Mr. Dolden has something that is rare and worth preserving: a unique and original point of view. He has sufficient craft and means to realize his point of view, and the results, for the most part, are compelling, and often quite beautiful. His manipulations of sound mass alone probably deserve their own chapter in electronic music texts of the next millennium. But there is a pervasive sense that he is rendered deaf by his own discourse, and that particular directions of the music’s flow have been chosen for discursive rather than musical reasons. For example, “…it is well known to any consumer of media music that in order to be considered artistic you have to have an African percussionist. (program notes)” And therefore, for no other reason, we have manifold layers of hand percussion. Are you being facetious, Mr. Dolden? I can’t tell, and it’s gratuitous either way. But let’s ignore that for now, and concentrate on the music. With the exception of the last work, Veils, which predates the others in this collection by seven or eight years, there is a unified aesthetic and technical approach that finds its best analogy in the huge, thick paintings of the German artist Anselm Kiefer. Layers upon layers upon layers of sound produce an aural canvas in which individual details, if they are audible at all, are rendered inconsequential in the context of the huge gestures that emerge from the composite mass. This is not to say that Paul Dolden’s sound masses wallow in some amorphous homogeneity; rather, he is able to imbue each with a well articulated persona. Thus, in the best of the pieces for solo instrument and tape, a seeeing is created which one hears as a kind of extrapolation (a very long extrapolation) of the historical/social context of the solo instrument. For the cello piece, Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3, with its beautifully voiced C-major chords, the serting is the 19th-century cello concerto. For the saxophone piece, Revenge of the Repressed. Resonance #2, the setting alternates between swing jazz and the music of the French composers who explored the new instrument between approximately 1850 and 1910. For the electric guitar piece, Physics of Seduction. Invocation #1, the setting is ehe extended rock jam session from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The inclusion of the three-part work Veils in this collection is interesting because it affords us a glimpse into the evolution of Paul Dolden’s sound mass technitque. If the later works are Kiefer, then Veils is protoKeifer, tempered by a healthy dose of Rothko. Veils is about gradual transitions from one timbre/chord to another, and the masses that comprise it are not heard as masses at all, but as completely homogeneous entities. So, even though all the pieces on these two CDs employ the technique of superimposing hundreds of tracks of source recordings in the creation of the sound mass, the sustained nature of the source materials for Veils sharply distinguishes it from the much more active sources for the later pieces. To my mind, however, this work is far and away the most interesting of the four pieces for tape alone in this collection. Perhaps this is because it was apparently motivated by purely musical reasons (at least according to the program notes) — it is completely unencrusted by programmatic subtexts.
I should mention that all of the source materials for the pieces on these CDs are completely acoustic. There is no synthetic material, and extremely little processing. M. Dolden’s reliance on the computer is primarily for its editing capabilities and its ability to mix and bounce tracks hundreds of times without adding significant amounes of noise. Like any technique taken to a logical extreme, this use of the computer transcends the multi-tracking effects possible in the traditional analog studio. To wonder whether or not it qualifies as “computer music” is to miss the point.