Review of Dust [12k1019]

Haunted Ink (US)

Dust is the second full-length release by Motion (UK artist Chris Coode). Like most 12k releases, it is a work of intricate, delicate murmurs. And, like most 12k releases, the music here blurs the lines between digital noise and organic tones, as though the artists working through this label are seeking a way to de-digitalize digital signal processing, to create something that resembles the sounds of everyday life without actually being everyday life. This is true with artists such as Taylor Deupree, Sogar, and Shuttle358, and it is also true with Coode. The difference between Coode and other 12k artists is that, rather than examining the sounds of cities or other human habitations, Dust focuses almost exclusively on creating a natural world out of digital scraps.

Take “Lo.Jack,” one of the earliest tracks on the album. Although brief (3+ minutes) and sparse (consisting solely of random grains of noise), the track manages to create a rich soundscape of insects swarming over a steamy swamp on a misty, humid morning, as they buzz around, flutter, avoid frogs and other predators, and otherwise get ready for the day ahead. Or take “Plan B,” which seems to take the digital-natural fusion to its logical conclusion by imitating an evening’s worth of natural sounds, including digital crickets, bull frogs, and mosquitoes.

There is, certainly, a real insect-vibe throughout this release. This makes sense, as the tiny grains of sound that the artist is working with resemble the buzzing and hissing and chirping sounds we associate with flies, mosquitoes, and other tiny creatures. But this is no field recording. Each track carefully composed and arranged, as if the artist hand-trained a field of musical insects to respond to his digital baton. Moreover, the work as a whole is not intent upon examining the microscopic world of insects but the microscopic world of sounds and how these sounds create specific emotional responses in us, the listeners.

The emotional power of this work comes through on two fascinating tracks. The first is “Postmark Edit,” a work that blends Fennesz-like guitar echoes with a series of screeching, burning tones. The result is similar in feel to the distorted melancholy epics of Shuttle358 (Dan Abrams), though where Abrams creates melancholy by fusing a disparate variety of sounds together, Coode manages to create this feeling using only a handful of droning, barely-changing tones. The other track is “Lnr6,” a work that examines the emotional impact of a single, repeating motif (a beat consisting of a deep tone and a few clicks). This track, which simply restates this motif over and over with only the intercession of a tiny vocal fragment to break up the monotony, manages to create a haunting, unsettling atmosphere that is as gripping in the beginning as it is in the end.

This is a work of nature – not the nature of bugs and frogs but the nature of sound and the ways that sound shapes our emotional and intellectual response to the world around us. It is, in short, music that examines the effects that music itself has on our lives. It is also a pleasure to listen to, if you’re willing to listen – really listen – to those little bug-like sounds.

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