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Conventum Le Bureau Central des Utopies album cover
3.94 | 41 ratings | 5 reviews | 22% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1979

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Le reel des élections (2:48)
2. Ateliers I et V (4:14)
3. Fondation (6:18)
4. Chorégraphie lunaire (8:16)
5. La belle apparence (2:22)
6. Fanfare (4:30)
7. Trois petits pas (4:24)
8. Le reel à mains (3:29)
9. Le bureau central des utopies (10:13)

Total Time 46:35

Bonus tracks on CD editions:
10. Le pays du bruit (bonus live) (8:24)
11. Le commerce nostalgique (bonus) (7:57)

Line-up / Musicians

- Bernard Cormier / violin, percussion
- André Duchesne / acoustic guitar, dulcimer, voice
- Jacques Laurin / bass
- René Lussier / electric guitar, 12-string, percussion
- Jean Derome / flute

Releases information

LP Les Disques Cadence CAD-1005 (1979, Canada)

This album was also available on 77-79 + Réédition (CAN), a double LP (Ambiances Magnétiques-CAN) issued in 1983 and containing both "À l'affût d'un complot" and "Le Bureau Central des Utopies" with some 'corrections' made to the recordings by the 1982 version of Conventum.

CD Les Disques Kozak - KO2507-2 (1996, Canada) with 2 bonus tracks
CD ProgQuébec - MPM13 (2006, Canada) Remastered, with 2 bonus tracks

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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CONVENTUM Le Bureau Central des Utopies ratings distribution

(41 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(22%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (22%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

CONVENTUM Le Bureau Central des Utopies reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
4 stars Down to a quartet, Conventum attacked this second album is the same verve as they had, their first and the results are as flamboyant as on their debut. As their previous album had gathered a confidential success, conventum persevered in the direction they had chosen, but they avoided making a carbon copy of the debut. Gone are Bouchard and vocalist Painchaud, but the overall sound remains unchanged, almost completely acoustic. This record was recorded just a month before the first Independence referendum regarding the Quebec separatism, and one can feel that "utopist" issue dominates this album (at least partly).

Lead off track is halfway between a jig and a Ritournelle and outlines the definite Folk flavour that will characterize this album from its predecessor. Atelier is a delightful piece very reminiscent of the medieval ambiances heard in the previous album, somehow fairly close to Anthony Phillips's late 70's works on arpeggios. Fondation is a rather arduous (and lengthy) piece with an uneasy construction (reminding you of the nervous live bonus tracks of the debut), and not my favorite track even if the progression is impressive. Next up is the cornerstone Choregraphie Lunaire, which starts very slowly, hauntingly and creepily grows to a solemn atmosphere that maybe only Harmonium in the Histoire Sans Paroles could approach crossed with a Frippian electric guitar and a Hackett acoustic guitar >> awesome and spine-chilling! Ending on a short jig-like trad folk, this first side offers moments of pure delights, but it is uneven.

Fanfare (opening side 2 ) has a deceiving name , but is well in the line of the album as well as Trois Petit Pas (more reflective and somber). The music sometime comes to early Univers Zero's chamber music, or more likely Julverne. Tic and Tacs actually wake you up from a certain torpor, that you had settle you, but the tracks quickly turns into the least interesting and folkiest track of the album. But soon comes the title track that is certainly the centerpiece of the album. A rather gloomy landscape unfolds in front of yours ears, with a haunting cello, a few vocals (another change compared to the debut album: the vocals are much less present) and a splendid atmosphere. Once again the album has some bonus tracks which are valuable (they come from Conventum's 82 reunion, recorded live) and as interesting they might be, could've been coupled with the previous album's bonus tracks to make a full album. I believe this is important to mention, because the worthy bonus tracks are however breaking away from both album's spirit. If PaysDu Bryuit isvery much a theatrical thing much the same way the other bonus track of the debut album Commerce Nostalgique is a superb track meddling medieval guitars , a jazzy bass and a solemn cello. Overall, this album is slightly less superb than its predecessor (less accessible also), but still very much worth your investment. Both albums have been recently re-issued by ProgQuebec, which all progheads will agree is very much worthyof supporting. Run for it!

Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars This is a very charming and engaging bit of chamber/classical/folk instrumental music that I have had the pleasure of listening to on several occasions, but have sadly not added to my own collection yet. I know my obsessions so it’s inevitable I’ll end up buying it eventually, but for now I’m a bit put off by the unreasonable import price of the third issue of the album, which is really the only version that can be found as far as I know. The first two issues were made years ago and in very limited quantities, so getting your hands on one of those would entail both very good luck and a fat wallet.

Conventum were not a proper musical group to the best of my knowledge, but rather a kind of creative outlet for a collection of artists who collaborated in workshops and contributed to a lot of film scores. I believe some of these tracks came from soundtracks in fact but have no idea which ones and I would imagine considering their Québec roots that those would have been Francophile films that most likely wouldn’t have interested me personally. For you, maybe.

In any case these are all quite pleasant compositions, and there is more variety discovered after several playings than is apparent at first listen. The opening “Le Reel Des Elections” for example sounds like a minuet or something (sorry, I’m not a classical music expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express recently). Mostly violin but I could swear there’s a cello in the background, plus some 12-string acoustic guitar finger picking that is exquisite.

“Ateliers I et V” adds flute and a rather dull string sound that I believe is a dulcimer. This one is much closer to a traditional folk work than a classical one, and includes just a few notes on violin that seem to have come from the first composition. Both of these are quite short tunes.

A longer piece is found with “Fondation”, and here the basic violin arrangement is explored more fully and climaxes with an interesting mellow barrage of dissonant chords where it sounds as if the violin bow must have been very hard to control. Very well done. I may be a hick but I sure do dig the violin!

The mood shifts to a bit more surreal tone with “Choregraphie Lunaire” and the introduction of electric guitar and a very gentle fuzz sound interspersed with violin. This work is quite long although there is a fair portion of it that consists of little more than almost indiscernible violin sequences.

“La Belle Apparence” is another short folkish fiddle tune, while “Le pays du bruit” contains a lot of spoken-word passages in French that go right past me.

“Fanfare” and “Trois Petits Pas” are really chamber pieces, with the latter having more of the dissonant violin similar to “Fondation”, while “Le reel a mains” is another folk piece with lots of percussion, clapping, and a festive feel to it.

The longest arrangement and one that almost sounds like a precursor to post-rock is “le Bureau Central des Utopies”. This one includes both violin and dulcimer, and an acoustic guitar that manages to sound almost like light electric piano. A very mellow piece that wanders from chamber to almost jazz and back again in the space of more than ten minutes.

The closing “le Commerce Nostalgique” is the most harmonic piece on the album, and here the guitar (or dulcimer, can’t really tell) seems to sound like an upright bass at times. This is a lively piece compared to most of the album, and again with electric guitar to give it some real weight.

This is a completely engaging record to listen to, and were it not for the guitars I wouldn’t even consider this to be anything but a chamber music album. As it stands this is an outstanding blend of folk and pre-classical music, and a delight to listen to over and over. Unfortunately I have only borrowed it, so I suppose it needs to get moved up near the top of my wish list. Four and very nearly five stars, and highly recommended to folk, classical, and even fusion fans. Harmonium nuts will enjoy it, and prog folk fans as well.


Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A musical "Greek chorus" and prog-folk classic.

Conventum were a collective of musicians from the Quebecois scene of the late 1970s. This was the second and final of their two proper albums and it is a monster. I cannot thank the esteemed Shakes (our Josh) for turning an old dog on to this new trick with his amazing review, especially motivating was his closing line where he says he pities the ears that die before digesting this masterpiece. Since death can arrive at any moment for any of us I figured I'd best take Shakes' advice to heart and pick this up. It is truly amazing that on websites like this one where so much time and space are given to discussing the PTs, DTs, and SBs of the world that artists like Conventum, Pererin, Ripaille, and even Harmonium largely fly under the radar. Nothing against the big artists as they have done some fine work, yet it's a shame that the balance of attention is so skewed by image, promotion, and let's face it, market forces over and above the art and soul of music. Nothing new of course and yet tragic it is. I mention those artists above with Conventum not because they sound alike but because they are in the same universe of both genre fans and quality. To go wider still I would have to include fans of groups like Oregon and Gryphon in the group of people that need to check out Conventum.

Often described as "avant-folk" the band in reality just plays very complex chamber-folk music, or acoustic music with classical and some avant-garde and jazz leanings. To use one of those nonsensical blender descriptions think perhaps of a French flavored and largely vocal free Gentle Giant mixed with Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists mixed with Gatto Marte. With a chaser of Stormy Six on the side. The primary instruments are acoustic guitars and violin augmented with bass, both acoustic and electric, mandolin, flute, e-guitar and occasional percussion. There are a few vocals but the album is largely instrumental. The playing is aggressive and yet beautiful, it can be light and folky at times, fiery and fusiony at other times. The material is very well considered and arranged and yet able to give the illusion of chaos, these contradictions almost always a sign of mature and talented musicians. "Le reel des elections" pits acoustic versus violin with spectacular bass commentary in one of the more traditional feeling songs. "Ateliers" features guest Jean Derome stretching out some marvelous flute passages against the guitar and violin backdrop, beautiful but not altogether serene. Conventum is not as pretty as other similar artists. There is a good deal of tension and "edge" in the ferocity of the playing. "Foundation" is another good example of this with tense violin and sprightly mandolin "dancing." It builds along with some terse bass playing to a fevered pitch before they pull out a succinctly crafted ending. A highlight among highlights is the stunning "Choregraphie lunaire" which features some electric guitar work from Rene Lussier. At over 8 minutes it is one of the two impressive longer tracks we are treated to. Lussier paints pure atmosphere here along with Cormier's violin. When his electric guitar finally emerges from the dream about halfway through, it is something else. Others have mentioned a Crimson guitar sound as a reference point but I will say it also sounds a bit Oldfield. "La belle apparence" reminds me of the first Harmonium album just a bit, lively with a bit of drum thrown in and like the first track somewhat traditional. "Fanfare" shifts gears completely, the guitar and bass rhythmically playing a trance-like bit while the violin goes just ape-sh*t over the top, quite intense again. "Trois petits pas" is one of the calmer tracks on the album with some beautiful violin over acoustic and mellow electric guitar, a nice moody piece. "Le reel a mains" uses handclaps and sound effects along with the energetic fiddling to create a footstomping jig. The title track is last and it clocks in at over 10 minutes. Elaborate, rich, tense.some of the adjectives coming to mind as I listen to this unfold. This song has some vocals which don't amount to much and they don't need to. The electric guitar does some harmonizing with the violin though it stays restrained letting the strings lead. Eventually it cuts loose and treats us to a lead sounding unique because it's fiery but without distortion. Good closer. The first bonus track "Le pays du bruit" is a live track, mostly spoken, that sounds like some hilarious theater. The second bonus track was their last recorded work a few years later, "Le commerce nostalique" which features more electric instruments and a full band sound. It's great and a tantalizing tease of what might have been had there been a full album at that time.

As a veteran guitar player in many Friday night basement jam bands over the years I know a thing or three about noodling. Conventum music is not noodling. It is highly conversational material where the musicians are both listening and speaking musical dialog. Listening to the dialog is fantastic and never gets boring in the way that some "jam" bands, acoustic or otherwise, occasionally are. I like to condense good descriptions of a band's sound from other perspectives when possible. One of the finest insights into the essence of the Conventum sound is from Progressive Ear's "maribor" who writes "the album is characterized by plenty of acoustic guitar from both guitarists. On top of that there is great violin playing and electric guitar, with the bass a bit lower in the mix....Bernard Cormier must be one of the most underrated violinists I have ever heard. Sometimes he plays in a purely folk style but he occasionally effortlessly switches to a style almost classical in nature. The acoustic guitar passages are very tasty but used mostly to supply the basic melody. It's the violin that seems in charge." [maribor] He goes on to write later that the only thing that could make this album even better might be some keyboards and I would agree that a bit of piano in places would be heavenly.

Conventum is so challenging and intellectually satisfying that I would also like to make sure this gets recommended to RIO/Avant genre fans. I do believe many of you would love this as would a wide swath of prog fans across this site. ProgQuebec has done an outstanding job on the reissue which features good sound and a booklet with a nice history and photos. Much of the text is in French but there is a brief English portion. The large center photograph shows the band relaxing in the home where they recorded this classic in 1979. It's a great photograph and looking at it while listening to this wonderful music makes me wish I could have been a guest during the sessions and soaked in the scene. Occasionally the young people at PA get knocked around a bit in the forums and sometimes they do have it coming. But we also have some very insightful and smart kids here-I was turned on to this obscure, amazing band by a 15 year old kid. When I was 15 I was on a strictly Jimmy/Angus listening diet. So when I can get a pick like this from our teen contingent around here it gives me great hope about the future of our collective musical taste! Thanks Shakes!

Review by BrufordFreak
4 stars A gorgeous folk jazz album from a group of Québec virtuosi going by the name, Conventum. The band was, unfortunately, short-lived, but this album remains as a testament to their amazing instrumental prowess. Tightly- woven ditties that sometimes feel like Celtic reels, at others like Arabic folk stories, and still others like avant-jazz, this is an album well worth your listen. There are not many syrupy, catchy melodies but brilliantly constructed harmonic and temporal weaves abound.

1. "Le reel des élections" (2:48) straightforward reel with impressive cohesion from all instruments, including electric bass and electric guitar. (4.333/5)

2. "Ateliers I et V" (4:12) (8.6667/10)

3. "Fondation" (6:13) very impressive, intricate whole-group interweaving. (8.6667/10)

4. "Choregraphie lunaire" (8:18) lots of experimental sound percussives fill the "Moonchild"-like opening section. In the second minute acoustic guitar and violin emerge as the leaders with some eerie, nearly UNIVERS ZERO type of chromatic melody-making. The music settles into a very pleasing, even beautiful, support tapestry over which the gorgeous violin and, later, electric guitar do some impressive soloing. The plaintive violin play in the final two minutes is so heart-wrenching. Very cool song. Definitely a top three for me. (19/20)

5. "La belle apparence" (2:15) sounds and feels like background processional music in a beer hall of military campus. (4.333/5)

6. "Fanfare" (4:25) sounds and feels like a Stephane Grappelli Django Reinhardt jam session. Impressive skills but not a lot of melody or emotion. (8.5/10)

7. "Trois petits pas" (4:19) a very spacious yet deceptively full and nicely multi-level melodic song. Amazing to think that humans conceived and constructed this. Another top three song. (9.5/10)

8. "Le reel à mains" (3:26) ticking wall clocks and café conversational noises open this before metallic-sounding guitar (dulcimer?) strumming, hand percussion (including clapping), support violin soloing. Very cool capture. (8.875/10)

9. "Le bureau central des utopies" (10:12) recorded live while the band was touring Belgium, this is another favorite. After 36 minutes without vocals, it is weird to hear André's poetic vocal in the first half of this. Thereafter, the weave sounds quite familar: as if a mélange of the key elements and components of the album's previous songs and moods. Interesting how André's electric guitar injections join in at the halfway point and the electric bass becomes more of a presence thereafter. André's soloing in the eighth and ninth minutes sounds so much like today's "microtonal" guitar explications. My third top three song. (18/20)

Though feeling, at times, rather cold and mathematical, the stark sound and whole-group concentration/dedication that comes through with this album's music has always, for some reason, resonated with me. I would never call this music "warm" or emotional; it is calculated, cerebral, even surgical--perhaps even more "classical" than most other Prog Folk albums despite the very prominent omni-presence of the electric guitar and electric bass. I extoll this album as a very shining example of truly professional Progressive Folk music.

88.875 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of highly technical, almost avant or experimental Prog Folk.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Picture an album with the most perfect balance between upbeat, classical, folk, and liquid, vaporous, dark, intriguing, romantic atmospheres. This album is nearly entirely instrumental, with the absolutely surreal layers of sound speaking enough. Ever-evolving, never repetitive, always nostalgic, na ... (read more)

Report this review (#93399) | Posted by Shakespeare | Wednesday, October 4, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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