Do you know Clio Em? If so, perhaps you know her as a writer, or a poet? Oh no, you’re right, she’s a singer. Classical or folk? But did you also see her playing piano and guitar? And what about her composer side? Folk, contemporary? You got it, both… and even more than that. Clio is a multidisciplinary artist. Inspired by such different and talented musicians as Leonard Cohen, Bach, and Bjork, she presented the fruit of a hard month’s labour on July 28, 2015: a cycle of songs and music called GRAVITY WING. 14 songs written in 28 days. Nothing less.
Written during the February Album Writing Month, the genesis of this work stood in stark contrast to the hot and heavy night of its Montreal Premiere. Part of the “You, Yourself and Friends” series, organized by the curator Daniel Génilas, Clio Em’s music was like a cool breeze: instantly refreshing us from heavy heat of the day. At the vegan-friendly restaurant Café Résonance on Avenue du Parc in Montréal, Clio quickly created an intimate and friendly atmosphere, inviting us to enter into a world of science fiction: not only is the music otherworldly, but the storyline is also based on a work-in-progress science-fi novel by the artist.
Following the life of Isabelle (an earthling) and Serge (an extraterrestrial), Clio guides us through a wide variety of musical styles including old French virelai, folk songs, chanson française, and electroacoustic music. The magic is that they create a unified whole, the variety of styles not sounding fortuitous. Rather, the narrative script dictates the different atmospheres. As an answer to those who would criticise this choice, she says: “Because the GRAVITY WING songs provide a sort of soundtrack to my novel, I wanted them to show listeners the atmosphere of my imagined world.”
At first, one may find that these are only simple folk songs, but pay attention. The songs are very well written and not just because they’re catchy. Comprising a well-balanced pot-pourri of multiple inspirations, they are as easy to listen to as they are intelligent and inspired. The cycle might not be perfect or of equal quality throughout, but you can feel a strong creative undercurrent pulling her in the right direction.
Asked what kind of place GRAVITY WING took in her creative output, which includes written work, contemporary music, and folk music, she answered: “GRAVITY WING is the project that most accurately and honestly expresses who I am. It is a science fiction concept album drawing from classical, electronic, experimental, and folk sound worlds.” How could one more accurately sum up what we heard that night? The power of this artist is that she achieved her artistic goals for the project. She knew what she wanted and attained it.
As a performer, Clio is as comfortable on stage as a fish is in water. Instead of preparing every detail of the show as a conductor would prepare a rehearsal, she goes with the flow. She’s spontaneous. Don’t expect one of those flamboyant performers. She is not on stage to blow your mind with virtuoso movements. She prefers to use a minimum of artifice so the listener can fully concentrate on the music. Her voice is light but solid and her gestures add just enough theatricality to enhance the musical experience. Moving from the piano to the ukulele with equal ease, nothing can disturb her stage presence. Rather, she takes advantage of every unusual moment during the show to make it even better, creating an instant rapport with the audience. As the venue does not call for perfect timing and pacing anyway, we might think that she was in fact adapting her show to the atmosphere of the Café Résonance.
It is really unfortunate that she was not able, due to the technical limitations of the venue, to present more than a single semi-electroacoustic works. The rare negative points of the night were related to these technical drawbacks and difficulties and to the sounds of dishes and cooking emanating from the kitchen. In conclusion, if you want to listen to serialism and post-war music, don’t look to her. But if you’re curious about what type of music a child of the 21st-century can create, follow her, step by step.