Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers: Heroin
Orthlorng Musork

If you overlooked the initial 2001 Staalplaat release of Heroin, consider your oversight fortuitous because Orthlorng Musork has reissued it as a 2-CD set with an impressive array of remixers comprising its second half. Heroin originated as part of a collaborative venture called the Brombon project that was initiated in 2000 between Staalplaat and Extrapool, an arts initiative in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Mathieu and Ehlers took up residence in Extrapool and were provided with a fully equipped recording studio and studio time in order to realize a project. The result, the 50-minute Heroin, was produced over the course of seven days at the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001. Apparently, its rather misleading title was inspired by the rock'n'roll aura of Extrapool's rehearsal space, littered as it was with beer cans, cigarette stubs, and other trash. Of course the two artists are highly regarded figures within electronica circles. Mathieu has released distinctive work on Ritornell (Wurmloch Variationen and frequencyLib) and as Full Swing (Orthlorng Musork's Edits). Ehlers has produced a number of remarkable recordings (on labels like Mille Plateaux, Force Inc., and Staubgold) as part of the duo Autopoieses and as Auch; he has also released the acclaimed Plays and Betrieb recordings under his own name. Heroin represents a singular opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their collaborative talents.

The two obviously have a simpatico relationship and their working methods, however different they might be individually, complement one another in a seemingly natural manner. The music, while advanced, is rarely austere and hermetic but more typically engaging and inviting. Melodies, some recognizable, are buried under crackling and static, as if they've been resurrected from long-past eras, and consequently, a melancholy mood imbues many tracks. The brief opening “New Years Eve” immediately establishes an evocative mood with its poignant organ melody and exploding fireworks. They're presumably intended to evoke celebrations associated with the impending New Year but just as easily conjure the memory of fireworks displays witnessed against night-time summer skies. “Rose” follows with its backwards phasing percussion treatments and a repeating organ figure. Hovering over the fuzzy base, a keening melodica-like melody sings out a nostalgic tune. Again evoking the seasonal time at which the recording was made, “Christmas Time is Here” from Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas is plundered for “Turkey Song,” with the familiar children's chorus altered severely and given a whistling, aquatic quality. “Supertramp” begins with a barrage of static, stuttering, and crackling until a simple keyboard melody surfaces, the piece shorting out intermittently. Some tracks are brief interludes. “Blue Baby 1,' for example, is as close to a pure drone as the recording gets, while “Rauch” is a meandering keyboard bathed in hiss. The tactile “Herz” is comprised of buzzing, surging tones punctuated by skittering clicks and treble accents, while “‘Heroique” is a drone accompanied by enveloping waves of hiss. “New Years Eve” appears a second time, framing the recording nicely by ending it as it began.

On the accompanying disk, the eight remixes sound like brand new pieces as opposed to reworkings of the original tracks, perhaps understandably so, given that the artists were instructed to create “extensions” that would “continue the Heroin story.” Josef Suchy's “:quque” deploys guitars extensively over a basic drone that eventually transforms into a resonating amalgam of echoing guitars. Nobukazu Takemura's “‘Childs View” follows with a sonic array of feedback, squeals, and burblings that's more reminiscent of Scope than his recent recordings, at least until the breakbeats appear. Fennesz's “Codeine” will already be familiar to those who possess his Field Recordings 1995-2002 but that does nothing to diminish its sublimity. Similar in spirit to Endless Summer, its gorgeous melody is voiced by an acoustic guitar, bathed in hiss and accompanied by lush organ tones. Oren Ambarchi's “Black Dalli Rue” effectively complements Fennesz's contribution, as Ambarchi's droning piece sounds like something that could have been excerpted from his own Insulation or Fennesz's Hotel Paral.lel. Of all the remixes, Ambarchi's “Black Dalli Rue” and Carmen Baier's “Webteil” most directly complement Heroin by adopting similar drone strategies. Akira Rabelais's ‘Pferdente' ends the recording on a graceful note by presenting the shimmering organ section from “New Years Eve” unadorned, minus its background treatments.

Perhaps because their connections to the Heroin tracks seem more tenuous, sounding more like tracks inspired by the originals rather than literal remixes of them, the two halves subsist rather independently of one another; the connection between them is less overt, more conceptual and abstract. Still, the additional set of remixes enhances the original by presenting itself as a bonus disk. In sum, Heroin is not intimidating music that abides in some pure, areferential realm but is instead a warm, humane admixture of acoustic sounds and digital treatments at times contextualised by referential detail from the popular domain (“Turkey Song”) and the classical (“Vinnies Theme”). At the same time, there is an undeniably austere quality to the tracks (“Herz,”' “Heroique,” “Blue Baby 1,” “Blue Baby 2”) that rely upon minimalistic melodic and compositional elements. Yet even in the drones, there is a remarkable amount of captivating detail that evolves throughout their duration. In the 10-minute “Joshuas Theme,” for example, flickering tones emerge and fade amidst the clicking rhythm, resembling the nocturnal chattering of insects. Prior to hearing Heroin, one might have assumed it to be a slapdash affair, having been produced in only seven days. However, one's assumption would have been misguided, for its rapid production time belies the considerable wealth of detail, invention, and imagination that permeates its tracks.

April 2003