“The Cirque Sound: Quidam”

“The Cirque Sound: Quidam”
By: Matt Dibrindisi – Northampton, Massachusetts (USA)

What defines Cirque du Soleil musically?

Is it lyrics in made-up, fantastical languages? Is it the use of accordion and saxophone? What about now-classic keyboard sounds like Quidam’s music box, Dralion’s vocal samples or Saltimbanco’s complex percussion? Well, most fans would be surprised to know that most of these defining Cirque sounds are actually factory presets from Roland, Korg, E-MU and more, used both onstage and on shows’ official soundtracks.

From The San Francisco Chronicle: “Working from musical “mood” sketches he had done months before, Jutras wrote much of the “Quidam” music in the three weeks before the show opened. “Often I have to rewrite the piece totally to fit the natural rhythm of the act,” he said. “You either try to accentuate that rhythm or play against it, which can be really nice. The music has to enhance the rhythm and emotion of each act, as well as the theatrical mood of the piece as a whole.”” [1]

Synth manufacturer Roland had the contract as the official digital instruments supplier for both the original North American tours (NAT) of Alegria and Quidam and presented clinics with Cirque musicians and singers Mathieu Lavoie and Isabelle Corradi, demonstrating how they use Roland technology. [2]

A few notes before we take an in-depth look at the synth sounds of Quidam:

A few of Roland’s synths go by different names than virtual counterparts available through Roland Cloud, such as the JD-990, which is digitally available as Anthology 1993 (the listed presets are found on Vol. 1) All Sound Canvas listings refer to the menu interface as part of the Sound Canvas VA VST (virtual studio technology)

Standard refers to what Roland calls the “basic wave group”, which consists of waveforms first introduced on the JV-1080.

Et maintenant… mesdames et messieurs… QUIDAM.

JV-1080/Standard: Wave 68: Music Box – the first digital instrument we’re introduced to- besides Benoit Jutras’s signature metal clangs, personally recorded by Jutras for his additions to Mystere- is this simple, delicate music box in Atmadja, which largely comes to represent Zoe. This instrument continues to appear sprinkled throughout the show in songs such as Steel Dream/Straps and Corde Lisse/Spanish Webs.


JV-1080: Wave 490: Tubular – There’s no mistaking the chimes of these bells; they first appear as John dances in Father’s shoes and recurs throughout, most notably as dramatic accents on Corde Lisse and Banquine.


Sound Canvas (VA): Organ > Accordion Fr. – A classic Cirque sound that first appeared in Quidam and continued to be used in La Nouba. This deliciously cheesy waveform appears throughout the show, but most notably on Skipping/Zydeco, where it gets its own rapid-fire keyboard solo (which I’ve included and is absolute murder to play as intended, as I can attest to. You digital musicians know what I’m saying when I say thank god for quantization).


JV-1080/Standard: Wave 127: Nylon Gtr C + Wave 487: Vibes – This custom combination makes up the carnival-esque chords and melody of Marelle.


JD-990: JD’s Sentiment – this plucky stereotypical Far East-tinged synth is used for dramatic percussive accents in Enfants d’Acier/Diabolos.


JV-1080: 4 Pole Bass – A simple, bouncy synth bass as featured in Enfants d’Acier


JV-1080: 128voicePno – A fairly plain MIDI piano used for the swirling intro on Seisouso and Parc Papillon, although this rather thick piano was replaced on the latter song by a lighter electric one on later tours.


JD-990: Radio – One of the most recognizable sounds of Quidam is an FX loop, repeated short bursts throughout the show, most notably in Cloud Swing and Misere/Banquine. (For the longest time, I thought this was a sound effect on some library- imagine my surprise when I found it on Anthology 1993!)

JD-990: Ghosts – Another iconic sound featured heavily in the show, Ghosts is most prominent in Statue as the only sound in the act apart from the intense double-thud underscoring each new dramatic position.


JV-1080/Standard: Wave 220: Dulcimer A – Percussive patterns on Badauds (Diabolos entr’acte), John’s darts act and Banquine.


JV-1080: Steel Away – Providing intricate patterns for suspenseful sections on Misere/Banquine, this velocity-sensitive guitar patch produces both light notes and percussive ones (at full velocity) on the 1 and 4 beats of this 6/8 piece.


Korg Wavestation: Glider – What is right and what is wrong? Karma… karma… One of everyone’s favorite Quidam sounds, this soaring crescendo first sounds when the Blanches storm the stage in the opening and signals the beginning and end of Cloud Swing.


Sound Canvas (VA): Ethnic (Drum Kit) – Quidam only uses a handful of samples from this kit, namely a shaker and tabla-type percussion for the rock section of Let Me Fall and another tambourine-esque shaker for the percussion patterns of Corde Lisse.



[1] https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/The-Sounds-of-the-Circus-Benoit-Jutras-fills-2847332.php
[2] http://claudechaput.com/ac/