Among the many anecdotes that John Cage wrote for his books and recited during performances of Merce Cunningham’s “How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run,” some of the best were about his mother. One involved his visiting his mother and discovering that she was in a location where her radio did not receive very many stations. This meant that about all she could pull in was a local Top 40 station. When Cage asked if this bothered her, she replied, “No, I’m not very fussy about music.” She then looked at Cage and added, “You’re not very fussy about music, either; are you, John?” This would bring all sorts of knowing chuckles from anyone who had been exposed to Cage’s work.
Listening to the new album Volksmobiles, self-released by collectif9, which calls itself “Montreal’s cutting-edge classical string band,” it was hard to avoid recalling Cage’s mother having to listen to nothing other than mediocre pop and rising above the occasion by being “not very fussy” about it. Actually, collectif9 does not appear to be very fussy about things either. Volksmobiles will be launched this Friday at the Théâtre Outremont in Montreal, but one has to be both patient and persistent with Google to find any information about the album. The primary presence for the album is a Web page on bandcamp, which enabled downloads this past Friday and has a hyperlink for placing an order for the CD, which is due for release this coming Friday.
The name of the group comes from the membership of nine string players. This breaks down into four violins (Roland Arnassalon, Yubin Kim, Frédéric Moisan, and Grégor Monlun), two violas (Scott Chancey and Xavier Lepage-Brault), two cellos (Jérémie Cloutier and Andrea Stewart), and one bass (Thibault Bertin-Maghit). The title of the album is also the title of the “main attraction,” a three-movement piece by Geof Holbrook written with support from the Commissioning of Canadian Compositions program. It was conceived for the nine individual parts of collectif9, concluding with an all-percussion movement based on different ways to strike the bodies of the instruments.
All of the remaining four pieces on the album involve some form of reworking, although only two are explicitly credited with arrangement by Bertin-Maghit. The first of these, listed as “Rondo alla zingarese,” is based on the final movement of Johannes Brahms’ Opus 25 piano quartet in G minor; and it comes off as “not very fussy” about either the Brahms original or the far more inventive arrangement for full orchestra by Arnold Schoenberg. The other is “Sonata, Allegretto,” which comes from Alfred Schnittke’s first violin sonata but is “not very fussy” about letting the listener know which Schnittke composition provided the source. There is also a “condensed version” of the final movement of Béla Bartók’s divertimento (which he composed for string ensemble) and a “rousing version” of André Gagnon’s “Petit concerto pour Carignan,” which is apparently a “Quebec classic” and seems to incorporate an old recording of Jean Carignan playing what Gagnon had written for him.
The bottom line is that collectif9 comes across as a group whose highest priority may well be appearing to be hip, which means that they also leave the impression that they are “not very fussy about music.”