How Ouri transformed her classical training into boundary-pushing electronic music
‘I knew that electronic music was the key to free myself,’ says the Montreal producer
Ourielle Auvé's skillset is never-ending, and ever deepening. The France born-and-raised musician, professionally known as Ouri, is a classically trained cellist, harpist and pianist. After a solo move to Montreal at the age of 16 to study composition, she gravitated toward the city's rave scene and built a name for herself as a DJ and producer.
It seems like an unexpected turn, but electronic music had been a "strong obsession" for Ouri before heading to Montreal.
"I knew that electronic music was the key to free myself from all the dogma of classical music," says Ouri, over Zoom with CBC Music. "I love all the discipline, the tools, the techniques [of classical music], but the expression is really enclosed in something a little bit old fashioned. And for me, the connection to contemporary and the crowd is too important."
The word "obsession" comes up a few times while Ouri talks about her life and work. First in relation to learning those early instruments in grade school, parallel to her mother's wish for her children to continuously study abroad (Ouri studied in England and Germany in addition to Quebec). But music wasn't her only obsession; science fascinated her, too. She wanted to be a musician, as well as a biologist.
Frame of a Fauna, Ouri's debut album released in October 2021, is the culmination of these studious obsessions. It's a communication between Ouri's classical roots and her electronic focus, framed by the body and emotion. This tone is set in the first song, "Ossature," which is both hypnotic and disconcerting with its stops and starts, built on a sample of "Intact Alef" by PTU and punctuated by sharp strings.
"I love life, I love the human body, and I love to see how our life and our emotional life imprints our physical body and how it expresses itself," says Ouri. On "Ossature," and on Frame of a Fauna, she's asking: how does emotion live in, and affect, our framework?
'I'm just doing what I can do'
Ouri's childhood in France was not always an easy one. "I was always a little bit the outcast when I was growing up," she says. "I was always the Black girl. I was always a little bit different. My hair was not like the other girls, so I could not be liked by boys. It's very basic, but for a child ... it's like you don't know how you can express yourself in a way people would understand you."
When she moved to Montreal and became a producer — supported by her family but travelling alone to start CEGEP — her outcast status didn't improve. She was one of only a handful of women producing music in the city, and she vehemently did not want to be defined that way.
"I really didn't want people to say that my music was feminine," she explains. "To me it was like an insult, because I realized how there was not a lot of electronic music producers that were women…. You would see [the term] 'female producer,' like these kinds of things, and it sounded a little bit fake or not focused on just the music."
Because of this, she often found that her work was being erased by others. After she DJed her first Montreal Boiler Room set, Ouri heard people saying that her boyfriend had built her live set, instead of her. It made Ouri double down on her producing work, abandoning her singing for a while so that she wouldn't be confused as solely a featured artist.
"I was really forcing myself to be just a producer so people would understand that I really am a producer," she continues.
Eventually, she came to a conclusion: "You cannot create your identity only reacting from what people say." Ouri was also finding her community of people, including fellow artists Mind Bath (featured on Frame of a Fauna), Helena Deland, with whom she releases music as Hildegaard, and Odile Myrtil and Victor Bongiovanni, who form an experimental group with Ouri under the name Paradis Artificiel. Letting other people's perceptions slide away and focusing on her music and collaborations, Ouri found her own space.
"Now I feel like I'm not trying to be feminine or not not trying to be feminine, I'm just doing what I can do."
'I'm going to love it'
On Frame of a Fauna, Ouri wanted the tracks to feel like they could go from electronic to acoustic in a cohesive way, but specifically not sound like "classical music mixed with electronica that sounds like orchestral dubstep." While she was studying Indian classical music in school, and learning about "the more indoor, intimate sounds performed by women historically," as she describes, Ouri settled on what she wanted to create.
"I'm going to do my own feminine, intimate, fusion sound, and I'm going to love it, and I'm sure people will love it too," she describes. "I don't have to only make music for, like, I don't know, epic circumstances. I can embrace the intimate, you know?"
This elasticity is what makes Frame of a Fauna feel so alive, pulling in electronic samples, vocals, cello and harp, among other pieces, to capture something that's inextricable from who Ouri is today. The album is deeply personal, having started with Ouri attending her sister giving birth, and ending with her mother's death. That trauma, captured so intimately on closing track "Grip," happened in the middle of the pandemic in a country far from home, a tension of relationship and circumstance that is heavily present inside the muted, mechanical percussion that's twined with Ouri's airy vocals.
Frame of a Fauna is the constant processing of a life cycle, and it's currently going through another transformation as Ouri prepares for some live shows. Ouri also released the album on her own label imprint, giving her the control and freedom to shape what she wants her future to look like. She's hoping to work on some ambient music next, as well as club music, and to give a home to fellow artists in the city.
"There's not a lot of independent, more experimental labels in Montreal," she says. "There's almost no label founded by women, so I don't know where this is going to take me, but I'm f–king excited."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.