Before the lowering of the average listener’s bullshit detection capacities, which rendered the public accustomed to garbage passed off as “adventurous modern music”, there was an age when specific preparation, time and forces devoted to research, sheer passion, and indisputable talent were worth much more than an unjustified appearance in trend-setting pages.
Picture the fusion of a massive heap of contemporary material, condensed into pieces that may, on occasion, last a mere couple of minutes. But hopefully more frequently, fill up a whole disc or two. Think of a man who has spent decades combining genres, styles, and sonorities into a multiplex idiom – what someone refers to as “maximalist,” a term not exactly loved here – that sounds uniquely like him, imagine what a brain he would have. A musician academically trained yet thoroughly open-minded, who really plays instruments, who employed other virtuoso performers and his knowledge of studio techniques to flesh out an impressive body of work, typically requiring several hundreds of superimposed tracks and hours upon hours of painstaking labor to produce – get this – a minute of music per month.
That artist is Paul Dolden. Without a doubt one of the finest composers around, the winner of dozens of awards. But still insufficiently praised, if you ask me. We had the luck to learn about this outstanding creator way back in 1992, thanks to a late friend pointing yours truly to The Threshold Of Deafening Silence, a CD we’ve been treasuring to this day. Along with numerous additional recordings, we should add. Some readers may be at least somewhat familiar with Dolden’s compelling output, consistently replete with rather unpredictable variables, assemblage expertise, and a degree of intellectual irony. Even better, of sonically all-pervasive ecstasies. Dolden has now provided the best gift to the League of Snoopy Collectors by making his complete production accessible on a USB flash drive. This is great news for both experts and others who regrettably missed the bus at the start. As mediocrity-peddling pretenders are inevitably preferred by the establishment over properly recognizing a true genius for his exceptional characteristics after forty years of tireless toiling, we believe that an opportunity such as this arises at the right moment for stirring up revolt.
Dolden, a thoughtful and inquisitive spirit, is intrigued by the relationships between elements – including those that seem to be far apart – and their recombinative synthesis. Although the breadth of his investigation spans a significant amount of information, expressed primarily in geographic and cultural concerns that influence the final product of a given composition, as well as purely philosophical and naturalistic queries, his music is invariably infused with a life-giving flow of breathtaking radiance. Check the fittingly titled “Elated Moments For A Vibrating Universe,” which at times literally puts us in awe of its peculiar beauty. Or the entire 2017 album Histoires d’Histoire, for that matter. Or, again, the fascinating “Eternal Return Of A Ritual Form”, featuring clarinetist François Houle and pianist Jane Hayes. It is necessary to note that Dolden has devised his own tuning systems, crucially endowing the sound with a distinctive aspect of perceptual oscillation (case in point, “The Un-Tempered Orchestra”). Paired with the overlapping of multiple tempos and velocities, this usually causes a disorienting impact in the unrehearsed ear, deprived of the typical “safety handles” represented by regular pulses and stereotypical harmonic solutions.
If that’s still not enough, the composer has also included in the release a selection of scores – yes, ladies and gentlemen, this exciting unrealism is notated – that will give skeptics an understanding of what it means to work tirelessly on a project in order for an audience to derive meaning and acoustic gratification from it. That’s not the end of the story, though. There are readable documents explaining the motivations behind the opuses (and, in general, Dolden’s aesthetic) and, especially, a number of educational resources – both written and audio – that include influences, details and intricacies that one would not expect to see revealed. Instead, Dolden expounds them in a way that will result as utterly intimidating to those considering Mozart’s good-for-Nokia symphonies as the pinnacle of sonic art. For that segment of the population, “Marsya’s Melodies” from Music Of Another Present Era on endless repeat might be the appropriate “instructional punishment” for evolutionary reasons. Or perhaps a 24-hour binge of the glorious “Veils,” from L’Ivresse De La Vitesse. Just two among countless illustrations of this gentleman’s omnidirectional, pluri-contrapuntal, cross-genre poetics.
This is last chance saloon, folks. Paul Dolden’s opera omnia is essential listening. As a plus, the older masterpieces have been completely remastered. You can have it all in the palm of your hand, or – if so elected – inside your hard disk. It’s now or never.