Virtuosic pianist Edward Chilvers devises an incredible dice and mathematical chart system to follow nature, not convention, in his forthcoming album, 31 Pieces.
“Conventional Western music is like a statue, my music is like a tree”. A bold statement perhaps, but one that Edward Chilvers justifies on his forthcoming album, 31 Pieces.
Whilst the album, factually, is made up of ‘31 pieces’, Chilvers sees the work as not something that is or should be broken into segments but rather something that has been conceived and executed as a contiguous whole with elements fading into one another, with silence or inertia never gaining the upper hand. The music on 31 Pieces will never be performed twice in exactly the same way. The music captured on the three CD release itself serves as the ‘parent’ version – whilst each of the three CDs works as a standalone record, together they have a deeper unity.
The foundation of Chilvers’ work is in experimenting with speed radios and mode, its DNA is coded with the infinite variety that reflects that existing within nature. When he rolls his dice, the unpredictability generated rages within the strictures of the format that he has created. A statue, by contrast, is immutable and a competent pianist will always play a traditionally formed piece in the same predictable and perfect way. A tree can be recognisably an oak, but each one is different due to the impact of myriad variables like wind, or soil type.
Chilvers uses unique technical and theoretical tools to both liberate and structure his compositions which use – principally – multi-tempo patterns and tonal mode systems as the roots of the pieces. A dice system is often used to randomise these variables (tempo patterns, made, also key and phase patterns) and many of the 31 pieces grew out of these dice rolls. The whole process is built on defined combinations of ratios that has led him to nothing less than a form of ‘New Music’. Sky News called the process “fascinating to watch”, while BBC Radio 4’s Today programme called him a “Musical dice man creating pieces driven by randomness”. The hope is that these skills will become normal technique for the pianists of the future, and a freer multi-‘dimensional’ way of playing will blossom and evolve.
Chilvers was a driven and passionate player who practiced constantly in pursuit of that perfection. He hated school and left as soon as he could and then spent 12 years of chasing perfection before what he describes as his dawning “recalibration”. As he says, “This is a leap forward from mono-tempo music, which faces the same fate as black and white film, though it will remain a beautiful part of the musical universe”. It is an analogy that bears inspection, speed and pattern are what defines both music and light – and the ‘red’ in a colour film only appears so because of wave speed. Multi-tempo music is so packed with possibility that the only reason that it is not already omnipresent is down to the simple fact, as Chilvers’ methods prove, that it is so difficult!
These explorations in harmony categorise scales and modes into 96 modal groups and are an example of Chilvers’ innate ability to see patterns where others do not. 31 Pieces is the result of his performances at one specific period of time; every time he sits down to play he creates something new. The tracks on the album fade in and fade out to reflect the constant state of transition, on the album and indeed in life. Each recorded piece is in truth a snapshot of a piece of music that is constructed in a way that forms a loop and so in reality is infinitely long, and coloured by both character and characteristic, like seasons on a distant planet.
Whilst the approach taken by Chilvers on this album may seem, at first look, more akin to the recent feature written for The Guardian by AI than a free-flowing jam session at his beloved Glastonbury – he always attends and performs on pop-up stages, in fact the opposite is true. By scoring a victory over conventional structure, he is now blazing his own trail. Chilvers started by playing up to four different tempos simultaneously, disguising the pulse in his music by using phase patterns deliberately contrasting to the tempos; moving away from conventional rhythmical form. He then began to compose beautiful etudes as an exploration in poly-tempo, taking a rich understanding and reverence for western classical harmony; and reshaping it.
As he says himself, “I wanted to create a multi-dimensional music to reflect the unspeakable experience of the stilled mind. I’m trying to make laws: polyrhythmic laws, phasing laws, modal laws, structural laws. If I can make good laws then something interesting or beautiful should come out”.
31 Pieces, then, represents not only a beautiful album that hangs together as a whole, but the rolling back of boundaries. Chilvers draws inspiration from a myriad of influences, from Bach, Wagner and Beethoven through to Boards Of Canada, Squarepusher, Bill Evans, Radiohead, and Meshuggah. However, it was the Bwiti music of Gabon in West Africa, with its incessant, intense use of poly-tempo via harp, voice and drums, that inspired him to seek to stretch the capacity of what is humanly possible to play on the piano.
A truly remarkable talent, Chilvers puts discovery and fun at the heart of everything he does – but this is a serious business. Picasso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” That perhaps sums up this unique musician. His ground-breaking approach is captured in 11 Pieces, a beautiful short film essentially encapsulating the concept of the album by blending performance footage and captivating scenes from nature and the built environment. 11 Pieces has been entered at various prestigious film festivals and will also be made available next year.
Chilvers’ approach on 31 Pieces is not a rejection of traditional form or structure, but rather of beginning and endings, constraints and repetition; it is an ongoing reflection of nature. Chilvers frees music in order to allow it to blossom and follow the laws of nature, rather than being trammelled by convention.
31 Pieces by Edward Chilvers is released on 24th March on Mozart Records.
Picture: Edward Chilvers. (Ben Dowden).