After the performance, emboldened by a post-concert repast of fried chicken, waffles, and bourbon, I asked Nicole if she’d consider writing a new piece for flute and electronics. She agreed (such is the power of fried chicken, waffles, and bourbon), but immediately stipulated that the new piece would be written for bass flute.

Bass flute, baby. Bass flute.

Nicole Lizée
Nicole Lizée

As Nicky and I started talking about this new commission in more detail, I knew she was in the midst of composing a series of pieces that explored the works of particular film directors — she called these her “Criterion Collection”. Lizée’s music is infused with tributes to popular culture, whether it be film (Hitchcock, Kubrick), music (Rush, DJ turntable art), or even toys (those of us born in a certain age will remember the Omnichord or the electronic game “Simon”, both of which have made appearances in Lizée’s music). She remains unique in her ability to create music that is chilling, funny, and occasionally flat-out demented while referencing iconic moments of 20th century popular culture — this is new music steeped in 70s/80s pop nostalgia. So I was surprised when she proposed that her new piece for bass flute and glitch would pay tribute to the work of Quentin Tarantino — a cultural phenomenon firmly rooted in the 90s/21st century. I should probably clarify that: when I say “surprised” I mean “peel-me-off-the-ceiling excited”, not just because Tarantino is one of my all-time favourite film directors, but because so many aspects of his style — the juxtaposition of humour and violence, soundtrack-driven narratives, a love of pop culture iconography — are things that, I feel, resonate very strongly with Lizée’s music.

The world premiere of Tarantino Études was originally planned to be at Music on Main’s 2015 Modulus Festival — but in a fit of incredible generosity, MoM’s artistic director Dave Pay arranged an introduction with Olga Smetanova of the Melos-Ethos Festival in Bratislava. As a result of this introduction, Nicole and I are on our way to Slovakia this weekend to give the European premiere of Tarantino Études on November 12th at the Melos-Ethos Festival, followed by the North American premiere at Modulus Festival in Vancouver on November 17th. This past week my email correspondence with Nicky has been dealing primarily with extra-musical devices and props for these performances — some of these requests have been entirely sincere, others… not so much: whistling, guitar playing, sword swinging, and Japanese school girl outfits have all been discussed at length. Which of these are fact and which are fiction, you ask? I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

A peek at the score of one of Lizée's Tarantino Études
A peek at the score of one of Lizée’s Tarantino Études

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