[reviews] afe123lcd
mathieu ruhlmann: as a leaf or a stone

the watchful ear []
blog, u.k., june 2010

...Tonight I have been listening to a CD by Mathieu Ruhlmann named "As a Leaf or a Stone" released in an edition of 100 on the Afe label. I reviewed some music by Ruhlmann before here but wasn't completely convinced by it, finding it all a bit wishy washy and lacking in something, though exactly what was difficult to describe. I have had similar problems with much of this particular area of music, the sculpted, blended field recordings end of things that so often just ends up all sounding much of a muchness, drifty, dreamy collections of many of the same kinds of sound. So this new disc was going to have to work hard to convince me...

The first thing I should say is that "As a Leaf or a Stone" is a lot more interesting than the previous discs I heard by Ruhlmann. There is much more of a sense of listening to actual objects here, a collections of recorded things with much less post-recording effects work going on, less of an attempt to smooth everything out into one continuum and so each of the sounds used has its own voice. There are six tracks then, though to be honest I found myself listening to the CD as one long work, I barely noticed the joins. Ruhlmann lists the objects used to make the music, and they vary from the coffee grinder, denture cleaner and bubble wrap of the opening track through to the metal ball, shruti box and pondweed of the closing one. There are also field recordings here, and bits of voices, a childlike singing voice that stumbles through the end of the third piece works nicely.

It would be wrong to say that this music escapes all of the trappings I often find hold this area of music back. Certainly there is an abundance of hisses and rushes in the background of the music that do on occasion still coalesce into a bit of a murky blur, and there are still some hydrophone-like recordings in there, something that does often put me off, but in general the choices of sounds, the invention that has gone into finding them and then the mostly clean, crisp way they are presented is quite refreshing. The fifth track here even includes oil frying in a pan, reminding me obviously of Lee Patterson's adventures in these areas. In some ways I am also reminded of Jeph Jerman's localised field recording work, but there is a wider variety of sounds coming and going here than either of these comparisons might suggest, this really is something of a patchwork of very different sounds. Trying to identify everything at any one point is difficult, though the handy list of "ingredients" that make up the recipe for each track is useful in this regard.

Still the tendency is for the collaged sounds to drift to a kind of ambient soup, but then I wonder where else such a combination of sounds might be able to go. There are few examples in this area of music that really hit the spot for me, but then every now and again one manages to do so (the last was probably Seth Nehil's "Flock and Tumble"?) and I am reminded of what can be achieved. "As a Leaf or a Stone" doesn't fall as far short as some, certainly there is plenty of collision and variety in this music to keep it interesting and it is quite a step on from the other Ruhlmann CDs I spent time with. I do just wonder what this CD offers beyond being a collection of interesting and varied sounds combined in unlikely ways however. This in itself is enough for many and to some degree I agree, listening tonight has been a lot of fun and generally enjoyable. I don't feel like I need to be listening to the music again and again though, and maybe at the end of the day that is the ultimate barometer for these things. Afe Records can be found here where you can find quite long samples of the music. Go listen for yourself and ignore me.

[Richard Pinnell]