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Stephan Mathieu: A Static Place & Remain

img  Tobias Fischer

For A Static Place (12k Records) and Remain (LINE)—both released in February 2011—prolific sound artist Stephan Mathieu uses recordings of acoustic instruments as source material for striking ambient compositions. A Static Place takes from 1920s-30s recordings of early instrumental music. Remain utilizes the recorded sounds of contemporary composer (and LINE labelmate) Janek Schaefer. In each case, a seemingly stagnant surface belies an intricate and ever-changing sonic field.

For A Static Place, Mathieu sampled early recordings of Baroque and Renaissance music by playing them through a vintage gramophone and recording the sound into his computer. The composer then chopped and heavily processed the sounds. While hints of woodwinds, vocals, and sustained strings are occasionally decipherable, the original samples are for the most part altered beyond recognition. The album’s opener, “Schwarzschild Radius,” begins with a single sustained note, floating in gentle, increasingly perceivable tonal pulses. A distant voice, delivering long tones, swims in the background. Held notes interfere with one another, creating subtle beats of dissonance. There are no clear chord changes, no melody, and no consistent rhythm. Instead, the music is a quiet, ambient layering of colors. “Minuet” floats shapelessly on soft synth-like swells and slowly churning drones, occasionally punctuated by the recognizable sound of a horn or oboe.

There is, in fact, endless movement in this music. The transitions are so gradual, however, that often you don’t identify them as they’re happening. Rather, you emerge momentarily from a state of hypnosis to find yourself in new sonic territory. The twenty-minute “A Static Place II,” for example, moves between passages of hissing industrial sounds, dissonant cluster drones, and sedate held chords. The drone-y “Dawn”—the only composition propelled by a discernable rhythm—features constantly shifting backdrops behind a horn-like sound.

For Remain, released in February 2011, Mathieu uses composer Janek Schaefer’s 2008 release Extended Play as source material. Mathieu takes Schaefer’s music—constructed of haunting tape-manipulated layers violin, cello, and piano—and rebuilds it as an ambient and cinematic sea of sound. Again, the music unfolds so slowly that it’s difficult to identify changes or development. Rather, you’re left with the perception of a single shimmering chord sustained for an entire hour. A closer listen reveals a perpetual shifting of instrumental colors that accent different notes of the chord, at times allowing it to hover weightlessly—at other moments adding an anchor of deep bass frequencies. The album’s source acoustic samples are heavily processed, making for what sounds like an entirely electronic composition. There are moments when the layered frequencies sound like a choral ensemble. During the composition’s middle section, feedback-like sound swells over the lush texture. Throughout, the warmth of the recording and production is remarkable, making for an entrancing and enveloping sound.

On both A Static Place and Remain, Mathieu operates at the microscopic level, breaking down recorded material and rebuilding it into a gauzy and meditative sonic haze. Interestingly, given the wildly different source material for the two records—early instrumental music and contemporary classical/ambient—the releases share many sonic similarities. More concerned with holding a moment in space then they are with developing musical ideas or creating motion through chord progressions or melody, both are sedate, ambient works that shimmer with activity under a seemingly still surface.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Stephan Mathieu
Homepage: Line Records
Homepage: 12k Records

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