This concert was part of Mathieu’s Virginals project, in which he performs versions of work by other artists on some venerable equipment. The star of the show is less Mathieu, skulking around in the dark, but more the virginal harpsichord, the Philicordia organ, and the two tape decks in the middle, picked out by spotlights when in use. The first half hour of the show was devoted to the first of those, an old Arnold Dolmetsch model, on which Mathieu played Alvin Lucier’s Music With Magnetic Strings using ebows. Crouching next to the instrument, he carefully moved these around the strings like he was playing chess, attacking with precise combinations of tones, pristine pulsations.
I was reminded of Lucier also during Matthieu’s version of Francisco Lopez’s Untitled #92 followed. This piece was originally designed for four gramophones, the four recordings of repetitive vinyl crackle and glitch gradually running into and out of sync. Here Mathieu added new levels of chance and decay by playing a version of this from tape decks through four amps, gradually adjusting the settings on the amps until the initially tiny rhythms sounded like stampeding elephants, and the background hiss became a thunderous downpour. The unrecognisably degraded and distorted layers of sound shook what little paint remained from the walls of the Sophiensaele.
The last panel of this triptych was the smallest, with a short section of Charlemagne Palestine’s Schlongo being performed on a Philicorda organ, keys jammed down to create some drones, fluttering harmonics creating the illusion of a melody buried somewhere deep within the majestic sound. Buried deep within this ruined old palace in Berlin, it felt powerfully elegiac.