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Stephan Mathieu & Ekkehard Ehlers - Heroin + Remixes

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Artist: Stephan Mathieu & Ekkehard Ehlers

Album: Heroin + Remixes

Label: Orthlorng Musork

Review date: May. 7, 2003

On the Nature of Memory

With the year 2000 gradually winding down its last few days into 2001, Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehler’s convened as artists in residence at a space normally reserved for rock acts. The result was Heroin, a truly magnificent collaboration released as part of the Brombron series, a joint venture between Extrapool and Staalplaat. Although the title of the record was derived more from the nature of the space it was conceived in (i.e. beer cans, cigarette butts, and other assorted refuse associated with rocker excess), the natures and implications of the drug itself are as a good a reference point as any for describing the resulting disc. Taking cues from each participants excellent solo ventures (Mathieu’s Frequency Lib album and Fullswing mixes alongside Ehler’s Plays series, to name but three), Heroin is a slippery and evocative nod, full of time-lapsed images and sounds that gracefully cascade across your frontal lobes, transfixing your gaze on nothing and almost everything all at once. It trades the drunken revelry normally reserved for a year-end celebration for more pensive introspection – a muted awe at the prospect of surviving another year and a hushed melancholy that sets in with resolutions made over the last of the Cold Duck (or your cheap faux-champagne of choice) at six in the morning. This new version from Orthlorng Musork has been remastered with an extra disc of “extensions” appended in the hopes of continuing the spirit of the original collaboration.

Mathieu and Ehlers have remarkably complimentary styles, both aesthetically and conceptually, so this pairing evidences little of the tension that can result from the grouping of two established producers. Working in tandem, their compositions often take the sound of one distinct voice, or at the very least, hazy variations on ideas each individual has explored. They work at conveying distinct spins on memory and sentiment, finding ways of dissecting the two either through direct references or carefully constructed allusions. Tracks like “Rose” and “Turkey Song” feel more along the lines of Mathieu’s work, taking Sigur Rós and Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts creations respectively as source material. “Vinnie’s Theme” then seems to reference Ehlers’ Plays series, replaying Bach through a layer of crackling electronics, conjuring the spirit of the composer as much as the actual piece in question. The term “remix” is applicable, but then again so is the idea of a “cover”. After all, these aren’t attempts to rebuild tracks but rather to wholly recontextualize them, be it through the clipped ambling shuffle of the aforementioned Icelanders or the sunken children’s chorus of “Christmas Time Is Here”. The end result takes what you remember from the originals and uses that as a reference point, an open encouragement to sound walk through your own blustery images of Christmas and winters long since past.

Various attempts at appealing to similar artistic impulses color much of the rest of the album. There’s the beginning and ending pieces of “New Year’s Eve”, tracks that evoke a homespun simplicity and a gentle play off the normal conceptions of electronic music. Replacing software and synths with the crackle of fireworks and the clumsy drones of an organ, the beginning and end of the record both exude a similar flair for the genteel and wryly humorous. “Supertramp” sounds like a cracked, dust-covered 78 fighting to spill out its rich melody. “Herz” explores a paired down microhouse sound, achieving a sound almost akin to a heartbeat collaborating with an EKG on a brooding, atmospheric rhythm, while “Herioque” drops any rhythmic pretense in favor of more atmospheric oscillations. Both tracks entitled “Rauch” explore the same terrain – overlapped, droning notes that were probably melodic lines at one point. Only now they take on a different, more sparse and elegiac quality. “Blue Baby 1” and “Blue Baby 2” feel like more erudite glimpses at minimalism, both mining similar droning patterns that threaten to bubble over with nothing more than the rich warmth of their sound as they respond to each other from opposite sides of the record.

“Extensions” is indeed an appropriate term to describe the second half of this two disc set. You could consider some of these remixes, but maybe more in an Aphex Twin sense of the word, as the artists here are less reliant on the source material in most cases and more heavily dependent on the highly evocative mood created by the first set. Fennesz’s “Codeine” might very well be the best track on this one, as he takes the fireworks from “New Year’s Eve” and stretches the organ lines into supple drones that form a bed for his plaintive guitar lines. Josef Suchy’s (a fellow Whatness artist who worked with Ehlers on various parts of the Plays series) “:quque” is a similarly great track of looped and droning guitars that harkens back nicely to the spirit of such tracks as “Herioque”. Oren Ambarchi basks in the growing feedback of “Black Dalli Rue” before parting the waves in favor of a more subtle melodic throb. Carmen Baier explores the sounds of somnambulant machines with “Webteil”, while Akira Rabelais closes out the disc with the measured droning organ of “Pferdente”. Elsewhere, tracks by folks such as Nobukazu Takemura and Kit Clayton are nifty in their own right, but somewhat deviant from the intoxicating and lush moods hinted at by the original tracks. These, along with Freiband’s track as well, seem to explore more clattering rhythmic patterns than are absolutely necessary.

With the first pressing of this full length album extremely limited and import only nature, this re-issue courtesy of Orthlorng Musork is utterly essential as it gives more listeners the chance to hear the varied sonic world Stephan Mathieu and Ekkehard Ehlers managed to create in just a few short days. Heroin is a spirited, wonderfully warm, and highly evocative collaboration – indeed terms that cannot often truthfully describe the proponents of microsound and DSP-styled electronic music. And in large part, those collaborators who signed on for the extensions kept up their end of the bargain by working nicely within the established moods and textures of the first disc. Such amazing, touching, humorous, and vivid sonic images truly need to be heard by the masses to be believed. This disc especially showcases an early artistic zenith by two genuinely brilliant creators who continue to shine. Much like its namesake is a distilled and more powerful form of morphine, Heroin is a particularly powerful extract of all those lonely, flickering melodies that dance around your head.

By Michael Crumsho

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