Sporting frogs and toads, transformed as to be (almost) unrecognizable, Pond had been for me one of the most beautiful surprises of last year. The album had signaled the return to the scene of Tod Dockstader, one of the most brilliant pioneers of what is usually called “organized sound”; a pioneer whose music is the one I’d define as the one sounding the freshest - thanks both to its high quality and to the lack of recognition it received for a long, long time. Pond was a collaborative work with David Lee Myers, an artist who in his album called Engines Of Myth, released under the name Arcane Device, had proved himself to be perfectly capable to create climates that reminded one of the music by Dockstader, even if the technical means he used were quite different.
The fact that Pond had been met with so much indifference made me quite bitter. Sure, I know that nowadays ReR is not a “trendy” label (anymore), and that they don’t have the kind of advertising money that’ll give back the eyesight to the blind. But even among the (few) aficionados of the “genre” the album had been greeted with a certain indifference - maybe in response to a certain glut that nowadays seems endemic to the genre?
The release of Bijou was a nice surprise, but for totally different reasons: given the fact that to produce something of real substance in this idiom one needs quite a lot of time and effort I was not expecting something new so soon! I’ll immediately say that the work is nicely done but that it had me wondering, my doubts being mainly provoked by what I consider to be the work’s “conceptual framework” (I’m extremely curious about other critics’ response, since I bet that things such as “the memory of sound” and “the resonance of the signifier” are on the average much more stimulating affairs than frogs and toads, however transformed).
Provided I have not misunderstood everything, the “conceptual framework” of this work is the music - which includes music, sounds, effects, whatever - of the movies. The first sounds we hear on the CD are the impossible-to-mistake sounds of Roll ‘em, and the CD closes with the familiar “jingle” of Credits and with the sounds of Wrap. Maybe it’s because I don’t go to the movies much, but the “scenes” that sounded somewhat familiar to me - some “genre music” in Closer, Closer and Encasement, the sounds in Scene Of The Crime, Emergency Response and Phoning Home - sounded to me like not-terribly-stimulating reproductions, like having a switched-on TV set behind me. Here and there we have the (nasal) square waves that I consider as being typical of Myers. Then, when all appeared destined to make me feel bored as hell, it seemed like somebody has put on another CD: there is a quite brilliant series of tracks - Abstractions Unchained and Abstractions Unchained Director’s Cut, Contraptions (Short), Dark Funnels, Underground Ops, Underground Ops Redux - where materials are really transformed, with absolutely brilliant results (is it just my impression, or these are the tracks where it’s easier to see Dockstader’s style? Anyway, they reminded me a lot of his old Owl LPs). Machine Mystique - which to me really sounds like being the work of Myers - is also very good.
In closing? I’m quite puzzled - for many reasons.
An examination of the possible reasons that make it high unlikely for Tod Dockstader to be more appreciated and, just for a start, more well-known beyond a tiny circle of aficionados led me to the conclusion that the only possible reason is his not being a name that’s “in the fashion”. Which is a quite paradoxical - and not very encouraging - conclusion, given the fact that we are talking about a musical landscape - that of electronic, concréte, or whatever you want to call it, music - that one would like to imagine as being immune to random, capricious factors like one being mentioned by the arbiter of taste of the day.
In truth, Dockstader has all the right ingredients to be appreciated, a lot of excellent music, (obviously) above all; also, the air of an outsider who - while being outside of academia - learned to use (and innovate) the means he used by using them: a notion that is highly prized in this era which holds the “DIY” spirit in high esteem. Instead, I believe that the excellent interview by Chris Cutler which appeared in the issue Vol. 4 # 2 of the RéR Quarterly was for most people the only in-depth source of knowledge about Dockstader’s music and “career”. Fortunately, gems from the 60s such as Apocalypse and Quatermass (originally released on Owl) were re-released about ten years ago by Starkland; while a later work such as Omniphony 1 - Tod Dockstader’s collaboration with James Reichert - was re-released by RéR not too long ago.
The silent question that Dockstader’s fans asked themselves - will he ever record again? (and: will it be of the same quality as his classic works?) - gets an unambiguous answer from this new CD, recorded thanks also to the decisive contribution by David Lee Myers: the cultivator of “feedback music” whose excellent album Engines Of Myth, recorded under the name Arcane Device (originally released on vinyl in 1988, the album was finally released on CD last year), had on its cover a dedication to Tod Dockstader. A token of his esteem, and also an appreciation that was not that that difficult to hear in the grooves.
A joint work, Pond sees both musicians using somewhat unfamiliar means. For Dockstader, so used at using tape, the unfamiliar elements were the computer and the music software; while for Myers, so used at working with primarily electronic means, sounds that originated in the “real world”. As per the work’s title, sounds from the pond - for start, frogs and toads - were the (sometimes quite easy to recognize, more often mutated beyond belief) main source material; which is a factor that at first could maybe lead the listener to adopt a specific listening attitude. But after a couple of listening sessions music becomes the proper object. Music (or “organized sound”, as written on the cover, maybe in memory of those polemic battles) that’s quite easy to appreciate: nice timbral variety, clear sounds, vivacious stereo imaging, lots of different musical styles and atmospheres… I mean, not at all difficult. Just being willing to leave behind the well-beaten path is enough. At first, I caught myself thinking about who had done what - sure, the sad and lonely air of Surge brought to my mind the already mentioned Apocalypse; while the nasal (square) waveforms of Springers sounded as having Myers’s signature. But Pond is an almost-perfect work that makes these kind of preoccupations absolutely unnecessary, and that in a way could be said to be well represented by the close of the last track, Corridor: i.e., extremely logical and totally unexpected at the same time.