Nicole Lizée somehow managed to emerge from McGill and the Montreal ecosystem and not write complex spectral music. Instead of sounding like IRCAM, her electronics sound more like Intellivision. She has found a voice that really works for her – and in the process and inadvertently become one of Canada’s most interesting and sought-after composers.

There’s a lot to like in this piece. The “simulated” delay effect between the piano and the Rhodes is a grind to get right, but it is worth the effort. This is a trademark move of Lizée – placing her listeners in unfamiliar realms of psychedelic sonority. It is similar to Tristan Perich’s qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq, where the traditional role of narrative is subsumed by finding yourself in this unexpected and intriguing new cloud of sound.

There is a vintage analog rack aesthetic to the sounds favoured by Lizée, and if you don’t like it, you won’t enjoy this piece. There’s a lot to like though. The amazing orchestration at 3:47 in the recording – and the love theme that follows – are a few of my favourite moments. And for those of you pianists who have never played a Rhodes or fooled around with delay, tremolo and Rotovibe pedals, it is totally worth the drive to Long and McQuade. I love having all of these parameters with which to colour my playing, and even better are the pots to twist and turn in the moment. The Rhodes itself contains many gradations of sound, and depending on which emulator you are using, or if you can manage to track down (and schlep) a real one, you can choose your own character. Another small but not insignificant practical advantage of this piece is the ability to perform with two pianists and only one piano. Toca Loca has amassed a small repertory of music like this, for maximum flexibility.

This is another of those works that seems simple but isn’t at all easy, especially the drum parts. This seems to be one of Lizée’s calling cards (c.f. Girl You’re Living a Life of Crime – a close to perfect piece). If you can’t pull this off without metronomic accuracy, given that there is an inviolable track playing along with you, you are going to be losing a lot off your punch.

Promises, Promises is just one piece of many by this composer that I would heartily recommend. Once you’ve polished and performed it, check out: This Will Not Be Televised, the aforementioned Girl, Colliding Galaxies, Marsh Chapel Experiment, and pretty much everything else.

Optional section: Notes to the Performer:

  • My keyboard of choice is the Nord Electro (or the stage). I also quite like the Yamaha Motif sounds.
  • Now that I’ve been playing Nicole’s music for a few decades, I can offer this piece of advice – record yourself playing with track, even if you’re using a click to practise with. There are subtleties located within the track that you need to approach from a chamber music perspective, both to fit in, and to make the line gel.

Title:   Promises, Promises

Composer:  Nicole Lizée

Country:  Canada

Duration:  9 min

Date of Composition:  2008

Publisher:  Canadian Music Centre

Purchase Link: Borrow or Purchase at CMC

Commission:  Toca Loca/Canada Council for the Arts


Premiere:  Toca Loca, 25 March 2008, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada

Performance History:  

  • Toca Loca, 26 March 2008, Music Room, Halifax, NS, Canada
  • Toca Loca, 1 April 2008, Schulich Hall, Montreal, PQ, Canada
  • Toca Loca, 10 September 2009, Berghain, Berlin, Germany
  • Toca Loca, 15 October 2009, Western Front, Vancouver, BC, Canada


P*P – Toca Loca








Instrumentation Notes:  For Piano, Rhodes piano, 1 percussionist and audio track (triggered from laptop)

Percussion List:  Glockenspiel, Sizzle cymbal, Splash Cymbal, Ride Cymbal, Hi-hat, Metal Piece/plate, Cabasa, Tambourine, Medium Tom-tom, Snare drum, kick drum.

Notes by Nicole Lizée

From the mid 70s to mid 80s many music genres and subgenres came into existence as a reactionary response. Punk music began as a reaction to the polished, overproduced arena rock of the 1970s. Post-Punk was a reaction to the nihilism and questionable musicianship of Punk. Synth-Punk attempted to fuse the attitude and energy of Post-Punk with New Wave.  New Wave was created primarily using synthesizers and drum machines; its production was polished and its image was squeaky clean.  Synth-Punk used a similar instrumentation to create dark, gritty, lo-fi, aggressive music that maintained a melodious quality.  From these genres came: No Wave.  A reaction to New Wave, its title reflects a disassociation with any one genre. It has been described as experimental, deconstructionist, atonal and abstract, where mood and texture are favoured and conventional harmony and melody (associated with New Wave and Synth-Punk) are tossed out.

Called a “brilliant musical scientist” and lauded for “creating a stir with listeners for her breathless imagination and ability to capture Gen-X and beyond generation”, JUNO-nominated composer Nicole Lizée creates new music from an eclectic mix of influences including the earliest MTV videos, turntablism, rave culture, Hitchcock, Kubrick, 1960s psychedelia and 1960s modernism. She is fascinated by the glitches made by outmoded and well-worn technology and captures these glitches, notates them and integrates them into live performance.
Nicole’s compositions range from works for orchestra and solo turntablist featuring DJ techniques fully notated and integrated into a concert music setting, to other unorthodox instrument combinations that include the Atari 2600 video game console, omnichords, stylophones, Simon™, and karaoke tapes. In the broad scope of her evolving oeuvre she explores such themes as malfunction, reviving the obsolete, and the harnessing of imperfection and glitch to create a new kind of precision.
In 2001 Nicole received a Master of Music degree from McGill University. After a decade and a half of composition, her commission list of over 50 works is varied and distinguished and includes the Kronos Quartet, Carnegie Hall, BBC Proms, the San Francisco Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Eve Egoyan, the Australian Art Orchestra, l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, CBC, Radio-Canada, NYC’s Kaufman Center, Powerplant, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, So Percussion, Ben Reimer, Vicky Chow, Tapestry Opera, Standing Wave, Gryphon Trio, MATA Festival, TorQ Percussion, Fondation Arte Musica/Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, E-Gré National Music Competition, Innovations en Concert, ECM+, Continuum, Soundstreams, SMCQ, Arraymusic, Megumi Masaki, and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Her music has been performed worldwide in renowned venues including Carnegie Hall (NYC), Royal Albert Hall (London), Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam) and Cité de la Musique (Paris) – and in festivals including the BBC Proms (UK), Huddersfield (UK), Roskilde (Denmark), Bang On a Can (USA), Classical:NEXT (Rotterdam), All Tomorrow’s Parties (UK), Barbican’s Sound Unbound (UK), Metropolis (Australia), Sydney Festival (Australia), X Avant (Canada), Luminato (Canada), Other Minds (San Francisco), C3 (Berlin), Ecstatic (NYC), Switchboard (San Francisco), Melos-Ethos (Slovakia), Casalmaggiore (Italy), and Dark Music Days (Iceland).
Nicole was recently awarded the 2017 SOCAN Jan. V. Matejcek Award. In 2013 she received the prestigious Canada Council for the Arts Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music. She is a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellow (New York City/Italy) and recently received a 2016 Lucas Artists Fellowship Award (California). In 2015 she was selected by acclaimed composer and conductor Howard Shore to be his protégée as part of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards. This Will Not Be Televised, her seminal piece for chamber ensemble and turntables, placed in the 2008 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers’ Top 10 Works. Her work for piano and notated glitch, Hitchcock Études, was chosen by the International Society for Contemporary Music and featured at the 2014 World Music Days in Wroclaw, Poland. Additional awards and nominations include an Images Festival Award (2016), JUNO nomination (2016), Dora Mavor Moore nomination in Opera (2015), Prix Opus nomination (2013), two Prix collégien de musique contemporaine, (2012, 2013) and the 2002 Canada Council for the Arts Robert Fleming Prize for achievements in composition.
Nicole is the Composer in Residence at Vancouver’s Music on Main.
She is a Korg Canada and Arturia artist.

La compositrice montréalaise Nicole Lizée crée de la musique nouvelle inspirée par un mélange éclectique d’Influences incluant les premières vidéos MTV, le turntablism, la culture rave, le glitch, Hitchcock, Kubrick, David Lynch, le courant psychédélique et le modernisme des années 1960. Elle est fascinée par les erreurs faites par les technologies démodées et bien usées, erreurs qu’elle « glitche », note et intègre dans des exécutions en direct.
Les compositions de Nicole vont des œuvres pour orchestre et platiniste solo faisant appel à des techniques de DJ entièrement notées et intégrées dans un contexte de musique de concert, à d’autres combinaisons instrumentales inorthodoxes incluant la console de jeux vidéo Atari 2600, des omnichords, des stylophones et des pistes de karaoké. Dans son œuvre en évolution, dont la palette est vaste, elle explore des thèmes tels que la dysfonction, la résurrection d’éléments désuets et l’exploitation de l’imperfection et du glitch pour créer une nouvelle forme de précision.
Nicole a obtenu une maîtrise en musique de l’Université McGill en 2001. Elle fait carrière de compositrice depuis une quinzaine d’années, et la liste de ses commandes, aussi variée que distinguée, dépasse les 40 œuvres et inclut des commanditaires tels le Kronos Quartet, les BBC Proms, l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, Radio-Canada/CBC, le San Francisco Symphony, le Kaufman Center, la Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Sō Percussion, Eve Egoyan, le Gryphon Trio, le MATA Festival, TorQ Percussion, la Fondation Arte Musica / le Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, l’ECM+, Continuum, Soundstreams, l’Australian Art Orchestra, Standing Wave, la SMCQ, Arraymusic et le Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Sa musique a été exécutée partout dans le monde dans des salles incluant le Carnegie Hall (New York), le Royal Albert Hall (Londres), le Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam) et la Cité de la Musique (Paris) – ainsi que dans des festivals d’envergure y compris les BBC Proms (R.-U.), Huddersfield (R.-U.), Bang On a Can (É.-U.), All Tomorrow’s Parties (R.-U.), Barbican (R.-U.), X Avant (Canada), Luminato (Canada), Switchboard (San Francisco), C3 (Berlin), Ecstatic (New York), Casalmaggiore (Italie), Sonorities (Irlande), Melbourne Festival (Australie) et Dark Music Days (Islande).
Nicole a remporté en 2013 le Prix Jules-Léger pour la musique de chambre du Conseil des Arts du Canada. Elle est une Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellow (CRF 2010). Sa pièce pour piano et glitch noté, Hitchcock Études, a été sélectionnée par la Société internationale pour la musique contemporaine pour exécution lors des Journées mondiales de la musique 2014 en Pologne. This Will Not Be Televised, son œuvre phare pour ensemble de chambre et platines, s’est classée parmi les 10 œuvres retenues à l’édition 2008 de la Tribune internationale de compositeurs de l’UNESCO. Elle a reçu des subventions du Conseil des Arts du Canada, du Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, de la SOCAN, de FACTOR et de BravoFACT. Ses autres distinctions et nominations incluent un Prix Opus (2013), le Prix collégien de musique contemporaine à deux reprises (2012, 2013) et le Prix Robert-Fleming 2002 du Conseil des Arts du Canada pour réalisation dans le domaine de la composition.

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