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Stephan Mathieu – The Falling Rocket


Stephan Mathieu - The Falling RocketOn The Falling Rocket, sound sculptor Stephan Mathieu weaves a deft tapestry of astral drones, using a rather rudimentary array of Farfisa organ, mechanical gramophone and radio waves, all punched into a MAX/MSP patch and slurred up nicely. These musical drones will leave you seeing stars.

So what is a drone? In music, it is a note or tone sustained continuously throughout a piece, and drone music is a minimalist musical style that emphasizes the use of sustained or repeated sounds, notes, or tone clusters. LaMonte Young called it “the sustained tone branch of minimalism”. In short, very long ‘songs’ where very little happens, shifting subtly and nearly inaudibly. It is a listening experience far-removed from the melodies and hookiness of pop, and needs to be evaluated with special criteria, listened to in a particular way.

Which of course means drone music needs it’s own criteria to be evaluated on. For starters, if you don’t like music with tracks exceeding a 10 minute mark, with not a single word or recognizable, hummable melody, stay far away and don’t waste yr time with M. Mathieu’s latest opus. However, for those that like to listen to the wind, to close their eyes and drift about, what separates ‘The Falling Rocket from the terrabytes of anonymous drone imitators? Is it worth yr hard-earned bread?

In the 2010s, most drone music is accomplished digitally, and ‘composers’ merely drop digital field recordings into a piece of software, slowing it down beyond recognition, or running it through an endless array of sound effects. The careful and anomalous way Matthieu produces his sounds, with radio waves curlicuing around static organ tones, creates an organic, breathing soundscape, which is then sculpted further by mixing and arranging. There is a chance for a million decisions and revisions in one 10 minute track and Stephan Matthieu shows himself to be a patient, attentive, loving composer of longform sound poems.

The tracks are more like movements than songs, the whole creating a feeling of silent black drift that was calling up stellar imagery before I even realized the tracks were named after stars. It makes me think of space travel, of alien sunrises and desert wind. Maybe The Falling Rocket is an aural approximation of the Voyager spacecraft? Blind Willie Johnson and Carl Sagan falling into a black hole.

The Falling Rocket is Mathieu’s first full album for Dekorder, after two successful 10″s. I imagine it would sound tremendous on vinyl LP (I only had digital for evaluation purposes), with surface tension and line noise saving the listener from the real black hole of digital silence. Even the digital release has an analog hum, probably due in part to the presence of radio waves and static, that separates this from the talentless drone merchants running rampant. It sounds equally tremendous on headphones and through a good sound system, blending with the breeze to paint watercolors in yr imagination. As the seasons turn, and we all turn inward, The Falling Rocket could be yr autumnal soundtrack to brush stroke painting, flower arrangement, reading Fernando Pessoa, or talking with yr lover. It is a lovely and meditative addition to the psychedelic listening library.

Stephan Mathieu has been making experimental music for over 20 years, and there is no replacement for instinct and experience. He approaches each work with raw creativity, using a limited pallet to pursue each vision. He is a true experimentalist, and a pure artist; unaffected by market trends or hype. He has been enigmatically constructing quiet, introspective voyages on most of the globe’s most excellent forward-thinking record labels, and there is a wide body of work to explore and get lost in. Here’s to hoping that this latest work will draw in a bunch of fresh, new ears.

-J Simpson-

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