Review of A Static Place [12k1064]

Textura (CA)

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 electro-acoustic 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.

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