Mathius Shadow-Sky
Trip to the Center of the Bomb

The novelistic characters often have a rich story, full of adventure and development. The life, filled with musical events, of the man who names himself Myster Shadow-Sky, seems to come out of a literary saga. It just possesses some dadaist and provocative touches of the better taste. Here are, as he likes to name them, some “biophonical markers” that allow us to have a better understanding of this phenomenon.

Born in Paris in 1961 of a French mother of Greek origins and of a Polish father, he discovers at a very young age the torn accents of the electric guitar of Jimi Hendrix, for whom he feels a great fascination at that time. He then studies jazz guitar, then piano before entering the Conservatoire to study classical guitar. “Until I was 18, I listened to rock bands and I wanted to be a guitar player as everybody else. As I played, I used to stick my ear to the resonance chamber to listen to every single sound”.

Then he leaves for Poland where, during two years, he is a student in the National Academy of Music in Warsaw, in parallel to his university studies. In this city, he discovers contemporary music. “There is a great festival there called The Autumn in Warsaw. My school friends took me there and I met a guy named Josef Anton Riedl, who made music with glass pieces, cardboards, and the first EMS VC3 synthesizers. It was in 1977, I saw this and said to myself, That is great! I went to see him at once and he told me yes, of course, do not play music with notes, make music with sounds, it is richer. I was sixteen, I wanted to enter the Studio of Electronic Musics of Warsaw Radio... but it was impossible because I was not a “confirmed composer” as the studio director said. So I did odd jobs. I was taking anything and the (contact) microphones were the least expensive to have the impression of a sound microscope”.

In 1979, he returns to Paris to go on with his academic studies. At the same time, he enters the IRCAM in which he studies notably with Costin Miereanu and Pierre Boulez. In 1987, he defends his master’s degree with Daniel Charles and his doctoral thesis, in 1991, with Iannis Xenakis. “I took as a basis the idea that there was nothing, and from this nothing I was going to start making music. With my university theses, I thus reconstructed a big global musical theory in which I have used the mathematical tools to create rhythms and try to understand music”
At the beginning of the eighties, he creates the PVC-Sax, an instrument based on an assembling of two tubes in PVC used with electricity, which are pierced with holes in respecting (or not) the harmonic system, and on which the beak of a saxophone is fixed. Since he has put the plans on his web site, of the Center of the Bomb, many amateurs contact him to ask for details on technical aspects.

But the object that will begin to haunt his mind at that time is just an accessory that you can find on numerous work tables and completely foreign to the musical universe: a desk lamp called Anglepoise lamp. From this ordinary element, a music instrument will come out, the Anglepoise lamp or Archisonic lamp, that Mathius Shadow-Sky will enrich with multiple elements as the years go by. “At the beginning, I had two distinct ideas that have naturally crossed each other afterwards: to record sounds directly on my tape recorder and also play in real time. I had this lamp on my desk, so why not use it!” This desire to do live musique concrète, to not work on recorded tape, is also born out of a rejection of the technical constraints of classical guitar, judged as anti-natural.

In 1983, during one of his first concerts, he uses a prepared guitar named ArcoLaidGuitar. The instrument is laid down on a table, ballasted with two contact microphones on which are laid a stone and an ashtray. Armed with two rosined wooden sticks, the guitar player proposes a music entitled : “It is impossible to give a title to this phenomenon because the unspeakable, beyond the extreme borders of space and time, has no name”. The sounds that come out of the instrument are disproportionate, almost symphonic-like. The gesture on the strings is slow, of a slowness that makes the acoustic richness appear of the lightest touches of the wooden bow. We are in Paris, in the buildings of the IRCAM and the reactions of the audience will not have to wait very long. People scream, “That’s a scandal” some say, others listen. “It is a music in which people are completely disoriented. To put it in simple words: to those who are pessimistic, it is the end of the world, and to those who are optimistic, it is the music of the creation of the world”.

With the Anglepoise lamp, a ready-made instrument in the way of Marcel Duchamp, Mathius Shadow-Sky goes on with and amplifies the acoustic research started during his education at the university. At the beginning, he uses it  pratically without modifying it, giving solo shows during several years. He plays with his fingers or with bows. Then, he adds elastics for the low notes, different types of strings, in unspinned steel or in copper. One of the last added elements is a spring coupled with a nylon string of classical guitar, from which an astonishing sound of bell comes out.

The instrument makes people puzzled, fascinated or shocked, but it does not leave them indifferent. Some musicians start to get interested in it. In 1988, Michel Redolfi, director of the Manca festival in Nice, suggests to the famous contemporary ensemble Les Percussions de Strasbourg to play  the music score (of an octogonal form, which is the transcription of the Kalandar of the Genoscope) of Mathius Shadow-sky for Anglepoise lamps. This score, formed of 93 structures describing the manner to play the instrument, is articulated around different games destined to put the instruments into competition. Unfortunately, the concert is a catastrophe. The too rigid play of the musicians does not succeed in finding back the funny and subversive spirit of the original work because the score of Ludus Musicae Temporarium (The Musical Games of Times) is a game.

In 1995, after he meets the musician Vincent Favre, Mathius Shadow-Sky creates the duet: 2 Lamplayers 5000 Years After. Both musicians, masked and costumed, play the musical transcription of the signs traced on a tablet of clay, “The Kalandar of the Genoscope” found  5000 years before in the valley of the Indus.  Helped by a sound engineer that spacializes the live sound of the lamps, the duet plays in surprising places for this type of strange music, notably in country halls transformed into show places with an imposing scenography that includes the often fascinated audience. To the ears of the laymen, the spatialized sounds that come out of the Archisonic lamps seem totally foreign to the strange instruments from which they come from. “The Anglepoise lamp is a little bit like a skeleton, you put what you want with it, except the wind instruments. You can play string instruments, with bows, with plucked strings, percussions, and all kinds of odd things, with fans, vibrators... I think that it can open perspectives for people who are in Music Academies because the technique is entirely to be invented and built up”.
The Archisonic lamp, diverted and subversive object, has become today a real musical object, symbol of a total freedom of invention and game. It has been transformed from a solist instrument to an orchestra instrument. By virtual reproduction, Mathius Shadow-Sky has increased its quantity to the impressing number of 161 to create in the last recording of the Lamplayer and the Machines: “ti.Me has no Age”, a monumental orchestra of lamps. Its initial passion for orchestral composition can thus express itself without any restraint.

Gérard Nicollet, from his book "Les Chercheurs de Sons" ed. Alternatives 2004
translation by Maxime Lachaud 2007.

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