Review: Matthew Dotson – Excavation


(Cassette, self-released, 2012)

Matthew Dotson’s “Excavation” is an hour long trip through experimental, electroacoustic soundscapes which don’t feel afraid to get really hardcore at times. This Chicagoist travels the world to look for new sources of sound and often accidental inspiration. Side A, for instance (both sides are untitled on this cassette, by the way), was recorded in Japan and influenced by traditional Japanese music, but thrown (temporarily) into an abyss of noise distortion. The opening minutes are filled with oriental string bliss with a melancholic, longing edge disturbed only by the recorded sounds of casual conversations – the album does not give any information whether side A was a recording of a live performance or just a skillfully arranged sampled composition. Probably both.

The melancholic plucking of a string instrument gets drowned out in the sea of increasingly brutal, glitchy power electronics that bring to mind the harshest moments of Autechre’s “Gantz Graf” stretched over the period of a few minutes. Once we’re behind this wall of noise, another stretch of experimentation begins – first barely audible, then louder and more intense, Dotson plays around with various percussion instruments – the sort of esoteric, seemingly directionless clatter Chris Corsano does so well. Then, the final “movement” of side A begins: Dotson harnesses the electronics once again, but instead of brutal assault, he makes some cold, metallic drones that gets more and more intense to the final all-swallowing dark ambience which makes everything around rumble.

Side B is slightly more accessible, with less focus put on abstract sound-art and more into drones and ambience. Gone is the people’s chatter and found sounds, this side is much less “polluted” with sound, instead focusing on the slowly expanding amorphous, bulging mass of gradually more bassy and abrasive electronics. Actually, there comes a moment when this menacing mass sounds like as if it was ready to spill out of whatever you’re listening this album on (cassette deck, computer, mp3 player etc.) and spill out into the material world as a black blob which is ready to consume anything. Thankfully, suddenly the noise is cut short and replaced with near silence, which isn’t all much better – despite being much quieter, it’s still lingering in the shadows, creeping out the listener with ghostly reverb, getting more and more rhythmical and finally becoming a maniacal, incredibly busy, glitched out IDM that could easily be mistaken for some much more famous producer.

If the previous 50 minutes of listening was challenging and diffcult, the last 10 minutes of side B provide a sort of reward for those who managed to sit through all the glitches, noise, threatening drones and found sound experiments: a very relaxing krautrock/ambient pop piece driven by bass, electric guitar and drum machine that doesn’t fall far away from “Zuckerzeit”-era Cluster or the Californian autobahn maniac FWY! A total surprise and a compelling counterpoint to all the intense, unclassifiable music that’s happening throughout the rest of the tape, which proves that Matthew Dotson feels good both at the avant-garde end of the spectrum and while making down-to-earth driving tunes. Recommended.


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