Dictaphone, Poems From A Rooftop, 2012

dictaphone frontSonic Pieces label.

Ambient style: Modern classical, instrumental – violin, guitar, sax, clarinet, bass. This is way more ‘modern classical’ than ambient, but it is absolutely gorgeous and quietly melodic, making clean, though minimalist use of woodwind, violin, drums and brass, but mixed very neatly with subtle or strange electronic effects. It really works. This might just be my favourite title on Sonic Pieces vinyl.


dictaphone labelThe Conversation… opens with gorgeous woodwind tones which give way to rhythm track made of clicks, then a melody is taken up on stringed instrument and it’s very clean, precise, melodic and beautiful. The rhythm becomes more complex before fading to a faint glitch beat and violin tones scrape and glide against one another. It’s very hi-fi and quite ‘pop’ in terms of how far ambient can be shown to move away from pure background. Very nice, but very much in the modern classical, experimental and instrumental vein of ambient music.

Maelbeek… sampled voice/electronics, a rhythm track, a melody of bell tones. Static fuzz and very low bass drones form part of the rhythm, a flat muted drum sound, a pleasing mix of electronic textures and violin. The melody is repetitive so that the tune slowly moves into the background, and various instrumental textural elements come and go in the mix, though there is a clear slow melodic shine to the track.

Manami… quiet piercing electronic tones, backwards woodwind and violin grinding crossways, warm bass and violin bring a moody melody. Various arbitrary electronic effects add odd noises into the mix at unexpected moments. Electric guitar tones, and a strong rhythmic element. Violin brings melody. As on all the tracks so far, the rhythm slowly disintegrates, some instruments fall out, others come in, electronic sneezes and snuffles blurt about here & there. Another beautiful piece.

Soylent Green (1973)… an odd rhythm/melody is set up with dubby bell tones, squelches of static feedback and fuzz, plucked strings, and again that sense that the piece is just barely holding itself together, as if it might and probably will fall apart at any moment. There’s a spookier element to this track. The rhythm dissolves to woodwind and brass tones compete with the messed up electronic textures, gravelly and water tones. The zombie-like woodtock bell melody resumes. Very pretty. Quite eccentric.

Poem From A Rooftop… a distorted voice, warm percussive tones bing and bong, static radio dial interference twirrups and twirls, various other percussive elements combine to create a loose eclectic rhythm. One starts to see a pattern in the construction of these tracks; always a rhythm made of disparate pieces that enter and dissolve, while woodwind, violin or brass groan a melancholy tune, and electronics are used in an eccentric but subtle way so that one is never quite sure what’s acoustic and what’s digital.

dictaphone labelA Bout De Souffle… a rhythm made out of static, detuned white noise, then bass notes, electric pips and squeaks, saxophone wiggles, and this amorphous mass shifts, gets squeezed together into an electronic shuffle which dissolves quickly, and the melody returns only to get interrupted again by ambient noise. This is absolutely gorgeous. Each track is like a sample of something much bigger, yet nothing ever outstays its welcome. It’s relentlessly shifting and impatient to move on.

Rattle… a very strong rhythm track this time with regular pips for beats, handclap effects, glitch beats, light pad thuds, then warbly woodwind and violin breathe in and out of the rhythm. This track has vocals, which is something I’d normally reject, but this album is possibly one of the least ‘ambient’ in my ambient collection. While not quite pop, it’s definitely one of the poppiest tracks that will appear in my ambient journal. The vocal is female, but a strong low voice, and it doesn’t last long. This track has a mysterious vibe – indeed the whole album is quite evasive and arcane, but it’s like an east-meets-west kind of quasi-spiritual mystical feel.

Au Botanique… electronic hothouse effects, electric frogs and mechanical butterflies, warm crystal clear dubby flowers opening, warm water dripping, tongues catching flies, caves, humid and moist, the scent of botany, very organic and just arbitrary enough not to suggest any robotic qualities to the song. Biotic. Amniotic. Like being in the womb of a toad sitting on a lilypad in the middle of an Amazon jungle (which sounds like a cliche, but this is far too unique and beautiful to be hackneyed.)

NR. 12… soft squeaky bird-like effects. A repeating rhythm of woodwind tones fading in and out/off, other animal-like squawks and bleats, trumpets, like a choir of creatures that haunted the previous track, with dramatic violin flourishes, deep bass, long slower synth tones, and again, a very organic feel that merges the weird digital detritus of modern comms with the clean tones of jazz instruments.

dictaphone backSummary: When I got to the end of this I was reminded of Lifeforms by The Future Sound of London, but with a much more earthen/human feel to it, grounded in the breath of real life and not some imaginary constructed organic built inside a computer, even though that album Lifeforms does do a very good job of sounding as organic as possible within its mode of electronic construction. This is a stunning album with plenty of space and a vast improvement on the relatively dull glitch-biotech of Dictaphone’s previous album Vertigo II from 2006. A favourite of mine from Sonic Pieces.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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