The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic, situated about 1,000 miles from the west coast of Portugal. The remoteness of the archipelago assured that it would remain uninhabited by humans until the 15th century, when it was settled by shepherds and fishermen. Despite a turbulent period in which the Azores were used to stage an overthrow of the Portuguese throne, the island chain has remained relatively calm and removed from the rest of the world. It is the perfect setting for an idyll in the classic sense, a pastoral escape from modern life, a virgin landscape upon which prelapsarian fantasies and dreams can be imprinted. Appropriately for the representation of an idealized bucolic landscape, Lieven Martens, the Belgian sound artist behind the project Dolphins Into The Future, claims to have been inspired by the methods and philosophies of romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich on Canto Arquipélago, an album that was recorded, produced, and mixed during a retreat to the Azores. Like the best canvases by Friedrich, the album constructs a convincing Rückenfigur, an ideal subject position through which the listener experiences the awe-inspiring sublimity of the island chain, with its natural ocean rhythms, its subtropical weather patterns, its turbulent beginnings, and its inevitable erosion.
Canto Arquipélago has a unity of vision, as well as an immediacy and vividness, that makes it unique in the Dolphins catalog, which tends toward the nebulous and impressionistic. The multiple nods to the aesthetics of vintage new-age musicians — such as Iasos and Steven Halpern — who were the touchstones for …On Sea-Faring Isolation are mostly absent this outing, along with the persistently formless, meditative structures of The Music Of Belief. Among the field recordings of waves, wind, birds, and insects, there are playful rhythms and open-ended melodic structures on Canto, giving the album a vitality and momentum that previous releases only hinted at. Martens creates his synth patches with care, metonymically selecting a synaesthetic palette of aerated bell tones, watery piano, and drums that sound as if they are constructed from organic materials. As usual, Martens bathes the synthesizer tones in layers of tape saturation but leaves his environmental recordings virtually untouched, lending the whole album a distinctly photographic dimension, with some elements remaining in sharp focus while others drift into unintelligibility. Taken as a whole, the album washes over like a particularly abstract version of Eden’s Island or Taboo, with the cocktail jazz subbed out for acousmatic tape music.
And this is where DITF’s unique contribution to the contemporary audio landscape is most profoundly felt. Amid all the hype of hypnagogia and the New New Age, with all of the attendant blog ink spilled about defamiliarization and the dream-filtering of 1980s pop culture, Martens has actually created a new technique for avant-garde music, with its own implicit values and philosophies. By connecting the “floorcore” improvisational techniques of EAI to a history of indigenous, instinctual soundmaking — i.e., music as a response to nature, or music as mimesis of natural rhythms and forms — Martens has hit upon a rich vein of possibility for the future of the audio underground. The site-specific holism of Canto Arquipélago, as well as the visual gestalt that Martens achieves through his sound-paintings, point to the creation of a neo-neoromanticism that is private, mystical, and meditative, without being conservative and without rejecting expressionism and abstraction. The subtle, internalized exotica of Canto Arquipélago is Dolphins Into The Future’s quiet, rapturous treatise on soundmaking as a necessary element of an inner ecology.