BBC i8u’s guide to the Montreal underground

Text Only version of this page  Skip to main content

7 February 2003
Text only
BBC Homepage


Profiles A-Z
Rock & Pop Years
Global Top 10s

Latest News, Reviews,  Concerts and Links Organised by Genre

Blues, Soul, Reggae
Classic Rock/Pop
Easy & Soundtracks
Folk & Country
Rock & Alt

my BBC

Contact Us


Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

around the world in 80 labels
I8U I8U –
Montreal New Music Feature
Here it seems everybody knows everybody; and creatively speaking, that
is very motivating. The exchange that takes place between musicians from
different electronic backgrounds is probably one of the biggest factors shaping
this new "Montreal sound".

 About the Montreal new music scene by I8U.


Montreal Scene Report
The Montreal electronic experimental music scene is thriving these days with a variety of artists who are gaining international recognition thanks to the arrival of festivals and events that are tailor made for their brand of talent.

The particular atmosphere and the friendliness of this city has bred some incredible talents from people like David Kristian, Martin Tétreault, Sam Shalabi, Alexandre St-Onge and the list goes on. But most of all, I find that the uniqueness of this city lies in its ability to facilitate the meeting of artists.

I can go to a “musique actuelle” show, meet musicians and eventually work with them, and then I can go to Mutek and the same thing will happen. I do believe this is particular to Montreal. Here it seems everybody knows everybody; and creatively speaking, that is very motivating. The exchange that takes place between musicians from different electronic backgrounds is probably one of the biggest factors shaping this new “Montreal sound”.

Each of these musicians/sound artists are busy with many different projects in and around the Montreal area. Check out the weblinks for more information on that particular artist or label.

Martin Tétreault is constantly navigating between Montreal, Europe and Japan, working with the likes of Xavier Charles, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M., Diane Labrosse, Janek Shaeffer and so on. He recently curated the Turntable Hell Tour which was organized by the London Musicians Collective.

Sam Shalabi is a guitar and oud improviser and is probably the busiest musician in Montreal with projects such as the Shalabi Effect, the Kristian Shalabi St-Onge trio, Molasses and GSYB.

Alexandre St-Onge is an electro-acoustic composer and improviser utilizing bowed double bass and computer applications to create his music; he is also busy at home and abroad.

Tim Hecker is an experimental techno artist who has released material on Force Inc under the moniker Jetone and Alien8 Recordings offshoot Substractif under his own name. He is very present on the Montreal scene, and has recently performed in Berlin at the Transmediale festival.

Mitchell Akiyama is an experimental techno artist who is also at the helm of Montreal’s Intr_version label and has released material on Substractif.

Deadbeat is an experimental techno artist, who is also involved with Montreal software synth developers Applied Acoustics Systems Inc. He has released material with Hautec, Revolver and Intr_version.

David Kristian is an experimental electro and soundscape artist who is renowned for his mastery of analogue synthesis. He is now working with Applied Acoustics Systems Tassman soft synth. He has recently been devoting his time to creating sound design and music for TV, and films such as Karim Hussain’s Subconscious Cruelty, The City Without Windows and Ascension. David has released material with several labels including Alien8 Recordings, Leaf, Worm Interface and Lo Recordings.

Akufen is an experimental electro and tech house producer who has released material on labels such as Perlon, Hautec and Force Inc. He has been active on the Montreal music scene for over a decade.

Ælab have been busy presenting their various projects at the Media Lounge of the New York museum of contemporary art (New York 2000), the Dutch Electronic arts festival (V2_, Rotterdam,Netherlands 2000), Mutek (Montreal 2000 & 2001) Ælab have released material with both the Oral and the Mutek labels.

More artists such as Pheek, Mateo Murphy, Alexandre Burton, Julien Roy, Monstre, Lateef the Quadraceptor, and John Ascencio definitely have a hand at shaping the sounds coming out of Montreal and their contribution cannot be understated.

As far as events around the city are concerned, we’ll start with Mutek.

Mutek, has become a standard by which the industry measures itself, and this, only 2 years of existence and the hard work of Alain Mongeau, Eric Mattson and their team. Artists from everywhere want to participate in this festival, it is a meeting place for all musicians with an interest in new electronic music/new technology. The atmosphere is conducive to the exchange of ideas and collaborations between artists are made possible.

The Silophone project was created by two artists who call themselves “the user”; Thomas McIntosh, architect and Emmanuel Madan, composer are best known for their “symphony for dot matrix printers”. Using an old grain silo, microphones and speakers were lowered in one of the cylinders which acted as an incredible echo chamber; local and international artists were invited to partake with a project of their own design, each using the silo in their own unique way. The result was a year of amazing concerts such as Francisco Lopez’s memorable performance in October 2000 and Carsten Nicolai’s installation during Mutek 2001 to name a few.
Applied Acoustics Systems Inc., is a Montreal based company that has developed Tassman, an innovative software synthesizer based on physical modeling, which means everything from analogue modular synthesis components to acoustic elements such as plates and reeds can be mixed and matched to create realistic, yet never heard before sounds. What sets Tassman apart from other softsynths is the sheer quality and realistic texture of the end results. The Tassman was honored with Electronic Musician magazine’s coveted Editor’s choice award in 2001.

Intr_version, is a label run by Mitchell Akiyama which has been showcasing the talents of Pheek, Jetone, Deadbeat and Akiyama himself.

No Type is a virtual label where Montreal artists David Turgeon and Aimé Dontigny showcase their talent and that of other fellow musicians such as James Shidlowsky, Magalie Babin, etc. No type has recently released their first non virtual compilation “The Freest of Radicals.”

Oral, is a label run by Eric Mattson, whom, aside from being involved with Mutek, finds time to release experimental non-lyrical electronic music and is very active producing events such as VoltAA. He is without a doubt the most enthusiastic ambassador of all spectrums of electronic music. Oral relies on its roster artists which is comprised of Ælab, Akufen, Herri Kopter, Suna and Nancy Tobin.

Alien8 Recordings run by Gary Worsley and Sean O’Hara has been working relentlessly and consistently to discover and release the work of maverick Montreal artists and has a strong presence on the local and international scene. Dedicated to various forms of electronic music, they have made it possible for musicians to perform on a more regular basis. They have just created a new sub-label called Substractif on which you will find artists such as Mitchell Akiyama and Tim Hecker.

And last but certainly not least is Le Navire Night, a Radio Canada (CBC) radio program which has been broadcasting experimental music every Sunday night under the watchful “ears” of Hélène Prévost, who has to her credit music for the stage, documentaries and advertising. She has taught and undertaken research in auditory perception at the Faculty of Music of Université de Montréal, where she also studied composition. Radio has been for many years her principal medium of exploration.

AboutMusic » Top 10s

Terms & Conditions | Privacy

Review – i8ub (bake) 2001 by WTB

i8u: b Bake Records  047  2001

i8u has been a guest on WtB? twice and is an important figure on the Montreal new music scene.   She deserves it.  She has a clear grasp of sound and her manipulations of deep sonic material are outstanding.  i8u is changing over time, and this latest offering gives us a glimpse into her new style. Bass pulses and granular, near distorted sounds throb away as i8u slowly performs some sonic tricks.   I like the disc, but there’s something a bit “incomplete” about it all.  As if i8u hasn’t quite got it all sorted out yet.  I’m looking forward to seeing where she’s headed.  I’d pick it up if you haven’t heard anything else, otherwise, hold out for what’s to come.

Review – i8ub (bake) 2001 – by Deanna Radford, Stylus

Repeated listens to B will present some kind of infusion of pressing atmospheric sounds, driving, nominal clicks and beats. This album is percussive and heavy in a way. The result doesn’t consist of heavy-handed or abrasive qualities, but those of subtlety in the utmost sense. Not unlike Pan Sonic sounds, there is some element of the heavy that is wonderful and inescapable on B…The track Sciatica is a quiet and dense track; it’s as if all of the reverb often expelled with a heavy dub sound has been sifted, as the dub sounds go on to explore on their own and turn up in a ringing and newly-shapen space. Mind though, there is no dub here. Montreal’s i8u has made some really lovely stuff. Her work has been suscribed to in the past as aloof or withdrawn sounding; however, what seems to equal to this listener is simply a rewarding challenge that is quite pro. (Bake/Staalplaat, – Deanna Radford, Stylus

Review – i8ub (bake) 2001 – by Phillip Sherburne, Needledrops

++ I8U, B (Bake/Staalplaat): Like Goem or early Panasonic, i8u‘s music sculpts carefully shuddering rhythms out of the clash of waveforms and undulating bass tones. It’s not quite repetition’s endgame, but it comes close; as with Noto or Thomas Brinkmann, you have to listen close to hear the variations as overlapping loops twine out to seeming infinity. For all its simplicity, B charts strikingly original territory; each track impresses its signal firmly in your perception, elevating the mathematics of sound to a more abstracted poetry. Music like this, ideally, is meant to be heard in an enormous space on military-grade speakers, so that the room becomes its own instrument. But this CD still suggests a vast, cavernous expanse of sound.

Review – i8ub (bake) 2001 – by I.Khider, Exclaim

Montreal-based i8u’s second release marks a departure from the her purely noise textured debut album. This time around, her music focuses on the development of rhythmic electronic structures. On “b”, i8u touches a variety of electronic styles, including atmospheric industrial, brooding dark techno and more textured noise, yet is not rendered as harshly as her earlier work. Some of the more splendid works are “Sortie”, with its steady, tense build-up that emulates a cyborg pulse, and “Senescence,” a menacing robotic gladiator of a track with its strutting reverberating rhythms. i8u developed these sounds as free from contemporary influence as possible, which explains the aloof feel of these pieces. Not to say that she cannot hold her own against them and perhaps even frighten them off. Indeed, i8u has evolved from the primordial vacuum of pure noise and the sonic forms of “b” are quite the departure, creating one of the rawest yet satisfying aggressively moody electronic albums of the year – I. Khider, Exclaim !

Review – i8ub (bake) 2001- by Richard Di Santo,

I8U: b
Bake Records | 047 | CDR

After an impressive solo debut (released last year on Multimedias Pandora), after having collaborated with the likes of David Kristian and Martin Tétrault, and having overwhelmed audiences at the inaugural night at this year’s MUTEK festival in Montréal, sound artist i8u returns with a new disc of dynamic sound environments. Her second solo release sees i8u exploring more rhythm than in her debut. Although these rhythms are often regular and minimal, they are immersed within environments that undergo continuous shifts in timbre and intensity. These new works were made with a combination of field recordings, analogue synths and the Tassman, a powerful soft synth tool developed by Applied Acoustics. Fluid drones come and go, they creep up on you and slowly give way to the next wave of dark ambience, deep synthetic drones and some incredible bass pulses. Higher pitched sounds – hiss, clicks, crackles and shuffling – play on the wings of these darker atmospheres. Consider “Senescence”, with its complex layers of engaging rhythms and hiss; or the subtle changes in “Stasimon”, where a dark undercurrent lays the foundation for an evolving surface of rhythm and texture. Each track folds into the next with natural ease and, though there are breaks between tracks, on the whole listening to this record is like listening to a complete concert; a set of tracks where you could not imagine the absence of any one of its constituent parts or phases. This is an intense and engrossing record that takes over the listening space, revealing new details and subtleties with repeated listening. Highly recommended. [Richard di Santo]


Review – i8ub (bake) 2001 – by François Couture, All Music

In accordance to the letter of the alphabet, B is Montreal electronic artist i8u’s second album. The fact that it was released on Bake records, a label distributed by Staalplaat, gives clear indication as to what path this music explores. References to the German/Austrian experimental electronica scene (Thomas Brinkmann, Fennesz, etc.) and the Finnish duo Pan Sonic are definitely in order. i8u fashions sound instead of “sounds.” She builds slow, evolving soundscapes of buzzes and clicks tailored to fill your listening room, resonate between your walls and inside your chest. This half sound installation/half electro culture sound is not really new by 2001, but this artist does it well. Using a handful of field recordings, digital and analog machinery, she succeeds in creating hypnotic pieces that swallow you whole without becoming alienating. A couple of tracks flirt with noise-based sound art (think Francisco Lopez), but in general B stays more on Pan Sonic‘s playground, although it is less concerned with rhythm.i8u ‘s technique and artistic vision do not sound fully matured, but they hold promises worth checking this album out.

Interview by Richard Di Santo of > Archive > Features

I8U in Conversation

By Richard di Santo
27 May 2001

Montréal based sound artist I8U released her debut CD on Multimedias Pandora Inc. last year. Featuring ten dynamic pieces of largely low frequency sound-sculpting, the CD has quickly become a fixture in my hi-fi. Played at loud volumes, I8U’s music reveals powerful, opaque and complex sound environments where the analogue and digital meet. Deep drones, hidden rhythms, complex harmonics and treatments are the results of digital soundwaves being processed through analogue filters. The material on this CD is based on I8U’s experimentation with low frequency content and resonance, and can truly be considered to be an engaging work; the sounds propel the listener to react, participate in and answer to the various sounds and transitions.

I had the pleasure of seeing I8U in concert in early May, when she came to Toronto to perform a solo set of new and improvised material (that evening also saw performances by Toronto ambient outfit ARC and DJ Greg Clow). Soon afterward I had the opportunity to ask her about her music, methods, experiences, origins and motivations.

I8U started out playing keyboards, and was trained first in classical music and then playing blues on the road for a couple of years. A chance meeting with fellow Montréal based sound artist David Kristian changed her musical directions indefinitely:

David suggested I try something different considering the equipment I owned at the time, so we planned for a jam session. What I discovered during these sessions was very simple, this music flowed effortlessly, I didn’t have to think, just play. I thought “This is what I’m supposed to do!”. David was instrumental in my move away from “traditional music” in the sense that he introduced me to the art of creating sounds, and listening to what he was doing simply made me realize that this is where I would be most happy because the possibilities are endless and only defined by one’s own limitations.

So, I embarked on a journey of learning and un-learning, learning about sound art and the precision in programming sounds, learning to listen to what I don’t want to hear, un-learning years of traditional music structures, acceptable melodies, chords and rhythms, therefore pushing my own limitations of what I expected to hear, and listen for the unexpected.

I8U further explains that she felt it necessary to un-learn the knowledge she had acquired over the years so she could “be truthful with my attempt at understanding this particular way of experimenting with sound.” This process of un-learning wasn’t something as simple as ‘forgetting’ everything she knew about traditional music structures; there are essential elements from both her classical training and her experience with blues which she says continue to exist in her work:

One element that is important to me in classical music is dynamics, you can be peacefully lulled into a state and abruptly awakened to utter chaos, or yet, you can be transported very gently and slowly into an amazing loud finale.

In blues, one of the elements I retain is, how to build a show and pull in an audience into what you are doing, creating an experience for the audience, making the listener part of the process. There is also an amazing sense of timing in blues, which has taught me a lot in terms of creating intensity and suspense.

In I8U’s work, the terms and elements of traditional musical structures are transformed into and exchanged with analogous terms and elements:

The structures become blurred; the melodies become more subtle and part of a sound as opposed to the main part of a structured song. The chords become textures within the sounds and those textures move very much like chords but not the way traditional music does. The rhythm becomes a very slight pulse, more like a pace, being created by all the various textures being used and how they become intertwined.

I would say that certain aspects might contradict each other, but they are not mutually exclusive.

Herein lies an essential issue in contextualising any kind of experimentalism. Experimentalism exists only in relation to accepted, established or traditional forms. It’s how we approach, challenge, negate or build upon these forms that constitutes the experimental, and is a freedom completely at the artist’s discretion. The artist’s freedom, the enthusiasm for discovery, is what keeps I8U so passionate about her work:

Once I learn something, I want to move on to the next thing, not knowing necessarily what that will be, but pushing my own boundaries. I never know what the trigger will be, but I recognize it when it manifests itself.

Refusing to become stagnant is a strong force in I8U’s personality. For this reason, she is always looking for the next challenge. It is probably for this very reason that improvisation is an important element in her work. Her concert performances are almost entirely improvisational. After assessing the conditions of the room in terms of sound and acoustics, but also in terms of a listening environment for the audience, she creates her set accordingly:

Although I know the sounds I will use [in a live performance], I do not know the order I will use them in or their intensity – that happens instantly. I have a general feeling of how the audience is responding and I feed from that and improvise following the mood. I am very big on transitions live, my biggest challenge is to bring the listener from one place to another without their knowledge. I mean, they realize that we’re now somewhere else, a different sound and feel, but they can’t explain how it happened or where precisely the transition took place.

This is quite different from the way she works in the studio, where it’s just her and the sounds, and where she attends to these sounds with a passionate attention to detail. “I can work in a very detailed manner and ‘orchestrate’ every second if I feel like it,” she explains, “I can perfect and really ‘baby’ each track if you will.”

In the studio, I8U utilises a handful of unique tools for sound programming: a Korg ES1 sampler, Doepfer MS-404 analog synth, EMU-Morpheus, a Sony Minidisc with various microphones, and a PC in the studio on which she runs Tassman, a modular software synthesizer based on physical modeling techniques developed by a Montréal based company called Applied-Acoustic Systems. On stage, she will mainly use the Korg sampler and EMU-Morpheus synth.

In the coming week, I8U will be performing the opening event at this year’s MUTEK festival in Montréal <>. She will be performing in collaboration with experimental improviser Martin Tétrault, whom she met at another performance in the fall of 2000, this time alongside Francisco López, at the Silo #5. The desire to collaborate further lead to their decision to plan a session together:

In our first workshop, we got to know each other, what we could do and it turned out to be very interesting. Martin and I are both experimentalists as well as improvisers; you mix the two and you get an interesting brew. Playing with Martin immediately puts you in a very relaxed state of mind, and when that happens, things just flow freely, it’s a lot of fun! We then decided to meet again and this time record the sessions, a CD of which I believe will be available at Mutek.

They met a second time, this time making a complete recording of the sessions. They have now finished work on their CD which is planned to be launched to coincide with the events at Mutek 2001.

So long as her passion for experimentalism and her restlessness in the wake of constancy persist, I8U will continue to create inventive and engaging sound works for a growing public interested in experimental musical forms. The name “I8U” is itself a ironic comment on consumerism, the very fact, she explains, that “music is a product which is marketed to reach the various groups that consume it. … We consume music and we are consumed by it”. The name also implies a certain anonymity (and thus the emphasis is being placed on the work rather than the artist). If it can be said that I8U “eats” her audience with her engulfing sound environments, then she also ensures that each of its members is conscious of the entire process of consumption. Instead of putting the listener in a merely submissive position, she prods us to react to the sounds and participate in the concert as something more than merely a consumed thing.


Review – i8u (Pandora) 1999 – by Chris Twomey, Tandem

The public seems to have a strange relationship with dark electronic music. They’ll enjoy high caloric popcorn while trembling to the eerie sounds of a Hollywood blockbuster but without the visuals they won’t do so at home. Meanwhile the best in the field have infiltrated the movie business, with former industrialites like SPK’s Graeme Revell and Lustmord’s Brian Williams working on sound design for big budget films including Jurassic Park. In their wake comes Montreal-based i8u whose self-titled CD, from the web company Multimedias Pandora, is among the very best Canada has to offer the subterranean genre of dark-ambience. Her impressive synth atmospherics and speaker-shaking closely tuned drones light the way to a brooding landscape of your own imagination. Don’t miss the Toronto debut of i8u at The Opera House on Saturday, February 12th. – Chris Twomey

Review – i8u (Pandora) 1999 by T’cha Dunlevy, The Gazette

Montreal’s premier electronic-music adventurer stakes out new turf with his first Internet-only album. Available through his Web site ( – with a song (Pegel) that’s hot on the MP3 Top 500 – this collection returns Kristian to somewhat more accessible territory. While he’s still in a world all his own, he brings the beats back – subtle, strange rhythmic constructions. Add a universe of knob-twiddled, synthesized sound, then merge the two and you’ve got another notch on the belt of the city’s most prolific sound scientist.

As Kristian himself  joked in an interview a couple of weeks ago, female colleague i8u makes him look conservative this time out. Leaving behind beats altogether, the anonymous artist creates cold, dark electronic environments that evoke bad dreams where nothing happens. i8us Web address is Kristian: Rating four; I8U: Rating three

T’Cha Dunlevy