For Permitted Consumption
ew musicians are as adept as Basque computer manipulator Mattin at maintaining a delicate balance between near-silent ethereality and abrasive, explosive textures. And this newest recording, with electric double bassist Margarida Garcia, is perhaps the best document yet of Mattin’s mastery of dynamics. The single piece of For Permitted Consumption flows in steady waves from periods of stillness to bursts of harsh, textured feedback, but regardless of the volume at any given point, the recording is anchored by its common depth and complexity. Within Mattin’s waves of crackling noise, there’s a sensitivity that belies their supposedly random genesis. The music has an industrial edge, a cranking ratcheting energy that sounds like raw sparks being generated, or the bare scraping of metal on metal.
The piece starts as a low rumbling, it could be the remnants of bass (though elsewhere Garcia’s contributions are more recognizable) or some signal extracted from Mattin’s machine. But even within this seemingly simple introduction, the rumble is changed, tweaked, and subtle swishes and high-register tweets are introduced until the original rumble is nearly forgotten. Soon, there’s a momentary silence, which hovers unmoving for... how long we can’t be sure. Because then the sound starts up again, so insidiously that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint where silence ends and sound begins. The sizzle of static and the grind of Garcia’s bass (is she scraping the strings? the body of the instrument? tweaking out some quiet pokes of feedback?) rise up out of the silence and at first linger just on the edges of hearing, so soft that they could be figments of the imagination, residual echoes left over from the opening salvo, imagined traces rather than actual objective sound.
Coupled with this disquieting sensation is the expectancy, the sense of waiting that accompanies the disc’s softer moments, the knowledge that this tranquility can be broken at any moment. And that, perhaps, is an ingenious acknowledgement of the computer’s destructive potential in music, music whose very beauty depends on the uglier elements surrounding it. So when Mattin suspends tingling upper-register harmonics, and when that sterile perfection is almost immediately interrupted by glitchy static and howling noise, it’s a perfect juxtaposition of the harsh and the fragile. Garcia, for her part, provides another kind of juxtaposition, that of her mostly subtle, gentle sounds within the matrix of Mattin’s flowing, pulsating feedback. Her rich bass tones only take center-stage a few times in this piece’s half-hour. Despite this, she has a genuine capacity to surprise whenever some break in Mattin’s cascading waves of sound reveals that her warm, metallic playing has been providing an unnoticed but no less powerful undertow. Her playing is restrained, almost pretty, but the sounds she creates with her minimal style have the same industrial edge as Mattin’s digital din.
For Permitted Consumption is the kind of modern improv recording that Mattin (along with a handful of his electronically minded contemporaries) seems to have perfected: a computer-based album that sounds as gritty and organic as a tractor or a bass pluck. Each moment of this disc is richly textured, filled with layers of details and powered by a sense of dynamics that doesn’t leap from loud to soft so much as it unnoticeably and naturally just becomes one or the other (with whole swaths of territory in between). This is powerful, beautiful, and immensely engaging, a record that truly returns more and more on each listen.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2004-06-24