Sylvain Chauveau: Nocturne Impalpable
Minority Records

Aside from whatever musical merits it possesses (which are considerable), Nocturne Impalpable is an interesting recording for a number of reasons. Though Sylvain Chauveau's second solo album was originally issued in 2001, it doesn't sound dated; if anything, it sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday. That could be attributed in part to the fact that settings for acoustic instruments such as piano, clarinet, strings, and accordion have a better chance at not sounding dated than, say, synthesizer-based settings that one can more easily tie to a specific era. But one of the other interesting things about the recording is that it isn't a collection of classical chamber minimalism only; instead, the Brussels-based Chauveau (b. 1971) mixes things up dramatically by threading into the track-list electronic vignettes. Such contrast adds much to the album and makes it more engaging.

Specifically, the forty-seven-minute recording, which the Prague-based Minority Records has reissued in a beautiful clear vinyl format (the first time on vinyl, by the way), features nineteen pieces, with electronic interludes, titled using dashes and all under a minute in length, interspersed amongst impressionistic chamber-styled compositions. The acoustic settings are lovingly rendered by pianist Olivier Lageyre, clarinetist Matthias Meier, trumpeter Xavier Carriére, accordionist Vincent Pouplard, violist Benoît Génot, and cellists Olivier Cavaillé and Eugen Fabris. All of the album's material was composed by Chauveau except for Lageyre's “Arachnéenne Encore.”

Nocturne Impalpable's strong classical persona is established at the outset by a quartet of chamber pieces. “Blanc” inaugurates the release on an affectingly melancholy note with Lageyre's sombre piano playing caressed by strings, and the graceful classical mood is perpetuated when clarinet, piano, and strings generate equally potent effects during the aromatic evocations “Cet Enfer Miraculeux” and “Radiophonie No. 1.” A mood of elegiac romanticism is conjured by “Ocre,” which, a few electronic touches aside, is performed by solo piano. The distance separating the acoustic and electronic pieces is collapsed to some degree by the fact that Chauveau often works samples and electronic textures into the acoustic settings, even if he does so more surreptitiously than not (one of the more explicit examples occurs when train sounds surface near the end of “Le Monde Intérieur”).

Representative of the electronic pieces are “--” and “---,” fleeting microsound interludes dotted with clicks, pops and rustlings. Chauveau's experimental side also comes to the fore during “Radiophonie No. 2,” which threads French-spoken voice samples into a shimmering organ-drone framework, while “Je me Suis Bâti sur une Colonne Absente,” in an arrangement heavy on accordion and mallet percussion, draws upon classical minimalism in its compositional approach. Though “Nocturne Urbain” appears as if it might be ten minutes long, it's actually a brief classical coda that's followed after a two-minute break by a hidden track of experimental soundscape design.

Nocturne Impalpable not only showcases Chauveau's gifts as a composer but his versatility and eclecticism, too. Those sides of him will be familiar to listeners aware of the other projects with which he's been involved, whether it's groups such as o, Arca, and On or an album like his Depeche Mode homage Down to the Bone.

January 2015