AMN Reviews: Paul Dolden – The Golden Dolden Box Set; Part 4 (2022; Bandcamp)

View Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of our coverage of this set.

Entering the new millennium, Paul Dolden continues some of his experiments that began with his Post-Modern period, albeit with very different results.  This write-up will cover his “Romantic-Twilight Cycle” (1997-2003).

Leaving all micro-tonality behind, Dolden’s “Entropic Twilight” suite finds him looking for creative ways to use “our horrible” 12 tone tuning system.  He latched on to the idea of tuning lots of metal pieces to the standard 12 tones and then using their percussive qualities to carry some of the melody within this composition.  Apparently, this was enough to satisfy his creative thirst:

This new orchestration helped bend my ear enough, and I felt I was doing something fresh with the old familiar 12ET. It also allowed for easy interface with live musicians who only spoke in those 12 steps.

The “Entropic Twilight” suite found on this box is quite a bit shorter (clocking in at 37 minutes) than the original version (at 49 minutes) which you can find on the empreintes DIGITALes release Délires de plaisirs (2005).  This new version was also re-mastered by Dolden and the sound quality (even for my cloth ears) is noticeably better.

It may seem to some that six years is a long time to “only” compose one 49-minute piece of music.  To that, I’d say with my recent “further education” into his music…I have a more accurate handle on the amount of time that goes into creating these uber epics.  These pieces are exceedingly complex (even I, a non-musician can see that). It surely takes time to transform them from a germ of an idea to a fully fleshed-out work of art.  I can only imagine the magnitude of time it must take for the playing, recording, arranging, and mixing.  The organizational effort involved must be massive.

I mentioned back in Part 1 that this period was a really hard nut for me to crack.  In my initial Dolden discovery phase, I received L’ivresse de la Vitesse (both discs), Seuil de silences and Délires de plaisirs all at the same time.  The first two albums showcased his ultra-intense, wall-of-sound textural artistry that basically left me raving and drooling in catatonia after each listen.  

And then…there was Délires de plaisirs…um, what’s this now?  Wow…that sounds like a DX7, really?  Are those voices…like auto-tuned?  This is putting me to sleep!  These were just some of my first impressions 20-25 years ago…and I was crushed, devastated even.  Radio friendly Dolden…cmon man!  (Ok, that last sentence was an exaggeration.)

This story does have a happy ending. Over the years, with each re-visit to this piece, I started to find details that clicked for me. Overly saccharine choral arrangements started to acquire an eerie weirdness. What I thought were thin-sounding synth pads revealed themselves as not synths at all but tracks upon tracks of the tintinnabulation of tuned metal objects. The blatant aura of sentimentality gradually turned into this very strange headspace of kitsch, yet cool. I’ve come to realize that I don’t think I’ve heard anything like this before.

I’ll admit that my change of heart for this period occurred as I became more educated about what exactly goes into a Dolden piece of music.  I hate to go back to his process but, the more I learned about that aspect, the more I realized I was (and maybe still am) the victim of a lot of misconceptions about his creative practices.  Why should this matter?  Well, with this new knowledge, my critical listening of his music “big banged” in a whole new way.  I now have new ideas of what to listen FOR and a myriad of options of HOW to approach any given piece.

Let me stress (once again) that learning about his process is ABSOLUTELY NOT necessary to enjoy his music.  The primal, gut-level sounds that he produces are there, and they are brilliant…and will always be there.  I’m just talking about my personal journey.

So, what about the music that makes up this “Twilight Cycle”?  The piece is split up into three parts, a shorter, quieter middle section bookended by two longer movements with lots of recurring motifs and themes, some of which are hidden within the mass of sonic detail swimming around the soundscape.

And that detail is legion!  Easter eggs are everywhere, and the thrill of discovery is one helluva satisfying, not to mention fun, rollercoaster to ride.  For example, just last night I listened to this work (one of many times in the last month) and something bizarre presented itself.  Realizing that my attempt at describing what Dolden is doing is most likely wrong, let me give it a shot anyway.  There are moments where he seems to be electronically tweaking his layered sound samples by taking one chord or event, slicing it out of its previous context, severely gating it, and re-assembling it in a Berlin-School-styled kaleidoscopic sequence.  This was a very Bernard Parmegiani crossed with Klaus Schultz moment for me. I found it strange, and amazing (let alone extremely cool), but I never picked up on it before.  Well, maybe because it’s literally surrounded by other sound candy that can (and should) have their own stories.

And then there is (I’ll safely caveat) what sounds like” some thick, crunch-alishous, metal infected guitars driving a recurring melody line that would be the envy of any superhero flying to the rescue.  This sequence was downright fist pumping and, if I had any hair…it would be flung from side to side as my head was doing the “Bill and Ted” bobbing thing during “Bohemian Rhapsody”!

One more…you know those “overly saccharine” choral arrangements I mentioned.  I’ll go on record right now and say they are some of the most positively infectious ear worms ever!  They are all over the place in this piece, some are female, some are male, some sound like a children’s choir but they all carry the same, weird mega-emo quality to them.  I can’t quite pin it down, but the melodies evoke at any given time, feelings of personal victory against overwhelming odds, a positive re-invention or re-birth of the self and/or the glimpse of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”.  Dolden says:

My intention was to write works that were joyful and optimistic and was a response to the philosophical perception that the postmodern world was drained of substance and meaning.

He was spot on.  What started as my “least favorite” work from him has rapidly moved up the ladder to inhabit the top 10.  (Don’t ask me to name them, they are constantly changing.)

This will take us to Part 5, where I’ll be looking at his most recent works.  This is the period where he examines the dual concepts of Nature and Historical Imagination.  See you soon.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

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