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Danielle Boutet’s P »Pièces« is a mysterious artifact of Quebecois marginalia, self-released in 1985. Moving from languid ennui to high drama, »Pièces« is a dreamy gestalt, an album that borders Chanson, spoken-word, jazz noir, and minimalism, conjured from the chasm between acoustic and electronic realms. »Pièces« allows us a window into the highly intimate songcraft and compositional skill of an artist who longed to linger not in the public eye, but in relation with others and the world around her.
Born in Quebec City, Boutet studied music at the University of Montreal, where she focused on composition and percussion, before becoming involved in Montreal’s feminist and lesbian art scene. Primarily written, performed, and recorded by Boutet, with voice, guitar work, and technical assistance by Sylvie Gagnon, Pièces was created during a paradigm shift in home recording. Originally composed for the piano, Boutet and Gagnon utilized a consumer-friendly Tascam 4-track Portastudio and versatile Yamaha DX-7, alongside guitar, bass, marimba, and the human voice, to expand and contemporize the original composition’s scope.
Inspired by prog rock and British poet and musician Anne Clark, »Pièces« translates Boutet’s influence by moving between sunny, wistful fairytale and dark, wintry dirge. Filled with longing marimba, vertiginous, startling synth pads, and folk guitar, each track on Pièces offers a wholly unique proposition. Some are modal and rife with the ethereal psychological tension of a sci-fi soundtrack, while others are more like entering a smoke-laced lounge, the entertainer embodying seduction.
With the sprechgesang of artists like Serge Gainsbourg, there is an intense intimacy to Boutet’s delivery, sometimes as if she is performing for an audience of one. As one lyric goes, translated to English from French: “Like holograms/ Images from a world/ That inhales souls/ And exudes drama.” Another song contains an excerpt from The Tao of Physics: “The eastern sages specify clearly that they do not identify an ordinary void, but rather, a void having an infinite creative potential.”
To English-language audiences, the album’s title, »Pièces«, might seem to simply refer to the eleven different pieces. The title can also, of course, refer to parts of a larger whole, but Boutet is keen to point out that there is also another meaning: In French, a pièce is a room. On the cover of the original cassette, Boutet is seen sitting on a chair, alone in an empty apartment, a cable snaking at her feet. Listening to »Pièces« is like entering eleven different rooms: whether a study encased in shadow, a greenhouse left to wither in an eternal frost, or a divine nave.
Boutet sold a few dozen copies around Montreal, a scene mostly occupied by the new wave explosion de rigueur, but the inclusion of Pièces in the 1987 issue of Ladyslipper—the North Carolina-based mail order catalog that championed women musicians of all calibers and careers—led to more exposure throughout North America. “In the catalog,” Boutet says, “they included it in the New Age section, but I was, and still am, aware that this album is relatively unclassifiable.”
Boutet would release one more album, titled Musiques Urbaines, before getting pulled in the direction of interdisciplinary art and theory. “Although I never stopped making music, I lost all interest in public diffusion or performance,” Boutet says. Despite her departure from performance and publicly releasing music, she left behind a strange and enthralling document of Montreal’s 1980s feminist fringe, an aural document of the historic moment when self-recorded music and its practical potential became a prismatic reality.
Danielle Boutet’s Pièces arrives February 16, 2024 as part of uncommon¢ (“uncommon sense”), an open-ended, serialized endeavor from Freedom to Spend that provides new meaning for rarefied recordings from music’s outermost fringe.