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Tod Dockstader - Aerial 3

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Artist: Tod Dockstader

Album: Aerial 3

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Jan. 18, 2007

By now, anyone the least bit interested in the avant-garde is probably familiar with Tod Dockstader’s story. The Minnesotan emerged during the heyday of musique concrete – that heady moment of tape-splicing fury between the 1950s and 1960s – to produce music on a par with that of Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Henry or Xenakis. After several decades of relative dormancy, he re-emerged to produce some of his most mature and provocative music.

The third and concluding installment of his Aerial trilogy is as powerful as its predecessors, showcasing Dockstader’s ear for nuance and color, the focus of his constructions, and the range of his imagination. These 23 pieces are generally not very flamboyant or chaotic, but there is a vast amount of detail; the changes that Dockstader realizes in just a few minutes are fairly remarkable.

Following the caustic pieces on the second installment, these incisions – often rooted in transformed human voices – exude with a kind of sepulchral stillness, a calm laced through with foreboding. This music continues Dockstader’s fascination with shortwave radio, his attempt to use this as both data collection device and instrument, using computers to produce and process the sounds found. And what results there are! We find everything from futuristic steam engines motoring forth (“Voicetrain”), Tuvan throat singing on acid (“Wave”), glitch warfare (“Jam” or the digital collapse of “Din”), violent seas thrashing (“Harmonic”), surly flatulent beasts (“CQ”), to crossing airplane Doppler effects (“Woo”).

But while range this considerable may suggest a lack of focus or programmatic chaos, the whole disc hangs together well as a listening experience. Not only do the pieces blend and segue smoothly, the whole thing is linked by its attention to contrast: whatever the dominant atmospherics, there always seems to be a drone laced with details that flash at just the right angle of vision/hearing; there are continuous ghost-like presences (specifically pitch-shifting and layered voices) that flit through the atmosphere; and Dockstader expertly toys with mood, as menace becomes comfort and balm becomes torment. Only occasionally is the spell broken, as on “Wheeze” where there’s a bit of an archaic (not to say anachronistic) sound collage that bleeps and chimes like an arriving ’50s spacecraft.

Now nearly 75, Dockstader continues to create a music that brims with reflective, even mournful qualities. But this is only a part of the man’s achievement, a music filled with possibility, glimmering with attitude, and flashing with the kind of restless invention that distinguishes him

By Jason Bivins

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