Erik Griswold – Pain Avoidance Machine

Posted: 9 October 2015 in Albums

Erik Griswold – Pain Avoidance Machine

Room40 – RM468 – 21st August 2015

Christopher Nosnibor

American-born, Australian-based composer Erik Griswold has spent the last two decades exploring the potentials of the prepared piano. Pain Avoidance Machine, composed against the backdrop of what he described as ‘the negativity of the Australian political discourse, the narcissistic excess of social media, and facing a long summer of migraine-inducing heat’ is the soundtrack to Griswold’s unique approach to self-prescribed therapy. The album’s 15 tracks are meditations and aural medications of sorts, in which the instrument itself – he prepared piano – is the ‘pain avoidance machine’ of the title through which Griswold grappled and dealt with the situations bearing down on him.

These compositions don’t sound like any other prepared piano works I’ve heard, and differ on a number of levels. The pieces are highly structured and are built around solid rhythms that sound more like drum machines and click tracks than any organic percussion. Similarly, the clipped notes, in their chiming cadences, resemble electric piano and synths. The result is an album that sounds for the most part like stripped-back, minimal instrumental electro-pop.

That isn’t so say it’s lightweight or in any sense disposable: the dolorously percussive ‘Over’ is slow, ponderous, haunting, while the interloping repetition of a single, simple motif forms the basis of the hypnotic ‘Pendulum Shift’. ‘Hover’ finds Griswold conjure sludgy, doomy bass notes, and the urgent boogie of ‘The Rumble Seat’ crackles with electricity.

The textures and tones are very much points of interest and play a major part in any appreciation of the album; the way the notes interact with one another, the resonances, the hums and buzzes belie their origins and transport the listener into a different kind of space. But it’s the melodies and remarkable tunefulness of Pain Avoidance Machine which gives it a much broader appeal and lifts it out of the category of works that are interesting experimentally, prompting chin-stroking and theoretical discourse, but offer little to the more casual listener.

Erik Griswold Online



  1. […] produced by piano and prepared piano, an instrument synonymous with John Cage and also adopted by Erik Griswold and evolved by Reinhold Friedl. Because of the nature of the instrument (it simply doesn’t […]

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