Noémi Büchi - Matter Music Album Reviews

Noémi Büchi - Matter Music Album Reviews
Equally inspired by late Romantic symphonies and experimental electronic techniques, the Swiss composer pushes both classical tropes and ambient conventions to their breaking points.

Noémi Büchi’s music seems to exist in the abstract realm of ideas, yet the Swiss sound artist sees her work as eminently tangible. “A musician also works with matter, the air,” she says. “It seems to be immaterial because it has a much smaller density than other objects, but after all, everything is material.” Büchi considers sound a physical medium “like stone, wood, paint or textile.” The theme runs through her discography: the titles of her EPs Mati​è​re and Hyle are taken from the French for “material” and the ancient Greek for “substance.” Completing the trilogy is Matter, her first full-length album: a maximalist re-imagining of Romantic and modernist classical music using a shapeshifting, futuristic electronic orchestra.

With her 2020 debut, Mati​è​re, Büchi seamlessly combined bouncy modular synthesis with quotidian field recordings, like a folk artisan gathering supplies from their everyday surroundings. Matter moves from the craft fair to the museum, drawing from her classical training to twist symphonic music into fantastic sonic sculptures. Büchi’s signing to the Zürich label -OUS places her in a milieu of like-minded artists like Feldermelder and Furtherset, who combine experimental electronics with the grand scope of symphonic music. Büchi is more explicit with her classical influences, however, citing Stravinsky, Mahler, Scriabin, and Ligeti as touchstones. Matter invokes those composers’ ambition and drama as well as their musical tropes. After studying the late Romantic and early modernist canon, Büchi uses whatever she can—modular and digital synthesizers, acoustic instruments and voice, Max/MSP and SuperCollider—to transform their ideas into entirely new, and new-sounding, music of her own. 

Büchi composed Matter as if she had an orchestra in her head, with the added benefit that imaginary players don’t have to abide by the laws of physics. Though her ensemble’s individual sections are identifiable, they swirl and collide in noisy aerial acrobatics, sometimes becoming hopelessly tangled. The strings that open the album on “Elemental Fear” build to a crescendo and morph into stuttering percussion, cycling across the field while their centripetal force tilts the track’s trajectory sideways. On “Taking the Train With Mr. Shark,” meanwhile, a propulsive electronic piano rhythm is lifted up by sweeping, romantic strings, lending nostalgic grandeur to what could otherwise be the basis of a techno track. In the album’s densest moments, Büchi pushes symphonic harmony to a breaking point, drawing on both experimental electronic and classical traditions but fitting wholly in neither category. 

Matter suffers when this tension between the old and the new is lost. “Uncertainty of an Undefined Interdependence” is more reminiscent of Tim Hecker than Gustav Mahler, placing us too comfortably in the present, rather than in the uncanny space between past and future that Büchi so deftly conjures elsewhere. The late Romantic harmonic progression on the similarly ambient album closer “Prelude for Rational Freshness,” for example, is rendered at once familiar and strange by the song’s buzzing synths, which fall out of tune only to soar upward and harmonize again. 

Büchi insists that “each of my sonic fantasies must be possible.” Matter is her proof of concept. With her arsenal of tools, whether digital or analogue, hardware or software, she transforms her Romantic and modernist themes into such unexpectedly beguiling shapes that it appears her imagination is truly her only constraint. As a sculptor of sound, Büchi makes it infinitely pliable: dense as marble but light as air. 

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Noémi Büchi - Matter Music Album Reviews Noémi Büchi - Matter Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 13, 2023 Rating: 5


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