Andrew PM Hunt’s fourth album as Dialect begins with a guided meditation. “Under the galaxy,” whispers a woman’s voice, framed by the sounds of bubbling water and burbling electric piano; a soft metallic tapping punctuates the rhythm of her words. “Under atmosphere/Under sky/Under clouds.” She continues to drill down, drawing our gaze past trees, ground, bedrock. Under crust, under lava. “Keep going,” she urges, her voice never rising, as woodwinds and strings rustle gently around her.
It’s a remarkable opening. The whispered instructions (the voice is that of Hunt’s collaborator Hannah Bitowski) clear the mind and focus attention. And the insistence upon a vertical line cuts against the way that music typically moves forward in time. It underscores the spatial qualities of Dialect’s music, which trades rhythm and melody for tone clusters and splotches of color, closer in spirit to an abstract painting than a conventional song.
Blending chamber music with vaporwave, gathering together field recordings and sketch-like musical ideas—minimalist pulses, cinematic drones, streaks of synth and zither—Hunt’s work as Dialect has always had more in common with collage than musical composition. “It started as a way to find a home for a bunch of disparate recordings I had knocking around that felt like they didn’t fit anywhere else,” he told The Wire recently; he approached his debut album, 2015’s Advanced Myth, “by treating the material as if I was making a mix of other people’s music—different styles and approaches being collaged together with unexpected connections and big emphasis on the flow.”
Flow is paramount on Under~Between; the album’s 11 tracks proceed as parts of one unbroken whole, with little to delineate them. As on Advanced Myth and its successors, 2015’s Gowanus Drifts and 2017’s Loose Blooms, Hunt continues to work like a painter or collage artist, not so much writing music as manipulating shapes. This time, for raw material he used a set of pieces commissioned by the Immix Ensemble, a new-music chamber group based, like Hunt, in Liverpool, England. In a video of a 2016 performance by Dialect and Immix Ensemble, his writing for the group shuttles between the pulse minimalism of Terry Riley’s In C and more lyrically expressive modes. Here, however, remixing the group’s recordings of his own compositions, conventional melodic phrases are few and far between, leaving the play of pure texture and color in their place.
Following the opening track, reeds flutter and bows bounce gently against strings in “Yamaha Birds 1,” throwing off bright harmonics that mimic the chattering of a forest canopy; the faintest tonal shading leads from there into “Flame Not Stone,” in which wordless, electronically processed vocals and trilling synthesizer continue the avian theme. A piano melody takes shape, like a constellation coming into focus against a milky galactic backdrop. Held chords and a flourish of strings guide the way into “Stacks,” where marimba pulses and a splash of saxophone briefly hint at Japanese ambient music. The album’s first half comes to a head in “Ringing the Web,” in which a quick-moving saxophone solo, not much louder than breath itself, marks the album’s emotional peak against a porous backdrop of innumerable overdubbed layers.
It goes on like this—non-hierarchical, unstructured, free-flowing. There are few signposts; even after more than a dozen listens, I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what happens and at what point. There’s a risk, making music this abstract, that it can leave little to grab onto, and Under~Between’s diaphanous qualities can at first make it seem insubstantial. But the closer you lean in, the more it opens up. Every track is home to at least one event that happens there and only there, one sound that pipes up once and is never heard again before diving back down into the mix, drawing your attention under once again.
Hunt has said that one of the album’s influences is Joanna Marcy’s Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory, which examines the Buddist doctrine of Pratītyasamutpāda. Sometimes known as “interdependent co-arising,” the term describes the idea that all things are interconnected. That, presumably, is the source of the second half of the album’s title. In the opening “Under~Between,” when Bitowski finishes drawing her line from the heavens to the earth’s core, she shifts her attention to the idea of betweenness. “Between forces/Between sounds/Between light,” she continues, still whispering. Her list is more abstract this time; there’s an apples-and-oranges quality to some of the terms she reels off: “Between rivers/Between families/Between oil/Between sex.” At their root, though, they are all things that connect other things: routes, conduits, relations. The beauty of Under~Between is how elegantly it illustrates the idea of interdependence, tangling together seemingly unrelated sounds so that they are impossible to tease apart, and creating a space for peaceful contemplation in that web of interconnectedness.
Buy: Rough Trade
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