Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stephan Mathieu - Radioland (2008)

Radioland fulfills the cardinal principle of ambient music; you can play it for pleasant background sound, but it richly repays close listening. It is a close kin to Rafael Toral’sWave Field. Both discs back up breathtaking surface appeal - in other words, you don’t have to be totally warped by noise to find the music really beautiful - with layer upon layer of essential details that change radically depending on how loud you play the thing and yield endless rewards to attention paid. Take “Raphael,” the opening track. In the course of a few seconds, orchestral woodwinds slide over static like a glacier in a hurry. While the horns build and swell, different strains of electronic noise filter in and out of hearing; they’re there and then gone like white-caps in a choppy sea. Musical performances, conversations, and the hiss and crackle endemic to shortwave bandwidths all come into play, but most of the time they’re so processed that it’s the timbre and texture, not the provenance, of Mathieu’s material that stands out. He has a knack for snatching and transforming sounds, like the bobbing high tones on “Eine Promenade” and the shimmering midrange early in “Licht und Finsternis zum Auge,” so that they seem unchanging even though they’re in constant flux.

Radioland is the most beautiful ambient record and the most immersive piece of drone I’ve heard all year, but to leave it at that would still be damning it with faint praise. This is simply one of the loveliest wall-to-wall sounds around.

No comments:

Post a Comment