Stephen Mathieu: Radioland
Die Schachtel

Stephan Mathieu's Radioland, his fifth full-length and follow-up to 2004's The Sad Mac, retains the earmarks of his previous work even if the mode of production is dramatically different. The seven pieces are long-form shimmering drones of crystalline character that, true to genre form, exert an hypnotic pull, especially when the vast swells of glassy tones ebb and flow so lullingly. What's unique about the project is that Mathieu produced the material using real-time processed shortwave radio signals that he recorded and transformed during 2005 and 2006. Selecting parts of high quality from a pool of about fifty gigabytes of processed material (much of it created by custom-designed auto-generative software), he resisted doing anything more than fading the selected parts in and out in order to preserve the purity of the original material. What one hears, then, are random radio streams that were sent through long delay lines and then blended into iridescent drones; put more poetically, Radioland is Mathieu's “portrait of the vast, invisible bubble of information around us.”

“Raphael,” “Gabriel,” “Michael,” and “Promenade” are largely ethereal and abstract in character, with the swirling masses of high-pitched tonal oscillations suggestive of the mutating hum bleeding off of electrical wires. “Auf der Gasse,” by comparison, feels rather more earth-bound due to a simmering sound that resembles crickets softly chirping in unison, while the gravelly, indecipherable rumble of voices can be detected within the beatific flow of “Licht und Finsternis zum Auge.” Voices also appear in “Prolog im Himmel” but this time they're angelic murmurs that lend a pronounced celestial character to the album. What's ultimately most striking about Radioland is the degree to which its vast networks of radio streams blend so consonantly into harmoniously streaming wholes; in short, Mathieu's masterful handling of the resultant wholes makes them sound anything but "random." No commentary on the release would be complete without some mention of its presentation, with the disc's near-fluorescent lime base and semi-transparent layers of yellow-orange, red-violet, and teal land forms making a striking impression.

June 2008