Jean-Michel Blais
Il

Jean-Michel Blais, Il

 

From the start, DOMINIONATED has tried to engage readers in #CanadianMusicConvos: conversations about, with, and because of Canadian music. An outside observer may find the hashtag contrived, but earlier this month, I found myself deeply involved in such a conversation, one that sprang from our very own blog posts.

Mac woke up on November 9 and like many of us, discovered the world is totally different from the way it had been the night before. Mac writes a post about how he’s feeling, a post about Shaun Weadick and how his music provided him solace and comfort. In his post, he throws out a mention to Jean-Michel BlaisIl, an album that helps slow Mac down and calms him when he’s feeling most anxious.

Il is a record I spent time with early in 2016 but hadn’t revisited since. Being in need of slowing down myself, I went back to Blais’ record, hoping to find a place of calm and respite from what’s turned out to be a difficult autumn for me personally. My expectations were low (and the lights in my bedroom were dimmed lower) when I settled in to re-engage with Blais, but I soon felt physiological changes happening. My breathing slowed and evened out. The white noise of my thoughts quieted. My eyes stopped darting around and settled in their sockets. Knots that I hadn’t noticed in my lower back loosened their grip on my spine.

I’m not a stranger to piano music. I live with a piano and pianist. What I appreciate most when my partner plays in the house is not the tonal qualities of the instrument or the beauty in the melodies, but the physical effort that it takes to make the music audible. I love to watch him play just as much as I love to hear him play. And so it was, sitting still in the dark with Blais.

Listen to it passively and you will experience its subtle intelligence, its simple beauty. Engage with it actively, though, and Il begins communicating more than just melodies and improvisations. By capturing the ambient sounds of his apartment as he recorded these pieces, Blais allows listeners to see and feel him playing, even if it’s just in the mind’s eye. “Casa”, the longest song (and the one that sounds most fully formed), radiates with raw emotion. The improvisations (“Hasselblad 4” and “Hasselblad 2”) are exquisite snapshots of a moment in time, captured as they happened in the same way a photographer captured Blais creating these works using a Hasselblad camera for the album artwork.

Seven months ago when I first listened to Il, I didn’t know how to engage with it. I didn’t know what to say in the conversation Blais wanted to have with me. Maybe at the time, I was trying to impose something on these eight songs that they weren’t able to be. Maybe it had something to do with my physiological state at the time, maybe I didn’t need Il the way I need it now. Whatever. It is with me now. Il has been with me every day since I first went back to listen to it. It has led me on a path to discovering Nils Frahm (whom Blais often gets compared to), and to savouring how often the most profound moments of personal enlightenment can come from the most simple of elements.

If that’s not a #CanadianMusicConvo then I don’t know what is.

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