Paul Dolden and empreintes DIGITALes throw three new Dolden CDs at us simultaneously, in an unparalleled marketing of one single composer’s work. However, it’s not as strange as it may sound, but really quite an interesting and rewarding venture, because it has to do with reissues of old material, remastered by the composer with modern equipment. Dolden is one of the most prolific electroacousticians, and for sure his oeuvre deserves to be revisited, especially after its recent technical and artistic brush-up.
Paul Dolden explains: “In the late 1970s I started to write and produce music involving hundreds of parts or tracks. In the early days the analogue recording medium was very noisy when bouncing (or premixing) tracks together. Things improved throughout the 1980s and 1990s, but a large multitrack digital tape recorder was still out of my financial reach. By the late 1990s the new computer and hard drive speeds finally provided me with an affordable multitrack solution. For the first time in my life I was able to achieve the balance between individual voices that I had so carefully notated in the original scores. I achieved further musical clarity and a new depth of sound by using quality compression, equalization and reverb. To remaster, I went back to the individual tracks. This was a huge undertaking. For example, a piece like Dancing on the Walls of Jericho may be only 16 minutes and 15 seconds long, but it is a large tape work comprising eighty hours of original recorded materials. Recordings always freeze or crystallize musical and spectral meaning for the listener. An odd sound combination that you have grown fond of in the old master may not appear in the same way in the new one. However, I think you will agree that I have stayed true to the original compositions. I changed some musical moments and transitions in Dancing on the Walls of Jericho, and the tape components for Physics of Seduction. Invocation #2 and Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3, all originally released on the L’ivresse de la vitesse CD in 1994. These changes were motivated by compositional concerns and were created using the musical materials from the Walls Cycle. The only new recordings made for the remastering process were the drum parts (performed by Philippe Keyser) in Physics of Seduction. Invocation #2 and Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3.
I invite you to discover my new levels of meaning and clarity in the new masters, which are much closer to my original artistic intention.”
L’ivresse de la vitesse 1
L’ivresse de la vitesse (Intoxication by Speed) (1992-93).
Dolden: “The title […] is an allusion towards my current artistic intentions which involve the speeding up of an excess of musical ideas so that the composition and its materials exhaust themselves in the shortest time possible. The intoxicating aspect of speed is evoked by using primarily fast tempo markings and rapid changes in orchestration, density and dynamics. These elements can be particularly sped up to the point of exhaustion and intoxication in the digital audio studio which is limitless or virtual in its color and density possibilities.”
There is no mercy administered, and no time to adapt; you’re in the surging midst of sound the second it commences. However, the rush of grainy properties very soon take on more familiar guises, as male and female choirs rise, in a strictly vocal kind of soaring surge, gushing forth like mountain rapids below the glaciers. Sure this is intoxication by speed, secularly perhaps a shoot down the rapids, but in a shaman way perhaps a transposed inner journey of the Bardos… A creaking violin - bow pressing hard on the strings - open up a closed room of whispers, eventually pulling threads and shreds of surrounding reality along in marked pushes and layers of audio, snow-balling, mud-sliding into an immense might, eventually sneaking up on a hasty march of sorts, comically and quire remarkably, all behind a curtain of a certain unreality… There are, however, short retreats of church-like bliss here and there, before the blushing hell of over-intensified motion again grabs you by the neck and throws you downtime, as age and matter are subsequented…
Physics of Seduction. Invocation #3 (1992) for cello and tape; Peggy Lee [cello].
Dolden: “By using an extreme amount of ordinary musical sounds and gestures, their reality becomes more real than real. In other words, the sounds escape the networks of meaning and association, which have built up the reality of our world. This compositional strategy, involving an escalation to extremes, means that the materials themselves disappear as they implode inward and take on new appearances. The realm of seduction involves the strategies of appearances. As a contemporary composer, all that I can hope for is that I have provided the physics, or the interaction of motion and energy, for your own seduction.”
This long work opens in an industrial scenery; at least this is the initial impression: steelworks or shipyard - but soon, very soon, the cello comes to the fore or semi-fore, out of a layer of thick and dense material where it seems caught and predestined to a captive state of existence, albeit sometimes really in front of the wobbling, dancing, heavy backdrop. I’m talking about the first couple of minutes. The cello sets out on strutting, daring escape routes in and out of the seaweed density of sounds, and I imagine someone’s arms feeling their way through the dense and the dark, a grainy and not completely wholesome kind of predicament. Dolden has taken all he’s got and filled up life to its hypothetical rim. The cello saws frantically at some aspects of reality, like an insect inside a jar, desperately trying something impossible, as burning thoughts come up for air and light up matter from inside like electric impulses flaring through cerebral cortexes… Slow, meditative solo parts are offered the cello, as the barnstorming audio completely disappears below and behind. The cello talks like a candle in a nocturnal forest, or like a thought roaming a closed-down mind; a Moomin Troll waking in the middle of Finnish winter, rising prematurely out of hibernation to roam the snowy pastures, discovering unknown properties of existence.
Revenge of the Repressed. Resonance #2 (1993) for soprano sax and tape; François Houle [soprano sax]
Dolden: “As the end of the second millennium approaches [remember, these remarks were written for the original release], we increasingly deal with the angry fallout from our historical legacy. Society turns into a constant search for what has been repressed and denied and we search for some form of revenge for our victimization. However, given that our lives have basically become an extension of the mediascape, and real power lies elsewhere, we become trapped in an endless life-sized Nintendo game seeking justice and revenge.”
A jazzy, feverish jinglish kind of beginning moves through the Coltrane-scape of late day paraphernalia, surprisingly slowing down into mild brass sections in a golden hue - only to pick up speed and frantics again, leaving you… breathless and thoughtless, screwing those saxophones right down into the rock bottom, for what it’s worth… I have no idea how Dolden’s words above correspond to these sounds, mind you… but the show goes on, with or without whatever one is with or without… In here Dolden even manages to sound like Dutch hey-day desperado Louis Andriessen in Dee Staat, punching those semi-jazzy stanzas at you, like sleet blowing in your face on your way to colon x-ray…
Dancing on the Walls of Jericho (1990).
Dolden: “Dancing on the Walls of Jericho is the second of a three-part composition, which philosophically addresses the idea of revolution. Part two continues from where part one, Below the Walls of Jericho, had ended. Part one acted as a metaphor for the idea of social change through revolution. Therefore part one was primarily concerned with the vertical monolith and its tearing down by the anonymous massed texture of four hundred tracks of sound. By contrast, part two celebrates this tearing down with a constant polyrhythmic dance on the rubble and the use of extroverted solistic gestures.”
Polishing sounds wipe the curving walls of a contrast medium drenched tunnel, which eventually is filling up with a torrent of audio from the treacherous ill will of the toppling-over sonic ingenuity of Mr. Dolden. This boy certainly wants to invade all your senses and completely take them over. He needs your FULL attention, and if he doesn’t get it right away, he just stuffs you like a fat duck and leaves you sleepless. Much to my surprise, though, the frenzy cools off here, into a gamelan-like limp through the tunnel, and is it the tunnel that near-death experiencers experience on their near-death sojourns, or is it just a leaking realm of boring through the mount, to have you pass ten minutes faster on the train for a sum of 10 billion dollars? No idea! There isn’t much time to contemplate suicide, though, since I get caught up in more sturdy, bouncing limping down the path Dolden doodles, and I fill a spacious glass with much white German wine (Zeller Schwarze Katz) from a bottle presented to me earlier today from a farmer friend in the rain who flies to Germany regularly on Ryanair, and I let things and desperations be the way they please; no shooting out of the anatomy tonight! There is no real hard sense in trying to categorize Dolden’s music; it’s futile, pointless - but I’m filling my quota anyway, and I can throw in words about the enjoyment of living inside this music, ’cause that’s what it’s about; not listening but living. The constellations stomp like horses in their boxes, like Tomas Tranströmer said (or something like it); “thoughts gather in scattered herds through the shadows, the night sky is cold and star sharp; Death laughs inwardly across the wooded horizon…”
Physics of Seduction. Invocation #2 (1991) for harpsichord and tape; Vivienne Spiteri [harpsichord].
Dolden: “Speed creates pure objects. It is itself a pure object, since it cancels out the ground and territorial reference points, since it runs ahead of time to annual time itself, since it moves more quickly than its own cause and obliterates that cause by outstripping it. Speed is the triumph of effect over cause, the triumph of instantaneity over time and depth, the triumph of the surface and pure objectality over the profundity of desire. Speed creates a space of initiation which may be lethal; its only rule is to leave no trace behind. Triumph of forgetting over memory, an uncultivated amnesic intoxication".
It gets worse, worse… It gets worse… as jittering atoms gather for a mingling vernissage evening at the horizon of events, right around that black hole in the midst of all our lives, or in a laid-back agony at the Restaurant at The End of the Universe (I bow to Mr. Adams who gave some meaning to my meaninglessness). Dolden produces full-blown, full-fledged assumptions of the totality of life and universe, and batters the humpty-dumpty, forlorn jesters of doubt, in a massive grandeur of psychic wonders, out of which a stellar harpsichord rises, glowing like sought-for venom though our arteries… I think of Elisabeth Chojnacka and I think about Jukka Tiensuu - and I leave it to you to figure that one out! Ah, Mr. Dolden! We tremble at these auditory messages from the core of emotional might, from the center of intellectual attention, from the venomous pit of the essence of pain of this existence…
L’ivresse de la vitesse 2
Beyond the Walls of Jericho (1991 - 1992).
Dolden: “The acceleration of our culture in terms of images and ideas creates a point at which everything seems to be happening at once and the maintenance of a linear historical perspective, with its revolutionary eruptions, is no longer meaningful. This simultaneity is musically alluded to several times in the composition by the use of several hundred solos occurring at once. Each solo has its own narrative and history but when all of them are combined together such narrative structures dissolve into one large sound field, often without clear beginning or ending. This breakdown of a linear time perspective and the resulting loss of our musical and social subjectivity create a feeling of absence and a perception of stasis. It is at that moment of æsthetic perception in which our day-to-day realities dissolve and there is a suspension of linear time that the possibility of new thought or feeling, revolutionary or otherwise, can begin.”
Again, as in the preceding re-issue, there is no mercy at all. Dolden starts full speed. A little while later some transparency is administered as the tour-de-force of the beginning suddenly halts, allowing for sounds to be deciphered in gluey, jingling jangling elasticity, peculiarly merging with some of my memories of François Bayle issues of earlier years, visions of an old horse carriage creaking and squeaking through… Hungary, maybe. The sound torrent returns, though, albeit in slower motion and bigger halls, gesturing around the spacious indoors of men with power, eventually falling back into the focused concentration of a hole in the ground in Tikrit… Other instances of this piece are almost comical, which I believe also is the intent of Dolden, in semi-jazzy grimaces, stepping up the tempo in limping rhythms and pearly, watery guitarisms - and I like these parts that pull in different directions, moving a bit out of phase, causing tremendous torque to manifest, threatening to crack the whole situation into bits and pieces of opposing forces, yet flowing out of the loudspeakers on the same strand of auditory law.
In a Bed Where the Moon Was Sweating. Resonance #1 (1993) for clarinet & tape; François Houle [clarinet].
Dolden: “Part of the Resonance Cycle plays with the notion of intimacy in music. In this case the soloist is often surrounded with his own sound, creating a dissolving of the singular with the “other”, which is in fact the performer reflected back in a narcissistic fashion. Beyond these elements, the Resonance Cycle also uses voice, which is perhaps the most intimate and seductive sound of all because it represents the body covered with appearances, illusions, traps, animal parodies and sacrificial simulations.”
Slowly, carefully, softly emerging, very different from the other piece before it, unraveling a smooth, romantic painting motion in the clarinet, distant and closer and close! However, density grows thicker, as a hail of sounds pulls up like a battalion of jeeps with their headlights all on, blinding, encircling, the smelling fumes from the exhaust rising like smoke in the darkness beyond. In this center of attention a space is protected by some invisible power, making a solo dance possible and necessary, and someone plays, dances, around and around, stomping feet in the soil, in the holy hour of cow dust. The clarinet cuts like smooth swords through the fragrance of night. Stockhausenesque voices hammer their morphemes like a palisade around the music, the jeeps still shining their headlights into the middle of the circle. Whispers - also Stockhausenesque - invoke the secrets of the night to perform their unknowns, and the rite probably reaches some kind of completion as the clarinet and the voices and the extraneous sounds merge in a controlled wilderness of sonic attributes.
Physics of Seduction. Invocation #1 (1991) for electric guitar & tape; Paul Dolden [electric guitar].
Dolden: “All great systems of production and interpretation, including musical discourses, increasingly appear as a large futile body. A universe that can no longer be interpreted in the terms of psychological relations, or in structures of oppositions, must be interpreted in the terms of play, challenges, duels, and the strategy of appearances - that is in terms of seduction. Moreover, seduction threatens all orthodoxies with their collapse as it is a black magic for the deviation of all truths.”
Relaxed hands seem to be waving through these laid-back suburban communities, but just for a while, because the midday rescue vehicles soon dash through layer after layer of red-hot guitarisms, cauterizing by-standers and storeowners down the block. A stew is brewing somewheres, bubbling with venom; guitars and screeching unidentifiables. Yes, it is hard as ever to put futile words to Dolden’s messages. They’re tough enough to hear, let alone talk about in an intelligible way. Take it for what its worth - and that goes for the music too. At times I think it’s just boring in all its frenzy, and I close down Mr. Dolden and bring on some Bach Cello Suites or let Mr. Dylan persuade me that It’s Not Dark Yet - but revisiting Dolden brings home some more discoveries from inside the maddening masses, and there are several ways to approach the Dolden madness, even though I suggest small portions of him for afternoon courtesy, you see. He is a bit too much, most of the time… without getting too much done, so to say. He’s sort of shaking doors and smashing windows, but he seldom administers poems.
Veils - Studies in Textural Transformations (1984 - 1985).
Dolden: “Veils […] is a series of textures or walls of sound, which act as an invitation for the listener to explore an environment where new acoustic sensations and associations can be discovered. The texture, a sustained chord of usually 14 - 56 notes, is constantly transforming by changing the instrument type that is articulating the sound (i.e. from strings to voice to brass to piano to marimba to glass etc.) No electronic effects were used and only straight recordings and mixing of acoustic instruments were used. However, the sound source or instrument type at any moment is not usually obvious to the listener, hence the sound sources are veiled. This veiled sound is created by three main factors: the extensive multitracking (from 180 to 280 tracks of the same instrument are used at any moment), the tuning of the chords (microtonal intervals which do not occur in our normal 12-tone equally tempered tuning system), and the recording method of close miking in a dead acoustical space which brings out aspects of each instrument type that we normally do not hear.”
This, though, is poetry; spider web poetry, thin smoke poetry, resounding silence poetry through trembling minds. The resounding of the first part of Veils is a majestic gesture into infinity, very unlike the window smashing and door-shaking that I have complained about. I float through these layers of semi-transparency in a spirit-in-flight sensation, a bit like what I felt in the movie 2010, or in some cinematic expressions of Tarkovsky. This notion is only strengthened and reinforced by the second and third part of Veils - mysterious monoliths afloat in the space-time continuum, in chords that reach for infinity in wonderful gasps for space… mythical objects slowly turning around themselves in the timeless flow of mind, of Rigpa, the state out of which all rise; all phenomena of this unexplained existence of our and everything else…
Seuil de silences
Below the Walls of Jericho (1988 - 1989).
Dolden:“The title is only a loose reference to the story in the Bible. What interests me about the story is the idea of a large mass of people knocking down a wall through the use of sound. The story gives credence to the notion of music as a catalyst for social change. Beyond the sheer physical impact that a large number of sounds contain, music is a form of language, which is capable of stimulating thought. The power of music lies in the simultaneous physical and intellectual seduction of the listener.”
A quite wonderful, glassy sound, organ-like, subdued-fanfare-like, opens Below the Walls of Jericho. This shiny, honey-dew fluidity develops into standing walls of dense, gray sound - with glittering, glimmering sensations built into to them, dark percussive elements - like falling rocks down a wintry Lapland slope - growing in terrible intensity… until a tiny screw of a sound suddenly lets loose some silence which, however, slips away like the tail of a lizard, leaving us in a magnificence of over-toned, interstellar cruelty, in a realm where all is shine, cold, bright shine… and again - as before, sometimes, with Dolden - I get these icy notions of alien horizons on worlds we know nothing about, and the unknown gathers incredible strength in a pumping, pulsating wheezing of giant properties of alienation; scary headphone adventures!
Surely, this didn’t come across this brightly and ingeniously on the earlier release. I heard it the first time when it appeared on the Cultures Électroniques release from the GMEB competitions in 1990, where it won the composer the first prize for electroacoustic composition. Dolden’s reallocated attention has brought this piece into new luster, new shine. It’s quite amazing, really.
There are many layers of sound relieving each other or adding to each other, and the sheer roughness and simultaneous clarity of some of them bring on levels of corrugated auditory surfaces I have never heard or touched before, bringing me into joyous discovery for the first time in a long listening while, as Dolden actually manages to mix my perceptive senses in hitherto unknown ways, mysteriously; tactility and hearing, vision (bright!) and smell (acrid!). This is a hit! The rhythmic properties have me gasping for air in a similar way, so strong, manifold, un-ending, loopless, ever into an elusive distance, yet firm on your tympanic membranes and on your skin, your heart beating behind the sound, below your breath, inside a dream…
Gravity’s Stillness. Resonance #6 (1996) for violin or viola & tape; Julie-Anne Derome [violin].
Dolden:“The work is based on fairly simple melodic and harmonic ideas. The interest for me in this type of work is to use the recording studio to create a series of distinct sound worlds, or orchestrations, based on these melodic and harmonic ideas. The tape becomes the catalyst for creating the changes in mode and tone. The live soloist repeatedly states the melodic ideas in a simple to very virtuosic manner.”
A dark motion rising cautiously out of semi-instrumenty realms, emerging into clarity and tactile reality, spreading its auditory fragrance like opening petals… and you feel yourself soaring down inside the space inside these petals, as if docking with a giant space ship - and yet it feels so familiar behind that veil of uncertainty and semi-transparent reality, the violins, the orchestral familiarity, hundreds of years of tradition carried towards you on outspread fingertips, like a gift from undisclosed benefactors… There are some incredibly close encounters herein, with the strings, which you practically ride, trembling madly with them… only to find yourself suddenly distanced into the room, the strings grouping themselves neatly into an ensemble up on a little stage… and then you’re down into the instruments again, the strings of the violin fully charged high-voltage transmission lines through your vicinity; danger! Dolden mixes these two aspects seamlessly, this closing in and distancing, this old tradition ensemble familiarity and this latter day electronic havoc! Splendid! And Julie-Anne Derome makes a thrilling contribution!
Caught in an Octagon of Unaccustomed Light (1987 - 1988).
Dolden:“The composition continues the composer’s development of a musical language based on the color of unusual or unaccustomed acoustic sounds. In this case, the predominant use of inharmonic timbres (metal, multiphonics and a non-octave tuning system) creates the language that for the most part our musical tradition has ignored. A series of five sections, each of which is based on specific sound sources, has the listener caught by their interactions. Musical continuity is maintained by the reuse of similar gestures, colors and tuning system. Overall structural integrity is achieved through a palindromic ordering of the sections. For example, the first and fifth sections use the same sound world, and likewise the second and fourth sections use another sound world. The third or middle section contains aspects on both sound groups.”
It’s hammer time right off, as you veer here and veer there… eventually catching hold of some materializing matter in the shape of sturdy tools inside a machine-scape of some industrial environment, as the industrial sounds re-group into Christmas time Santa workshops of speedily constructed toys and half-perverted goblins by endless conveyor belts… and it’s a Disney culture gone seriously wrong. After a while a peculiar, metallic percussion, irregular, brings on reminiscences of Harry Partch and John Cage, and I feel right at home in my intellectual, academic predispositions… but it wouldn’t be like Dolden not to amass things, though between these moments of catharsis he lets little details build strange, twiggy, thorny environments to scratch yourself bloody on if you don’t watch it! The slow, spacious anonymities that Dolden sometimes allows for in this piece, almost inwardly thoughtful in a roomy, thin gamelan, result in generously emitted beauty of sound that I bathe my perception in, like when nocturnal flakes of snow fall through the circle of light of a street lamp, when the town is sleeping silently; these cold crystals melting on your cheek.
The Vertigo of Ritualized Frenzy. Resonance #4 (1996) for reed instrument and/or piano (or accordion) & tape; François Houle [clarinet]; Leslie Wyber [piano].
Dolden:“Much of my work begins by using the tape medium to create musical situations and dialogues that would not be possible with a fixed live ensemble. In this case the live duo is confronted with jazz, rock or chamber music created by various string, metal or wind orchestras. At times the live parts seem independent of the tape and at other times the two elements dissolve into each other. These different allusions to musical reality are based on a very simple melody which keeps coming back in an almost irritating manner.”
The inconspicuous beginning mix of roughness and timbral modality builds up strong levels of conviction, so watch your output levels. A playful melody, sort of heard from way inside a hall, or from behind a corner in a restaurant, reveals where the musicians are poking about in there scores, kind of nervously and absentmindedly, a half hour before they have to start playing for real, for pay. There is a distance in the way Dolden has smeared the sounds across a wall quite far away, across the dancing floor. The music itself is semi-jazzy, semi-cocktail-party-licked, easy going, swirling about in short, close motions, never traveling too far off from the instruments that produce the sounds observed.
In the Natural Doorway I Crouch (1986 - 1987).
Dolden:“In the Natural Doorway I Crouch is inspired by the interaction of the two distinct sound worlds: plucked metal strings and wind instruments. The composition is divided into three sections of 3, 5 and 7 minutes, each of which explores the relationship between the sound worlds as they are constantly changing. This movement in sound is evoked by the title, which suggests the transformations from one state to another, as in a doorway that acts as a passageway between areas of sound. In most cases, the crouching is only momentary as we spring from one area to another. The tuning of the composition involves a system of just intonation, developed by the composer, in which the harmonics of the fundamental(s) are systematically changing register in relation to each other.”
This piece was one of the first Dolden works I heard, on Cultures Électroniques Volume 3, presenting the winners from the Bourges competitions of 1988. It’s probably one of his most spread works too. I’ve come across it here and there. To begin with it has a spooky conversational quality, the likeness of voices soaring about inside instrumental and/or electronic sounds, as if matter was raising its jittery subatomic voice to the level of human hearing, just to scare us real good at last… The flakes of sound are heavy in the void, tumbling about like forlorn celestial debris, traveling like that forever, or maybe one day crashing down on unsuspecting civilizations on blue spheres in revolving spiral galaxies, cutting everything very short…
Morse-like percussive codes are emitted from inside the body of sound; trembling, shivering cries of beings lost behind malevolent horizons, divide from us by impossible gaps in time and space and simultaneity…
There is an ominous, fateful feel to this work, as if it was describing events so vast and so immensely forceful that acceptance is the sole possible attitude from our point of view. This music seems to deal with the inevitability of the sun eventually turning into a red giant, or events like that, or perhaps with the natural loneliness of the soul - and one feels, as a reaction to Dolden’s music, an urge to escape existence in matter to existence in spirit, which is all there really is to hope for; and wouldn’t it be nice to cut this endless hunt for sub-atomic particles short, realizing with the string theorists that all is vibrations of different frequencies, also confirming the conviction of Stockhausen and others of a celestial music; the universe understood as an endless composition…