Review of Coda (For WK) [12k2024]

Textura (CA)

Stephan Mathieu has built up a distinguished body of work throughout his career—in the last decade alone his music has been issued on twenty-eight CDs and vinyl records—but anyone new to the self-taught composer’s work could do a whole lot worse than use the twenty-minute EP Coda (For WK), which Minority Records initially released on the vinyl version of A Static Place prior to 12k’s CD version, as an entry-point. Long admired for his imaginative and thoughtful approach to electro-acoustic sound production, Mathieu’s work is also distinguished by his interest in early instruments and media forms. His projects often find him re-incarnating historical recordings using modern-day software processes, spectral analysis, and digital production methods, and as a result arresting bridges between the past and present are constructed. In keeping with that approach, Mathieu, armed with a joint setup of two mechanical-acoustic gramophones and computer, used a 1927 recording (a double twelve-inch set of 78 RPM records, to be exact) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 Les Adieux by pianist Wilhelm Kempff as a springboard for the autogenerative process captured on Coda (For WK).

Listeners familiar with Mathieu’s previous output won’t be surprised to learn that Kempff’s original piano playing has been transformed to such a degree via Mathieu’s interventions that only barely perceptible traces of the instrument’s natural sound remain. Instead, the release is quintessentially Mathieu-like in presenting itself as a delicately pulsating drone of spectral character whose multiple overlapping layers of varying pitched tones ebb and flow. Not surprisingly, it’s a ravishing headphones listen, as the subtle swells of whistling tones and gaseous textures have an hypnotic effect on the receptive listener caught up in the material’s lulling motion. There’s something especially appealing about a long-form Mathieu piece being issued as an EP. Presented in such perfectly succinct form, the material assumes the form of a self-contained art object that distills the artist’s fundamental approach into a single, concise statement. Coda (For WK) also speaks powerfully on behalf of an approach that finds Mathieu ever-resourcefully exhuming the remnants of musical history and re-purposing them in bold and contemporary fashion.

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