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Stephan Mathieu & David Sylvian - Wandermüde

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Artist: Stephan Mathieu & David Sylvian

Album: Wandermüde

Label: Samadhi Sound

Review date: Jan. 18, 2013

Remixes serve a couple of functions in David Sylvian’s post-2000 output. First, they extract a bit of extra mileage from existing material, which is probably quite handy when you have only put out two solo albums in a decade. Second, they’re a conciliatory bone to throw to fans who’d probably rather hear him retread his old glory days with the group Japan or his collaborations with Robert Fripp than his recent work with members of AMM and Polwechsel, but will settle for hearing the difficult newer tunes retrofitted with some keyboards or a steady beat.

Wandermüde doesn’t fit that mold. It came about after Sylvian gave some of the raw instrumental tracks for his 2003 release Blemish to German electro-acoustic musician Stephan Mathieu to be processed into ambient accompaniment for an iPhone app. The app, which will display Sylvian’s digital photographs, isn’t ready yet, but this record stands quite nicely on its own. Blemish is already a standout in Sylvian’s discography. He made it mostly on his own at a time when his marriage was falling apart, using either his own guitar improvisations or mailed-in contributions by Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz as either instigations or oppositions to some of the most personal lyrics he’s ever written.

Mathieu doesn’t touch the Bailey tracks, but runs some of Sylvian and Fennesz’s parts through software treatments, which have an improvisational quality of their own. He sets up a process, passes the material through it, and then either keeps or trashes it. No editing, no multi-tracking, although he does permit himself to pick the best space and play-through equipment to add further dimensions, like the two Fender guitar amps in a room that turn a lick from Blemish‘s title tune into a pulsing, resonant swell. The way it simultaneously bobs and growls sounds like something you’d hear on a Yo La Tengo album — not something I’d ever expect from Sylvian, but not entirely out Mathieu’s orbit, since he once did a drastically transformative remix of YLT’s “Danelectro.” Elsewhere things get more celestial. “Saffron Laudanum” starts out sounding like the songs of robot birds singing in a swamp at sunrise before receding with a slow fade that’ll do wonders for your blood pressure. But never too soft — Mathieu often relies on other people’s input to put calcium in his music’s spine, and he finds sufficient bone food in Fennesz and Sylvian’s reverb-heavy twangs.

By Bill Meyer

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