28 Ocak 2016 Perşembe


By on 12:31:00


I became acquainted with French experimental composer Sylvain Chauveau in the year of 2000 when he released his first solo album “Le Livre Noir du Capitalisme”, remastered and released with an English title “The Black Book of Capitalism” by Type Records in 2008. The album was so high on emotion that it struck me hard on the first listen and hasn’t let go yet. Since then I’ve been following Chauveau’s prolific musical adventure. Rooted in rock bands in the 1990s, he has become a rare composer who flirts with different types of music featuring minimal compositions for acoustic instruments, electronics and vocal. As an established film and dance composer, Chauveau also plays in the collaborative outfits 0 (with Joël Merah and Stéphane Garin), On (with Steven Hess), and in the cinematic avant-rock band Arca (with Joan Cambon).

Last October, he released “How To Live In Small Pieces”, a quiet suite of four long, instrumental pieces composed for dance shows: two for piano, two for electronics. On his website, it is said that the acoustic tracks are reminiscent of the "orchestrated silence" of composers such as Morton Feldman. I chatted with Sylvain Chauveau about his impressive approach to music and his many interesting musical projects.

Please tell us a little bit about your musical background. After several years singing and playing guitar in rock bands, how did you come to start making instrumental/electronic/minimal music? Are you classically trained?

I have no musical education and no training, all self-taught. I started playing music quite late, when I was 19. First was the discovery of rock. I started during the grunge era. Then I became more and more attracted to slowness, and then to quietness. By the late 90s, I gave up rock for good, started my own solo thing with piano and strings and abstract electronic sounds. That’s how it all started for me.

Your biographical notes include this paragraph: “After several years singing and playing guitar in French rock bands, Chauveau decided to quit in 1998 and to start a solo project with three main ideas: to stay as close as possible to the abstract beauty of "silence"; to make sure that each sound committed is absolutely necessary; and to find his own roots within his cultural and personal history.” I have three questions about this paragraph. 1. What attracted to you to silence? 2. What is so great about minimalism? 3. Do you feel that you have found your own roots within your cultural and personal history? If so, when did you first feel it?

1. In the late 90s and early 2000s I became literally obsessed by silence in music. I guess it was the logical achievement of my growing interest for radical minimalism. In silence there is no wrong sound. Maybe it’s a form of perfection. Or the illusion of it. Or a form of meditation. By the way, there is almost no silent piece of music in this world. What we’re talking about here is mostly quiet music, to a degree where you really have to listen very carefully to understand that sometihng is happening. It’s a bit mysterious and that’s part of its attractive power.

2. Minimalism is the art of detail. I don’t know if it’s great. It’s just fascinating to me because when all is stripped down to the bone, the smallest detail becomes a huge event, with a increased power. It’s also a way to show that a lot of the usual elements of art pieces are almost unnecessary - we use them mainly because we follow the common stream, the traditions, but we could as well do without. « When one violin is enough, don’t use two », wrote film director Robert Bresson.

3. This biographic note is from 2002, I think! We’re in 2016 and both my music and my artistic interests have evolved. What I was saying at this time is that, as I was French, and not American or English, I couldn’t just keep on doing rock music (which is amercan and english music) and I had to find out what « french music » would be. So yes, I kind of did it - by removing the rock instruments like guitars, bass and drums, and focusing on the sounds of french chamber music from Debussy, Satie, Ravel and Fauré, with piano and strings.


Beside traditional instruments, electronics play a role in your music: how much
important is electronics in your composing?

It’s an element among others but it opens to an almost infinite spectrum of sounds. Every
sound source can be useful to me: instrumental, acoustic, electric, electronic, field
recordings, anything is good if I like the sound. That’s one of the main gifts given to my
generation: we knew everything was a tool. And the big revolution was the rise of digital and computers and all. With digital it became so easy to record and mix music that anyone could do it. That’s how I’ve been able to make records and to finally become a professional musician.

Since you play a number of instruments, is there anything in particular that draws you to the piano? Terry Riley once said that it allows you to control a lot of ideas, more so than a synthesizer and you can control the expressiveness much better with a piano. Would you agree with him?

Yes, piano certainly allows a very precise expressiveness that is harder to find with
electronics and digital. I love the piano (I use it since almost 20 years), but the most
powerful instrument remains the computer, as far as I know. It allows almost everything,
isn’t it? In a way, it’s almost scary, there is too much power, too many options, too many possibilities. I once had this talk my friend Geoffroy Montel, from the band Minizza, who co-runs the label Brocoli: if the Beatles at their time would have been able to use a software as simple (and powerful) as today’s GarageBand, instead of their 4-track analogue recorders, what would they have done? « Just shit », he quietly replied. Too much power can paralise you. We’ve come to a point were we use dozens of sound tools but we are not specialized in any of them. Which brings us back to Robert Bresson: « The capacity of using my tools diminishes as they become more numerous ».

What are the intentions behind your most recent production work?

Using the lessons of experimental music inside the song format. Since a few years I have
started a trilogy of albums of deconstructed songs - my attempt to make a link between
avant-garde and pop. It started with 2010’s «Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated) ».
The follow up was 2013’s « Kogetsudai ». I’m working on the last part of the trilogy.


You recently released a solo album called “How to Live In Small Pieces” and it includes instrumental pieces that are reminiscent of the “orchestrated silence”. Can you shed some lights on this term?

Yes, I read this sentence in the liner notes of a record of music by Morton Feldman, my
favorite composer. The author was mentioning that his pieces could be something
between 4 or 5 hours long and short compositions of two minutes made of « a little more
than orchestrated silence ». I loved this expression. I thought: This is exactly what I’m
trying to do! You can guess it’s about sounds at the threshold of perception, something
soft and sweet, probably quite slow. Like looking under a microscope, you discover a
whole universe in this smaller world.

Do you think slow music is harder to record than fast especially for such a quiet piece? Dustin O’Halloran from A Winged Victory For The Sullen claims that ambient music is only for one percent of people. Do you think people are used to music trying to grab their attention?

Dustin is a good friend and I understand what he means. Of course people want music to
grab their attention. Why wouldn’t they. They want mainly uptempo beats and catchy
vocals, which is perfectly understandable. And that’s not what he and I are doing… Maybe this world needs some musicians doing something else, not obeying the basic rules. We create a quiet atmosphere that will make some listeners come into this subtle universe. Or not. One percent of the people? It’s probably even less. But who cares. It’s not my problem. I’m not here to convince the crowds.

As a composer who uses the studio and electronics, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of that way of working?

I know what you mean, yeah. As I said before, we might have too many tools than we
need and it can become a problem. My personal reply to this is not to care about
technology. I’m just interested in sound, in the musical result, not in the technical aspects.
So I use only extremely basic gear. All my pieces are edited on GarageBand, for example. And I don’t own any recording device at home, really. If I have to record or mix anything, I go to a studio and I pay someone to do it. Then I’m just focused on the music itself.


You have composed a 7 year long piece titled "You Will Leave No Mark On The Winter Snow". It is interesting. What led you to create such a long piece full of silence and featuring only 17 moments of hearable sounds?

The necessity to step outside of the comfort zone of our musical world. I thought that the
duration would be an interesting parameter to play with. If we talk about extremely long
music, usually it can go beyond the hour long, maybe several hours, or even a whole day. If we search further, some people have experimented weeks or months as a duration too. So I believed that an extreme duration should be counted in years. Seven immediately came to my mind, probably as a mythological number. And as I was obsessed with silence, this 7 year piece is silent most of the time. But not only: spread within this blank canvas appear some quiet piano patterns, some discreet electronic sounds, some long drones which fade in and out during a very long time. The internet was the only way I found to make it exist. One can hear the streaming of the piece (which runs between 2012 and 2019) at any moment on www.7yearsofsilence.com

“Le Livre Noir du Capitalisme” was the first time I came across your name. It was so
high on emotion that it struck me pretty hard. How did that come about? It must be quite personal, I think.

Yes, very personal. I came out of the urge. The urge to make for the first time a solo
album, something where I would control everything, be the only captain on board. I was
still in love with a girl who didn’t love me anymore, and the whole record - although
instrumental - is all about this: a desperate attempt to make her come back to me. This
album was everything. I gave all I had for it. All my attention was focused on this for one
and a half year, day and night. It had to be something I could leave behind if I had to die
just after. Of course, today it makes me laugh and I find it quite naive. But I remember it
was so sincere and important to me that during the recording I was afraid of dying being hit by a car, or that the apartment of my friend Joan Cambon - where the album was being made - would burn in a fire and then the tapes would be destroyed before we finish it…

I saw a video of “0” with just three-people-orchestration consisting of guitar,
glockenspiel and percussion. What is the idea behind this band?

0 may not be a basic band at all: it’s quite the opposite! We have created it 12 years
ago and it’s a crazy, uncommon group with two main activities: performing our own
compositions and performing music of other composers. So when 0 plays live, unless you
are informed, you could not really know in advance wether it’s gonna be, for example, a
duet of deeply quiet acoustic music or a large ensemble of strings and winds playing a
long and fast repetitive piece by Philip Glass… We are three core members living in
different countries (France, Spain and Belgium) and the line-up changes according to each project. Even the video you saw is a bit unusual: a trio of glockenspiel / found metal
objects / acoustic guitar, this is not really basic, I think! For our new project, we publish a
new instrumental piece each month on our Bandcamp page during the whole year 2016:


You run one of the most unique labels in music. Can you tell us about the concept
behind the Onement label and I Will Play This Song Once Again Records? Releasing
single-copy vinyl records in the digital age sounds unusual.

I’ve created Onement to release one-copy LPs of experimental musicians I admire (Keith
Rowe, John Tilbury, Robert Hampson…). It becomes like a painting or a sculpture: there is
only one object and that’s part of its power when you have the chance to see or hear it. It’s funny because lately, the Wu Tan Clan have released a one-copy album and they were so proud of their concept, all the medias talked about it and they claimed this was happening for the first time in history of recorded music! Come on guys… I started this thing several years before you did and I have a whole label dedicated to this… Even Jean-Michel Jarre did a one-copy LP back in the early 80s!

As for the other label, I Will Play This song Once Again Records, Florent Garnier and I
have created it 3 years ago. The concept is different: the artists have to re-play and re-
record their songs for each buyer! They announce the name of the buyer and the date in
the introduction of each version… We’re surely the only label in the world doing this.


The relationship between music and other forms of art – such as painting, video art
and cinema - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship
yourself and in your opinion, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Yeah, but this interaction between different arts is not so new. I guess it was already the
case centuries ago. Musicians must have been influenced by painting, sculpture, poetry,
theatre. Cinema, video and photography have also played a new part since last century.
But I notice music might be the artform that remains the closest to magic: it’s the only art
whose object is always invisible. You may see a musician play, you’re not seeing the

What were your biggest inspirations in the way you make and write music?
Since 2003 I think my biggest inspirations come from the world of visual art. I guess I learnt a lot by watching abstract painting, the abstract expressionist painters, the minimal art, Mondrian, Yves Klein, photography, and more recently contemporary sculpture and installations.

You have composed some pieces for original soundtracks to movies. What role do you think music plays in a movie?

I think there is often too much music in the films: in most American cinema it’s constantly
there, as if they were afraid of letting the scenes live by themselves. When you compose
themes for a film you have a responsibility. The same scene with two different musical
moods could either mean something or its opposite. It’s very powerful.

You have been remixing songs by other artists since 2001. But "Down to the Bone"
is a cover record of Depeche Mode songs in chamber music. How did this idea
come about? Are you a fan of DM?

I did remixes during my musician life, and I like that. But ‘Down To The Bone’ is actually
not a remix record, I’d call it a cover album. To me, remixing means reconstructing a piece out of its original sound files. Making a cover is totally replaying - and in my case re-orchestrating - songs in your own way. I’m not a fan of Depeche Mode. I chose their
repertoire because it was rich enough to provide plenty of famous songs I would like to
sing and reshape them in a very different direction than the original. Where it was all about synthesizers, beats and electronic production, I wanted to bring all that towards quietness, acoustic sounds, chamber music with piano, strings and clarinet.

Are there any artists in or outside the world of classical or neo-classical that you're
excited about currently?

Actually I don’t listen at all to neo-classical music. I almost hate it. As a composer I
stopped doing this kind of music during the past decade. By the time Max Richter and
Jóhann Jóhannsson reached recognition and many younger artists switched to piano
music, I was already feeling the need to move on. I started to work on abstraction and «
orchestrated silence ». The musicians I admire are in different genres: experimental, free
improvisation, contemporary, field recordings, and still a little bit of rock. I could maybe
sum up by saying that I’m obsessed by John Cage and Morton Feldman. And in the past
months, I‘ve been listening mostly to John Coltrane and to Beach House.


What are your thoughts about the minimalist movement today?

Honestly, I believe there are no movements anymore today. It’s almost impossible.
Information spreads so fast with the internet that everything new is immediately heard and re-used and overwhelmed. There can’t be such things as musical schools or local scenes anymore. Therefore, we’re by ourselves on this ocean of sounds and, frankly, it’s OK likethat.

Technology has changed the geography of musical movements and their audiences.
Your audience may not be the people who live next door, but someone who’s living
in Lebanon or Iran, and that regarding music, you may have more in common with
that community than the people who you meet at a party. How does this situation
affect you as a musician and the music you make? 

This is a very interesting period for a musician. The digital revolution may have many
downsides, it has also opened new possibilities and it allows the music to travel so easily.
In the past 15 years it has also become much easier to travel around the world for a cheap cost: underground musicians can go play live much easier in many countries. I’m also glad that recording music is not anymore the privilege of people going in expensive,
unaffordable studios. And I’m glad that music can be shared around the world like this.
Lebanon or Iran, yes, it’s possible. I had a interesting email exchange with a young
musician from Ukraine last year. I’m terribly conscious of the many dangers humanity will
have to face during this century, but still, this new era remains exciting.


(Read the Turkish version here > http://www.veganlogic.net/2016/01/interview-sylvain-chauveau.html)

Yazan: Zülal Kalkandelen