Charting new territory

Montreal’s Torngat take their name and some musical inspiration from a mountain range in northern Labrador.
Montreal’s Torngat take their name and some musical inspiration from a mountain range in northern Labrador.

The Torngat mountains lie along the northern tip of Labrador and are best described as unpredictable.

Without warning, weather in the region can change from a mild and sunny snowscape to an unwavering, torrential storm. No one has survived efforts to chart this region, so there is no determined pathway along the mountains’ slopes.

Torngat, the Montreal-based three-piece, named themselves after this mountain range. Their soundscapes, though less deadly, match the unpredictable nature of the mountains with their improvisational meanderings and spontaneity.

“We liked the idea that the mountains were wild,” said Mathieu Charboneau, who plays keyboards and various other instruments in the band.

“That’s an aspect that we like. ... It’s changing and unpredictable,” he said. “But not the aspect of people dying.”

In September Torngat released their second full-length album. You Could Be is a collection of 12 instrumental tracks which were recorded in a barn over a one-month period. It marks the band’s first full-length as a trio, after bassist Sylvain Delisle left the group in 2003.

“All of our other records were recorded in a few days,” said Charboneau. “The first one [2002’s self-titled release] was recorded in three days. The second [2005’s La Rouge EP] took five or six.”

“There was more time to experiment and improvise. ... Our second record had no improvisation and our first record was mostly improvised. With [You Could Be] we found a balance.”

During the recording of You Could Be, french horn player Pietro Amato, drummer Julien Poissant and Charboneau were veritably cut off from the outside world. They spent one month writing, recording and enjoying each other’s company in a newly-renovated barn.

“There wasn’t hay or cows and stuff,” Charboneau said jokingly. “It was a good experience because we were just the three of us ... to get in this head space for a month. No e-mail and no phone. It was special.”

When they finished, the serene rural landscape of their recording process changed to a busy, crowded concert scene in Toronto.

“There was a period of readjustment. We came back [to Montreal] and left to play the Harbourfront Centre that night.”

Amato, Charboneau and Poissant went to high school together in Ottawa but they didn’t begin playing music together until 2001 when studying music at Concordia University.

“The first time we played music together, we did a recording session overnight,” Charboneau said. ”It’s not on the market. It was just for document’s sake.”

On stage, Amato, Charboneau and Poissant share drums, keyboard, trumpet, french horn, wurlitzer, analog synthesizer and xylophone. Having only three people share and swap so many instruments is a challenge they’re willing to endure because, as Charboneau explained, it makes the band stronger.

“It’s a nice challenge. You have be on the ball. A magic thing happens ... it’s a triangle effect. We’re all a bit more connected. Sometimes, with bigger bands, one person isn’t into it. Or with four people, you’re split in half. The more people, the harder it gets.”

Torngat is a triumvirate that isn’t confined by song structure or stage. As they improvise their way through uncharted melodies, they might leave the stage and make their way into the audience or the back of the room, as Amato, who also plays with Bell Orchestre and the Arcade Fire, did at a show last October at The Grad Club. They aren’t confined by genre affiliations either.

“We’re a mix of instruments and genres. You can’t really nail it down with one sort, that’s for sure.”

Elements of classical music, free jazz, experimental, ambient, rock and electronica float in and out of their aural terrain.

“It doesn’t really sound like anything specific,” Charboneau said.

You might describe Torngat as eclectic. Or you might compare them to bands like Do Make Say Think, Shalabi Effect or Fly Pan Am.

Charboneau choses to describe his band’s sound more pragmatically.

“When people ask, we tell them, french horn, keyboards and drums.”

Torngat are playing at The Grad Club this Saturday, Oct. 20. Tickets are $12 and are available at Destinations and The Grad Club.

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