Reviews » Review of Aerial #2 on The Milk Factory by Max Schaefer

This second installation in eminent sound-sculptor Tod Dockstader’s ode to the short-wave radio is a furtherance of the ill-omened aura that pervaded the swooning electronic squalls, serrated harmonics and mangled frequency modulations of the previous document. While that effort explored overtones and dynamics through faint striations of the distressed drones, this second edition - consisting of twenty-one segments which blur into one another and unravel as one hour-long piece - is far more active, upfront, and demanding.

The presence of Dockstader, which previously loomed ominously overtop his creation, scarcely noticeable, content to make minute adjustments, is now thoroughly embedded in these rhythmic and pulsing currents. In this sense, although his presence is obvious, it remains nevertheless difficult to pinpoint or tie-down at any particular point. Instead, speaking to the mystical aura that drifts about these works, Dockstader’s self or presence is not enclosed, but is out there in the world to such an extent that it is no longer a question of where the source sounds leave off and Dockstader’s manipulation begins, as they have in these recordings essentially coalesced into one.

What impresses most, however, is just how tangible these high-end frequency densities and epileptic microsounds become. The droves of quivering tones vibrate at such a pace and take on such an oppressive density that they quickly cut a very real, dominant figure, sounding as though they were ghosts vigorously trying to communicate. The middle section slowly takes on more sparse, amorphous structures, suggestive perhaps of the realms the next and final volume of this series will explore. For the moment, they act as places of punctuation and rest, saving the onlooker from one uninterrupted march, and enabling them to assess what they have passed through while also branching out and fully taking in the more subtle elements that had previously been all but buried in the background. Still, this second half has an affinity for the first - it maintains its gloomy, spectral chill - but the motifs have changed, and only Dockstader’s presence remains, tremulous and irresolute, caressing the taped material with faithful delicateness and monastical feeling.