Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux

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Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux is remembered as much for her contemporary classical and electro-acoustic works as for her efforts to carve a niche for women in the male-dominated music institutions…
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Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux is remembered as much for her contemporary classical and electro-acoustic works as for her efforts to carve a niche for women in the male-dominated music institutions of the 1970s and 1980s. The Quebecer died in her forties of a brain tumor before she could earn much recognition. Her works range from solo and chamber pieces for piano and string instruments to musique concrète. She made particular use of the voice and included the Ondes Martenot in many of her scores, which never failed to give her music a very special aura.

Coulombe Saint-Marcoux (born August 8, 1938) grew up in the Quebec region of Lac Saint-Jean, close to nature and family values. Singing was an integral part of her family life and she began piano studies at an early age. In 1958, she moved to Montreal to pursue her music studies, already determined to become a composer. She frequented the Institut Cardinal-Léger, the École Vincent d'Indy (under Clermont Pépin), and finally the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal (under Claude Champagne). She graduated in 1967 with first prize in composition for "Modulaire," a work for Ondes Martenot and orchestra, and was awarded a Prix d'Europe by the Académie de Musique de Québec, the first to be given to a woman.

In 1968, Coulombe Saint-Marcoux left for Paris. The previous year, she had met Iannis Xenakis while he was at Expo 1967 (the World's Fair) in Montreal. He strongly encouraged her to go study with Pierre Schaeffer at the GRM. Until 1971, she learned the secrets of musique concrète with Schaeffer, François Bayle, and Jean-Pierre Guézec, and created her first tape pieces "Chut" (1969), "Bernavir" (1970 -- both of these have been lost), "Contrastances" (1971), and "Arksalalartôq" (1971), the latter displaying her growing fascination for the human voice.

Back in Montreal in 1971, she joined the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal where she taught until her death. She took an important part in the development of electro-acoustic music in Montreal, helping build an electro-acoustic music studio, organizing events, and giving lectures. Being the only female professor in composition in the area during the 1970s, she also often spoke about the condition of women composers and became an inspiration for the younger generation. Even though "Hétéromorphie" was premiered by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in 1970, in general her music received very little exposure. More and more during the '70s and early '80s, she attempted to bridge musique concrète and ensemble music, experimenting with the spatialization of acoustic sounds and integrating voice in the process. She worked with poets Noël Audet ("Makazoti," 1971), Nicole Brossard ("Alchera," 1973), Paul Chamberland ("Ishuma," 1974), and France Théorêt ("Transit," 1984).

Her music has rarely been recorded, but in late 2001, the Montreal label Empreintes DIGITALes released Impulsion, a CD regrouping all her known tape works.