Stephan Mathieu: A Static Place

Stephan Mathieu: Remain

Stephan Mathieu brings such an inimitable touch to every project he tackles, it almost doesn't matter what the source material is that he's working with. For this latest 12k collection, the self-taught electroacoustic sound sculptor played back some of his own 78rpm records (of recordings made between 1928-32 of music from the late Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras) using two mechanical acoustic gramophones and then, with the playback having been transferred from a pair of customized microphones to his computer, further manipulated the material using spectral analysis and convolution processes. So while the source sounds for the hour-long A Static Place are period instruments such as the clavichord, viol, lute, and hurdy-gurdy, the album's five pieces bear little resemblance to the sounds preserved in those 78s. Admittedly, one could perhaps trace a connection from the tonalities produced by the earlier instruments to the ebbing and flowing tones on the album, but the drone clouds that dominate the release loosen the ties between the finished material and the source elements. Suffused with a warm and sunlit glow, “Schwarzschild Radius” rolls out a huge ball of soft static within which tones pulsate and intermingle. A lulling flow of metallic slivers accompanies a blossoming shimmer of muted horn tones in “Minuet” until a gauzy paradise of some idealized kind is suggested. A noticeable shift takes place in the album's closing piece, “Dawn,” when what appear to be cymbal splashes appear as percussive accompaniment to the neon-lit tones that billow above. It's worth noting that Mathieu takes the road less travelled, as it were, with respect to his handling of vinyl; aside from thick streams of hiss that appear in each piece, little evidence of the vinyl source is audible so none of the usual signifiers, such as pops, crackle, and evidence of a needle gouging out a groove, surface. Such rough edges are smoothed out in the album's settings, and what we're left with are gently unfurling masses that more soothe than disturb.

While A Static Place includes five pieces, the Line release, Remain, is a single-track piece that's also one hour in length (Mathieu's clearly got a jones for even numbers); that it was released pretty much concurrently with the 12k album confirms that Remain can be regarded as a companion work to A Static Place. Unlike the 12k project, Remain uses material from Janek Schaefer's Extended Play as a springboard, with Mathieu reprocessing the material using, in his own words, “an entropic setup, spectral analysis and convolution processes.” One needn't be intimidated by such a description, as however Mathieu goes about creating the material he does, it's always eminently accessible and, on its own sweeping terms, ultra-musical. What we get are impossibly long and droning swathes of softly shimmering sound, with much of it wrapped in a semi-transluscent gauze. Along its edges barely perceptible drifts of crackle and static appear, but so quietly they fade into the background, especially when one's attention is focused upon the gentle rise and fall of the tones themselves. Mathieu operates with the utmost precision in a sound sculpting capacity, and his handling of the material is so controlled the tension generated can start to feel unbearable, especially when it's sustained for an hour. Once acclimated, the listener first relaxes and then begins to imagine him/herself basking in the splendour of some celestial palace, reclining on a soft couch in front of an open window and watching clouds roll by in slow motion. Just as one is about to disappear within the mirage altogether, Mathieu has a piercing tone move to the forefront to ensure no one drift off prematurely. That's about as much of a deviation from the work's overall serene countenance, however, and Remain ends up being one more engrossing chapter in the sterling body of work Mathieu is slowly amassing.

March 2011