Frank Koustrup, Contact!, no. 11:1, October 1, 1997

Préludes à la vie is a fascinating disc containing two collections of works from the French composer Michel Chion. Both pieces are made up of many small sections.

Le prisonnier du son, composed from 1972 to 1991, is narrative, a type of radio play starting with a spoken introduction. Many parts of this long work are decidedly lo-fi and even distorted, showing the technological age of the work. This is not a bad thing. Some of the thrashier bits effectively evoke a trapped sensation. Even though divided into small chunks, the whole composition feels unified.

24 préludes à la vie however is a mixed bag of music. These are preludes leading to the next prelude to the next to the life at the end of the disc. Most of these 24 preludes are delicious and sometimes mysterious. The textures and arrangements are gorgeous. But a few pass with little notice, like moments of staring into space: all except the last are under three minutes long. I particularly like Éveil, the sneaking-in-the-dark mood of Le couple, and the scary monsters of Danse de l’Ombre.

Short works have an inherent charm, if for nothing else than if you don’t like a piece, at least it will be over soon. But rarely do short works become ambient and flow. When strung together, as they are on this disc, the overall effect of these works is abrupt and shapeless. The individual compositions become part of an incoherent mass, a succession of outbursts. Sequencing music like this is like writing a poem by using only one-syllable words or like listening to an athlete speak. It is the wrong medium, the wrong milieu for these pieces. These compositions would be much more compelling, either a respite for the ears or a sudden wake-up call, if they were tucked between longer, more fluid compositions. Or as the title suggests, these works would be better applied as preludes rather than as a succession of discrete and often poorly-related units. It is difficult to pick out pieces that are appealing and avoid ones that aren’t successful.

Nonetheless, I do love this disc. Michel Chion is a master of texture, and I delight in immersing myself in his subtle, unpredictable patterns. I appreciate the absurd touches he plants throughout his works, the crazed voices, the sudden distorted crashes. His music is wild, jumpy, and then achingly lyrical.

Although this disc is less than ideally arranged, Michel Chion’s music is always rich with gems and a twisted hint of alien humour.