Edward Chilvers – The Future Is Polyrhythmic

by | Mar 13, 2018

Edward Chilvers – The Future Is Polyrhythmic, FRI 02 MAR 2018 7:00 PM

The month of March has not seen this amount of snow in Manchester in many years, so it was befitting that the music that was to accompany a night of windy and snowy Friday would also be exceptional. So even the harsh and obstructing weather could not stop well over half of the expected crowd to join.

About the event

The music event that is about to welcome musician Edward Chilvers is part of the regular Manchester-based Music As Medicine promoted by Damien Mahoney. This event is dedicated to bringing communities together through the healing power of sound and music, performance and dancing. It is exceptionally taking place for the first time at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation Manchester. Anthony Burgess was an English author and composer after whom the building is named and whose works archives it hosts. His piano is the instrument that Chilvers has the privilege to use tonight.

Music As Medecine organised this special one-off event and dedicated the night to Jóhann Jóhannsson, a maverick, incredible Iclandic composer, who passed away on a night in February. The event tonight showcases another very unique musician and composer, Edward Chilvers, a favourite since his first appearance at the event in Nov 2016, also known for his Ted Talk on polyrhythm. The multi-instrumentalist this time substitutes the guitar he used on his previous appearance for his main instrument, the piano.

About Edward Chilvers

Edward began playing the piano at the age of four. He was performing at twelve, teaching by fourteen and has been making a living playing and teaching the piano since leaving school at sixteen. But Eddie, a Young Steinway artist, is also a composer seeking to stretch the capacity of what is humanly possible to play on the piano.

2017 saw the release on Mozart Records of Eddie’s ’12 Etudes’, his series of original piano compositions. The works explore the idea of polyrhythmy – ‘a rhythm which makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously’. Each Etude using different rhythmic ratios. There are echoes of Chopin, Debussy and Liszt and the result is beautiful and haunting. Eddie was hugely inspired by the Bwiti music of Gabon in West Africa, which has an incessant, intense use of polyrhythm via harp, voice, drums and other instruments. This concert, including a talk by Eddie about his unique approach, was an inspiring exploration of music, maths, improvisation, harmonics, polyrhythm, consciousness and patterns in nature. A second live set comprised of improvisations based on audience suggestions and requests.

An evening with Edward Chilvers and an introduction to polyrhythm

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation offers a most appropriate setting. The artist warms up like the pianist he is, on and off his musical extension. In the background, African rhythms confirm the mystery and the anticipated journey of discovery. It sounds like the call of a griot.

Walking with only socks on, the artist enters and thank us for clapping asking that there please be no further applause during the set. And so it is. He sits, waits a few seconds and places his left hand on the keys and plays a melody, taking us on one journey. Before long, the right hand comes in, almost “disjoins” in (or is it joins out), with a mind and journey of its own but surprisingly soon feeling like it is singing in one voice with the left hand, one journey, one goal. I had almost forgotten the subject of this presentation, polyrhythm. But right there, he is playing it, a subtle introduction to his main theme. And before you know it, the right hand goes solo again, the left hand gets in and it’s one voice of two -vocal- chords all over again… as if the piano was not hard enough to play in the first place.

The simple mention of polyrhythm takes me to the traditional sounds of subsaharian Africa and classical India, with which I grew up. Polyrhythm is part of very ancient creative customs, and is woven in the communal sense of musical art. Everyone has their voice, their timber, their rhythm and expresses these with their instruments, be this a voice, strings, drums…. Those traditional polyrhythmic sounds bring those differences together as if they were one voice. You can no longer hear the individual even though the colour of their perspectives does not escape your view of the rainbow. Suddenly they blend into one light. This is what you hear in the polyrhythmic music masterpiece Lambarena arranged by Gabonese musicologist and composer Pierre Akendegue and bringing together the melodies of Bach and the traditional sounds of deep Gabon, and appropriately named Bach to Africa. It is heard today in Jazz and Afro-Cuban music that both fuse the many voices of their various roots and, everything being relative, increasingly heard albeit still hesitantly in popular music (cf. Nine Inch Nails, Frank Zappa, and many more than you think).

Edward ChilversBut here, now, as I listen, it is something just like it, except that this sounds like a musician trying to reconcile the different voices within: the voices of his multiple heritage: that of his Western roots that pull him to mathematic order, those of the many places that inspire him from Africa to India and beyond and that call him to new perspectives, to a self-re-discovery. It is the many instruments and voices in him that he single-handedly (well with two hands really) performs. He explains at some point:

“I spent three years training my hands to play all the different permutations of rhythmic ratios, and the studies are the consequence of this experimentation.”

Edward ChilversNow, Edward can play 5 different speeds, “very strict pattern and it’s too many for me to keep track of them individually”. I think of my own internal polyrhythm, that of everyone around us. With the internationalisation, inspirational information comes from so many places and the perspectives can be so different especially in the creative domain where it is a matter of taste. Polyrhythm might have sounded like an acquired taste when I played it with enthusiasm on the waves of AllFM a few years ago to people who were unfamiliar with it, but Edward Chilvers is arguing that it is the future and it looks even more possible in this context.

As requested no clapping and a few seconds pass before the seemingly dissonant notes of the second composition hit the ear. That one does not sound polyrhythmic but rather just like an étude, the left hand back to a more traditional accompanying mode.

Another song seems to take us back to the beginning before returning to a more monorhythmic sound.

The absence of clapping gives the set a more focused journey where the audience does not need to compliment the artist just walk this musical journey with him. The exhaling of gratefulness is a welcome final dot at the end of it. Anthony Burgess’s piano can definitely say it has been played as the multi-instrumentalist finishes his set with a short alternance of key playing and reaching to strum the strings on the belly of the open piano.

The Q & A

Edward Chilvers then proceeded to answer some questions. No, I did not ask any. I wanted to hear his perspective without my questions betraying me too much. He explained polyrhythm and why it has inspired him to do so much work in that direction. It is, it seems, the multiplicity of tempos happening at the same time, to create a multi dimensional impression so that the music is happening at different speeds and different directions. The inspiration is from many places: the greetings of the Gabonese folk music which “had the effect of pulling my brain apart and I thought that I’d quite like to recreate that”, curiosity and experimentation on “how many speeds I could play on one hand”, “the realisation about the physics of music and recognising the parallel between multi, tempo and pitch”, Mozart, Bach, Indian classical music, his use of mathematics in composition just “drilling and working out the logic of that set”.

The covers

It is a playful ending as Edward Chilvers performs his second half on the piano, musically covering suggestions from the audience, from the Pink Panther to Summertime to series from familir TV series. My suggestion is tucked in my hand, almost as if I knew that this set was not about experimenting with some further polyrhythmic but to thank the public and share with them in a more conversational way. This is a teacher who acknowledges the equal need for recess.

Further links


The International Anthony Burgess Foundation