Stopping time in the Frédéric-Back Park

Taking a look at a new project that encourages Montrealers to put headphones on in one of the city’s largest parks

The Pause MTL app features 10 ambient music pieces each related to a specific spot in the Frédéric-Back Park. Users are invited to listen to the compositions on the location that inspired their creation. This platform allows people to discover a variety of sounds and atmospheres since 10 different music composers worked on the project. Artists Olivier Girouard and Antoine Bédard initiated the project with the goal to create music that enhances peace of mind in times when unpredictability and stress are present in everyone’s lives.

Once users have downloaded the free Pause MTL app on their phone, their listening journey begins by pressing on a button with the slogan “Press Play to take a Pause”. The next page takes them to an interactive map featuring the locations that inspired the creation of the music pieces. While the compositions are ideally discovered on-site, it is also possible to listen to them from home or anywhere the users feel like immersing themselves in this relaxing experience. They are free to discover the application at their own pace.

Bédard and Girouard chose the 10 locations. They were then assigned to the creators randomly. Bédard worked on the Parvis Papineau, a modern plaza on Papineau St. For Girouard, a specific part of the park where people came together to fly kites in the summer of 2021 was his inspiration. The other composers created music based on locations including the soccer stadium of the park, a group of pine trees at the north end of the green space, and a skatepark.

The Frédéric-Back Park is named after an important artist whose work touched on environmental issues.

Each of the soundscapes is accompanied by a description of the preferred way for the audience to be sitting, where to look, and what to think about in order for users to enjoy the experience to the fullest. Composer Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux worked on a piece inspired by two large bronze sculptures located close to 2e Ave. Titled Zénith, the 18-minute composition proposes a soothing atmosphere that feels like being in a spaceship. In his description, the artist encourages the listener to lie down in one of the structures while reflecting on a more sustainable future for humanity.

The Frédéric-Back Park was the perfect location for Girouard and Bédard. Located in the Saint-Michel area, the green space opened in 2017. A quarry and a landfill previously occupied the lot. While the quarry is still visible in the middle of the park, the landfill site has been covered by grass, trees, and paths. Large white bubbles also dot the space. They are meant to capture the methane that still emanates from the waste under the land so that it does not get into the atmosphere.

Pause MTL encourages its users to walk around these white spheres through the work of Nick Schofield. The composer was assigned with sphere 23-27. He created an energetic music piece to accompany the listeners’ steps. These otherworldly bubbles are closely related to one of the themes of the park: sustainability.

The Frédéric-Back Park is named after an important artist whose work touched on environmental issues. Born in Germany in 1924, Frédéric Back moved to France at a young age. He then came to Montreal in 1948. Throughout his career, Back created films related to sustainability and nature preservation. His 1987 film, L’homme qui plantait des arbres, is particularly related to the park. In the animated movie, the protagonist lives on a deserted land that he revitalizes by planting trees.

Bédard explained that he was inspired by Back’s story as well as the visual aspect of the urban space. “You can see some of the most intriguing landscapes in Montreal. It even looks a bit post-apocalyptic sometimes,” he said.

The park is still evolving, with new developments coming in 2022. For Bédard, it adds to its charm. “I guess if this park had to be a person it would be a teenager, and we’re just getting to know each other, but eventually it will be more mature. […] It looks a bit weird to be frank, so does the music, it sounds a bit weird too. So, I think it’s a great match,” he said.

Pause MTL also aims to put forward the work of ambient music composers. Girouard described this type of music as “soft, without punches, not particularly catchy.” He explained that its strength was the sensations it creates, noting that “it is something that touches the emotions, the feelings.”

For Bédard, the project started as a personal quest. He was looking for an escape from his anxiety at the beginning of the pandemic. “When the pandemic hit, I felt helpless as a composer, especially because stages were closed, theatres were closed, and I was wondering how to stay creative in these uncertain times,” he said.

Bédard noticed the healing effect his creations had on him. This sparked the idea of an ambient music project that could be shared with the audience. Girouard’s motivations were also related to music’s benefits. For him, the project is about getting listeners out of their homes, far from their computers. “I wanted to bring something that feels good in a physical space,” he said.

Girouard is used to composing music for the stage. For the creator, projects related to urban environments give him access to an audience he would not usually reach. “I’m interested in talking to these people who haven’t paid for a ticket, but who discover an artist and a space at the same time,” he said.

Girouard and Bédard hope to get Montrealers to discover their city in a different way through this project. In the future, they aim to expand the concept in more green spaces.

The Pause MTL app is available to download on all Android and Apple devices.


Visuals by Jonathan Lapalme & Véronique Morin


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