Délires de plaisirs

Paul Dolden

Well, at last. In this day and age of minimal everything, here finally is a self-proclaimed maximalist. The Sound Projector, UK

… its playful irony and original synthesis of classical, popular, and non-Western styles. Toonage, Canada

Official launch at the Borderline Festival in Malmö (Sweden) on April 29, 2005.

  • Canada Council for the Arts • SODEC

CD (IMED 0577)

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 0577
  • 2005
  • UCC 771028057726
  • Total duration: 77:48
  • OGpak
  • 125 mm × 125 mm × 10 mm
  • 50 g

On the web

Download (IMED 0577_NUM)


Entropic Twilights: Explicating the Plague

At the beginning of the 21st century, listeners are inundated with music that wafts through every commercial space. Shopping malls have become tasting centers, wherein a book shop will pipe in a muzak-ed The Beatles tune while the clothes boutique next door is barking bass-heavy electronica. A little further down the stroll, light classical is shouldered alongside hip hop, creating a garbled omnipresence. There is no silence any more, only a miasma of unrelated ideas.

Paul Dolden coheres such babble in a single, densely packed meta-narrative. This is his voice, his style, condensing the shopper’s day, explicating the aural plague, giving it shape and substance. Since the 1980s, Dolden’s vision of the present has made the musical community prickly. His output does not tidily emerge from the austere modernist tradition, which has long lost its currency, except among composition instructors and their students. By today’s techno-standards, the musical descendants of Webern and Stravinsky sound nourishing up close, quaintly non-electric at a distance, and not quite real any more.

With his history of layering hundreds of recorded tracks, aggressively recalibrating the limits of orchestration, Dolden attacks classical music’s tail-eating inwardness and the weak fibres by which it clings to artistic relevance. 1989’s Below the Walls of Jericho, with its bristling fabric, was bent on enlivening the audience’s blood flow. It was a nasty shock in the concert hall, where shocks have been in short supply. Now Dolden offers a new sound in Entropic Twilights, a barrage of now, in the form of myriad musical genres, packed smart and tight like Bach’s counterpoint or Ligeti’s mircropolyphony. Entropic Twilights is tonal, less dissonant and longer than any previous works (49 minutes) and welcomes comedy back to serious music. Listen for when the dark, pulsing orchestral tensions melt into speedy jazz guitar at the end of the first movement and try not to smile. Let’s return to the humour aspect later.

Entropic Twilights begs a reappraisal of the vocabulary around Dolden’s music. Particularly, his often-touted ‘aesthetics of excess’ no longer seems to apply; the millions of notes heard on this recording, uncharacteristically, do not overload the listener. There are exactly enough of them.

‘Composer’ is another problematic term, because its classical inferences do not encapsulate what Dolden does. Other composers compose for the open air, only rarely with electronic assistance. Dolden composes for cyberspace, and this is best illustrated through Entropic Twilights. Gone are the raging blocks of scintillating klangfarben heard in the Jericho triptych. Entropic Twilights works instead with four brief melodies, stretched and compressed, beginning and ending at different positions around the body; you can actually feel one tune coming down into the top of your head as another strain spirals upward toward your jaw. This creates a unique sensation of panoramic space: the listener’s body feels like a magnet, drawing together musical Diaspora. At other times, there is a perception of physical movement, as if the listener was moving through audio chambers featuring walls of only recently imaginable timbres, among other individual melodic currents cruising at their own distinct tempos. Dolden does this by composing in stereo and realizing his ideas through recording engineering of the highest order.

Composers compose for the open air, while Dolden composes for recording technology, and this is a pertinent distinction: mediation becomes muse. During his suburban upbringing, young Dolden heard almost all music through radio and recordings, as did we all. His youthful compositional approach came under fire for its ‘unnatural’ fixation on microphones and loudspeakers over pure, unblemished instrumental sound. Ironically, live instruments are today a rarer treat than their electrically mediated facsimiles. ‘Nature,’ it would seem, is being overrun by reality. That irony is critical to Dolden’s approach. Responding to media mediation is, again, his style, an enterprise distinct from traditional composing. It is media art.

Dolden the media artist has also been called a maximalist, though that term means little more than containing more. There certainly is a lot of music in Entropic Twilights, but that is also true of every Mahler symphony. The term is misleading: ‘maximalist’ implies a school of composition that does not exist in any meaningful way. As for the use of different musical genres concurrently, Dolden is using genres the way Bach, Haydn, Schönberg, and Bartók used folk tunes. Dolden uses unorthodox instrumentation to capture those genres accurately: heavy metal through electric guitar, and gamelan through those gorgeous gongs.

Dolden is a staunch post-modernist, eager to play with signifiers and, luckily, he is witty enough to make genre splices splat or glisten. The jazzy guitar part that concludes Entropic Twilights’s opening movement, Twilight’s Nomadic Desire, almost goofily caps the more brooding, percussive choral stuff beforehand. It is a sudden shift, deliberately snuffing out a darker kind of tension in favour of something more exuberant. It is a pratfall, and also a serious demonstration of how to refresh the listener’s experience. The icy trance beforehand had been well prepared; the dreadful atmospheric integrity explodes while the music’s integrity holds fast. (Remember, we are dealing with very finite musical materials constantly reappearing in new garb: a four-melody Idée fixe.) The anticipation of the listener is mangled but the music’s logic remains intact, which seemingly goads the audience to listen less as academics and hear more as adventurers and joy riders.

Serious music has been skimpy on visceral thrills for a long time now, perhaps because popular music often is so good at evoking them. But 18th and 19th century listeners attended piano concertos in part for the wild ride of a virtuosic performance, a lively accompaniment, a yee-hah! This recent absence has cost the classical tradition dearly. Dolden’s Entropic Twilights livens up the situation, for all music. Entropic Twilights is a rejection of music’s pervasive tameness, via velocity and scale. Just as the healthiest artistic genres of today — film and the novel — appeal to the guts of the audience as much as they provide cerebral edification, Entropic Twilights evocates the breadth of our actual living experience, supercharged and relentlessly entertaining.

Entropic Twilights is a challenge to the classical scene and to those polite, piped in tunes, those vague prompters of commercial well being. It is ill to reduce music to a mere sickness imposed upon our sensibilities, to allow music’s value to be whittled away by flabby ubiquity and frippery. Dolden’s rebuttal is an action-packed tonic of fortifying, electric irony and multifarious, heads-up reality. Enjoy.

John Keillor [ii-05]

Production Methods for Entropic Twilights

First the work was composed on 140 pages. I remember it took me 137 days to compose the work. While composing I created the click tracks since many of the sections involve complex rhythmic phasing and I needed to see how the bars lined up to control the harmonic rhythm.

Next the individual parts were written out and musicians and singers were hired to perform the individual parts one at a time. I performed all the bowed and plectrum string parts. All the parts with sustained note values (i.e. melodic work) were performed four times each. All the parts were recorded in stereo using two AKG 414 UBL-S microphones. The microphone pre-amp was a tube amp made by Peavey (VMP 2). The signal was then placed through a Klark-Teknic Parametric Equalizer with different EQ curves for each instrument (These curves I have developed over many years of recording). The signal was then placed through a phase angle correction unit, the Barcus Berry BBE. Finally the signal was digitized using a Digidesign 882 I/O. All the performances were edited for greater accuracy. Next all parts involving the inharmonic samples (i.e. pitch shifted saucepans, bowls, wheel rims, various poles, bass drums, various gongs and tams and many types of bells) were created. In the case where samples doubled a performed part, the samples were edited following the rhythm of the live part.

The piece was originally premiered in September 2000. However I was still unhappy with the sound of the piece. For the next two years I re-mastered my three previous solos CDs: L’ivresse de la vitesse #1 and #2 and Seuil de silences (originally called The Threshold of Deafening Silence). During this remastering period I learned a lot about the new digital tools available to me. Secondly I began to realize that for Entropic Twilights I needed new types of production styles. I spend a great deal of time listening and studying other people’s productions and mixing techniques. However I may be alone in the inherent problems of dense multitracking. Moreover I may be really alone in my orchestration ideas. For example, in this work, I have 6 cymbal parts, 3 guiros, 3 shakers, castanets, maracas, 2 snares and I still want the flute part played softly in its first octave to cut through. Obviously a few sonic comprises have to be made. Here are a few engineering “tricks” I developed for this work.

I have come to believe in heavy compression of most instruments and voices because otherwise when all the tracks are together, you only hear the strong or penetrating parts of each instrument. (i.e. high notes on brass and flutes/piccolo, the low notes in saxophones, clarinets, vocal vowels which have high pitched formants, etc.). The problem with extensive compression of all tracks is that you start getting that static wall of sound. Secondly, percussive sounds with exponential envelopes cannot be clearly perceived through this wall of sound. (One tends to only hear the tick of their attacks). Therefore I developed dynamic settings for compression with optical-style compressors. One example: Attack: 100 (milliseconds) Release: 12 Ratio: 20:1 Threshold: -30 dB. These types of settings produce an articulation similar to a musical articulation of sfp (Fast loud attack and quick decay to soft). This is emphasized by the fact that optical compressors emphasize lower numbered harmonics as they go into deep compression. (In this case the soft or last part of the sound). Partially to offset this “darkness”, a dynamic treble enhancer was used after compression that kicked in as the signal became too dark. The quick reduction in level after the attack of each note or phrase allowed the short envelopes of the percussion instruments to be perceived in the final mix. In short I made the orchestral instruments more percussive.

Likewise I realized the pitched percussion instruments (metal, bowls, poles, gamelan instruments, plucked strings, gongs, tams, vibes, marimbas etc.) needed to become more sustained and less percussive. I designed extreme low level compressors for each instrument type. These compressors left the peak of each sound where it was and severely brought up the decay portion of the sound. To this decay portion I often added dynamic noise reduction and/or treble enhancers. I also added many short delays, in the 5 to 50 milliseconds range to these instruments in order to imitate the “timbral density” of the orchestral and voice parts. This timbral density for the orchestra instruments was created by recording each part four times. In addition for these pitched percussion instruments I often used multiband compressors and expanders designed to pull down the upper register during the bright attack portion. Lows and mids were brought up or down in conjunction with the previous low-level compressor.

Another sound quality problem I had in previous mixes was the build up of resonant peaks resulting in a muddy sound when many tracks were playing fast. In particular the resonant peaks of particular instruments become an almost steady hum or drone killing the rhythmic drive. For example both the piano and cello have strong resonant peaks between 85 and 110 Hz. When you have many tracks of the same sound source you get this sonic sludge in these resonant regions. In previous works I had worked with finding numerous resonant peaks and using notch filters to remove them. However acoustic instruments often have many closely spaced resonant peaks and by the time you are up to 10 or 20 notches you are starting to get a very thin sounding cello, piano, toms, etc. I realized I needed more of a gap or space between each note than was possible with human performance. In other words an extreme short staccato. This was done through fancy applications of gates in order not to cut off the initial attack transients of each note. First an extremely fast optical compressor was used to darken the sound after the initial attack. The next unit, the gate, was triggered by seeing only the bright attack transients. Next, another fast attack VCA high ratio compressor was used to even out the levels. Often a dynamic treble enhancer was added and/or a “de-clicker” to remove the clicks that did occur by gating. Often somewhere in the chain of plug-ins a multi-band compressor/expander was needed. For each part I also produced a very fat or full sounding compressed version which did not use gating. In the final mix I would have the staccato or gated version and the legato compressed version at the same time. I would achieve a balance between the two and sometimes vary their mixture levels. In some passages only the gated versions appears in the final mix. When only using the gated version identification of the instrument is often impossible. However following the pitch pattern is possible because the gated short notes ended up being around 20-40 milliseconds long.

A similar approach was used on cymbals, shakers, guiros, hi-hats, toms, timpani, bass drum, low gamelan tams, electric bass, acoustic bass, contra bassoon, tuba. A short gated version and a fat compressed version were produced for each performance. In the final mix the gated version produced the rhythmic articulation and compressed version produced a resonant big sound. In the final mix there was a tendency to use more of the gated version when the two rhythmic sections had “pulled apart” either through the use of phasing or two different tempos. The most time consuming part of all this work was when I had sounds for which I could not gate electronically. For example, all the electric bass parts I went through and edited in a silence between each note. Therefore the gate had a chance to identify each note separately and then shorten each that note accordingly.

There were other processes involved to get the sound of Entropic Twilights which are too numerous to mention. However I would like to mention one recording innovation I used for drums. I first used this idea during the remastering of older works phase (2000-2002) (in Beyond the Walls of Jericho and Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3). My problem with drum recordings previously is that I had been using standard industry procedures. When I got to the final mix I found I did not have enough level control over individual drum pieces, because of the bleed of sound. (i.e. sound of the hi-hat in almost every microphone etc). I realized I needed to record the drums in the same manner as I did every other sound: one piece at a time. This allowed for individual level control in the final mix and individual settings of compression and equalization for each drum piece. Moreover having the player free from playing the entire kit at the same time allowed for certain articulations that are not otherwise possible. For example the six cymbals parts play a continuous ride in the feel of the musical section. In addition I had the player (Phillipe Keyser) play two bars normal and then two bars where he choked or stopped the sound of the cymbal after each stick stroke, with his free hand. This prevented the buildup of the cymbals in the mix that you often hear in a typical rock mix in which once the drummer starts bashing on the ride cymbal everything else is masked because of the 300 Hz to 20 kHz broadband noise of the cymbal. Likewise having 6 cymbals, like the 3 guiros and 3 shakers, is to create a timbral density equal to the instrumental parts.

My intention in Entropic Twilights was to produce a beautiful recording that constantly varied its sound and therefore the production procedures (for example sections that are very “orchestral”, sections that seem to swing like the best big bands, sections that “rocked” you into the ground). Unlike most composers or producers who create one type of “sound world” this is still my biggest challenge which means developing an extremely flexible audio production technique. In addition I am doing sound constellations that cannot occur with acoustic ensembles.

As a final comment I realize my music, particularly since L’ivresse de la vitesse, has become about the same musical materials being performed by a constantly changing instrumentation. In this piece, the four melodies are only developed in a limited manner, and no other melodic materials are introduced. Contrasts are created by each section having a unique orchestration that is never repeated again in the work. By contrast, the instrumental composer normally deals with a fixed instrumentation for the duration of the composition, whether it is a string quartet, orchestra, or solo flute. In most styles of writing the compositional decisions and tensions are based on the introduction of new material and/or more extended variation/development of existing material. Clearly my working method elevates the art of orchestration coupled with audio engineering to a dominant compositional concern. At the point of this writing, the obvious question is whether I want to change this balance.

Paul Dolden, Montréal [ii-05]

Featured Musicians in Entropic Twilights

Paul Dolden: electric and acoustic guitar, electric and acoustic bass, violin, viola, cello, dulcimer, sitar, banjo, tams, gongs, bowls, wheel rims, metal poles, metal plates, various bells, gamelan orchestra instruments
Phillipe Keyser: drum kits
John Korsrud: trumpet
Derrick Christian: bass voice
Hamish Gordon: oboe, english horn
Johanna Hauser: clarinet, bass clarinet
Liz Hamel: alto voice, tenor and bass recorder
Brock Campbell: tuba
Nick Apivor: marimba, vibes, congas, shakers, guiros, castenets, maracas, timpani
Elliot Polsky: bata drums, timbales
Lorraine Reinhardt: soprano voice
Bill Runge: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes
Jason Cook: boy soprano
Ingrid Chiang: bassoon, contra bassoon.
Rod Murray: trombone
Jonathan Quick: tenor voice
Chenoa Anderson: flute, piccolo
Jeff Nelson: french horn


Some recommended items
In the press


Aaron Robertson, The Sound Projector, no. 15, January 1, 2007
Well, at last. In this day and age of minimal everything, here finally is a self-proclaimed maximalist.

Paul Dolden

John Keillor, Toonage, May 28, 2006

[Reprinted from Vancouver Review #6, Summer 2005]

… its playful irony and original synthesis of classical, popular, and non-Western styles.


Jan Willem Broek, De Subjectivisten, November 18, 2005

Een delirium voor je plezier, kan dat? Volgens Paul Dolden wel, want niet alleen de titel van zijn vierde cd Délires de plaisirs maar ook de muziek zelf past bij dat thema. De Canadees brengt zijn muziek uit op het label empreintes DIGITALes, dat zich normaliter kenmerkt door bijzondere elektro-akoestische muziek en musique concrète. Dolden lijkt zich in de eerste vier stukken (Entropic Twilights) als een dolleman met progrock, ethnische percussie en koren de klassieke muziek aan te vallen. Hij stort zoveel stijlen, genres en samples door elkaar, dat het een plunderphonics-grabbelton vol onherkenbare referenties is geworden. Tussen alle gekanaliseerde kakofonie zitten heel mooi rustieke stukken. Het is een soort op hol geslagen musique concrète geworden, waarin hij op ingenieuze wijze de caleidoscopische puzzel in elkaar schuift, waarvan de stukjes gevormd lijken te worden door Stravinsky, Webern, The Residents, John Oswald, Univers Zero en Zappa. Het zou nog fraaier zijn geweest als hij het minder digitaal had laten klinken. Verder zijn het 50 minuten vol overdonderende machinale en klassieke flarden. Het vijfde en zesde stuk The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 en The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 komen uit zijn Resonance-cyclus. De eerste duurt bijna 14 minuten is geschreven voor fluit en tape. In het begin lijkt een soort new age variant van musique concrète te worden. Al snel gaat ook hier de krachtige machine draaien en wordt het een bijna orgastische ontlading van geluid. Gesamplede elektronica, stemmen, trompetten, orkesten en de fluit verhullen ook weer de vele klassieke referenties. Het tweede van iets meer dan 14 minuten zou een subtiel stuk doen vermoeden, aangezien het geschreven is voor 4 violen, 2 altviolen, 2 contrabassen en 2 cello’s. Overigens speelt Paul naast gitaar die instrumenten zelf. Op wat rustige jazzy intermezzo’s na, voert Dolden ook hier tempo en volume op. Op bijna metalachtige en soms bombastische wijze presenteert hij de toegepaste klassieke muziek. Ik houd hier zeker van, maar ben toch ook nieuwsgierig naar een meer subtiele aanpak, maar daar zijn op zich genoeg anderen voor te vinden op het label. Eén tip: niet draaien bij knetterende hoofdpijn, romantische avonden of überhaupt in gezelschap. Lekker hard in je eentje genieten van het werkelijk verpletterende, delirium opwekkende geluid.

Paul Dolden vs Gilles Gobeil

Tobias Bolt, quietnoise, November 18, 2005

Tape-Aufnahmen als Basis und das Tonstudio als unverzichtbares kreatives Element bilden die gemeinsamen Ausgangspunkte für die beiden zeitgenössischen Komponisten aus Kanada, deren musikalische Manifestationen in Form zweier Alben auf empreintes DIGITALes unterschiedlicher nicht ausfallen konnten: Gilles Gobeil und Paul Dolden.

Paul Dolden, zu dessen Markenzeichen ja ein gewisser, nun, milde ausgedrückt, verschwenderischer Kompositionsstil zählt und der hier – unter anderem – sein, zumindest der Länge nach, umfangreichstes Werk vorlegt. Knapp 50 Minuten messen die vier Teile von Entropic Twilights, in welche per exzessivem Multitracking 400 Jahre Musikgeschichte hineinkondensiert wurden. In ein paar Takten vom Kontrapunkt zum Metal-Riff. Rock, Oper, Klassik, Pop, Avantgarde – alles da, ein riesiges virtuelles Orchester, das ein schräges, knallbuntes Musical intoniert. Unglaublich perfekt zusammengebastelt, rotiert dieses Stil-Stroboskop permanent auf Höchstgeschwindigkeit – nach wenigen Minuten ist meine Wahrnehmungsschmerzgrenze erreicht. Selbst das Cover ist zuviel des Guten. Aber: ich persönlich hege ja keinen Zweifel daran, dass immer dort, wo sich Nerdtum mit Größenwahn paaren, es zwangsweise interessant wird. Zum Beispiel: um eine in hunderten Arbeitsstunden perfekt hergestellte Modelleisenbahnanlage geil zu finden, muss ich mich nicht zwangsweise für Züge interessieren. Vorsicht: ich möchte Dolden jetzt nicht auf einen autistischen Nerd reduzieren, nichts läge mir ferner. Er hat, trotz eines leichten Hanges zur Überironisierung, offenbar eine bemerkenswert klare Vision, die er künstlerisch wie auch technisch in einzigartiger Weise umsetzen kann. Und ich habe großen Respekt, vor dem, was er geschaffen hat, auch wenn ich auf rein musikalischer Ebene einen unmittelbaren Zugang nicht immer einfach finden und vieles nicht nachvollziehen kann. Was naturgemäß auch noch für die beiden abschließenden, Mitte der Neunziger entstandenen, Stücke The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 und The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 gilt.

Ganz anders geht es mir mit Gilles Gobeil, der seine zwischen 1988 und 2002 komponierten Werke unter dem Titel Trilogie d’ondes in 48kHz/24Bit-Qualität auf DVD veröffentlichen lässt. Seine Handschrift drückt sich in einer sehr linear strukturierten Herangehensweise aus, innerhalb derer er in den vorliegenden drei Stücken Tape-Aufnahmen und von Suzanne Binet-Audet gespielte Ondes Martenot (ein monophones elektronisches Instrument, das Ender der Zwanziger-Jahre von Maurice Martenot entwickelt wurde, ein seltsamer Hybrid aus Theremin und Klavier) wiederholt zu sich langsam steigernden Crescendi montiert. Intensivierung, Klimax und Stille bilden in ihrer Repetition schon bald einen sehr natürlichen Prozess, der, obschon stellenweise eine orchestrale Form annehmend, in seiner Intention eindeutig minimalistischer Prägung ist und zu dem ich schnell eine intuitive Beziehung aufbauen kann, nämlich schon während des ersten Hördurchganges. Auch nutzt Gobeil ebenfalls exzessiv die Möglichkeiten des Studios – alle hier enthaltenen Aufnahmen wurden übrigens in den letzten beiden Jahren neu eingespielt und abgemischt bzw. nachbearbeitet – allerdings setzt er seinen Perfektionismus, im Gegensatz zu Dolden, dem hier mehr an einer Ironisierung durch Überhöhung und Übertreibung gelegen ist, zu einer konzentrierten Aufmerksamkeitsfokussierung ein und schafft so ein elektro-akustisches Meisterwerk.

… zu einer konzentrierten Aufmerksamkeitsfokussierung ein und schafft so ein elektro-akustisches Meisterwerk.


François Couture, AllMusic, November 15, 2005

Paul Dolden’s albums are few and far between and there is a very simple explanation for that. Just listen to Entropic Twilights, the 49-minute opus taking up most of this CD to hear how many tracks are stacked up, how many fragments juxtaposed, how many structures interlocked. Produced over five years, this triptych draws its inspiration from the overwhelming quantity of music and sounds we are exposed to in a day. Dolden puts so-called serious music, rock, jazz and muzak all on the same level, editing drums and electric guitar into choral passages, using cheesy keyboards in Stockhausen-esque developments. At times, the whole thing sounds like one of Tim Brady’s large projects times ten. Dolden shuffles genres, approaches, winks and quotes, the result being a riveting, engrossed thrill ride that will leave you panting. Maximalist and extremely detailed, the piece is a tour de force and succeeds in illustrating how our constant exposure to all kinds of music tends to drag it all down to a single level. The program on Délires de plaisirs is rounded up by two more pieces from Dolden’s Resonance series, numbers 5 and 3. The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 features flutist Chenoa Anderson in a virtuoso contest against herself and Dolden’s banks of samples. The piece is built over graceful melodies that grow increasingly frantic. The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 follows a similar pattern, although this time the featured performer is Dolden, playing a 10-piece string ensemble all by himself. With its added drums, electric guitar and vocal sections, this work takes us back to the organized eclecticism of Entropic Twilights, by way of Frank Zappa’s cross-stylistic fantasies. Demanding, exhausting, but extremely rewarding.

Demanding, exhausting, but extremely rewarding.


Andrea Ferraris, Chain DLK, October 25, 2005

Composer Paul Dolden arrives at his fourth album on the prestigious canadian label empreintes DIGITALes. As you probably know if you ever heard something on this label you know they often deal with material that’s “learned music”, but at the same time their rooster is full of musicians with a big personality: the obvious result is that the most of their releases is simply out of ordinary. Paul Dolden shows he combined such a big range of influences that’s hard to think how he can mix it all together, do you think I’m exaggerating?… ok, who else ever mixed together “contemporary classic music” (it reminds me basically of many contemporary american composer of the last half of Twentieth century), keyboards that “taste” of Mike Oldfield crossed with Philip Glass, fast guitar-solos in the style of Satriani tripping for Paganini exercises and a good amount of studio production? The first four tracks are different movements of Dolden’s latest work: Entropic Twilights, The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 and The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 (great title!!) instead have been composed in the midst of the nineties, but the personal style of this composer was already formed therefore it all sounds homogeneous. Can you imagine “contemporary-classic-glam-music”?… well that’s it! I think there’s a lot of irony in the music and in the approach of this canadian: on the cover of this digipack there’s the shadow of a long haired biker playing a violin while flying surrounded by mountains, some guitar necks are hanging on the back of his motorcycle and instead of being followed by gas his bike is followed by notes. I can’t say I’ve been blown away by this cd but for sure I’ve never heard anything like that before.

… for sure I’ve never heard anything like that before.


Tom Sekowski, The WholeNote, no. 11:1, September 1, 2005

Always a composer who has understood the meaning of density in a work, Paul Dolden returns once again with Délires de plaisirs ([featuring the work] Entropic Twilights).

If you’re wondering if Dolden has softened his edge for the complex multi-dimensional rhythm tracks and computer-generated layers, the answer is a plain, resounding no. The album sees him in full control of his virtual orchestra. Of course, it’s an orchestra on paper only, as his computer is fed the various instrumental parts, which are then neatly (or less neatly – depending on the composer’s mood, I guess) organized into individual tracks. If you thought his other works were dense, wait until you hear the title piece – which comes complete with noisy guitars, altered percussion, some flutes and this thick, thick layer of distortion. All in all, Dolden had to go back and absorb new production techniques in order to come up with the precise sound that he was looking for. We’re talking about relentlessly dense multi-tracking here and the result is absolutely a work of wonder. Just to be able to hear this piece without an opinion is next to impossible. Some may call this a work of a madman. It’s obviously not a work for everyone as the novelty and uniqueness of it may scare the fans of the more conventional. But if you’re looking for something new and challenging, Délires de plaisirs is yet another work of genius from this much misunderstood Canadian composer.

… yet another work of genius from this much misunderstood Canadian composer.

Tamed Beast

John Keillor, Vancouver Review, no. 6, June 1, 2005

After decades of pissing people off, Burnaby-boy-cum Montréaler Paul Dolden has written an irrefutable masterpiece. Entropic Twilights (ET), the 49-minute opening track of his new CD Délires de plaisirs, is a postmodern genre-romp of colossal scale. While the rest of the CD treads more recognizable ground, this piece is new territory for the internationally fêted, if locally ignored, electroacoustic composer, with its playful irony and original synthesis of classical, popular, and non-Western styles.

Until this release, Dolden’s music can be summarily described as ferocious, featuring huge, raging blocks of musical colour seething with electric invasiveness. The older material’s shocking amounts of input at exceedingly high volume (in concert settings, anyway) recalibrated listeners’ blood flow by sheer aural force. Back in the ’80s, many of Dolden’s musical peers were, frankly, offended by the overwhelming character of his output, and these people will be interested to know that ET is a different sort of work. While not an artistic olive branch by any means, it is definitely approachable.

A downright populist piece, ET features jokes, simples tunes, and pratfalls of sudden stylistic redirection: huge orchestral episodes culminating in stoner guitar rock, for example. Yet the integrity of the language doesn’t fall apart midstream; it careens on without losing steam. The work was constructed through a digitized version of his former audiotape technique. Dolden records hundreds of individual instrument and voice parts, then stretches or compresses these beyond idiomatic performance possibility. He then layers them by the hundreds to create previously unimaginable soundscapes.

One big difference from the earlier material is the grab bag of styles from which he freely draws. Palestrina’s vocal writing can be heard alongside Ravelesque orchestration, punk rock, jazz, disco, African drumming, and gamelan gongs. In his hands, this approach is no mere crazy quilt of alternating musical genres. He not only layers sounds but also lays them out sequentially. The parts weave together thematically, reinforcing each other via four brief, friendly tonal melodies in the key of C, producing musical pranks of lightness and subtlety.

ET even goes as far as outright, delighted cheesiness. One such moment is right at the beginning as a portentous heavy-metal guitar solo wails tearfully, metal-ballad style, over gongs and winds heard at super-low registers. The composer himself performs the solo, in real time. He’s an immaculate, feeling player, and this ballsy overture hails the central theme of the piece: Bring the entertainment factor back into classical music, for god’s sake!

The 20th century and all its unsmiling avant-garde composers, such as Pierre Boulez and Morton Feldman (whose music I actually like), managed to alienate the world. They did so in search of a perfect musical language while ignoring the interests of the general public. Today, it’s almost impossible to sell 20th-century classical CDs. Record companies produce them in order to appear aesthetically concerned, and so they should. Today’s classical music needs all the help it can get.

In the 19th century, classical music actually competed with all other forms of entertainment, often holding its own without patrons or government funding. Sometimes its composers did, however, have unstoppable competition. There’s a tale of one 1860’s night in Paris, where three illustrious piano virtuosos, — Sigismund Thalberg, Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann — were all performing at separate venues. Each naturally wanted to outsell the other two. But on this particular night, all three concerts were embarrassingly under-attended because there were giraffes in town for the first time, and everyone went to see them instead.

Of course, on other evenings all three pianists made heaps of money and endured a dozen curtain calls. On those occasions, no other marketable distraction could compete with the public interest in their playing, or with the scores that had been written for them. The point, here, is that classical music used to be a competitive cultural force and now it’s moribund, swept aside by movies and cheap internet pornography-and that fact angers Dolden.

But ET doesn’t sound angry. It’s like a rectified collusion of the musical patter we hear in public spaces. Imagine all the piped-in music from different stores in a shopping mall playing simultaneously. What Dolden hears here, I believe, is a sort of musical ship’s graveyard, filled with floating corpses of gutless reggae and world beat and flaccid Mozart and techno, lolling uselessly as the shoppers meanders about, obliviously comparing prices. Regard this situation for what it is: a consumerist victory over music, its meaning drained, its fleet broken. Dolden’s work attempts to revamp the rigging and get real music back into the battle for a place in our collective psyche.

It’s a battle worth fighting, and, on this front, Dolden’s captaincy his producing some notable gains. Two years ago, he sold out a South American tour. More recently, he was the featured artist at the Borderline Festival in Malmö, Sweden, with half a dozen concerts showcasing his work. Some of his previous discs, such as Seuil de silences, sold out and had to be repressed. And unlike almost every other professional composer in the world, he doesn’t have to teach. He makes enough money just composing. He’s walking the walk.

ET demonstrates how the world can be drawn back to classical music through entertaining sophistication. While the avant-garde searches for a new musical language by means of wispy dissonance, this piece consists of comically consonant counterpoint, producing a visionary artistic direction in the form of a wild ride-like a roller coaster designed by NASA. This is Dolden’s Valhalla and his Disneyland, and he is clearly enjoying himself.

The importance of a composer’s pleasure cannot be underestimated. It brings to mind a tame about Claude Debussy’s conservatory days: Upon hearing him perform on of his youthful compositions, his affronted professors complained that their student was not following conventional harmonic rules. Debussy replied that he did not follow conventional harmonic rules. The academic rejoinder was, What rules did Debussy follow, exactly? “Mon plaisir,” he famously replied. Debussy is not perhaps the last of the avant-garde composers in history to be found in mainstream concert programs.

Debussy’s oeuvre began with an anti-Wagnerian fire that cooled over time into something personal and impressionistic. Similarly, Dolden’s belligerence is now more genius than rebellion. Academics may still sniff at his approach, as they did at young Debussy’s. Check out ET, dear reader, with its assured grasp of today’s jumbled commercial anxiety, and decide for yourself who is right.

The piece is Dolden’s Valhalla and his Disneyland, and he is clearly enjoying himself.

Paul Dolden: le plaisir du son

Guy Marceau, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no. 12:2, June 1, 2005

Une équation se dessine d’emblée lorsqu’on écoute L’ivresse de la vitesse (1992), une des œuvres de Paul Dolden qui a fait l’unanimité des milieux musicaux contemporains ici et en Europe, et qu’on écoute le volubile compositeur parler de son art. À bientôt 50 ans, avec une propension à l’excès, l’accélération et l’accumulation des plans sonores, Paul Dolden parle aussi vite que la musique qu’il compose, mais ralentit un peu lorsqu’il clame ne pas être un vrai électroacousticien. Comment le situer?

Paul Dolden, né à Vancouver mais vivant à Montréal, a tout du compositeur atypique mais passionné de musique. Très easy going, cheveux longs, relent du freak qu’il était dans les années 70, attitude un peu désinvolte et joyeusement pince-sans-rire, il est surtout très allumé et non élitiste. «Même si on compose la musique à l’aide de machines électroniques et numériques, il faut toujours rester dans le plaisir organique, de la même manière qu’on écoute simplement Led Zeppelin ou Brahms par exemple, explique Paul Dolden. Je ne suis pas un électroacousticien au sens de Robert Normandeau, par exemple, notre travail est très différent. J’aime notamment intégrer à ma musique des instruments acoustiques et des emprunts au rock ou au jazz, des styles que j’ai toujours eu beaucoup de plaisir à écouter. Ma musique parle plus au corps et au cœur qu’à la tête.»

Dolden fait mentir l’adage Less is more. Il excelle dans la surimpression de styles musicaux disparates, «pas pour en faire de bêtes pastiches, précise-t-il, mais bien pour exploiter les grandes beautés de ces musiques dans une orchestration imposante que la machine me permet de réaliser et qu’aucun orchestre ne pourrait jouer. Dans mes œuvres, je peux superposer jusqu’à 400 couches musicales pour créer mes sonorités…» À l’écoute, en effet, sa musique parle à tous nos sens: puissante, obsédante et parfois décadente, toujours hautement chargée et recherchée. Il combine ce souci de l’ordre dans le désordre, l’idée de vitesse dans le contrôle, en exploitant les textures, ryrthmes et sonorités sur l’échelle élastique du temps au profit d’une plasticité des plus incarnées. On pense parfois à Varèse ou Zappa, mais toujours dans un «traitement électronique sensible».


Rockeur dans l’âme, Paul Dolden apprend à 16 ans la guitare électrique, puis le violon et la basse en solo. Il s’est même récemment mis au violoncelle! Las de faire de la scène (rock, jazz) dans des spectacles et avec des groupes à géométrie variable de Vancouver, il se lance dans l’expérimentation électronique au joyeux temps de la technologie analogique. «La nécessité est la mère de toutes les inventions. En cherchant de nouvelles façons de faire ma musique, j’ai découvert toute la quincaillerie électronique des années 70. C’est fou ce qu’on peut faire avec ça! Mais, tout comme maintenant, la machine était un moyen, pas une fin en soi.» Ses bidouillages créatifs font mouche au Canada: dès 1981, Paul Dolden remporte des premiers prix coup sur coup. «Avec ces prix, on me disait entre les lignes que la musique que je composais était ce qui se faisait de mieux au Canada! Alors j’ai continué, pensez-donc!»

Et des prix, il y en aura plus d’une vingtaine d’autres. Presque chaque année, une de ses œuvres reçoit une récompense par ses pairs de l’industrie musicale contemporaine et électroacoustique canadienne. La bonne nouvelle se répand ensuite hors de nos frontières et dès 1984, ses œuvres sont primées en Italie, France, États-Unis, République Tchèque, Suède, Angleterre… Un pied de nez à certains autres compositeurs canadiens, puisqu’il n’a pas le profil académique universitaire requis, mais bien seulement un baccalauréat en histoire générale…

Revisiter ses œuvres

Pour qui voudrait entendre le fruit de sa créativité, l’essentiel de ses enregistrernents figure chez empreintes DIGITALes. Son avant-dernier, Seuil de silences (2003), remportait en janvier dernier le Prix Opus du disque de l’année dans la catégorie Musique actuelle, électroacoustique. L’album réunit des œuvres de 1987 à 1996 où, à la trame numérique, s’ajoute le jeu de trois solistes, Julie-Anne Derome (violon), François Houle (clarinette) et Leslie Wyber (piano). «Il faut savoir qu’avec la venue du numérique, j’ai décidé de remixer toutes mes œuvres… Compte tenu que pour réussir à produire une pièce de 15 minutes, il me faut souvent plus de 50 heures de travail, j’en ai eu au total pour un pou plus de deux ans!» Paul Dolden dit avoir fait ce travail pour rendre justice aux œuvres elles-mêmes, qui devenaient ainsi plus précises, plus efficaces et plus sonores.

Rétrospective en Suède

Après plus de 20 ans de carrière, et quelque 40 œuvres plus tard, la reconnaissance ne s’est pas démentie. À la fin avril, Paul Dolden était l’artiste invité au Borderlines Festival en Suède où l’on présentait une rétrospective de ses œuvres (12 pièces, dont deux créations, en neuf jours). Et l’affiche était prestigieuse: aux côtés de ses œuvres, 12 signées Gyorgy Ligeti, un des importants compositeurs du 20e siècle, Ligeti et Dolden partagent certaines approches et techniques d’écriture, notamment dans la complexité polyrythmique. Dolden était en quelque sorte le porte-parole canadien d’une facette de notre paysage musical contemporain électroacoustique, ce qui visiblement l’enchante. Un projet en chantier? «Toujours! Je travaille présentement sur une installation sonore à grande échelle qui se tiendra l’an prochain pendant un mois à la Galerie Diapason de Manhattan (New York).»

Avril a vu la parution de son dernier disque, Délires de plaisirs, regroupant des œuvres remixées dont Entropic Twilights (1997-2002) pour bande en trois mouvements, The Gravity of Silence. Resonance #5 (1996) pour flûte et bande, et The Heart Tears itself Apart with the Power of its own Muscle. Resonance #3 (1995) pour 10 cordes et bande. Aux atmosphères très prenantes s’ajoutent de larges citations musicales, dans une orgie de références très ludiques. La musique force l’écoute et ne laisse pas indifférent. On peut en écouter des extraits sur le site d’empreintes DIGITALes au www.empreintesdigitales.com.

Aux atmosphères très prenantes s’ajoutent de larges citations musicales, dans une orgie de références très ludiques.