Sylvain Chauveau: Simple
FatCat Recordings

The forty-one-minute Simple is, in one sense, anything but, as it documents virtually every stylistic path the Brussels-based Frenchman has trod over the course of his career; the fact that the pieces were produced between1998 and 2010 also makes them feel like a bit of a career overview. Its eighteen miniatures, most in the one- to two-minute range, capture many of the composer's sides, from electronic experimenter to classical composer. Diversity is the unifying principle at work, with Chauveau's presence the thread connecting pieces sometimes dramatically far apart, stylistically speaking. Given the pieces' modest length, one might be tempted to think of the album as someone dabbling in various genres, but doing so would impart a wrongful sense of dilettantism to the material and its creator—that they're short pieces shouldn't suggest they aren't serious in intent either (consider how long Satie's miniatures have endured). The album often exudes an emotionalism redolent of soundtrack composing, and as it turns out almost all of the material derives from Chauveau film scores (Thomas de Thier's Des Plumes dans la tête, Sarah Bouyain's Notre étrangère, and HR Boe's Beast and Alting Bliver Godt Igen).

As one would expect, the collection includes low-level, ambient-drones rich in vaporous textures (“Noir,” the aptly titled “Anthracite,” “Blanche comme l'infini”), emotive classical-chamber settings for piano and strings that are sometimes mournful but typically pretty (“Des Plumes dans la tête,” “Pour les oiseaux,” and “Situation finale,” which even sneaks a clarinet player in amongst the others). There are also electronic-experimental meditations for guitar and effects (the space-drone “Au nombre des choses” and low-level “Murmure”) and even an effects-free vignette for acoustic and electric guitar (“Notre étrangère”). “Strangers Forever” and “Murmure” could pass for melancholy strings-only excerpts from a Michael Nyman soundtrack. At six minutes, “Within the Orderly Life” is the longest piece, and it's also the album's most luscious, a stirring setting for piano, electronics, and strings that's, in fact, not an original by Chauveau but a Pulseprogramming remix.

The emotional balance tips to the melancholy and ponderous side during “Le Brasier de tristesse,” a wintry setting arranged for piano and cello, and “Blanc,” perhaps the collection's most mournful piece. In the four pieces performed by a forty-piece string orchestra (the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra), the density of the sound presented offers a stark contrast to the delicate intimacy of the chamber settings. Chauveau's music receives a powerful boost by the orchestral resources in that they bring his talent for infusing his music with melody and emotion into even clearer focus. As a portrait of Chauveau, it would be hard to imagine a more encompassing set than Simple, whose impact, surprisingly, isn't compromised in the least by the brevity of many of its eighteen pieces.

December 2012