Ivan Pavlov and Richard Chartier: Chessmachine

So you're two internationally recognized electronic composers who meet for the first time at Montreal's 2000 MUTEK and discover a shared interest in exchanging ideas. What do you do next? The conventional step would be to remix each other's tracks, but if you're American-born 12k founder Richard Chartier and Russian Ivan Pavlov (aka Coh), you do something much more imaginative: devise the elegant concept Chessmachine whereby one player's musical move is countered by the other's reply. You start with an initial overture by Chartier in October 2001 and end, fifteen moves later, with Pavlov's coda in August 2003. Rather than sixteen unrelated pieces, then, we get each player attempting to convince the other of a given move's aptness while listeners witnessing their moves attempt to glean threads that connect one to another. The Cold War metaphor underscores the piece, of course, but the collection is ultimately as much about community and cooperation as it is about adversarial strategizing.

All of which, admittedly, sounds great conceptually but how does the idea play out musically? In general, the brief pieces are beatless soundscapes, textural exercises teeming with unusual electronic noises. Chartier's contributions are more meditative and becalmed while Pavlov's are relatively quiet yet exude traces of coiled aggression, as if they're straining to unshackle themselves from the work's stylistic constraints. Chartier deploys his familiar sonic arsenal—minimal bass tones, subliminal throbs, pinging clusters, aquatic clicks, wipes, and whirrs—while Pavlov counters with a louder yet equally expansive array of scuffles, clattering crackle, glistening tones, and lapping shuffles. The duo sometimes seems to indulge in a literal game of sorts, with Chartier refusing to be drawn into a more aggressive tangle and clinging to quieter terrain. For those keeping score, one might deem Chartier the victor as Pavlov generally aligns his style closer to his partner's micro approach. Ultimately, it's a project that deservedly warrants admiration for the originality and execution of its concept yet musically these works offer mainly formal satisfactions given their abstract and emotionally barren qualities. On purely listening grounds, you'll appreciate Chessmachine but not be moved by it.

September 2004