Composer Profile: Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay
Pierre Alexandre Tremblay


Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (Montréal, 1975) is a composer and a performer on bass guitar and sound processing devices, in solo and within the groups ars circa musicæ (Paris, France), de type inconnu (Montréal, Québec), and Splice (London, England, UK). He is a member of the London-based collective Loop. His music is released by Empreintes DIGITALes and Ora.

He formally studied composition with Michel Tétreault, Marcelle Deschênes, and Jonty Harrison, bass guitar with Jean-Guy Larin, Sylvain Bolduc, and Michel Donato, analysis with Michel Longtin and Stéphane Roy, studio technique with Francis Dhomont, Robert Normandeau, and Jean Piché.

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay is Professor in Composition and Improvisation at the University of Huddersfield (England, UK) where he also is Director of the Electronic Music Studios. He previously worked in popular music as producer and bassist, and is interested in videomusic and coding.

He likes spending time with his family, drinking oolong tea, gazing at dictionaries, reading prose, and taking long walks. As a founding member of the no-tv collective, he does not own a working television set.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

Listening to Mozart and the Beatles with headphones (and scores for the latter). I was 8 or 9, and the headphone experience was magical: I was transported in another place, like by magic! I had musical training for a couple of years then (vocal ear training, then classical guitar) but nothing that moved me that much. The Beatles scores were also important, as they looked so cryptic yet full of good ideas! The fact that my family was listening to a very wide range of music without canonic thinking (blues, classical, prog rock, jazz were all equal) was also very influential: experiencing the power of recorded music to go many different places, depending on the moment.  I found it to be a very rich, ear-opening experience.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?

Wow, this is a complicated question to unravel. Many hundreds of composers, in dozens of styles, have been important to me, and they are different in each stage of my life! Some key artists in my past, in a very imperfect order (alphabetical) – and I forget some very important I’m sure!

Amon Tobin
Aphex Twin
Bela Bartok
Bill Evans (trio at village vanguard)
Dave Holland
Dr Dre
Edgar Varèse
Einstürzende Neubauten
Gustav Holst (the Planets)
Jimi Hendrix
John Coltrane
Johann Sebastian Bach
Kasper Toepliz
Led Zepplin
György Ligeti
Michel Chion (requiem)
Miles Davis
Mozart (last period)
Olivier Messian
Ornette Coleman
Peter Gabriel
Pink Floyd
Ravi Shankar
Steve Coleman
Taylor Deupree
The Beatles
The Cure
The Montréal acousmatic school around Empreintes DIGITALes (mostly Gilles Gobeil and Yves Daoust) and its outsiders (mostly Alain Thibault)
The Police / Sting
The Roots
Tim Berne
Trevor Horn (with Seal, the Art of Noise, and Yes)

Also, less famous but at least as important have been my composition teachers (and co-students) at Cégep St-Laurent, Université de Montréal and University of Birmingham; my fellow band members (in [iks], ars circa musicæ, and Splice); and  my students and colleagues at the University of Huddersfield.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?

I am a slow composer, and a very empirical one. I work in the studio, in solo or in group, and I work with the material I hear. I presume that my electroacoustic training, my pop producer experience and my experimental jazz rehearsals have developed that bias in my musical process: I work with the sound I hear.

Paradoxically, I find sitting at a computer very uninspiring. As I also have instrumental composition training, it helps me have overarching abstract ideas on form and material… most of these ideas are notated in a precious composition book, far from the computer screen! I take note of them as they emerge, and that can be anywhere. I find that concerts, commuting and long walks in the moors are three very inspiring places…

Then I sit at the computer to do the rendition of those ideas, but in a fluid manner, letting the processes and sounds carry me where they want. Then I usually prune the bushy material and sculpt in in a piece. For these sessions, I am very much a morning person, before I open the can of worms that are my diary and my email browser. Useless to say that these quality morning are a rare thing during the academic year, yet I try to have at least one good day a week.

There is also the daily discipline of instrument practice: the fretless bass guitar is an impatient lover 😉 This goes on in the evenings usually, as well as the more technical part of the rendition of ideas like dsp coding or synthesis design…

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

Please describe one of your recent compositions and provide a link to an audio clip.

The last piece I composed, for saxophone quartet and electronics and premiered last week by Quasar, has no recording of it, so let’s talk about the second to last: a short chamber opera for soprano and electronics, entitled ‘Still, Again’, composed for the amazing Peyee Chen. 

The piece is about waiting, and all the emotions that are experienced when one is postponing.   The program note is quite eloquent in that respect: the piece is a cycle through passive aggressive doubts and mumbling, lyrical hopes, explosive anger and sad regrets. The musical influences are ranging from Bjork and Thom Yorke, to Aperghis and the Clicks_+_Cuts early glitch people. As usual, and documented in my different papers, the electronic counterpart is a blend of real-time electronics and stemmed fixed parts, triggered in order to leave musical flexibility to the performer. 

It is available on my latest mixed music cd on Empreintes DIGITALes, and you can hear a clip of the piece here:


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