AMN Reviews: Paul Dolden – The Golden Dolden Box Set; Part 3 (2022; Bandcamp)

View Part 1 and Part 2 of our coverage of this set.

This write-up will focus on Paul Dolden’s “post-modern” works or, what he calls “The Resonance Cycle” (1992-1997).

Embracing, or maybe I should say succumbing to the idea that creating a “new thing” in music is impossible because “we are all conditioned by historical and cultural discourses”, Dolden began to develop a post-modern view of things with the following musical characteristics:

  1. No musical hierarchies.  No idea, concept, rule or style takes precedence over another. 
  2. No teleological direction.  Order, structure and reason do not hold sway. No overarching purpose or agenda.
  3. A direct correlation to #1, what he calls a “celebration of surfaces”.  The “anything goes” attitude in terms of combining various musical styles for no other reason than, they sound good together.  A true melting pot of styles.

So, without dwelling on it, this is Dolden’s “fuck the man” (in the high tower at Juilliard) period.  His piece “L’ivresse de la Vitesse” (Intoxication by Speed) started it all and acts as the template for five other mixed works with different soloists that “resonated” off it.

“Intoxication by Speed”, so named…

Is an allusion towards my current artistic intentions, which involve the speeding up of an excess of musical ideas so that the composition and its materials exhaust themselves in the shortest time possible.

By “excess”, he means hundreds of musical events that are organized by numerous musical systems unfolding concurrently or, the way I read it…organization by whatever dark arts he was schooled at starting at a young age.  The result is beyond frenetic!

Regarding these musical events and systems, Dolden continues using the maximalist recording techniques I touched on in Part 2, along with structures based on traditional harmonic theory.  (Time to give those microtones a rest I guess.)  Some of this “mother composition” contains recognizable signposts within its composable building blocks which are re-used in very different ways in the five “Resonance” pieces it spawned.   Dolden is building his art using previous ideas into something new.  I love that!

“Intoxication by Speed” begins with the frenzied and feverish power of a Babylonian marketplace at high noon.  Before you know it, a chorus…no, more like a human zoo gets in your face wailing exaltations in staggered formation accompanied by a thick, dense slug of massed tones that are the aural equivalent of a 95% dark chocolate brick.  Cutting through this beautiful quagmire of sound is a close mic’d stringed instrument that joins and eventually talks back to the chaos like a pissed off Fury.  Welcome to Dolden World ladies and gentlemen…and don’t forget your complimentary flack vests, you’re gonna need em!

“Intoxication by Speed” opens a new chapter in this saga.  Standard hallmarks remain like the layered instrument sets, lots of close mic’d metal percussion and the off-the-charts intensity of it all but, in true post-modern fashion, the composer adds some of that “everything but the kitchen sink” element to the mix.  That means, more overtly obvious sections within the overall architecture, more focus on single tracked solo instruments (don’t worry, the insane layer cake of instruments are still in play) and some standard trap drums driven rhythms (along with other more indigenous, exotic percussive) that you can actually (read-comfortably) tap your foot to.

All of what’s described above are the composable parts and pieces that Dolden picks and chooses from to form the basis of the five “Resonance” pieces.

The “Resonance” cycle are all mixed works (tape with live soloist(s)) with the taped parts gleaned from individual tracks of “Intoxication by Speed”.  On these compositions, Dolden is providing (via the tape element) the gateway to “place the soloist in different sounding musical worlds”.

“Gravity’s Stillness-Resonance #6” is one such example.  Featuring guest soloist Julie-Anne Derome on violin, Dolden’s re-made/re-modeled tape portion that is acting as a constant flow of ever-changing data gives her more “static” sound a chance to interact in unique ways.  Dolden explains, using a soloist in relation to an orchestra as an example:

…the soloist is static in my “concertos”, it can only supply the sound world of its instrument…but everything is changing around him or her.  My tape portions can go from chamber to double orchestra and beyond…

And further:

…a single mic on the soloist while a tape part is changing what we are hearing and coloring the soloist in ways that is not possible with a “static” accompaniment in terms of color and density and projection…

In many ways, this piece is a departure from everything that preceded it.  The most obvious for me is the lack of anything microtonal.  Listening to this piece is, well…it’s the Dolden version of “easy listening”.  I didn’t have to re-wire my brain to adjust to the weird intervals.  I’m not saying this is good or bad, just different.  Everything, from the drums keeping a standard “beat” (for the most part) to the backing orchestral tracks sounding downright Copland-like (if Copland was stacking 800 tracks) was very much unlike Dolden’s previous script.

This piece (and all the others during this period) still retains many of his trademarks.  “Thick as molasses” string and voice chording’s, beautifully rendered and massive sounding bell-like percussion and the patented close mic’d style of recording that adds that extra layer of detail all converge in a whirlwind of sound.  It opens with a very gentle, hell…Windam Hill vibe with Derome soloing over an idyllic orchestral track but, with a dramatic percussion flourish, it quickly morphs into the intense beast you would expect from him.  Violent staccato-like rhythms, foundationally dense strings and voice and Derome, cutting through all of it with her “on fire” violin.  No…this is not your Dad’s Shadowfax!

In hindsight, this period marks a definite sea change in Dolden’s artistic concerns.  This will be obvious as we move into his “Twilight Cycle” which will be covered in Part 4.  See you then.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999