AMN Reviews: Paul Dolden – Histoires d’histoire (2017; empreintes DIGITALes)

In my label introduction, I mentioned that the music on empreintes DIGITALes generally falls into the Acousmatic/Electro-Acoustic/musique concrete style. Well, I’m going to have to take issue (with myself at least) because, as the good Captain Beefheart said, “Labels are for cans, man”. Paul Dolden’s 2017 mega-epic does not really fit the mold. I realize this release may be an odd one to start this series with but since I’ve been bingeing on Dolden’s music for the better part of 3 weeks now, this is where we begin.

Dolden has been composing and recording for well over 3 decades now but only has a surprisingly few releases that have made it out into the wild.  Histoires d’histoire is his latest.  I’ve heard and greatly enjoyed most of his material and I would feel comfortable in saying he’s a slow but extremely meticulous, exacting composer.  And why shouldn’t he be?  Wouldn’t you be slow too if you were layering hundreds upon hundreds of tracks on top of each other?  Wouldn’t you want to take your time to get that mix just right so you can hear EVERYTHING that is going on within these layers?  Wouldn’t you have to master what I can only imagine to be a huge learning curve to conquer, or at least tame the tech that allows you to create such massive monoliths of sound?  

And what about the compositions themselves?  Shouldn’t it take, like forever to compose, let alone arrange this exceedingly (to my ears) complex music? Wouldn’t the painstaking work of documenting this work with scores take awhile? One would certainly think you would need some musical chops to play this complex music, right? When you’re living in Dolden’s world, the answers to all these rhetorical questions is, of course, a resounding YES?

Defending his work ethic aside, on to the music itself. I’ve seen the term “maximalist” thrown around quite a bit when describing his work (labels/cans…I know).  This music definitely inhabits the “more is more” realm.  You can begin anywhere within this 80-minute album and the first thing you will probably notice (after your brain re-sets itself to assimilate the microtonal, odd tunings, and polyrhythms he liberally employs), is the sheer amount of detail in each piece. Electric guitars and keyboards (the Electro) stand proudly next to the army of flutes, brass, cello, choir, percussion, and trap sets (the Acoustic) to create a living, breathing beast of a thing.  Certainly, something that takes a myriad of listens to even begin to understand, if understanding it is indeed possible. Yeah, this music takes work.

The work will pay off though, depending on your attentiveness and personal ear it may be sooner, or later, but it will pay off.  Without going into detail about each and every piece, the album is comprised of 3 long compositions. The first 44-minute piece, “Music of another present era” is further subdivided into 5 shorter parts.  The remaining  2 pieces are shorter, clocking in at 18 minutes and 16 minutes respectively.  On this album, Dolden is exploring musics multi-cultural qualities by creating a mishmosh of sounds and moods that are constantly morphing in and around, and back in again to each other.

I can’t really think of many composers working in this style. Dolden’s sound is “unique” to say the least. As possible signposts, Dirk “Mont” Campbell’s Music from a Round Tower may point you in a similar direction. Jade Warrior’s Island label releases also give off a similar vibe.  Biota/Mnemonists maybe for their recording techniques?  None will get you close to the breadth, depth, and overall “bigness” of sound though. Give this album a listen, and prepare to fractalize yourself.  You can hear samples of all the pieces here.

You can also hear two longer pieces in their entirety on Dolden’s Bandcamp page:

Mike Eisenberg