Max Eastley and David Toop Doll Creature Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Doll Creature does not give up her secrets easily, but if the effort is made she'll...

Colin Buttimer 2004

Doll Creature is Max Eastley and David Toop's first recording since 1994's Buried Dreams and only their third since 1975's New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments. Both are criminally long out of print. Buried Dreams in particular was a brilliantly rich and allusive mesh of strange ambiences, field recordings and samples - the result of a cumulative file exchange process conducted over a significant period of time.

Doll Creature is at first hearing much more spare than before; if its composers have spent as long on its composition as its predecessor, then they've been doing a lot more stripping away this time. Much of the action appears to take place at the microscopic level, as if watching insect movements under a magnifying lens while simultaneously listening via very sensitive microphones. Close by: the scurrying of ants racing to repair a nest; there: the clack of stones moved by stag beetles; there: the rubbing of metallic moth wings scraping against a mesh-encased lightbulb. Doll Creature appears to be a sonic catalogue of purposeful movements, undertaken with mysterious objectives in mind. These movements involve the sound of natural materials such as rock, wood and textile grazing which are knocked and scraped against each other.

Where does this darkness originate? Toop's tone in both his written and sonic work tends towards the lugubrious, so too with this release which might might make a fitting soundtrack to Jan Svankmajer's 'Alice' or the Brothers Quay's 'Street Of Crocodiles'. Doll Creature is haunted - or possessed - by a plethora of sounds, both natural and artificial: from the hum of pylons to the calling of spirits, to what might well be snoring (a truly uneasy sound if ever there was one, the sound of the animal body unconstrained by consciousness). It intermittently feels like witnessing an archaeological dig at night --bones or artefacts half hidden, half revealed after the endless, patient brushing away of earth and dust.

Buried Dreams came with oblique texts written by Toop (which can still be found on the Hyperreal website). So too with Doll Creature, whose sleeve carries a story of sorts:

"Doll Creatures drags his feet through salt marsh and leaf fall, skrikkk... skriikh, calligraphic tracks unfolding in his wake, blown into broken lines by harsh winds from the north. Seasons tick, sun falling like a slow fire bomb, moan rising as a ghost, in the reflection of a glass eye..."

It might be too obvious to interpret these soundscapes as mere accompaniment to the text. It's preferable to think of the two elements as parallel narratives, intersecting at points and then diverging again. Doll Creature is uneasy, unsettling listening. The dialogue between the two makes for a richer, more volatile experience which resists easy absorption, instead demanding concentration and a form of internal surrender. This resistance is an attractive quality: Doll Creature does not give up her (s/he changes gender partway through the text) secrets easily, but if the effort is made she'll gradually nestle herself into your ribcage. Whatever the nature of her secrets, they're surely only to be sought after sundown: a sort of sonic twilight is the brightest it gets. The listener would be well advised to take care when navigating these spaces. There's no knowing what other forms might be encountered in the darkness.

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