Sunday, March 7, 2021

Benoît Delbecq - The Weight Of Light (Pyroclastic, 2021) *****

 By Stef Gijssels

French pianist Benoît Delbecq is one of those musicians whose sound is immediately recognisable. Over the decades, he firmly established his own signature sound. This effect is even stronger on a solo album such as this one, his first in more than a decade. Apart from using a prepared piano, with muted strings and strong percussive effects, his other unique aspect is the sparse lyricism of his compositions, using a limited number of notes to convey something meaningful. 

"The Weight Of Light" has a double origin. His brother, a physicist did his PhD thesis on the mass of light. (On a side note: the relationship between physics and free improvisation should also be the topic of some further research, as many artists are inspired by its rational mystery or mysterious science). The second is the actual movement of light over objects, as with the mobile on the cover of the album, or the movement of a cloud behind the stained glass windows of a chapel, making the light and shadows move inside. 

Despite its easy and light-footed sound, the music is actually relatively complex, with polyrhythms and irregular and shifting patterns, built quite consistently throughout the pieces. They reflect his idea of the mobile on the cover, with its relatively stable structure constantly changing because of internal movement and the external effect of shifting light and shadow, while staying the same object. 

Interestingly enough, the album is accompanied by a one hour documentary on the creative process and techniques used on the album, and I can recommend to watch it (below). It's in French, but with English subtitles and the occasional piece of interview in English. 

Light can be seen as a source of energy, but also as a source of solutions and perspectives. Delbecq is clear that his music is not the expression of his emotions, except for the personal pleasure in structure, form and intrinsic beauty. A kind of "l'art-pour-l'art"without other motives or intentions. The emotional response that the listener has is welcome, but very personal and not designed to happen. 

His music is light, bright even, with a certain pulse, not rhythm, because it has to be more free, less constrained, and once you think you have it, it's gone and replaced by something equally intangible but similar, moving, offering, ever changing perspectives on the same topic. 

Delbecq has his own approach to conceptualise and graphically structure his compositions. Like Bach compositions, there's something scientific about the way patterns are invited to interact, even if Delbecq is more loose and jazzy in his delivery. He draws circles with specific size differences and areas of overlap, within which he draws a coloured route to connect the various circles as the piece moves forward. When I’m composing, it’s exactly like I’m looking at inventing the future shape of an object,” he says, “so I look at it from different places. It’s like a 3-D way of conceiving things that has to do with optical phenomena. If I move around it, it will reveal shapes that are hidden at other angles.

This results in music that is playful, creative, fresh, full of surprise and with an inherent lightness despite the percussive elements. It doesn't lead you anywhere, there is no built-in tension, no real development or evolution towards a grand finale, but small particles of pleasure, polyrhythmic joy and poetry: an apparent simple surface structure built on a deceptively complex foundation. As a listener you often wonder which hand does what on the piano and how he builds his lyricism around the muted and unmuted strings. When you watch the video, you can see that he does both with one hand even. 

To understand his sense of nuance and subtlety, Delbecq writes he "drew the record cover pretty fast, but the shadow took me days. I wanted to render something mysterious about the shadow of this mobile.” His music has the same attention to detail, however small, fragile and insignificant it may seem. When you reduce music to its essence, every detail gets more weight. Check out the attention given to the wooden objects used to mute the strings, and his obvious reference to the African balaphon. 

Delbecq's music is beyond categorisation, and a true delight. 

Don't miss it!

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Alexander said...

Also check out his duo with Fred Hersch playing "Lonely Woman":

tobto said...

wow. I'm inspired. That is so fantastique to visualize sound as light travel.

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