Musiques De L’O.N.F. – Music of the N.F.B.

What makes this double-LP from 1977 special is it perhaps the earliest appearance of backing tracks to many of the avant-garde films in Canada. They were composed and sequenced (if you can call it that)using the earliest synthesizers and/or tape manipulation techniques. The compositions date from 1951 (!) – 1972, early in the game indeed.

The music here is slow, cerebral, and extremely raw. Songs such as the backing to McLaren’s “Rythmetic” sound crude and rudimentary, composed entirely of primitive fart-esque oscillations. Other tracks add a slurry of spoken word and manipulated orchestral instrument samples to the mix. The techniques and styles are so dated many may find listening to this album the aural equivalent of watching a game of pong. However, that’s the reason I personally find it so fresh sounding. Musicians were still pushing the envelope and trying to squeeze every last ounce of performance and possibility from their equipment. It’s a far cry from today. Once you purchase a computer, you get the entire world of synthesis delivered to you with software packages such as Reason, MAX/MSP, etc.

The last track evolves from barberpole filtered oscillations into a deep bit of psych rock with jazz touches and moans, curiosity of an unknown band. Check it out below.

Alain Clavier: “Metadata”


  • Nice one. I’ve seen a McLaren film where the music was directly “drawn” on the optical tape with amazing effect. It was the story on the two wild neighbors. Maybe that music is on this record too?

  • i just found a copy of this double album at my local “friends of the library” bookstore in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. i friggin love it. Canada has an amazing history of avante-garde and electronic music. just up the road in Thunder Bay, Ontario, a man named Hugh LeCaine invented one of the first “synthesizers” called the electronic “sackbut” in 1948.

  • blinkity blank (1955)

    film by norman mclaren, music by maurice blackburn and norman mclaren.

    the instrumental music was composed in advance by maurice blackburn, at the request of mclaren. blackburn arranged his score so that a
    large element of improvisation was required with determined registers and following precise note-values. an ensemble of five instrumentalists
    improvised within this framework. mclaren later made his visuals, and in the completion stage introduced some short passages of animated sound
    (scratched directly on film) between the instrumental section.

    rhythmetic (1956)

    film and music by norman mclaren.

    this ‘rhythmic study, scratched directly on the film, is like sculpture done with a magnifying glass. the characteristics of the marks “carved”
    by the stylus in the emulsion – breadth, shape, angle, number and spacing – control the fluctuations of light and determine rhythm and timbre.

    la courte échelle (1964)

    film by jacques giraldeau, music by gabriel charpentier.

    after an analysis of the film, gabriel charpentier composed an improvisation-framework with notes of precise pitch but of no predetermined rhythm,
    using pre-established signals. the material was recorded on six tracks separately, and then re-assembled architecturally with the treated sounds
    and other sound effects laid out on twenty-one tracks.

    canon (1964)

    film by norman mclaren, music by eldon rathburn.

    introduced by the classic canon, “frere jacques”, eldon rathburn’s composition makes use of instrumental and concrete elements, with
    an interlacing of photographed animated music. as distinct from hand-scratched (or drawn) sound which gives only clicks of approximate pitch,
    animated sound using photographed cards has controlled pitch and is thus melodic. a few sound effects are also used, including a simulated cat miaow.

    christmas cracker (caprice de noël) (1963)

    film by gerald potterton, music by maurice blackburn.

    this extract is a true collage (in the graphic sense) oj sound elements. gathered from the sound library. it is an example of what can be done
    by editing, organizing and juxtaposing sounds of heterogeneous origin in a humorous, free-and-easy fashion.

    la forme des choses (the shape of things) (1965)

    film by jacques giraldeau, music by pierre mercure.

    composed for a film on north america’s first sculpture symposium held in montreal, in the summer of 1964, this music was based on the sounds
    to be heard in that location in order that the “sound-space” of the sculpture could be re-created. to the instrumental music, therefore,
    was added concrete music – recordings of the noise of tools, the ring of stone under the chisel, the sounds of jean vaillancourt’s workshop
    in montreal, including the roar of the forge, hammered metal, pouring of molten iron – sound reworked by distortion or in the echo chamber
    (at mc gill university). the whole was conceived starting from the concrete sound and re-thought, re-created on the cutting bench to fit the
    theme of the film and the unfolding of the images.

    jour aprčs jour (day after day) (1962)

    film by clement perron, music by maurice blackburn.

    …and man said: make the machine in our image and according to our likeness…” in the resulting “total” sound-poem, concrete music expands
    industrial and miscellaneous sound-effects (recorded in studio or selected from the sound library) to proclaim the universal domination of
    the machine-gone-mad, the power of the word and the human voice. speech is counterpointed with entirely unfettered sound – galloping horse hooves,
    locomotives, hooters, trees crashing down, noise of machines… this sound track was,created without score directly on the moviola by maurice
    blackburn with words by clement perron and the voice of anne claire poirier.

    neighbors (voisins) (1952)

    film and music by norman mclaren.

    this work by mclaren illustrates a dispute between two neighbours and uses photographed sound produced by an animation method – frame by frame
    – employing cards each of which carries the black-and-white pattern of a particular sound pitch, and combining these to give the desired music.

    dimensions soleils (1970)

    film by raymond brousseau, music by gilles tremblay.

    “from my first contract with the visuals of brousseau, the use of electroacoustical music seemed inevitable to me. after considering the means
    at my disposal, i opted for the simple solution of editing/mixing a selection of concrete sounds divided into two families: even tracks and unevenly
    oscillating groups. these two families served as my point of departure and corresponded to the dialectic of the film, with, however, a wide door
    left open for associational ideas, graftings which could bring about that ‘geométrie effervescente. ‘ with the first image/sound associations
    established, the music moves forward in its own dimension”. gilles tremblay

    metadata (1971)

    film by peter foldes, music by alain clavier.

    this sound track accompanies a film made with computer – the first experiment of its kind – produced at the national research council, ottawa.
    to a first composition based on natural (concrete) sounds treated electro-acoustically, there is linked instrumental, melodic music
    (recorded in studio) in which, at certain moments, short concrete blocks come into view.

  • tracks:

    1-01 blinkity bank
    1-02 rhythmetic
    1-03 la courte echelle
    1-04 canon
    1-05 christmas cracker (caprice de noel)
    1-06 la forme des choses (the shape of things)
    2-01 jour apres jour (day after day)
    2-02 neighbours (voisins)
    2-03 dimensions soleils
    2-04 metada

  • Thanks for sharing this.

    Many of those films can now be seen free online on the NFB website.

  • This is very cool, gonna keep an eye out for a copy. Thanks for posting.

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