BBC Review

Musique concrete pioneer Dockstader hooks up with David Lee Myers (aka Arcane Device).

Bill Tilland 2005

This CD brings together the reclusive electroacoustic analogue pioneer Dockstader and the younger digital manipulator Myers (who has also remained solitary and relentlessly non-commercial throughout his own career, first as Arcane Device and more recently under his own name). It's entirely to the listeners benefit that these two esoteric sound artists seem to have gotten on quite splendidly, with Dockstader cheerfully acknowledging that his painstaking experiments with tape splicing in the 1950s and 1960s were tedious, time-consuming and not necessarily the only (or even best) means to an end. In fact, Dockstader had never even used computers for his sound art prior to this recording, but as a self-taught sound engineer and audio visual designer, he seems to have had little trouble recognizing the value of the tools-at-hand, after being given a helpful introduction by Myers.

As the title suggests, the sound sources on this CD are the frogs and insects of a pond/lake environment, captured by the two skulking artists in the dead of night using portable recording equipment. In the liner notes Dockstader even mentions a visit from the police one evening after a homeowner reported a lurking presence amongst her garden shrubs. (Such are the perils of the dedicated sound artist.)

Having amassed an impressive collection of natural sounds, Dockstader and Myers then proceeded to process them almost (but not quite) out of recognition, giving them a glossy electronic sheen and mutating more than a few of them into electronic whales, or wolves or creatures that defy any kind of mental reconstruction on the listeners part. The mind simply won't (or can't) go there.

And the two sound artists also shape the thirteen very distinct pieces on the CD into tantalizing patterns that hover between human intent and the random rhythms of nature. (Only on the final section of one piece, "Glotalk", does the music briefly take on a pounding minimalist quality akin to Steve Reich.) It's a rich tapestry indeed, and one that often defies categorization.

Initially, most listeners will regard the obviously electronic sounds as attempted approximations of the natural sound environment. But then along comes a texture, timbre or pattern that is simply too frog-like or insect-like (or something-like) to be dismissed as a mere electronic simulacrum. At some point, the attentive listener will begin to realize that art is not really imitating life here, but rather, enhancing and recalibrating it. At times, the ebb and flow of the sounds and the use of stereo panning immerses the listener totally, as if the sounds of the pond had become the pond itself.

Sounds are piled on top of one another into choruses. Figure and ground exchange places. Counterpoint and repetition of motifs provide cohesiveness and musical logic. The effect is sometimes almost orchestral and sometimes like electronic jazz, with enhanced frogs and insects riffing on chord changes and rhythmic patterns.

Myers and Dockstader have succeeded in creating a mysterious and occasionally mind-bending universe of sound which displays an awesome degree of depth and complexity. This recording certainly places them in the upper echelon of electroacoustical practitioners.

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