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Mathieu Ruhlmann: "tsukubai"

img  Tobias

At least in theory, the whole world wants artists to be „honest“. But when a composer does open up his soul, it usually creates confusion. In a way, therefore, it is easy to see why „tsukubai“ has probably led to more antagonisms and reservations than all previous works by Mathieu Ruhlman taken together. For his twelvth full-length, counting in his Mesoscaphe-collaboration with Celer on Spekk from 2008, Ruhlmann was, after all, specifically asked by Mystery Sea's Daniel Crokaert to focus on recording an acoustic environment reflecting „the spirit of a specific place crowded with memories“ as the first release on his new Unfathomless-imprint. Taking a digital recorder and a pair of headphones to the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a peaceful oasis on the premises of the University of British Columbia in his homebase of Vancouver, the result is therefore private by nature, constituting a spiritual journey to the core of his oeuvre. And perhaps this is also where the issues surrounding this release originate from.

Even though „tsukubai“ has been divided into eight separate sections, it feels very much of one-piece, with all scenes referencing and feeding off each other. Most of the material consists of surface- and hydraphone-recordings of ponds, seas and streams, including the sound of quiet cataracts, silent cascades and tender droplets, of water flowing over pebbles, off rocks and against the riverbed. With Ruhlmann merely adding highly discrete atmospheres to the proceedings in the post-production process or enhancing the inherent drone-qualities of environmental events, some have mistaken the  field-character of these tracks as their actual goal. Obviously, however, the music is anything but a documentary effort. On the contrary, its decidedly super-natural character derives from the fact that these precisely realised location-recordings have been blended by means of a similar layering-technique as employed on the stunning cover art: Samples with strongly diverging depth, dynamics and proximity are effectively merged into a psychedelic Hyper-pond whose currents are running both with and against each other. At one time, there occasionally seem to be up to four different layers on top of each other: Noises from across the other side of the park intertwine with close-miked clicks and ticks, extremely concrete actions are underpinned by effervescent ambiances and underwater scenes segue with bird-crowing and the fluttering of wind. Depending on where you direct your attention, the result is either of great calm or a complete information-overflow on a microtonal level

The absence of an easily discernible barycentre is what makes „tsukubai“ so hard to penetrate despite its outwardly graceful and inviting forms. Differences between tracks are subtle and so is development within each movement: Dark, disconcerting rumbles will introduce a new sequence, but disappear just as quickly. In the background, alien noises will build into a threatening wall of texture, but suddenly disintegrate into a moment of pristine field recordings. Something will be stirring in the brushwood, but loose itself in the steady flow of the stream just a few seconds later. Inexplicable bubbles will rise to the surface like the foulgases of an aquatic monster only to give way to grainy scratchings. Like a monk in meditation, Ruhlmann keeps coming back to the hum and pulse of the water sooner or later, as if to disprove these semblances as distractions and figments of the restless mind - if a metallic object is softly and repeated struck in the final seconds, then this can accordingly either be taken as yet another snapshot from the park or the equivalent of a gong sounding out a session at the dojo.

And still, the self is never entirely erased here. When ominous voices rise from the floods in choral majesty, when metallic resonances coalesce into dark clusters and overtones take on a harmonious ringing, then an  unexpected interpretation all but forces itself upon the listener: The space Ruhlmann is depicting here is not just the emotional reflection of a memory-invoking location, but also the metaphysical source from whence the artist draws his inspiration. Nature, as he seems to suggest, directly triggers ideas, motives, themes, chains of sounds and effects, arrangements and ambiance inside his inner ear.

There could hardly be a more private space for a musician. So if even long-time fans of Ruhlmann and the Mystery-Sea-catalogue have felt some confusion with regards to this release, then that is merely the logical conclusion of an artist truly opening up and sharing an aspect of himself that others may consider too intimate to expose.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Mathieu Ruhlmann
Homepage: Unfathomless Records

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