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On Tape

Stephan Mathieu
On Tape

Stephan Mathieu started out his musical career as the drummer in several different improv outfits in Germany. Over the course of the past 10 years or so, though, he's found himself mainly behind the warm glow of a computer screen, deconstructing instruments and sound in a way that has made him a unique voice in the area of electronic/organic music. Having worked with loads of different collaborators and released music on numerous labels, On Tape finds Mathieu adding even more of both to his resume.

The one long track of On Tape also finds Mathieu making a small stylistic shift in his sound in that the sounds on this release are largely untouched by the computer. With source material for the album provided by the Swedish trio Tape and saxophonist Magnus Granberg. In essence, Mathieu acts as more of a mixer and producer on the droning release, although he adds a few very small flairs of percussion as well. It's markedly different than any of the other work I've heard from him (even the more stripped-down pieces he did with Ekkehard Ehlers on the Heroin release sound completely dissimilar), and takes a much more drone-based direction that I think most people familiar with his work would expect.

Over the course of just over 30 minutes, the track works as sort of micro-enlargements on sounds of a studio as a whole. Opening with a garble of electronics, the track starts faintly, as you can even hear a fly buzzing around and eventually flying away. Random scrapings and other little clicks and found-sound occasionally enter into the mix before a layers of sustained, droning saxophones enter. You can hear the reeds touching lips and the slight scraping of them as the breath is exhausted and drones of the same note of an accordian may or may not enter alongside.

About halfway through, Mathieu brings both untouched and filtered percussion into the mix as the background drones become more undulating. An electronic flutter mostly overtakes the horn drone and the modulating and criss-crossing sounds during this part of the track are easily some of the most interesting on the entire release as sparse percussion still provides the random pop or clunk to ground things. By the latter part of the track, the electronics mingle with chimes and become an almost Steve Reichian cloud of haze that then dissolves into out outdoor recording of birdsongs. Although it takes nearly half the release for more interesting things to start happening, On Tape rewards those with patience. On the first couple listens, I simply didn't find myself devoting the proper time to hearing it, but after I was able to sit down and properly listen, the minutae were stunning at times. A slow start, a delightful finish.

Rating: 7