So far, Plumes and Plumes Ensemble have led very different lives. Although both bands are based in Montreal and share essentially the same personnel, the first is a chamber-pop band, focusing on atmospheric songs, while the second puts its emphasis on contemporary composition. Now, though, the two groups are well on their way to becoming one.
“The two sides are starting to blur,” says multi-instrumentalist Geof Holbrook, in a telephone interview from Guelph, Ontario. “I mean, we have a new record coming out under the name Plumes, and it has drums and electric guitar and keyboards and all that stuff, but it also has a lot of viola, a lot of bass clarinet, and there’s harp in there, too. So they sort of cross-fertilize.”
Further indication of this new fusion can be found in the touring program that Holbrook and company are bringing across the country this spring. Nominally a Plumes Ensemble project, it finds a drummerless, five-piece version of the group exploring the music of 13 Canadian composers, most of them young, who in turn have each been commissioned to arrange a song from cyber-pop star Grimes’s 2012 breakthrough release, Visions.
“Why Grimes? There’s a story there,” Holbrook explains. “So, this festival in Winnipeg, the Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival, they were the ones that came up with this idea. They suggested to have classical composers write interpretations of some pop album, and they were thinking of people like Joanna Newsom or Feist—people who have some sort of classical influence or instrumentation. We suggested doing Grimes, and doing this album, Visions, because we thought it would be interesting to take something that was more squarely in the pop world—although, you know, it’s certainly not straight-ahead pop. And they loved that. They loved that she was Canadian, and was based in the same city that we’re from. So that’s how that happened.”
Don’t expect note-for-note re-creations of Visions’ songs. For “Circumambient”, for instance, Vancouver New Music artistic director Giorgio Magnanensi “has an electronic part, which sounds like it’s a drone created from samples of the record, and then this graphic score—a free score that acts as a kind of guide,” Holbrook says. “It’s quite an intense piece, quite noisy, with a lot of activity.” Less agitated is Emilie LeBel’s take on “Symphonia IX”, in which she’s “sort of stretched the melody, so the voice has these very, very long notes, and also there are long, singing notes in the viola and the clarinet. And then the harp and the piano play this very intricate material.…It’s almost like she’s zoomed in on the track and discovered or invented these details in between the notes.”
It remains to be seen what the woman otherwise known as Claire Elise Boucher will make of it all. “Once we came up with the project, we tried to get in touch with her to see if she would give us her blessing, or see if she wanted to be involved somehow,” Holbrook says. “We didn’t manage to get a response from her, but a few days ago, she gave us a positive tweet. She said, ‘It seems to be as legit as fuck.’ ”