In a Paris Transatlantic interview from 2009, Mattin pronounced the following words: “Nowadays I’m interested in making records that are more difficult to categorise. People tell me that what I do is too conceptual, that it’s no longer about music, that it’s post-music. But of course it’s about music. Perhaps not the music that you like, but I still play concerts and make records which contain sounds. It’s not about subtraction, as if bringing ideas prevents you from focussing on the music. It’s about adding ideas and concepts in order to explore what could be done without reaffirming or consolidating an established genre of music.”
Nothing much has changed nine years later; or, maybe, everything has. The man is obviously conscious of the non-existence of silver linings in today’s sociopolitical clouds. Mattin’s response to the sinking of Europe (see the liner notes) is the politically charged Songbook #7, which – perhaps not coincidentally – comprises seven tracks titled after the first seven months of 1917 in Russia during the revolution. As always with this uncontrollable artist, the name of the game is throwing the listener/reader into a “nothing can be foreseen” frame of mind. The live recording (Cologne, 2017) features an orchestration grounded on a trio of vocalists reciting texts – often electronically disfigured – plus computer, drums, bass clarinet and sampler.
The music’s character is not classifiable, as per Mattin’s aesthetic of fragmentation of all meanings and intentions. This notwithstanding, there’s no question about its involuntary adherence to the rules of an electroacoustic theatre of the unexpected. The lyrics – at times comprehensible, elsewhere a mere chain of deformed robotic utterances – are more functional as an instrumental constituent than a manifesto. The sense of frustration experienced nowadays by every decently sensible being is explicated via cut-throat discharges within patches of extreme stridency, occasionally featuring words pronounced in screaming rage, distorted or less. This radical punkness is balanced by moments of (still tense) quietness – gotta love Lucio Capece’s clarinet lines in “March” – barely decipherable dialogues and even bucolic snapshots like the tweeting birds at the beginning of “July”. Somehow, a few sections evoked the work of composers such as Åke Hodell in this writer’s fantasy. However, this is a classic Mattin album that needs both an internal calibration and a correct mental predisposition; that is to say, no mental predisposition at all. Just catch what is thrown, if you’re able to.
A dramatic realism must not necessarily coincide with lucidity. But it does help us to come closer to that state.