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Mathieu Ruhlmann: "Gravity Controls Our Myths"

img  Tobias Fischer

At face value, there's nothing inherently disrespectful about referring to Mathieu Ruhlmann as a drone builder. Part of his international renown is down to  two widely acclaimed full-lengths on specialised Belgian imprint Mystery Sea after all and both are deeply steeped in the serene magic of sustained tones: While the colossal swamp of „Broken Vessels“ was an almost archetypal vision of the outfit's philosophy, last year's „tsukubai“, a refined and all but impenetrable system of subterranean field recordings and emotional metaphors, congenially kickstarted its new Unfathomless sister label. Both works were daring and highly personal efforts, portraying Ruhlmann  as a sensitive man without fear, but they also limited the scope of his audience to a small niche. On „the earth grows in each of us“ (released 2007 on Afe) or, more prominently on his much-applauded collaboration with Celer („Mesoscaphe“), he has meanwhile extended his antennae into more open territory. A second side of his oeuvre was budding, contrasting the ultraprecise, über-alert and almost surreal third-ear-sonorities of his environmental acoustics with a lyrical and naive tendency for melody and harmony. This gradual development has now reached an exciting denouement: With the arrival of„Gravity Controls Our Myths“, only the most stubborn will be able to ignore this aspect of Ruhlmann's talents.

Conceptualised as a collection of short, to-the-point tracks realised over a two-year-period, the album is not just a major artistic progression, but also a sort of temporary magnum summum concentrating various strands and ideas into a grand, coherent statement: The association with the visual arts, genetically imprinted through brother David's profession as a painter, is once again an integral part of the creative package, as three of Herbert Pfostl's works are layered into equally charming and disturbing textures on the DVD-box-size cover. Family ties play an important role in general, with David contributing the album title and his fiancée Rachel Marston performing Piano on one occasion. Field recordings hark back to various works from the past, with aquatic and gravelly, granular textures proving especially popular. Meanwhile, the juxtaposition of captured audio and natural micro-noises with lush and luxurious chords and themes is taking center-stage. It is a cocktail which underlines how successful Ruhlmann has been in establishing a recognisable sound in a genre exceedingly filled with perfectly realised but essentially identical productions – even his unpitched materials reveal a distinct and unmistakable signature, expressions of a fondness for a world usually hidden from human perception.

And yet, „Gravity“ also points forward, to new horizons, powerful potentials and different directions. Ruhlmann's motives are composed of tender, lovable ellipses, often comprising no more than two or three tones which gently invite the listener to fill in the missing notes inside his or her own mind and observe how the quiet impact of these melodies is creating fine ripples on the surface of silence. Instead of overtly developing his themes or chord progressions, he carefully changes their sonic angle, as if they were softly chiming in place while a transparency of undulating field recordings were mellowly moving underneath them. „Mer En Os“ is a point in case, dreamily scented drones looping in infinite cycles, while figments of a fragile Piano are floating through corridors filled with bright, iridescent light – a Mediterranean moment of carefree bliss, forever suspended in time. „The Seat and the Spirit“ is an even more minimal affair, a slowly breathing duo of bass swells counterpointing a hushed Harp, whose classical echoes appear to be mysteriously oscillating between fore- and background subject to sparse sounds crackling and clicking at the vestiges of tonality. Just as in his epic soundscapes, there is no beginning nor end to these pieces, which always seem to move laterally rather than on a clearly defined linear timescale.

In effect, Ruhlmann is returning to the notion introduced by impressionists like Debussy, that for music to take into account the sonic mysteries of pure sound, melody and harmony need to become a single, unified texture. On „Gravity controls our Myths“, he's however not content in merely copying this approach. Instead, the album adds a third layer of concrete sound events to the equation, resulting in an associative, complex, deep and persistently shifting acoustic stream. Within this continuum, all elements are equally important, from the puniest of particles to the most expressive of motives, resulting in a style which is both immediately appealing and ripe with discoveries. On „Saulteau“, Ruhlmann culls a hypnotic undertow and maximum of variations from a tonally restricted Piano theme, placing it in an eery surrounding of tactile scratchings and cavernous resonance. Rarely have the worlds of electronic Sound Art and Contemporary Composition been this close – and rarely has the cliche of Mathieu Ruhlmann being an clearly classifiable drone artist seemed as disrespectful as here.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Mathieu Ruhlmann
Homepage: Semperflorens Records

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