PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Sylvain Chauveau's 'Life Without Machines' Is an Indictment of How External Forces Falsely Shape Humanity

Photo: Thomas Jean Henri / Courtesy of Terrorbird Media

Whereas so many contemporary albums are created to harness flash and consumption, Life Without Machines allays bedazzlement. Sylvain Chauveau advocates for unplugging and disconnecting, and only then will we truly live.

Life Without Machines
Sylvain Chauveau

Flau Records

17 April 2020

Are we too reliant on machinery? This is the auspicious question driving French composer Sylvain Chauveau's recent album Life Without Machines. Utilizing 14 piano compositions, Chauveau exclaims modernity is suffocated by machinery. At both the societal and individual levels, machinery, and by default technology, are slowly overtaking humanity while their endless churning gobbles up vital environmental resources. As the press release specifies, the album "expresses the fact that our lives are entirely assisted by machines (for everything we eat, wear, transport, build, watch, listen…)". A reality certainly exasperated by social distancing and the COVID-19 era. Machinery, in any form, zaps humans of their essence while contributing to the environmental crisis. Life Without Machines is an aural call for a return to simplicity.

Performed by French pianist Melaine Dalibert, Life Without Machines disavows the feverish energy created by machines and technology. Dalibert's piano is the sole instrument throughout. The musical singularity is meditative and refreshing, a clear counter-narrative to overproduced music. The piano offers a force that is so gentle, its strength goes almost unnoticed. The compositions are short, with only a few reaching the two-minute mark. That disallows the listener from settling into the music; the shifting pieces recapitulate the dysphoria inspiring Chauveau. In its distinctiveness, the piano symbolizes the power generated from sparsity. The music enshrines our crowded lives, the messiness extenuated by machinery's constant whirl. In doing so, Life Without Machines is also a statement on anti-consumption.

Each of the 14 tracks is a variation of a musical theme. Dalibert follows a single chord and then replays the chord note-by-note. Chauveau relies on tones to build the atmosphere, and the result is an intentionally mechanical sound. The deconstruction of the chords is where the music generates warmth and resituates humanity among the din. In contrast to the narrative produced by the larger album, the finale is 11 minutes long and features a bridge of silence between "14. En" and a ghost track. Birds chirping and a barking dog underscores the coda. The source sounds are jarring, and the polyphony reminds us of what we miss when we pledge allegiance to mechanized overlords. Before this point, Chauveau's vision is well-received, subtle in its brilliance. The finale is insufferable, and entirely too incongruous to the rest of the album. When considering the era in which the album was released, Chauveau's belief is well-intentioned but idealistic and currently impossible.

Life Without Machines' liner notes list 14 tracks, but the hidden extra track changes the number to 15. The fluid number of tracks mirrors the stone garden at Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto, Japan. A sanctuary creating a space for contemplation, the garden's layout is laden in mystery. Situated in white sand, the 15 stones are arranged so only 14 are visible at one time. One interpretation suggests that even with an open mind, one's standpoint is always limited. A more straightforward Buddhist interpretation understands the stones' placement as encouraging free thought. Considering either interpretation, Life Without Machines reiterates a kindred ethos. For Chauveau, the reliance on machines obscures clarity and liberation will only be granted after rejecting the dependency. His compositions, much like the Ryoan-ji stone garden, derive power from simplicity.

Life Without Machines was inspired by Barnett Newman's abstract painting series "The Stations of the Cross". Newman's series of 14 paintings are notable for their austere representation of Christian theology. The series uses abstraction to intensify the trauma associated with the death of Christ. Chauveau doesn't undertake a deconstruction of Christianity, but Life Without Machines' singular piano does echo Newman's unadorned canvases. Both mediums declutter the audience's perspective to transcend suffering. For Chauveau, the suffering is caused by the over-reliance on machinery and the resulting damage. Here, Life Without Machines recalls Guy Debord's La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) written in 1967. Much as Dubord critiques the image-saturated capitalist culture, Chauveau's album is a similar indictment of how external forces falsely shape humanity.

Whereas so many contemporary albums are created to harness flash and consumption, Life Without Machines allays bedazzlement. Chauveau advocates for unplugging and disconnecting, and only then will we truly live.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.