AMN Reviews: Paul Dolden – The Golden Dolden Box Set; Part 1 (2022; Bandcamp)

Let’s get the necessities front and center first:  To quote Paul:

Forty years of full-time work writing and producing new music reduced to a box set:

My entire life’s work reduced to 28 gigs containing:

1) 44 works totaling 10 hours of music at 44.1 khz/24bit.  Seven of these works were done since 2016 and have only been heard by my dog! Nineteen of these works are duplicated by also having a copy of the Hi Resolution version, (96 khz/24bit).

2) 34 scores

3) 33 educational talks totaling 6 hours, which contain music examples.

4) 4 essays on the music totaling 8,300 words and Program notes for the works totaling 6400 words.

So that’s what you get, and it’s available here.  Additionally, you can read the three write-ups I’ve done about him on the AMN site here.  The thing I’ve been struggling with is how to approach writing about it?

I found my answer after reading his essay titled “Artistic Practice:  Changes in Musical Content.” Here Dolden has conveniently segregated his career into four distinct periods.  I’m going to use these periods as my guide to relay my thoughts about specific compositions created on this timeline.  I am not going to talk about every piece he wrote, instead I’ll pick 1 or 2 from each period and spout off about those.  I’m also not going to dive into the various essays, recorded lectures, scores and various program notes included in this package.  All of this is super interesting, especially if you are a completist, a university level music student or someone who really wants to do a deep dive but, for the purpose of this write-up it’s just going to be all music, all the time (as heard through my own personal uncultured ear).

I have some general thoughts about Dolden music and why I believe it’s on the bleeding edge of “sonic art” currently.  Here are three meta themes I find particularly appealing from a 100,000-foot viewpoint.  (I’ll elaborate on these throughout.):

  1. The Phenomenological factor i.e., these sounds take me places…again, and again, and again…and again!
  2. From a non-musician’s standpoint, the compositions, arrangements and execution (playing) never cease to enthrall me.
  3. Sound and recording techniques for live solo and ensemble groupings, mixed works and fixed medium (taped) compositions are second to none.  (If you’ve ever wondered what 800 tracks layered on top of each other sounds like, Dolden music has the answer, and it’s every bit as galaxy crushing as you would imagine!)

The first time I heard his music (roughly 20 years ago), I asked myself, what manner of beast is this?  I thought at the time, this is surely some, if not THE most viscerally intense, body pulverizing music out in the wild.  This was when I was binging on music from the empreintes DIGITALes label.  Around then I had just “discovered” Francis Dhomont and since he had several releases out on that label, I figured I should explore it further.  So, I started with L’ivresse de la Vitesse (both discs), Seuil de silences and the very different Délires de plaisirs, all of these bought on spec.

Talk about getting lucky!  Except for Délires de plaisirs (which I’ve only very recently come to enjoy and represents a sea change in what he calls his “artistic concerns”, I’ll talk more about what drove me here), this music was almost too much for my mind to grok, let alone my personal safety (see above comment about body pulverizing).  But I needed more, and I needed more now!  Unfortunately, there was close to a 10 year wait till Who Has The Biggest Sound came out on the Starkland label.

Throughout the years, there has been long periods of not listening at all to his music. But, I always come back, with new ears, new info and heightened appreciation.  It wasn’t till recently that I started writing for AMN and decided to take it upon myself to evangelize Dolden music.  It has been criminally unknown to a wider audience outside of the academic circles that gravitate like flies to the Acousmatic space (don’t get me started) and deserves (and I use the word “deserves” in the strongest possible way) to be heard.

In this light, I’ve decided to only do what I can…and write about it.  I really appreciate Mike at AMN providing this forum and hopefully there will be a few readers that stick with me in what I project to be a 6-part series published at non regular intervals.  Stay tuned!

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999