Stephan Mathieu: The Sad Mac

Why is Mathieu's Mac sad? Because the Saarbrücken composer, house-husband, and university lecturer spends less time in front of his computer screen and more playing with his children and tending his garden. Bedeviled by hardware problems during the past three years, Mathieu waves 'Goodbye DSP-Magic' on The Sad Mac as he simplifies his working methods to their bare minimum (two applications—Tom Erbe's Soundhack and Akira Rabelais' Argeïphontes Lyre—supplemented by basic editing techniques) and uses field recordings, Macintosh system sounds ('the death chimes,' start-up noises), and recordings of musicians playing traditional instruments (harpsichord, violin, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, cello plus Mathieu himself on drums, piano, hammered dulcimer, and pump organ) for source material. Recorded between 2001 and 2004, the album marries the more hermetic digital processing approach used on recordings like 2002's Full Swing Edits with the relatively more 'natural' field dimension of the recent On Tape. What results is an expansive and affecting collection of what Fällt's Christopher Murphy deems 'pharmacological music' that consolidates the strengths of Mathieu's other releases into a single evocative work.

Regardless of the changes in Mathieu's methodology, instruments' sounds are still radically transformed through processing, a case in point the seventeen-minute centerpiece “Theme for Oud Amelisweerd” recorded live at MUTEK 2002. Based on fragments of Handel's Violin Sonatas, Mathieu alchemizes violin and harpsichord tones into a luminous lament of crystalline tones that glisten, shimmer, and sparkle (a style later revisited in the equally stately “icredevirrA” based on instrumental fragments from Monteverdi). Similarly, while “Nibbio” includes a veritable mini-orchestra (violin, harpsichord, hammered dulcimer, singers), the instruments emerge as faint phantasmal traces emanating from a wind cloud. On the other hand, Mathieu's pump organ drone and Italian waiter Paolo Bisanti's recitation go largely untreated on “Smile.” What distinguishes the album most of all, though, is the rich sonic garden Mathieu cultivates: the prismatic glimmers of filtered viola notes in “Tinfoil Star,” for example, sounds of his daughter Eva-Lucy playing and singing amidst bucolic bird chatter (“Luft von anderen Planeten”), and becalmed piano ruminations (“Imagination”). Perhaps most strikingly, he even re-records “Tinfoil Star” onto wax cylinder using a circa-1909 Edison 'Fireside' phonograph, altering the original into an alien sea of clicks and stutters that (as Murphy notes) recalls the glitch and crackle of laptop digitalia. As distinctively packaged as its aural content, The Sad Mac represents another fascinating addition to Mathieu's unique discography.

February 2005