Stuck in a loop: Mattin, Valerio Tricoli

Wednesday 27 March 2024

I got sent a digital download of a limited-release cassette of not-bad bedroom collages turning 20th Century composers into Yuppie-friendly repetitive loops that would have knocked my socks off in the mid-80s and still today is, as I said, not-bad despite or perhaps even because it takes a lot less craft to make such a thing these days. Then I lost interest in writing more about it because the artist was a self-described cyber-shaman named Vadge Wanko who said his tape was striking a blow against Thatcher – something like that, anyway; my eyes kept glazing over. The awkward thing is now I’ve got Mattin’s Seize The Means Of Complexity [Xing] on the stereo and I get it, but maybe not in the way he’d like. Just so you know up front, this is a Mattin record you can listen to rather than just think about. It is, of course, still a provocation: side A opens with bursts of appropriated music before quickly lapsing into near-nothingness, much later resuming with a trashpile of pirated pop clips haphazardly stacked up against each other. The flip side starts out as before but is soon infiltrated with flickering, burning noise that steadily consumes everything in its path. The tropes and attitude of pop art at its most scabrous are present and correct, but Mattin’s handling of the material and control of the form keeps its critiques fresh by reifying the old, oft-repeated premise and treating the present-day details with indifference. The paradox at the heart of Seize The Means Of Complexity is that it achieves its power through a philosophical construct that has endured since the dawn of the industrial age, that of the present being a unique moment of existential crisis. His sleeve notes dream of “forging a new form of catholicism fit for the 21st century” allude to the reliance on tradition in this work. Actually, I meant to type “communism” in that quote but I’m not going back to change it because whatever ideology you slot in there reveals the incipient nostalgia at work here.

Dunno why I haven’t written about Valerio Tricoli before so I better start now. His virtuosic handling of open-reel tape recorders as instruments is compelling in a live setting and scarcely less so on record. The nature of the beast insists on repetition within linear time structures, but Tricoli’s mastery overcomes the obvious limitations of the device while harnessing its inherent capacity to imbue even the most discursive gestures with a steady momentum. A Circle of Grey [Xing again] demonstrates this potency through being so undemonstrative, making an extended pieces that simmers with energy even while, sonically, scarcely breaking the surface. Content is sublimated into the medium, keeping each slip, echo and crackle to a strategic minimum, transforming technique into material. He’s going over the same ground as before, but each new expedition reveals a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the underlying fundamental nature of the exercise. By now, it’s a slow journey with time to discover and admire the smallest details, transcending the origins of the found sounds to produce an analogue electronic landscape, at once lush and austere.

Mattin Licking Ears

Monday 22 November 2021

Listen: Mattin is doing something to his audience, individually and collectively. What that something might be is not immediately clear, but after a while you start to get an idea.

“The room was completely dark. I entered the space and started to engage with each member of the audience individually asking questions quietly into their ear and then I performed an even more intimate gesture and then I asked for reflections afterwards. The rest of the audience could only hear whispering and laughing without really knowing what was going on.”

A music concert is at once an social activity and an intimately personal experience. Mattin’s piece, performed in a small venue in Berlin back in 2015, exposed the paradoxes of that uneasy duality. Each action performed here worked directly and indirectly, building a relationship of shared trust and consent while exercising the tensions of uncertainty, anticipation and apprehension: a kind of direct-action Luc Ferrari composition on achieving intimacy.

The recording of Licking Ears released last month (non-copyright but there are CD-Rs) is itself almost nothing, as it teases its way into the listener’s consciousness. With attention and accustomisation over time, as for the audience members in the room, the nature of the piece gradually makes itself known, but each participant yet withholds a little of the experience from the others. For us, listening to it now, the voyeuristic aspect of public performance predominates here. To listen, we must make ourselves complicit, or become empathetic, or else distance ourselves from the entire exercise. It’s another one of the ways that Mattin keeps testing us on the differences between what we hear and what we understand.

Mattin: Songbook #7

Friday 30 November 2018

I presume there is nothing unique about me associating Mattin with provocation. Thinking over it, every one of those provocative actions that I can remember was made in good faith. I received a nice email from him asking to give thoughtful consideration to his latest release, Songbook #7, as he is worried that listeners might not engage with it. There is much about the album that invites reading between the lines, but I suspect that approach would be to overthink it.

A small fracture appears when reading the liner notes: the record is credited to Mattin yet it states that “this record was made collectively”. It records a live performance, group improvisation to set texts, made in Cologne last November. The group includes Lucio Capece, Moor Mother, Colin Hacklander and Farahnaz Hatam, with texts recited by Marcel Dickhage, Cathleen Schuster and Mattin. I’m not sure how much editing was involved: each track is exactly seven minutes, possibly as an agreed structure. The premise is earnest: “Europe was (still is) slowly going down.” The seven tracks here seek to draw a comparison between revolutionary events in Europe in 1917 and 100 years later.

Looking back to the past may seem a reactionary gesture, but this is not done in hope of finding a solution. Contrast is made between two approaches, “a collective attempt at social transformation and a desperate lonely gesture”. The tension between the individual and the collective, already noted above, becomes the fabric of the music.

Each piece, except one, generates a swirling electroacoustic miasma, accompanied by texts declaimed in English or German. The use of electronics, including samplers, necessarily makes determining individual performances impossible; collective action is often the ideal of improvisation. The texts, juxtaposing events in Russia in 1917 with present-day events, emerge out of the music as often as the music acts as a backing for the texts. As is typical in these situations, the texts may either be ignored or will detract from the music. At times the sound is reminiscent of some of Nono’s tape compositions, particularly La fabbrica illuminata – which in fact gets namechecked in the sleeve notes. It sounds good, but we’re back to finding comfort in revolutionary gestures of the past – gestures which were all ultimately unsuccessful. Perhaps we don’t want change as much as we want to think it may happen.

Even though Mattin (and – possibly – his collective) isn’t foolhardy enough to propose solutions here, the project still seems designed to fail. It’s an honest response to a pervading sense of dissatisfaction in the current political consensus, but trying to “think the present through the lenses of radical historical moments” throws up a set of presumptions as to who is the Old Guard and who is the desperate radical. Like I said, some moments sound like 60s agitprop. There’s a bitter irony in the last track when a tirade making the usual gripes about elections is placed against the latest parliamentary machinations in Venezuela. Perhaps the whole thing is a wind-up, throwing nostalgic revolutionary noises and false equivalences around like firecrackers; the last track extends beyond seven minutes to include the audience applauding once the show is over, neatly packaged away.

Again, I may be overthinking it, but this album seems to work more effectively as a political statement if any earnest intentions are disregarded and taken instead within a gigantic pair of scare quotes. The audience is heard at one other point, on track six. This track is a discussion between Mattin and the other musicians about the nature of the projects, in the manner of Godard’s woolly fantasy of Maoist society. All other political debates referenced throughout the gig melt down here into the most essential, between individual and group. Towards the end, one voice shrugs off the debate, saying “I just like making sounds”. She received a round of applause.

Songbook #7 is available as a download or on vinyl LP – the material object is the only recorded music format that makes a profit.