Sylvain Chauveau – Life Without Machines

On Life Without Machines (Flau, April 17) French composer Sylvain Chauveau presents a selection of brief piano compositions. Using Barnett Newman’s abstract painting series The Stations of the Cross as visual inspiration and performed by French pianist Melaine Dalibert, Life Without Machines asks the following question: are we too reliant on machinery? Modern life has been invaded by machinery, which isn’t always there to assist, but to usurp. Like physical creatures, machines use up vital energy resources – including fossil fuels – which burn up and tear through an already-feverish globe. Is this sustainable? We will know the end result in the future, but it will probably take a crisis – an energetic, economical, or ecological one – to precede any form of fundamental change.

Piano music offers a stark and refreshing simplicity; an antidote to pedals and machines and laptops and state-of-the-art studios, the fast food of modern music. Stripped back, listeners rediscover the beauty of healthy music, unedited and naked, its radiance pouring forth with a gentle force, because no other instruments are around to blockade or obscure. Yes, Chauveau has worked with electronics before, but the compositions on Life Without Machines are quite the polar opposite. Bare (and yet content), the music reverses itself, going back through the centuries and reverting to a time when one piano was more than enough. Nothing else is needed. In a way, nothing has changed, as the instrument is still capable of standing alone. No other instrumentation is required.

Fifteen pieces grace Life Without Machines, although only fourteen appear on the sleeve. The extra track remains hidden, slipping in after a period of silence at the end of the fourteenth piece, mirroring the stone garden of Kyoto’s Ryoanji, where, although composed of fifteen stones, from any point of view only a maximum of fourteen are visible. The music isn’t blind, though, although the shorter pieces are like stones, distinct and brief; glimpses of music. Listeners are able to see just enough, peeking through gaps in the stone garden to view the other pieces.

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