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Stephan Mathieu: Un Cœur Simple (Baskaru)

Ambient sound sculptor Stephan Mathieu delivers once more with this collection of hazy tracks on experimental French label Baskaru. The sounds within Un Cœur Simple are not so far off from the lighter, more organic sounds of his dusty 12k album A Static Place, but I’d venture that he veers even further into acoustic sound manipulations here, at least in terms of my impression when I hear it. Mathieu created the album as an audio accompaniment to a play based on Gustave Flaubert’s novel of the same name, but as with most of this sort of thing, I’ve listened and processed the music without that context. And without that context, the album still is a resounding success, another feather in Mathieu’s cap. “Eglise” and “Port” showcase him at his most elegiac and stunning, with subtle, undulating fields of diffuse sound. However, well over halfway through the album, there are some surprises. “Devenir Sound” is based almost completely around a dated choral recording, sounding fairly out of place (but no doubt directly aligned with Flaubert’s story), before the delicate piece “Félicité,” named after Flaubert’s character. It’s the album’s stark catharsis, not by virtue of dynamics but rather in its startling clarity. It sounds like plucked piano strings, eventually backed up with some drones and disembodied vocals (buried in the mix this time). Following it up with the extended coda of “Trace” is a nice touch, giving the album a keen sense of deliberate pacing and programming. As usual, Mathieu turns out another sterling collection of abstract masterpieces.

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