Stephan Mathieu: A Static Place (12k)
Abstract master Stephan Mathieu released two albums this year, the first being Remain (which I already wrote about shortly after its release) and the other being this, A Static Place, issued on 12k right around the same time. Remain leaped at me more immediately, but A Static Place is also a perfectly satisfying slab of drones. Most of the material herein was derived from recordings of performances of music from the late Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras, all played back via old records on a vintage gramaphone. Mathieu explains the process on the 12k press blurb, basically filtering the original sound through layers of detachedness, finally manipulating his own recordings of the results via spectral analysis and convolution. So what does it sound like? Much like Remain, the sound is vague and suggestive but intangible, but whereas Remain is completely abstracted, A Static Place retains enough of its source inspiration to not be quite so sublime. Still, these five pieces are airy, droney and somewhat shapeless, floating by like the haziest of unformed clouds. Each piece is exactly 10 minutes long except “A Static Place II” which runs double that. All of them suggest source material but the references are consistently vague, difficult to pinpoint, and rarely form a clear mood or tone outside of my favorite part, “A Static Place I.” This feels to be the gloomiest of the bunch, rich in timbre as it suggests a bass and cello section along with a dissonant chorus of pianos. That said, it’s hard to necessarily isolate these pieces from one another as they make sense mostly as a whole. While Mathieu may not have struck the abstract gold of Remain here, it’s yet another handsome entry in his repertoire that explores the outer limits of ambient music along with challenging ideas of appropriation and manipulation of source material.