l'issue du duo de musique improvisée Stol, le batteur Stephan
Mathieu se lance dans un projet solo de musique digitale sous le
nom de Full Swing. Mathieu continue la production sous son propre
nom et signe le fantastique FrequencyLib, sorte d'album souvenir
de pop digitalisée, et Heroin, disque conceptuel, fruit d'une
collaboration avec son ami Ekkehard Ehlers. Après une période
des plus productives, jalonnée de productions pour les labels
En/Off, Bottrop-Boy, Fällt et Lucky Kitchen, Stephan Mathieu
décide de faire une pause bien méritée, moment
idéal pour un bilan. Avant sa performance au Festival I.D.E.A.L,
en mars dernier, Mathieu a accepté de répondre à
At the beginning of your carreer was Stol.
How would you define it and how do you relate it to what you are
doing now? Was it a switch or a continuity to start working with
the digital media after being a percussionist ?
was a band, a guitar player and me, we worked for ten years. I'm
coming from improvised music, I spent the nineties in Berlin as
a drummer, played with very different people ; but Stol was like
a homebase. It became a band, which is not so usual in the improvised
music context, it is more like combinations. I started working with
a computer when Stol was finished.
I played less and less projects, i just focussed on this duo situation.
We had this contract with Kitty-Yo which was fantastic for us as
an improvising band to have a contract with a pop label. We made
a Ep for them, then we were working on an album, and during this
process we finally split up. I had bought a computer to make these
recordings - we wanted to make it at home in my living room - so
i learnt to work with it. It was my first computer. When the band
was terminated, i was alone with my drums, and i said, ok now i
have the drum, there is something missing : the guitar. But i have
the computer. So i worked very much with this. And now, i'm really
able to do my music on my very own.
From the sound aesthetics, it's like an extension, for me it's almost
the same if I play drums or i'm processing sounds, it's the same
person behind it. Of course it sounds different but it's pretty
much the same idea.
you reproduce the same immediacy, the same freedom in the production
It's a completely
different process, if you sit there with your machine. Also because
i'm working less and less in real time, for the programs i'm using,
i have to wait. I give them something to work and then i have to
wait, it's not working in real time. Playing drums is absolutely
real time music, so there's a big difference, but in the end it's
first thing you did was the Laub remix, and then the Summer Ep for
Orthlorng Musork, it's really dynamic. To me, these are probably
the most dynamic works you did with the first track on Wurmloch
Variation... Was it because you had still this rythmic logic ?
No i can't
say so. The first Wurmloch piece, the Laub remix and the Full Swing
Ep, these are the very first pieces i made. I made them the first
six months. As soon as i started to work with a computer, i never
wanted to program beats, i always thought i have to play the beats.
I don't like sequencing. Until now, i haven't found a way to work
with rhythms and beats , i'd really like to go back there.
never reworked the sounds of your drum kit ?
The two tracks
of the Full Swing Ep are both completely made out of drum sounds.
In fact, both tracks are made out of one sound, the reverberation
of my floor tom, without the hit, just hummm. From this tone, one
and a half second long, both pieces are made out of this.
is the origin of the Full Swing name ?
happened very fast. Kitty-Yo invited me to do this remix for Laub.
I had to finish soon, and the record had to be finished two months
later. I could not take the decision to release it under my name...
And there is a sound whose technical term is "Full Swing"
- when the speakers make this movement from plus to minus, very
fast, that's a full swing. And a friend said, "oh there's a
full swing in this music ... And I said wow, that's a very nice
word, so i picked up this name. And it still somehow sticks with
me. But in the meantime, I really wanted to release the music under
The strange thing was when I played last year at Mutek, I was invited
to play a Full Swing set and a Stephan Mathieu set.
do you make a difference between the two ?
No, i actually
do not do it. But there, I had to define it. So the Full Swing things
I see as the hip clubby thing, and what i do under my own name it's
more ... pure ... With Full Swing a couple of the edits i made have
these dub ideas which I don't have with things I do nowadays.
one project more conceptual than the other ?
No, in the
end it's the same. But if somebody asked me today to make a Full
Swing thing, i would approach it more in a clubby context, but with
this big science.
you tell me the story of FrequencyLib ? Could we define it as "digitalized
souvenirs" ? Why have you chosen these tracks. On the CD, it's
mentionned that it has been compiled by Ekkehard Ehlers, did you
have much more musical material ?
No, not really,
what Ekky did was mainly the arrangement of the pieces on the CD
: which one is track one, which one is track two. The playlist,
that's what he made for me. There were two or three more pieces,
and he said, "Don't use them it's ok like this". I asked
him to do this for me, because I had these thirty pieces and I did
not know how to arrange them. It's very important for me when i
make a record, it's like a composition out of different pieces,
just as a story. I left this part to him, because i just could not
do it, i was trying this and that combination and got almost crazy.
did you chose these particular tracks as sources ?
idea has to do with the Full Swings Edits. I was asked by a couple
of people to do remixes, and I was always looking for special frequencies
in their music, like things that promised for me a little pop appeal,
I was looking for these parts and worked with them. I mean none
of the Full Swing Edits really has a pop appeal, maybe the Laub
piece. But all the others things are pretty dark, like black holes
where time stands still and so. But I was looking for this in the
original sources of Monolake or Kit Clayton. Then I met Ekkehard
- in the meantime he was a very good friend of mine - who was working
with samplers which has always been a big taboo for me, I never
wanted to take foreign people's material and just use it. But at
this point I thought, I just tried it, also because I thought :
"There is this huge pool of music I know and I love , there
are so many frequencies, and I want to try them as my material".
At the same my point, my daughter was very interested in music,
she wanted to listen to these Bob Dylan CDs over and over again
... I just discovered Napster - it was in the very last months when
Napster existed - and i thought "The Carpenters. Search it
and play it for Lucy", and said , "Hey look this was one
of my favourite song" ... Because i always have this pop music
in my head it was like a sport for me. "Ok there's this R.E.M
song, i have to find it now...". My girlfriend was on the telephone
speaking about a song, saying , "There's this song, who made
it ..." I heard this conversation, searched for it and two
minute later I said, "Hey listen" . I was really fascinated
by this big big music box and found 200 of my favourites songs and
thought i have to do something with these ghosts in my head. At
the same point i had an invitation from Fällt in Ireland to
make an album. I just started to work with Beatles and Beach Boys
stuffs and I said ok, i'll make an album out of this. So FrequencyLib
was originally made for Fällt, for Christopher, but in this
process we had this heavy argument about artwork and conceptual
things and we both said fuck you , go home, do it somewhere else.
So that's how it landed at Ritornell. When I offered it to Achim
Szepanski, i wanted to have it on Mille Plateaux. He wanted to relaunch
Ritornell, because it was sort of going down and he wanted to have
it on this label. It's dead in the meantime, it's such a pity. For
me it wasn't a Ritornell album. The picture I have of Ritornell
was more like WurmlochVariation, to me it was like a new contemporary
you agree on the fact that it's appropriation and restoration of
the essence of the track ?
For me, a
very personal essence of the track.
funny you mentionned your daughter, since I have the impression
that the cover is a digitalized picture of toys.
image was the thing why it did not happenned on Fällt. Because
Chris who runs Fällt is a designer. He offered me so many things
and i said no, no , i want to have it more pop. I dont't want to
have these glitchy digital things but in the end i made the cover
myself, it's from one of my favourite children books. What's the
guy with long nails and hair, Shockheaded Peter is the english name.
It's a german children book where you learn don't fight, don't play
with fire, when you eat at the table, don't play with your chair.
It's a picture from this book reduced to a desktop icon.
is an educational value at several levels ... A transmission value...
I have this
sense, I'm also teaching, i really like to give my ideas to other
people, see what they do and also get their opinions and ideas.
teach digital arts , which forms does it take?
based on music. So I'm giving an introduction on electronic music
but more from from the digital side . So I start basically with
Xenakis and moves to Terre Thaemlitz, Markus Popp, the GRM people.
Discussing music, listening the stuffs, giving people an introduction
in software and i try to animate them to find their own way up with
it. Not to try and make these drum & bass beats, to find their
very own way. It's important for me to, especially with software,
to take it and use it. Don't read the manual, just use it and see
such, do you put your teaching in parallel with your personal works
It's the only
way i can teach.
says his personal musical works help him to document his theoretical
studies. Is it the same with you ?
, Ekkehard and me are very different. He's a man of the world, he
can talk, his work is very conceptual, I also work very conceptual,
but I can't talk about it. My concepts are very inside. I think
it's ok, because every time i try to talk and explain, I feel very
uncomfortable. It's ok to have it covered by something and people
should find their way to interpret it.
"Gute Nacht" piece is both on your FrequenLib album and
Plays John Cassavettes by Ekkehard Ehlers.. What is the story about
of this thing is Ekkehard was also mastering FrequencyLib for me.
When he heard this Gute Nacht piece, he said oh it would be the
perfect B side for John Cassavettes ... He asked me if i would do
a ten minute version. And we both liked the idea to have this "Ekkehard
Ehlers plays" and one piece is completely by me. It's my piece,
i made it for him. It's not about switching personality ...
you tell me about the Heroin album ?
touring. Ekkehard, Akira Rabelais and me. And in Rotterdam there
was Frans de Waard, from Staalplaat and the band Goem. After the
concert he invited me for a sort of carte blanche. The idea was
to go in an artist house, in his home town, the Netherlands, with
a guest of my choice and spend there one, two three weeks ; how
much we want and work on an album for them. So Ekky and me, we've
been friends for two years and we always said, we have to do something
together but instead, when i visited him or he visited me, we just
hanged around, listening to music and we never did something. So
we said, "Hey come on that's the chance. We go to Nijmegen
and produce something there". In the end, we had one week,
that's what we could match, and it was a very productive time. We
produced the complete album, when we left we just had to master
it. Ekky made one side of the Robert Johnson 7", and i made
like five or seven pieces for FrequencyLib and a single for Bottrop
Boy, everything in seven days.
did you elaborate the music ?
The most interesting
for us is that we heard there was a rock rehearsal space. So it's
an artist recording studio, which was not so much of interest for
us because we work with our own computers and microphones and stuffs.
But this rehearsal space with drums, guitar was interesting for
us. So we wanted to scan it, play the instruments and record them,
and take this as source material. It's what we did.
you play drums there ?
my own drum set with me , I unpacked it there for the first time
in two years and when i was hitting the drum - I really love my
instrument, somebody made it for me and I really love the sound
- but when I unpacked it I could not stand it, it was so direct.
I agreed I couldn't play the drums, not technically - because I
never practice, I just sit down and play - but because it was hurting
my ears and everything. So what I did with the drums was like some
real experiments with microphones and speakers and feedback. On
Heroin, there are these two Blue Baby pieces which sound like a
sine wave, that's the feedback, it sounds like test tones or so,
but it's a drum. In the middle and at the end. I had a microphone,
i had a drum between my legs and the microphone went to the mixing
board to the speakers. The drums were starting to resonate when
i was moving it very slowly the tom was like "hummm",
it was changing. This was my way of playing the drums. Then we played
a lot of guitars, very cheap broken guitar, we recorded this and
organ, melodica, jaws harp, blue harp. The idea was really about
scanning, like you have an image and you scan it and you take it
to photoshop and process it. This was our approach with these instruments
, to have it as pure and also working with the essence of the instrument.
what about the remixes ?
We did not
want to have a remix album in this classical sense. Basically we
sent the CD to friends or people we like, and ask them to continue
what they hear, like a ... Do something in this way . That's why
we asked these three guitar players : Christian Fennesz, Josef Suchy
and Oren Ambarchi. We wanted to have this rock spirit somehow, because
Christian Fennesz is a band person. That's why we made this choice.
We asked them to do something new or rework old stuffs, but they
did not have to use our stuffs. We also made a CD with outtakes,
material which we did not use. Some people worked with this. Some
people did something entirely new, Takemura did a very classical
remix. We are very happy with this.
projects with Ekkehard Ehlers ?
we are going to work on something new. In Berlin, there's this musical
instruments museum, they have very rare instruments from all the
ages, like this walking stick violin, and other very curious instruments.
I recorded there and we want to do something together with this
material. But at the moment, mainly, I have to take my time, because
I did so much in the last two years, and I need a big break, so
I want to slow everything down.
the visual part of your performances. How do you work on them ?
one thing, it's a patch that a friend wrote for me, it's a very
simple. I can control colours. I'm not so happy about how it will
be tonight. It's really depending on the projector's strength, otherwise
... I'm not sure how it will work tonight. But the main idea is
to have, i'm not on stage when i'm peforming, and i want to give
people they can look at. It's just a big monochrome coulourfield
which very slightly fades from pink to blue in fifty or sixty minutes,
it's pulsating very softly, like a visual drone somehow.
you been offered by Ekkehard Ehlers to issue an album on Whatness,
which is interested in the combination of visuals and music ?
He has a very
nice idea, but I don't know if it will happen. There's a German
writer and journalist, Dietrich Dietrissen, he's really very famous.
Ekky had this idea to make like a fairy tale record, where he reads
a fairy tale and I make the music for it. But Whatness is very slow
because they do not have very much budget. So it might happen in
the next two years.
you issued an album on the Lucky Kitchen label. I don't know this
one, how would you describe it ?
At the moment,
I think it's my favourite music by myself. Tonight, my live set
will be based on material from this CD. It's two sound installations,
because i'm doing installations, it's very important for me, I really
like this. One is for a Glass Exhibition, and the other is for Cultural
Heritage, old iron works : One very long track which is originally
an eighty minute loop, it's a permanent installation running on
the outside, in a very nice area. The interesting point for me is
that generally it's difficult to have a sound installation and release
it on a CD without the context, the room and everything. But, I
think both installations work very well in living room. It's the
idea to have like an installation for your home, even if I don't
write this on the CD. But it works very well for me as "musique
obviously like pop music. Have you never been tempted, as Ekkehard
Ehlers with März, to do a pop album ?
I'd really like to do
a pop record but I have to find my way. It's a long way. I can't
sit down and read a manual and learn how to work with a sequencer
to make beats ... I have to find my way always, somehow. I've been
talking with Ekky about it for two years ... We'd like to do something
with beats, strings, vocals. Something different from März.
I'm very much into soul like Tweet, it's produced by Timbaland.
I'd like to do something like this but with my own language, of
course. This would be pop music I'd like to do. At the moment, I'm
very much interested in the idea of musique d'ameublement [...]
I think it should be an essence, like Satie said, it has to make
the sound of the dishes more comfortable. I like this idea of creating
a good environment. What's interesting for me with sound installations,
is that it brings my language into popular or public context, it's
a very interesting task for me.
réalisée par Christophe Taupin en mars 2003.
à Annibale de Dense et Kitty Hartl.