Stephan Mathieu – Alap for Steel Needle, Record and Theorbe

Stephan Mathieu and Peter Söderberg - RADIANCE I- ALAP FOR STEEL NEEDLE, RECORD AND THEORBE - Fantasy, picture of vinyl recording used to create the piece

‘Alap for Steel Needle, Record and Theorbe’ is the first track from Stephan Mathieu’s “Radiance” project, which sees the composer and sound artist release one piece every month for twelve months. Here’s what Mathieu himself has to say about it:

“‘Alap for Steel Needle, Record and Theorbe’ goes back to a concept that has fascinated me for several years: the interpretetion of early music in a spectral style by picking a harmonic/tonal skeleton from an existing composition and building a sustained version around it in order to find its harmonic essence and perform this on period instruments. This search for the essence of a certain material has been crucial to my work since computers became my main instrument during the late 90s. All my releases are about this special something and “Radiance” Vol.I sees an acoustic representation of this search.

“In 2010 I worked in a quartet with Che Chen, Robbie Lee and Jozef van Wissem on a presentation of Josquin des Prez’ songbooks, a project that unfortunately never took off. When the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin asked me for a piece to perform during their POP 16 festival dedicated to the first 100 years of pop music, I proposed to them a homage to early music pioneer and instrument maker Arnold Dolmetsch, who recorded a handful of groundbreaking 78rpm records during the late 1920s with performances realised in a historically informed manner, which by that time was regarded as a curiosity. For my piece I found a great partner in Stockholm based lutenist Peter Söderberg, who plays the theorbe, a Late Renaissance lute with an extended bass range that became an integral part of the continuo group in Baroque music.

One of Dolmetsch’s recordings served as a tonal grid for our ‘Alap’. As a foundation I’ve created several tape loops based on integral harmonies from a piece he performed with his family for the Columbia label, the ‘Fantasy for a Chest of Six Viols’ by Renaissance composer Thomas Weelkes. Peter and I decided on a selection of pitches based on this historical recording and met for 2 days of rehearsals in Berlin before the premiere on April 29. The next day we made recordings in my hotel room, which have been edited for the release in my studio afterwards. The virginals are played with 5 ebows, Peter used a handheld fan to create a spectral drone with his theorbe. The tape loop plays in the far background and softly modulates the sound of our acoustic instruments, sometimes creating what sounds like a quiet wonderful natural reverb. I’ve included a recording of the tape loop as a bonus track with the ‘Alap’ release, something that I will most likely also do for several other parts for Radiance.”



‘Alap for Steel Needle, Record and Theorbe’ can be purchased from Schwebung, or you can subscribe to the “Radiance” series and receive each track in the project as they become available.

You can read more of Stephan’s thoughts on “Radiance” in our in-depth interview.

Stephan Mathieu


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