Published Apr 30, 2012Montreal's Michael Silver, otherwise known as CFCF, isn't one for standing still musically, constantly drawing on different genres and bringing an eclectic array of influences into his sound. His debut, Continent, was an album of downtempo electronica incorporating synth wave, disco and house, but he's also known for his poppier mixtapes and a prolific number of remixes for acts such as Crystal Castles and Active Child.
Exercises, his latest release as CFCF, is a mini-album of melancholic piano-based pieces that evokes comparison with the work of composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and the ambient catalogue of Brian Eno. Over the course of eight "exercises," the Montreal producer's aim was to create a more delicate, reflective work than the heavily-textured dance music he's usually known for. "It was an attempt to dial back my usual way of working and make something that was more improvisational," says Silver. "I wanted to do something that was very simple and more stripped down. It's an exercise in simplifying the composing process."
This time around Silver was inspired by minimalist composer Philip Glass rather than pop or dance music. "Philip Glass is obviously a very talented musician and composer but his composing style is very simple. It's all about these patterns and the relationship between chords and how they intersect." Silver explains that he is completely self-taught on the piano and he is humble when discussing his playing abilities. "I don't have a piano background and I'm not trained at all but it's nothing too complicated. Just simple melodies and simple piano arrangements."
As inspiration while composing the pieces, Silver looked to the institutional architecture of his Montreal home town, such as government buildings or libraries. "I think Montreal in the '60s and '70s wanted to be this really futuristic forward-thinking city but now the city's falling apart," says Silver. "The fabric of Montreal is these modernist slabs and long corridors with nothing in them and they give the city a strange, eerie feel." He reasons that it's because the idealistic, socialist ideas behind the buildings have long passed, leaving infrastructure that appears today as monolithic and dystopian. But he adds that these imposing buildings aren't entirely without merit. "You can't help but feel this hushed awe for the concrete. They are beautiful in their own right but they are oppressive too."
In addition to Montreal's modernist architecture, Silver was inspired by other aspects of Canadian culture, especially the soundtrack work of the NFB and in particular the sound work of animation pioneer Norman McLaren, which can be heard strongly echoed in the tonal palette Silver layers underneath the looping piano.
Silver admits that his musical exploration is driven in part by getting bored quickly as well as a fear of getting stuck continuously doing the same thing. "It would be insane to keep making Continent over and over again because that's just really a picture of where I was at that time. I don't really have anything against it if artists are good at something and keep doing it but I just want to keep trying different things."