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Margaret Dygas - How Do You Do

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Artist: Margaret Dygas

Album: How Do You Do

Label: PowerShovel Audio

Review date: Jan. 20, 2011

How Do You Do starts with field recordings of a wildlife park; and then David Attenborough pops up out of nowhere, observing the scenario in his perpetually intrigued voice; and then radio static and a string quartet drench the stereo field. It’s an intriguing start to Margaret Dygas’s debut album, released not by one of her usual homes (German techno labels like Perlon), but rather by Japan’s PowerShovel Audio.

It’s a smart move on Dygas’s part, for this is no ordinary techno album. PowerShovel proposed a 32-page booklet of Dygas’s photographs to accompany the album, which Dygas based on Desmond Morris’s book, People Watching. People watching is one of the most indulgent and intriguing of everyday phenomena, so it’s somehow appropriate for the strange mix of hermeticism and amiability that defines How Do You Do. The photos are snippets of the touring life, and also of home life — blurry shots of arms aloft at the disco are surrounded by evacuated rooms, lonely radiators, people caught unawares, in profile, limbs touching, hands at rest, a cat sitting on the floor. So it’s “Margaret Dygas watching” the world, as it were — another form of people watching.

Once you’re beyond the concept and moored in the depth of the record, there’s plenty to intrigue. “Introduction” has twisted and whirled pianos hugging sharp-edited field recordings, hissing interruptions from terra firma; the pulsing heartbeat of “Baton Signals” disappears almost as soon as it introduces itself, is swamped by an alien drone intrusion, and then returns, tempo ratcheted up, among an evocatively spectral tonal field that’s close to Coil’s more Kosmische side. “Salutation” bustles with incident, the kick’s insistent thud swarmed, at around the five-minute mark, with floor-lifting stretches of angelic drone-hum.

As How Do You Do progresses, and you waltz further into the maw of the album, it inches closer to the dance floor, but with a quietly whirring, user-friendly form of musique concrete as an undertow. It’s an album of odd sensations and confusing responses — gripping, but emotionally evasive, and welcoming and alienating in equal measures. After listening, you’re left slightly befuddled, wondering what you’ve just experienced — a welcome sentiment, after so many records that tell you exactly what they’re going to do, and how you’re going to respond.

For anyone used to the spiralling psychedelics of Dygas’s earlier productions, How Do You Do can feel rather denuded. But these tracks do share the odd and fractal logic that characterizes Dygas’s music (alongside some of her Perlonic peers — think Villalobos in particular). It’s a quiet surpriser and a very coherent document, even if the Desmond Morris connection ultimately seems a bit of a red herring. How Do You Do would have stood just as comfortably without the conceptual context.

By Jon Dale

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