STEPHAN MATHIEU – Before Nostromo


Those who have written (or read) on Before Nostromo to date are evidently aware of the opus’ origin, in deep symbiosis with Ridley Scott’s Alien. I am, too. There’s a little problem, though: I never saw that flick.

This might open the door to a flux of analytical considerations, but we will stop at the most important. Even if a composer renders his/her audience knowledgeable about a source of inspiration, a trustworthy scrutinizer of acoustic materials always finds a way to deliver the mind from whatever relation exists between the information previously given and the music itself. Worse yet, nothing is more superficial for a “critic” than listening to a record born from a cinematic suggestion, then associating its sonority to the same movie’s personal reminiscence.

And also – as reiterated time and again by your host – continuing to stick nonsensical “ambient” tags to Stephan Mathieu’s work represents a blatant commonplace. Although he named eight of the nine tracks of this release “Stasis”, the man from Saarbrücken disrupts the very depths of quietness via the meshing of barely decipherable aural landscapes chock full of events and interferences, as calm and soul-balming as those hybrids may result. This, in the right hands and ears, is a proven method for generating the kind of harmonically spurious vibrational momentum that attributes a different weight to the word “drone”. Meaning that when we listen to, say, “Stasis 5: Ripley’s Dream” we stand there transfixed, all perceptive channels open and ready to accept what is upcoming. When, for example, Brian Eno’s On Land is spinning, a book can easily be perused while remaining receptive to the unfolding reverberations. The latter is “ambient”; Before Nostromo does not belong there.

Coming to grips with the mystery of significant sounds and the reactions they produce in selected human specimens, way beyond the mere mental aspect, is still a prohibitive task. Nonetheless, Mathieu’s recordings characterize some of the rare occasions in which I’m willing to write more than what’s strictly necessary to effectively (make that “hopelessly”) depict this perennial contradiction between apparent motionlessness and profound inner movement. To grasp what he really means to elicit, one should own an inborn detector for certain combinations of frequencies (definitely uncatchable for masses that have become deaf in all acceptations). In that regard, we can describe the German as a polite utopist of our times, a sonic researcher theorizing a voiceless type of cosmic connection from an era to another.

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