Québequois composer Gilles Tremblay is a highly respected figure in Canadian music as a composer, educator (he taught at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal for the better part of four decades), electronic musician, and as an expert player of the ondes Martenot. Born in the provincial city of Arvida -- which eventually became incorporated as part of Jonquière, and later the city of Sanguinay -- Tremblay began his course of study at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal in 1949 and participating in the Marlboro Festival during the summer; an encounter with composer Edgard Varèse in 1952 proved a turning point. From 1954 to 1958 Tremblay studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod, and studied the ondes Martenot with its inventor, Maurice Martenot; Tremblay also made contact with Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis and studied electronic music with Pierre Schaeffer. His final year in Europe -- 1960 -- Tremblay was a participant at the Darmstadt Festival. In 1961, Tremblay accepted a professorship at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, which he held until his retirement in 1998; he also made a trip to the Far East in 1972 to further his interest in the structural principles of non-Western music.
Tremblay is one of Canada's most prominent academic composers; despite his contact with many influential figures in the European avant-garde, that with Varèse seems to have mattered the most. Tremblay's international reputation was made by the 24-channel electronic score he developed for a pavilion at the Montréal Expo of 1967, Sonorisation du Pavillion du Québec (1967), which won Tremblay the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée. Although Tremblay regards his mature work as beginning with the multi-orchestral Cantique de durées (1960), his earlier piano works Phases et réseaux (1958), are still revived, as are orchestral works like Vers le soleil (1978) the three chamber/orchestral works in the series Champs (1965-1969), and the chamber piece Solstices (1970). Sometimes Tremblay assembles ensembles out of rather bizarre combinations, such as in L'arbre de Borobudur (1994), which is scored for horn, two harps, double bass, ondes Martenot, two percussionists, and gamelan ensemble, or L'appel de Kondiaronk (2000), scored for a battery of battle sirens and two locomotives. The notion reported in the New Grove that Gilles Tremblay died in Tijuana in 1982 is highly exaggerated.