Review: Mats Gustafsson – Piano Mating

Mats Gustafsson - Piano MatingThere is no such thing as listening to Piano Mating quietly. Gustafsson activates those tones that are always loud, tapping into the resonant frequency of my eardrums. And then there’s the strange way in which volume levels increase via sheer duration, like a gushing tap filling a sink over time, compounded by the constant harmonic additions that gradually turn a pleasant chord into a throbbing, viscous smear of pure tone. These two long pieces flatten me against the wall of my living room. They are viruses overloading my hearing, dismantling my sense of acoustic placement. For the final five minutes of the first piece, it’s entirely unclear how many of the drones are generated by Gustaffson, and how many are internal echoes rebounding off the inside of my own head. Three dimensions collapse into two dimensions. And then one.

I worry for my speakers during track two. The phased hum of an electronic engine meets a radiator whirr coming in the other direction. Again, they curdle – in the lower frequencies this time – until they start to sweat strands of feedback. The whole thing turns violently humid as more tones crammed into the space, suffocating the gaps between gaps and then clotting the gaps between those. I stop hearing individual harmonic relationships and start registering the presence of one gigantic clump of vibration, as it bleeds outward upon the canvas of silence until there is no canvas left. I start to hallucinate shapes and meanings within the glisten of overtones that dance upon the surface. This doesn’t feel like listening anymore – I’ve always considered listening a conversational exercise, in which I step into a soundscape and meet the noise halfway. Piano Mating is an imposition that I am forced to deal with. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.