Composer/instrumentalist Dan Joseph has had a highly varied career since his start in Washington, DC’s 1980s punk scene. As a sixteen year old in 1983 he became the drummer for 9353, an art-punk band notorious as much for its volatility as for its visually arresting flyers, which I remember somehow seemed to be on every lamppost, telephone pole and buildingside in the city in the early 1980s; later in the decade he participated in the experimental tape underground. After a move to California in the 1990s he studied with Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Curran, Mel Powell and Terry Riley; the influence of these performer/composers can be heard in the immersive, drone-based form of structured solo improvisation that Joseph eventually developed for electronically enhanced hammered dulcimer.
The seven pieces composing this two-CD set of recent works represent long-form excursions into incremental harmonic and timbral movement, as realized through electronically altered or supplemented hammered dulcimer performances. The first disc is largely taken up by two live versions of Dulcimer Flight, one recorded in 2011 at Corvallis, Oregon and the other recorded in 2013 at Experimental Intermedia in New York. Both pieces demonstrate how Joseph blends structure and technique to texture an evolving soundscape. On both pieces he first sets up a central tone and basic harmonic kernel, looping a tremolo opening statement that gradually gives way to bowing with conventional bow and ebow. Through subsequent processing Joseph brings out or obscures selected overtones to achieve a sound best described as a constant chord whose colors are constantly changing. The second disc is given over to a 66-minute version of Periodicity Piece #6 (2005) for dulcimer, sampled instruments, sine tone, A440 tuning fork and miscellaneous sounds. As its title implies, Joseph works here with harmonic cycles of varying lengths, which are spun across changing tonal centers. Although predominantly meditative, the piece registers the occasional shock of abruptly intruding sounds and suddenly coarsened timbres.