I’ve gotten into contemporary classical music in the past year, and one of the artists I’ve found recently is Sylvain Chauveau. I’ve listened to three of his albums: Le Livre Noir Du Capitalisme, Des Plumes Dans La Tête, and his most recent, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated). The first is quite nice, and I’d recommend it to anyone perusing the genre. It has a lot of the variety that makes modern classical so interesting, from the minimalist piano numbers, to the very french-sounding accordion pieces. It also had some artsy electronic tracks such as Hurlements en faveur de Serge T., which honestly seemed abrasive compared to the rest of the album, as well as an even artsier track, Je suis vivant et vous etes morts, which contained samples of a sex scene that caused me to sheepishly turn down the volume. I appreciate that kind of avant-garde contribution to an otherwise normal song.
Des plumes dans la tête, it turns out, is a soundtrack to a film by the same name. As such, it is actually a composition of numerous very short songs (and multiple variations of each song), as opposed to 10-12 moderate ones. The repetitiveness may be considered boring, but I still like the album. A song I’d recommend for anyone interested in checking Sylvain out is Pour les oiseaux.
Hearing these albums, I was really enjoying Sylvain Chauveau, but then I listened to Singular Forms. Singular Forms is different from the other two albums in that Sylvain has added vocals to all the tracks, and I honestly feel that the vocals don’t fit. I feel this way about a lot of music: some songs are just better without the vocals. Sylvain has proven to be a good composer, but all the songs on Singular Forms feel distracted by the vocals. Sylvain’s website states that this is a minimalist deconstruction of traditional pop music, and I can say two things about that: Sylvain has definitely produced something more intelligent than pop music, and he is certainly not a bad singer. However, I don’t think the vocals makes sense for a minimalist album.
We’ll take A Cloud of Dust as an example. The beginning is beautifully minimal – sparse, simple, quiet, thoughtful. Then, three minutes in, the vocals come in, and add unnecessary complexity. I’m not sure if it’s because the vocals are too loud, or perhaps they’re slightly dissonant, or even if it’s simply the fact that I have to listen to the lyrics, but for some reason, the vocals rub me the wrong way. And it’s like this on all the tracks on the album. If you were to try falling asleep to the music, the vocals would wake you back up. They just don’t fit. The album fails to feel minimal once the singing enters.
For now, I have shelved Singular Forms, and will be taking a look at Sylvain’s other albums instead. He’s a great artist, but I hope this isn’t a direction that he and rest of modern classical music are heading in. It’s not for me.