Stephan Mathieu

Stephan Mathieu is a mastering engineer, self taught composer and performer of my own music, working in the fields of electroacoustics and abstract digitala. In his own words, his sound “is largely based on early instruments, environmental sound and obsolete media, which are recorded and transformed by means of experimental microphony, re-editing techniques and software processes involving spectral analysis and convolution.” Recent works have found him transforming the sound of old 78 rpm records played through period gramophones (A Static Place), and interpreting the dreams of the Nostromo crew awakes from hypersleep, (Before Nostromo), his homage to the sci-fi classic Alien.

http://www.schwebung.com


You buy a new album, describe your routine/experience of its first listening.

There are various formats I’m buying –

LP
Quite a variety of things – new releases, first pressings of ‘classic’ albums across all genres, reissues in case I need a certain album but won’t find an original release.

From there on it depends on how much I enjoy an album upon first listen. Sometimes a record won’t leave the turntable for some days and I play it over and over again, while others will probably disappear for years. Most of the time, I will never play these again (luckily, those aren’t too many) because I have too much music which I want to listen to repeatedly. There are some corners of my collection which I find myself looking at with a sigh every now and then, asking myself when I will find the time to play these gems again.

7″s
are a special passion of mine, these are mainly old tunes. I buy them as they come to my mind, see how they stood the test of time or what it is that made me remember them, and most likely study their production for a while. From this aspect, I could probably survive on my 7″s alone. I like the idea that I can recreate a certain first impression people had when a specific song was released.

Lossless
is more and more becoming my favourite format, especially for great (re-)masters or good productions in full resolution. I never really liked 16bit_44.1 and good full resolution masters are equal or even surpass analog media.

CD in case no vinyl or digital edition is available.
Usually, I will rip them to a lossless format right away and add it to my library. If I like an album, I will take the CD to my car where I may play it for quite a while.

I’ve collected 78s from between 1900-1930 for several years, along with mechanical-acoustic gramophones. I love to reproduce music on period equipment, so I also have a mono setup for vinyl from the 50s-late 60s

On subsequent listens to that same record, which aspects of the music do you focus your listening on. does this change over time? how?

As much as this should be all about an emotional impact, I can’t help but check the production/sound quality of a release on a first listen. Well, in a way I guess everybody does that, as a producer and mastering engineer I may do this a little more meticulously though.

With a record, this often starts even before the actual music begins. If you have a cheap pressing, first thing you will hear is the material itself, sometimes spreading a gloriously brittle hiss and crackle that will continue to modulate all of the music. Yes, I’m very much listening to music with a mastering engineers ear. If I like the album, I don’t bother about the actual reproduction quality too much anymore and play it again anyway. I try to keep the music I’m listening to mainly because of it’s sound quality down to a minimum. Even though I love ‘great’ sound, I’ve always had a passion for lo-fi. Also my own music is based on very lo-fi basic material most of the time. I like to bring out the specific characters then, which doesn’t necessarily mean cleaning up things. There’s a special beauty in rough sound that can shine wonderfully if you treat it right. What I don’t like is when an item radiates a general don’t-care attitude, no mastering, bad pressing, cheapo
yet flashy packaging, probably paired with a high price anyway.

To come back to your question, I’m sometimes surprised when I give a certain release a second listen. This can have a love at second sight, or a rather disillusioning effect.

If you could choose your favorite listening environment, what would it be? what draws you to that place to hear the music you’re listening too?

I prefer to listen to music focused and with good equipment. My favourite place is my studio because I have an ideal listening environment there. I enjoy listening together with friends the most. A while ago I bought a fantastic set of headphones, since then I sometimes also listen to music in bed.

How does one make their listening listened to? What is the best avenue to communicate your listening experience to others?

From me this works best in my own environment. I love to DJ for friends, ideally when they pick records from my collection and I can set the volume in a way I like for a specific kind of track or album. Basically I like to listen to music at a ‘real-life’ volume, an interesting challenge for all kind of music that has no real-life counterpart.

From my experience, this works well in my own environment. I guess I could transmit my own listening many times here.

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