Review of A Static Place [12k1064]

Fluid Radio (UK)

Saarbrücken, Germany-based musician and sound artist Stephan Mathieu has performed his music throughout the world and created various audio installations for the most part of the last twenty years…

Since 2000, he has released more than 30 records both solo and in collaboration, on electronic labels such as Ritornell, BiP_HOp and Spekk. Evolving all the time, his recent works have been based on early instruments, environmental sounds and obsolete media, which are transformed and recontextualised by spectral analysis and convolution processes. For his new release A Static Place on 12k, Stephan Mathieu used 78 rpm records of music from the late Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque era, recorded between 1928 and 1932, which he played back with two mechanical acoustic gramophones, equipped with cactus needles. Then, he captured those fragile recordings directly from the gramophones horn and processed them using the aforementioned techniques to create a work where different musical and technological eras coalescence into new shapes and forms.

“Schwarzschild Radius” is a slow introduction to Mathieu’s world of sound where a bed of white noise nicely cushions processed period instruments that drift in and out of focus and give the impression of observing a miniature orchestra trapped in an iridescent glass ball. As the track progresses, the ball is observed from different angles, letting the light bounce off its surface and revealing minute details of an oneiric rehearsal.

When “A Static Place I” kicks in, the near pastoral feel of this first track is gone, leaving a much darker intertwined series of drone-loops building up and vanishing into the aural aether. It is as if Mathieu had created poles of attraction towards which shadows of instruments were collapsing, swallowed by sonic black holes. Here there is a true physicality to the music which constantly mutates throughout the piece, and the different micro-movements that fold into each other give the impression of moving through sound, allowing the listener to observe something close to the essence of music.

Following this ominous piece, Mathieu releases the tension and re-creates a slowed-down minuet, whose period instruments are diffused in a kind of aural halation. The apparent calmness of the piece is contrasted by looped and processed strings tucked skillfully at the far-end of the speaker cones, asking the listener to come closer and listen below the surface, creating a shadow-box effect of immense depth.

“A Static Place II,” a piece of beautiful immersive character explores a sort of visceral anxiety, inciding nicely through the preceding quietude. As before, there are push and pull tensions at play, but in a more forceful way yet avoiding unnecessary drama. Giant waves of foghorn-like instruments crash against beds of stretched cymbals and static haze. If period instruments serve as the sonic fabric of Mathieu’s works, their identity here are completely removed, just leaving an aural signature not really related to the space explored but adding a intricate complexity to the piece. The pace at which the compositions move is majestically controlled and feels completely organic as if echoing the breathing of a primal beast. Mathieu taps deeply into the listener’s emotional world, and manipulates this magnificent 20-minute piece, both exhausted and transformed.

The closer track “Dawn” is a much easier and lighter affair, where jazz-infused and spectrally deconstructed layers of sounds are covered by Mathieu’s electronic diaphanous veil. A veil being slowly lifted to give a much needed clarity, as a way of ending this wonderful journey.

The project is an interesting release for 12k, as the album somehow departs stylically from the beautiful roster of organic electronic/acoustic hybrids released recently on the label. Nevertheless, the philosophy at work here is perfectly in line with Taylor Deupree’s willingness to “explore sound as art, as a physical phenomenon – with emotion”. Stephan Mathieu’s latest work occupies a very unusual space yet fits perfectly into the label’s constantly changing aesthetic. Highly recommended!

– Review by Pascal Savy for Fluid Radio

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