Instrumental Olympics

Torngat flex their musical muscles

From the epic washes of Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the rest of the Constellation records crew to the instrumental glitches of genre leaders like Tim Hecker and Mitchell Akiyama wordless composition has always found favour in Montreal. Maybe the city’s adoption of two languages has forced artists to go without lyrics to convey their message to the fans on both sides of the English-French barrier or maybe it’s simply due to follow-the-leader syndrome. Whatever the case it can’t be denied that a surprising portion of instrumental music’s elite calls the city home.

Torngat are the latest band to follow in this tradition with You Could Be just released on Alien8 Recordings. Rather than employing tricks like the slow-burn epics and minimalist electronics of their counterparts in the scene the band has pursued a sound all their own. Like a soundtrack for the circus adorning the album cover You Could Be sounds like music a child might write after experiencing the thrills of riding a merry-go-round for the first time. It’s far more sophisticated though — the album is a lush orchestral soundscape that is bursting with sonic ideas.

“We definitely didn’t hold back on overdubs when we got in [the studio]” remarks Torngat’s French horn player Pietro Amato who also plays with both Bell Orchestre and Arcade Fire. “Once the record was finished we had to take a month to relearn how to play everything. It was a bit of a challenge due to the fact that we added so many overdubs in the studio and we felt that so many of the parts were quite necessary for the song. To be honest if you know the record and you see us live there isn’t much missing.”

A quick look at the stage plot on the band’s website confirms this point. Including xylophones melodicas and a random percussion table on top of the general rig a rock band would use the setup looks like a sound tech’s nightmare. Being that there’s only three members in the band the staggering amount of gear seems almost extraneous but Amato assures that it is all necessary in re-creating the sound of the record.

“We all switch around and play percussion and brass and keyboards and xylophones all at the same time. In one song [drummer Julien Poissant] plays bass keyboard with his left hand trumpet with his right hand bass drum with his right foot and hi-hat with his left foot. He’s like a one-man-band back there. One of our ideas for this tour was to be three and sound like 10 and so far that’s been happening pretty well.”

The barrage Amato describes sounds like it would require a feat of athleticism to pull off so it comes as no surprise when he says all three members are very sporty in their spare time. On top of playing soccer and tennis the band held numerous ping-pong tournaments in their time off during the recording of You Could Be in a barn-turned-studio outside Montreal. Besides keeping the members of Torngat fit for their onstage olympics the band’s interest in sports also landed them their record deal with one of Montreal’s finest purveyors of instrumental music.

“I play hockey with Gary one of the dudes from Alien8” says Amato. “It’s a music league and both me and Gary have always liked each other’s hockey styles. I had to leave for awhile to make the record and when he found out he said ‘Oh you’re making a record I want to hear it when it’s done.’ I guess he knew I could score a goal so he thought maybe I was a good musician too.”

Things definitely look to be on the rise for the band. Besides the acclaim surrounding their latest record they recently returned from a one-off date opening for Icelandic band Múm. Amato seems excited with how well things have been going this year but he says Torngat have not achieved the superstar status of the other acts he plays with.

“Doing the cross-Canada thing with Arcade Fire you don’t have to plan anything” he says. “They’re so big that you just show up and play and get back on the tour bus. This tour is definitely a lot more work for us and nowhere near as glamorous. For example right now I’m sending out e-mails looking for places to crash along the way. No tour buses for us.”