Waver & Change // Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn
Kyle Bobby Dunn’s music dances and teeters at the point where the most minimal strains of ambient, drone, and new classical genres conjoin. The Brooklyn-(by way of Ontario)-based composer has created a sizable and awe-inspiring catalog of work since his first label-released album, Fragments and Compositions, in 2008. But his latest, Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn, is the best to date––a kind of ideal iteration of the specific sonic territory he’s staked out. Dunn creates audio landscapes wherein time slows, where movement in a piece stretches over minutes, as the spreading sustain of multiple tones slowly come together to create stunning waves of sound that are monumental in their all-encompassing nature. Dunn’s music is often––specifically, particularly––beautiful.
Working as he does in a vernacular that tends to transcend traditional concepts of music, Dunn demands that the listener develop a new language of hearing, a technique for parsing the closed world he’s created, a world where music is defined by shifts in timbres and glacially enveloping sustains as opposed to the ideas of tempo and chord changes. The central strength that elevates Dunn’s work above and beyond the vast majority of minimal composition, is the way his pieces manage to straddle a wide variety of dichotomies, and as such render the concept of the dichotomy null: short pieces full of long sounds, unchanging cycles, dynamic stasis, subtle to the point of straining surfaces beneath which exist a world full of all encompassing sound and emotion. Take for example the opening piece, Canticle Of Votier’s Flats. The piece is a rendition of a repeating theme, treated so that it sounds like it was recorded somewhere verging on the cavernous and within the sustain of its notes tonal complications come in and out of phase. The piece is short, and its cycling never smacks of sameness. Instead, Dunn manages to capture a type of ongoing, merging ephemerality as the sonics beneath the surface waver and fluctuate. For a piece built so sturdily on repetition, it manages to demonstrate a sense of an ongoing and eternal present. It’s the way each second of the piece is so thoroughly unique. It’s the way they just merge into each other. The end the piece is a haunting and strident mourning. One of the briefer pieces on the album––and truth be told, in Kyle Bobby Dunn’s catalog––it’s two minutes of a very specific type of bliss that only great art can elicit––it makes you feel the joy of sadness, the sadness of joy.
Compared to his previous release, A Young Persons Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn, Bring Me The Head… offers a greater mix of track lengths, and it’s by and large the longer tracks that are the most effecting. Take the 12 minutes of “Douglas Glen Theme.” It begins off with thin and trebly tones, an exercise in playing with various palettes of sounds (mostly guitar generated, though I get a sense of chiming cymbals, woodwinds, and brass sprouting from Dunn’s technique). Dunn allows the tones to cycle and chime building as they reach, fall away, reach, and repeat. Vertically layered and slightly misaligned, the various parts fall in and out of harmony and dissonance, building to an ecstasy of sound before falling away to silence. Dunn’s deft compositional hand allows a breath-like vitality to come from the piece, the sense that something organic is emerging from what could, in lesser hands, come off as a rote sound exercise. “An Evening with Dusty” fully demonstrates Dunn’s skills at creating abstract but fully evocative pieces. Starting with a few sounds that alternately build and recede, gaining strength as the track progresses, Dunn creates a piece that seems to be straining against some sort of unseen structure or restraints. The component tones form a peaking wall of sound that, slackened and dimmed in its recessive phase, results in a quiet that manages to be vibrating and alive with the memory of what had just overlaid it. The shorter track, “The Trouble With Tres Belles,” with its simple repetitive theme and swirling storm of chords rising and falling behind it, feels like the end of something, the way cliffs are the end of the earth, the way that waking is the end of dreaming. At five minutes long it’s a shorter piece, one that shows a condensed version of the process that is displayed in a more played out form on the album’s longer tracks. It feels more like the end point of a compositional process than the ongoing, living animal we experience in the album’s longer tracks (e.g.: 12 minute “The Hungover” is a slow burner, gently rising and moving forward as its notes echo back against themselves).
The final third or so of the double album is marked by “The Calm Idiots Of Yesterday,” a 10 minute summation of Dunn’s strongest instincts. The initial notes of the piece are gradually revealed to be smaller pieces of larger tones that are in fact smaller pieces of larger chords. Cycling in and out, expanding and contracting (mimicking breath) “The Calm Idiots Of Yesterday” never builds to a reverie-inducing summation or compilation of its component parts. The closest we get occurs about 3/4s into the track when the cycles of dissonance overlap in a sound vaguely reminiscent of fog horns, which ties into all the stormy and wind blown images Dunn conjures with the piece. In contrast, “In Search Of A Poetic Whole” is a vigorous (that being a relative term in Dunn’s music) exercise in waves of sound coming at the listener, each cycle stronger and more robust than the one preceding it until any silence between them disappears in the all-encompassing sound bathing the listener. The album closes with “Moitie Et Moitie,” a subtle epilogue full of chiming textures that overlap into a shimmer that manages to be both dissonant and harmonic. Dunn captures a mood somewhere between sadness and strength, it’s the sound of a respite that occurs after having survived an ordeal; it’s sound as memory, as memorial.
The more I heard Bring Me The Head Of Kyle Bobby Dunn, the more mysterious it became, and the more the sense of the unknown that surrounded deepened. While I looked for a way into the record, I realized the lack of an entrance was my starting point. I reconciled with not having an immediate vocabulary for describing the effects Dunn’s music achieves, and instead got into the idea of describing the shadows that they cast. I got into the idea that what the record evoked was tied into its functioning, as opposed to be just being an external effect. Dunn’s album is great––massively so actually––but not due to any comparison to anything outside of itself. It’s a work of art that is simply great on its own right; when you listen to it, nothing else exists.
A short conversation that took a long time, an Interview with Kyle Bobby Dunn
Mark Gluth: Not knowing how you produce or perform your work, not knowing what instruments, software, or recording techniques you use, I’d say it feels as if it is the product of a reductive process similar to editing. As if the end results are a distillate composed of so many various sources. Can you discuss?
Kyle Bobby Dunn: To be honest most of the songs are made up of guitar only. There are some string overlapping moments and sampled instruments plastered in at parts, but I really wanted to stick to the directness the guitar can offer. Plus I’ve been playing it in the live setting for quite a few years now.
MG: How much are the final pieces a result of a live performance, and how much are they the result of multiple takes or editing?
KBD: The final pieces can sometimes be a result of a piece I’ve been working at and changing subtly over a few live sets––on this album especially. But I would say it’s still mostly work I’ve been working away at on my own in the studio over time. ‘In Search of a Poetic Whole’ I actually began editing and work on in 2007 or so. ‘Douglas Glen’ is something I’ve been playing various live combinations of over the last year or so.
MG: What is the impetus for you when working on a track? Do you aim for a specific mood you want to create, or a specific sound color or technique you want to explore? Do you just play around on your guitar till something happens that you like?
KBD: I really think the mood or color or whatever reveals itself after all is “said and Dunn.” I sit down and begin to work with sounds that reflect myself and what I like of course––and they change over time or stay the same. It’ll often just be me sitting thinking about pastimes, faces, emotions conjured from people and places that I’ve known… soundtracking moments of my head and what might only make real sense to me. At the same, hopefully delivering a sound that is somewhat pleasant and emotionally lulling to the listener. Why we listen to music and the kinds of music people listen to is all pretty mysterious and hilarious at once…
MG: Let me ask you about the titles of your pieces then. Your titles appear to be these links between your music, and something concrete in the world. How do these links form? Are they intentional from the outset or do you discover them during composing/recording?
KBD: Mostly the title comes from how the music feels to me. I’ll be recording and working on something and it’s often what comes to mind from that finished work that deciphers the title for me. I suppose there are almost too many songs that are named after people and places on this one… then there are some tracks that are just named after a feeling or general mood about something.
MG: How long does take, from initial conception to final recording, to complete your pieces? Does it vary wildly?
KBD: It ranges with different pieces. On this new release there are short songs that seemed to take forever/months to complete. Then long works that came out the quickest. I guess I have found shorter songs to be more difficult.
MG: Who do you consider your peers? I know for example you’re familiar with and like Grouper, do you see her as someone attempting what you are but maybe from a totally different angle?
KBD: I like Benoit Pioulard and Grouper and lots of other new music. Grouper’s ‘Violet Replacement’ has been playing a lot around here. I am hoping to work on something with Monsieur Pioulard this year.
MG:What’s next for Kyle Bobby Dunn?
KBD: A new LP on my friends Damian Valles & Alex Durlak (great Toronto composers) new label in the summer/early fall. Working on something with a NY friend that might be more song-driven and include my ugly voice. And working on arranging more extensive Canadian performances. Hopefully the people of northern Canada are prepared for this shit.
 Dunn’s silence is not an absence, but rather a negative compositional space, and the way his gaps in tone and sustain weave and play between the actual notes played in his pieces, one comes to realize that the silence is not a rest but an event on par with any of the positive sounds at play in the piece.
 Not least among the reasons for this sense of the organic emerging from his work is the way Dunn uses texture, the way it emerges from his pointillist like assemblages of tones––disparately pitched, treated etc, but also each with a certain purity (as if every sound has been distilled down to some platonic ideal of itself). With all the reverb and sustain at play in his pieces, a certain randomness (a hesitancy to avoid dissonance, or rather an active decision to let dissonance occur) looms in them and it’s that randomness that takes the sense of texture he’s established, and allows it to, if not evolve, then at least waver and change.