Stephen Mathieu / Taylor Deupree: Transcriptions

To call Stephan Mathieu and Taylor Deupree a dream duo by experimental electronic standards wouldn't be overstating the case. Over the past decade, the two have individually built up formidable reputations that neophyte practitioners would be wise to emulate. Mathieu has always brought originality and imagination to his projects, with last year's superb Radioland, a collection of seven pieces he produced using real-time processed shortwave radio signals, merely the latest in a number of ear-catching releases. Deupree, of course, is not only a innovative composer in his own right but has contributed dramatically to the advancement of experimental electronic music through the always-stellar releases on his 12k label. In a sense, it seems almost inevitable that Mathieu and Deupree would unite on a project in light of Mathieu's previous collaborations with Ekkehard Ehlers, Douglas Benford, and Janek Schaefer and Deupree's with Kenneth Kirschner.

Transcriptions' primary “hook” is that it's rooted in the idea of Mathieu playing early-1900s wax cylinders (the medium preceding records) and 78 rpm records through two portable gramophones and then sending the material directly into the computer by microphone in order to apply real-time processing to it. In essence, the results transcend time by uniting decaying sounds from decades ago with contemporary production methods; in effect, what we hear is musical material from decades past exhumed from the eroded surfaces of Mathieu's source material, a bit like faint voices struggling to send messages over phone lines drowning in static and interference. Though Transcriptions started out as a proposed Mathieu solo album for 12k, the plan was amended when Deupree came aboard to subtly weave manipulated sounds of guitar and vintage synthesizers into the material already generated. With one noticeable exception, the instruments generally lose their individuating character when they're subsumed within the total sound mass. Of course, listeners familiar with the duo's works will already know that the tracks won't be melodically-based compositions but rather textural sound fields of meditative design. Each piece is like an immense cloud formation undertaking a six-minute journey across the sky before another of slightly different design appears to repeat the pattern (“White Heaven,” which swirls and shimmers like sunlight reflections bouncing off a glass mobile for twelve entrancing minutes, is the exception to the rule): “Nocturne” opens with unearthly rumble and echo before ceding the spotlight to reverberant whorls of crackling noise and thrum; “Genius” smothers whistling tones in hiss, while blurry gamelan tones puncture the stream of noise; and in “Remain,” a thick blanket of prickly static and hiss drenches bright synthesizer flurries. How startling it is, then, to hear “Solitude of Spheres” end with a few clearly plucked notes of guitar, as the older sounds recede during the recording's dying seconds. At the center of these billowing masses are ghost-like sounds that time has eroded to mere traces of their once clearly-enunciated form. As it's done in the past, SPEKK complements the recording's fine sonic content by presenting the release in a distinctive large-format vertical case.

August 2009