Stressing Strings Out

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8.2
Viola landscapes post-wild west.

Stressings by Jordan Dykstra: How to make the viola cry.

Sometimes we need to question the difference between beautiful and pretty. I’m not about to tackle such a lofty rhetorical exercise, but it should be safe to say that your concept of pretty, beautiful, is not mine, and not least Jordan Dykstra’s. He is a humble, quiet universe within himself — to each their own. His outpouring music is full of tension and dreaminess. His new record, Stressings, is not for enjoyment. Although you might enjoy it, that may be irrelevant. He uses only viola here, which may be commonly seen as a dainty instrument, but its player can do whatever they want with it.

I finally sat down to listen to the CD actively, because with every passive listening effort, the music felt interruptive. The album is an experience to sojourn through, sitting quietly in your seat. Every piece is a study. Each one offers an experience. I don’t hear stories or drama here. It’s more like the machinations of [fill in with visualization]. Your own projection, imagination will illustrate the music, and will speak volumes about who you are.

“I’m Not a Horse Person, Dog (Accretion)” is the second piece, and despite its humorous title is the slowest of the four to develop from part to part. This allows the listener to dream.

My attempt to combine a dream with technical language:

It sounds like drops of blood, water, oil, all liquids, all forms dripping into vacancy, achieved with a slow attack and sudden release of notes in apparent chromatic scale, until the valve opens wide and each of those individual dissonant droplets come flooding out in a drone. Tension is sustained and tightened as multitrack viola separates in pitch by very slow, deliberate glissando. Notes sustain again, but in tremolo, and some of the tension is released, briefly. Then the harsh screeching of Jordan’s bow technique that he calls “overpressure” brings out overtones and undertones, finishing the song without a note of resolution.

The piece that follows, “No Going Back Before Present (Anthropocene)” tends to condense ideas developed in the previous tracks, to employ them a bit more aggressively, while a plucking technique adds a percussive feel, and more dimension. Each of four tracks are composed, plotted, recorded, and edited with intention here, mostly guided by graphical notation. Dykstra produces sheet music, improvised recordings, and has performed the work of many others throughout his developing career.

The CD package, which was designed by Jordan, points to the concept of the record. On the wrap around cover, a landscape interrupted by oil drilling. Stressings will be the companion to a feature-length film entitled “No Going Back Before Present,” due out this summer. Watch the trailer below, it is the imagery Dykstra always had in mind, making full use of new aerial “drone” video cameras. A bit of a concept album, devoted to the geological phenomenon known as Anthropocene: The epoch of human influence over the Earth to which we have already left a massive mark.

“The Long Meditation” by Michael Knapp is a text piece included within. This too is an active reading commitment. I started along and realized you can’t really even listen to the music and comprehend that at once. So consider it a bonus piece of abstract, poetic literature, a narrative devoted to time, opening with an observation of the 24 daily death cycle that is the clock.


The Breakdown


Creativity
8
Production
7.5
Affect
9




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