John Davis Ask the Dust

[Students of Decay; 2013]

Styles: filmic ambient experimental
Others: Kyle Bobby Dunn, Secret Pyramid; most of the Students of Decay roster, in fact

The rampant underground popularity of soundtracks, curated and released by labels like Finders Keepers, Death Waltz, and Mondo, has been a curious thing in some cases (the Poltergeist soundtrack… really?) and at least somewhat of a revelation in others (can’t have too many copies of the Blade Runner OST). What interests me most is the way filmic elements have seeped their way into experimental music as a reaction to the fanfare involving movie scores.

That John Davis is a filmmaker himself only brings the progression full circle. The five works that comprise Ask the Dust sprawl out like movies, integrating synths, drones, stuttering typewriters, kosmic beauty, windchimes, the rustle of water over rocks, blips from life-support machines, and other such sound-sculpting techniques. I enjoy most the instances wherein the elements tangle with each other, as they do at the conclusion of “Superpartner.”

The exception would seem to be “Synechdoche,” with its Eluvium-/Beata Hlavenková-esque introduction, but it, too, eventually falls in line for 15-plus minutes of drones that one might likely find soundtracking their ascent to heaven. “Julian Wind” also offers a slightly new spin, with ‘whoosh’ing waves and frayed loops that remind me most of The Books’ more restrained early work. In the end, it adheres to Davis’ ultimate vision, which seems to be to create an ambient utopia for his mind of minds to reside in.

At the very end of Side B, as “Julian Wind” ceases to blow against the ear, an interview with what seems to be someone abducted by aliens closes Ask the Dust out. It’s the first instance of voices in an all-instrumental album. “Did you like where you were? Was it better than your life on Earth?” a questioner inquires. “No, it wasn’t full enough, it wasn’t… just… couldn’t do a lot of things. Couldn’t accomplish anything and couldn’t talk to really anybody at all.” The interviewee’s voice, extremely fearful and seeming to be almost locked at the jaw, presents a cryptic and thought-provoking ending that makes me wonder what would happen if an artist such as Davis were to weave such drama into their works more frequently, and not just as the metaphoric credits are rolling. In other words, once this moment presented itself, I wasn’t ready for him to ‘CUT’ until the idea was further explored, and maybe never will be.

Links: Students of Decay

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