Agitated Atmosphere: Jean Piche - Heliograms

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Jean Piche.

As bourgeoisie Americans, we often neglect the work of our northern neighbors. We reduce Canada to jokes about B-actors, thick accents and comely attitudes. It’s a sham perpetrated by us to feel superior despite the size and scope of Canada. It may not be perfect but it produces its share of wondrous invention and artistic revelation.

Enter Jean Piche.

A master of electroacoustic music and a professor since 1988, Piche once engaged in creation with the bright-eyed enthusiasm all nestlings enjoy. As a student at Simon Fraser University, Piche recorded what was to become 1982’s Heliograms. Considering the musical landscape at the time and the direction synthesized melodies took in pop music, Piche’s work was a lost classic until Digitalis’ recent reissue.

Given the current esteem of synthesizer and computer-generated composition, 30 years since Heliograms’ first pressing, Piche’s work can now find the audience it intended to reach. Hauntingly beautiful and still ahead of the curve, Heliograms is a work of magnificent scope that continues to grow with each listen.


“Ange” (Excerpt)

The fog settles on “Ange” for a meditative beginning. Night falls on Piche’s world, the stars twinkling behind the compact clouds. “La Mer a L’aube” emerges from the thick veil, steeled with modern compositional tones and structure, foretelling the revolution that was to pass. “Heliograms” is where Piche’s vision coalesces, surpassing outsider art to unveil a maverick streak. Harkening the arrival of Tim Hecker, Pete Swanson and Kyle Parker decades before their first movements, “Heliograms” is a modern classic, the archetype for much of what has come to pass.

Heliograms is a rare treat, a work 30 years beyond its sell by date yet still untouched by rust, bacteria and time. Jean Piche will never receive the credit he is due but this reissue of Heliograms is further proof that the United States isn’t the only home to innovation within North America.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. You can also find him on Twitter.

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