Deep Digs: Pascal Languirand – De Harmonia Universalia (Minos, 1980)
By: Jesse Locke
In Deep Digs we take a look at significant albums from Canadian history, with an emphasis on music that might have been overlooked the first time around. This month writer Jesse Locke focuses on the sonic explorations and “New Classical Romanticism” of Pascal Languirand’s De Harmonia Universalia.
Pascal Languirand is a musical shapeshifter searching the cosmos for universal harmony. A decade before he could be heard jamming on keytar with hi-NRG synth-pop group Trans-X and their hit single “Living On Video,” Languirand’s debut album Minos became one of the earliest Canadian releases linked to the genre of New Age music. Fusing acoustic and electronic sounds, its ambient meditations looked to deep space and earthly lost cities to enrich the mind, body, and spirit.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, “New Age music had its first proponents and has developed its strongest commercial infrastructure in Quebec” with labels, distributors, associations, and awards set up for the burgeoning subculture. Languirand’s second album De Harmonia Universalia cemented his position as both an innovator and outlier in this field, drawing on elements of space music and krautrock while creating a style he described as “the New Classical Romanticism.”
Languirand was a globetrotter from day one. Though his parents are Canadian, he was born in Paris and spent his childhood flying back and forth to Mexico with his father, the celebrated (yet allegedly abusive) writer, actor, and radio host Jacques Languirand. Imbued with a sense of creativity and curiosity, Pascal began studying electronic music at McGill and cinematography at Concordia at age 18. In an article from the website Amazings, he describes his earliest self-directed studies. “Above all, I loved experimenting. I used to do so with tape, especially with my four-track recorder, with the electric guitar, something like Pink Floyd, playing with echo, the bass. Therefore, I based my work on the manipulation of sounds. My university studies, in actual fact, did not have any real usefulness for me. I preferred to experiment on my own.”
These approaches culminate on De Harmonia Universalia, originally released as a cassette on Languirand’s label Minos. He plays every instrument himself, with an array of electronics that includes the Roland Guitar Synthesizer and Farfisa Synthorchestra (a favourite of his kosmische counterparts Klaus Schulze and Cluster). “Inesperdistan” sets the scene with vocoder-drenched vocals pitched up to sound like a haunted boys’ choir, before “Abalii” sails into the distant galaxies of New Age with washes of cymbals and swirling pianos set adrift on synthesized bliss. “Atlantis” is the album’s mystical centerpiece, as Languirand’s voice returns alongside acoustic guitar strums, welcoming listeners to imagine they’ve arrived on Plato’s mythical island somewhere in deep space.
The pair of lengthy pieces that fill side two, “O Nos Omnes” and “Nova”, introduce cycling arpeggios that wouldn’t sound out of place on soundtracks such as Tangerine Dream’s Thief or Vangelis’s Blade Runner. Fulfilling that prophecy, Languirand’s next album Vivre Ici Maintenant includes his themes from the television series of the same name. Yet while Languirand’s early releases share a searching quality with Tangerine Dream and other giants of the space music genre, his sonic explorations are less rock-oriented and ostentatious. By including lyrics sung in Latin with the plainspoken delivery of Gregorian chant, Languirand’s music is rooted in ancient times and earthly forms of reverence, welcoming everyone on his voyage.
In 1983, Languirand found his greatest commercial success with Trans-X’s infectiously catchy “Living On Video.” Jamming on keytar above pumping synth bass and a relentless onslaught of electronic hooks, this infectious earworm blasted onto dancefloors around the world. As he explains in a 2016 interview with Inner Edge Music, the group’s name was a direct response by Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” (revealing his continued interest in German elektronische musik) yet Trans-X’s sound shares more traits with the Québécois strain of Italo Disco popularized by the label Unidisc. World tours with fellow Montreal new wavers Men Without Hats led to sales of two million copies for Trans-X’s debut album and a platinum certification in Mexico, where they remain rock stars to this day.
Languirand returned to experimental realms on the ’90s albums Ishtar and Gregorian Waves, and has most recently tied together the various threads of his career with New Age elements woven into the 2020 Trans-X single “Carry Me Away.” With his trademark asymmetrical haircut and oversized sunglasses, he has settled into the role of a veteran artist hovering between the boundaries of pop star and cult figure. If you have found comfort lately in the contemporary abundance of softness, take a trip with De Harmonia Universalia and float away to a soothing realm somewhere beyond.