od Dockstader heard poetry in the airborne electricity. The musique concrete pioneer recorded more than 90 hours of shortwave radio noises; connecting points between his amassed tapes and magnifying those lines 260x times with a computer. It is the first time he used such a machine in his nearly five decades of stitching recorded noises together for academics and cartoons like Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing. This past year also saw Pond, a collection of fingerprints that he and feedback composer David Lee Myers digitally smudged on recorded frog croaks.
It is difficult to determine if shortwave radio is really heard on Aerial 1, Dockstader’s first solo album in nearly 40 years. Whatever “music” is heard are drone symphonies slightly tainted with disembodied melodies all wandering around in the ether. The composer seemingly boiled away all traces of humanity in the broadcasts; leaving the listener with a mesmerizing and near-phantasmagoric din akin to freeway noises, refrigeration, engines, jetliner sonic booms, and other banalities of the factory-produced age.
Once devoid of broadcasting information, the radio returns to being a defective machine that fascinated and often haunted Dockstader as a child who pressed his ear to a radio while growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota during the 1930’s. He recalled to The Wire about being troubled by the call-and-response noise between Hitler and the Nazi German masses and the discord of the radio transmissions. “…these outer space sounds going on, behind them, non-human, chiming in,” he told Ken Hollings, in explaining his 1966 piece, Past Prelude for chamber music and samples of Nazi speeches and songs.
Aerial is a three-volume epic, with its first release curiously packaged in a thick slipcase containing the CD along with two empty cases for the upcoming volumes. Dockstader belies his age with an ear still razor-sharp for sounds that hit the gut. Opener, “Song” sets the album template with a 12-minute drift through the clouds: a roiling drone exhales its tones, only to dissipate into thin air; brief radio frequencies snap; and near-flanged timbres rise and fall in volume, all maintaining the tension that never ceases. The follow-up, “Om,” takes the same palate and swipes it with violent strokes of a radio trying to correct itself, while “Raga” is striking for its faintest of spiritual chants heard amid a frequency noise tweaked into that of a sitar’s melody. “Second Song” is a humidifier drone rendered into what sounds like passing cars and “Harbor” washes the static into the sea for boat horns lost in the fog, blaring in the distance. “Aw” stretches a choir’s vowel into what seems like an eternal drone emitting from the center of the earth through a 10-mile crack in a deserted city. As to what mysteries arise about the origin of that beckoning noise, here’s looking forward to two more albums that could further entice.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2005-07-06