In my label introduction, I mentioned that the music on empreintes DIGITALes generally falls into the Acousmatic/Electro-Acoustic/musique concrete style. Well, I’m going to have to take issue (with myself at least) because, as the good Captain Beefheart said, “Labels are for cans, man”. Paul Dolden’s 2017 mega-epic does not really fit the mold. I realize this release may be an odd one to start this series with but since I’ve been bingeing on Dolden’s music for the better part of 3 weeks now, this is where we begin.
Dolden has been composing and recording for well over 3 decades now but only has a surprisingly few releases that have made it out into the wild. Histoires d’histoire is his latest. I’ve heard and greatly enjoyed most of his material and I would feel comfortable in saying he’s a slow but extremely meticulous, exacting composer. And why shouldn’t he be? Wouldn’t you be slow too if you were layering hundreds upon hundreds of tracks on top of each other? Wouldn’t you want to take your time to get that mix just right so you can hear EVERYTHING that is going on within these layers? Wouldn’t you have to master what I can only imagine to be a huge learning curve to conquer, or at least tame the tech that allows you to create such massive monoliths of sound?
And what about the compositions themselves? Shouldn’t it take, like forever to compose, let alone arrange this exceedingly (to my ears) complex music? Wouldn’t the painstaking work of documenting this work with scores take awhile? One would certainly think you would need some musical chops to play this complex music, right? When you’re living in Dolden’s world, the answers to all these rhetorical questions is, of course, a resounding YES?
Defending his work ethic aside, on to the music itself. I’ve seen the term “maximalist” thrown around quite a bit when describing his work (labels/cans… I know). This music definitely inhabits the “more is more” realm. You can begin anywhere within this 80-minute album and the first thing you will probably notice (after your brain re-sets itself to assimilate the microtonal, odd tunings, and polyrhythms he liberally employs), is the sheer amount of detail in each piece. Electric guitars and keyboards (the Electro) stand proudly next to the army of flutes, brass, cello, choir, percussion, and trap sets (the Acoustic) to create a living, breathing beast of a thing. Certainly, something that takes a myriad of listens to even begin to understand, if understanding it is indeed possible. Yeah, this music takes work.
The work will pay off though, depending on your attentiveness and personal ear it may be sooner, or later, but it will pay off. Without going into detail about each and every piece, the album is comprised of 3 long compositions. The first 44-minute piece, Music of Another Present Era is further subdivided into 5 shorter parts. The remaining 2 pieces are shorter, clocking in at 18 minutes and 16 minutes respectively. On this album, Dolden is exploring musics multi-cultural qualities by creating a mishmosh of sounds and moods that are constantly morphing in and around, and back in again to each other.
I can’t really think of many composers working in this style. Dolden’s sound is “unique” to say the least. As possible signposts, Dirk “Mont” Campbell’s Music from a Round Tower may point you in a similar direction. Jade Warrior’s Island label releases also give off a similar vibe. Biota/Mnemonists maybe for their recording techniques? None will get you close to the breadth, depth, and overall “bigness” of sound though. Give this album a listen, and prepare to fractalize yourself.
Portail is released on the Empreintes Digitales label, which means you’re about to embark on some mind-boggling electroacoustic soundscapes. Such is definitely the case on this release, even though the music presented here may be somewhat more accessible than other releases on the label.
Dennis Smalley (b. 1946) is a veteran of the electro-acoustic music scene. He studied in Olivier Messiaen’s composition class in Paris and took the electroacoustic music course run by the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales). Initially, he worked with tape, but in the early 80’s he switched to using computer software. A true pioneer of electroacoustic music, its practice and its theory.
Portail is Smalley’s third release (on Empreinted Digitales) after a 20-year ‘pause’. It presents recent multichannel works: Fabrezan Preludes (2015-2016) and Sommeil de Rameau (2014-15). Both were originally composed for 8-channels (oh man, I wish… don’t get me started…), but are converted to stereo ambisonics for this release (by Jonty Harrison) — so headphone listening is recommended.
Also included is one of his earliest compositions: The Pulses of Time (1978), which, by the way, is quite different from the previous two compositions.
In the two recent works, some titles refer to classical composers: Sommeil de Rameau (‘Rameau’s Sleep’), of course, and also Debussy’s Cathedral, directly referring to Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie (The Submerged Cathedral).
The last title alone made me think of the reinterpretation of this piece by Isao Tomita on his 1974 debut album Snowflakes Are Dancing. And from there I realized there were similarities in the approach of this material (which can best be heard in Sommeil de Rameau), even when there are fundamental differences too. Unlike Tomita, Smalley doesn’t aim to meticulously re-create the classical score: his compositions are entirely his own. And I assume that the techniques used to create this music are also completely different.
But in taking “the transformation and development of a pair of resonant chords from Debussy’s piano prelude”, or when “drawing on characteristics of the sleep scene in French Baroque stage works and cantatas, which first occurred in a comédie-ballet by Molière and Lully the homage to Jean-Philippe Rameau ”, Smalley uses the same washes of ‘engulfing’ sound to create his musical atmospheres.
A dreamlike atmosphere, for the most part: “When a sleep scene is invoked, a main character is exhorted to sleep, and dramatic action is suspended. The music may be solely instrumental, or may involve sung commentary, where, for example, the singers personify dreamed thoughts or suggest future courses of action. The musical style, with its slowish harmonic motion, undulating or rocking contours, and airy instrumentation (typically strings and flutes), is intended to create a contemplative atmosphere and a sense of timelessness.”
A vent’anni dalla sua ultima pubblicazione, torna in grande stile Denis Smalley, compositore neozelandese di musica elettroacustica, con una coppia di album: Portail, pubblicato a metà dicembre 2020 per Empreintes DIGITALes , e Vues spectrales, che invece vedrà la luce a febbraio di quest’anno. Portail comprende tre brani: Fabrezan Preludes, idealmente diviso in tre atti e composto tra il 2015 e il 2016, Sommeil de Rameau, risalente al biennio precedente, e The Pulses of Time, composta invece nel 1978. L’album si apre con Fabrezan Preludes 1: Portal, che presenta la leggenda della città di Ys, sommersa a largo di Brittany, della cui chiesa, si narra, si possono ancora udire le campane quando il mare è calmo. Portal è un ingresso timido e discreto nella maestosità della navata centrale, mentre Fabrezan Preludes 2: Debussy’s Cathedral prende le mosse dall’omonimo preludio di Debussy e si sviluppa regalando un senso di spaziosità, attraverso un moto ondulatorio e oscillante. C’è un’atmosfera decisamente più inquieta in Fabrezan Preludes 3: The Voices of Circius, seppure con la stessa grazia e la stessa delicatezza. Note cinematografiche permeano Sommeil de Rameau, oltre a un senso di sospensione temporale che restituisce l’immagine visiva del sonno. Dalla contemplativa Sommeil de Rameau, si passa al pulsare regolare di The Pulses of Time, fra armonie metalliche e percussioni leggere, che chiudono l’opera. Portail rappresenta un ritorno graditissimo, anche al netto di un ultimo brano leggermente fuori contesto rispetto ai precedenti. Nell’attesa di febbraio, non resta che godersi Portail.
Son travail sur les textures est pleinement concentré sur l’approche acousmatique, enveloppant l’auditeur dans un magma de sonorités déchues sur des rivages post-apocalyptiques.
Il y a comme un air de fin du monde dans sa musique, enrobée de palpitations et de soupirs métalliques, de ruissellements et de corrosion, de corps liquéfiés serpentant entre des flaques d’azote liquide.
La notion d’espace est omniprésente dans chaque titre, un espace tournoyant capable de s’approcher au plus près et de s’éloigner dans des sphères quasi intouchables, caressant nos tympans et ébranlant nos sens, jouant à nous perdre et à nous surprendre, dessinant des trajectoires aux surfaces glissantes et menaçantes. Un recueil de titres en osmose avec l’année 2020.