Digitonal's Set the Weather Fair Echoes November CD of the Month:
John Diliberto 10/30/2020
There is some music that exists in a rarefied terrain, as beautiful and fragile as the first frost on a flower petal and as quietly melancholy as the midnight of the soul. A few artists live here. Arvo Pärt, Ólafur Arnalds, Agnes Obel, Kevin Keller, and Ludovico Einaudi among them. It’s a world of ambient chamber music where electronics meets classical instrumentation and melodic design. And it’s a world that Digitonal has occupied for much of this century as avatars of ambient chamber music.
Digitonal is centered on Andrew Dobson, an English classically-trained composer and clarinetist. Early on, he collaborated with Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai for several releases, including their previous CD of the Month selections, Save Your Light for Darker Days in 2008, and Beautiful Broken in 2015. Dobson takes a long time between albums and it’s always worth the wait. This time he teams up with electronic producer Dom Graveson, who has worked in the electronic project Cern and with Armin van Buuren, among others. But don’t let that EDM resume fool you. He’s a deep-dive sound designer who creates many of the sequences and textures of Set the Weather Fair.
You can hear the classical side of Digitonal on compositions like “Sentences,” Dobson’s take on Purcell’s “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.” It also echoes Wendy Carlos’s adaptation of the same theme on her A Clockwork Orange score and some of Vangelis’s more romantic themes. Dobson employs his clarinet on this track for a long, languid solo that’s both yearning and beautiful. The clarinet, a novel sound in this genre, also makes a welcome appearance on “The Autumn Journal,” etching a smokey, languid delirium against Graveson’s drunken jazz drummer electronic percussion.
Digitonal can be pristinely serene, but they can also dial up the downtempo moods, which they do on “Orion.” It’s driven by a sequencer pattern and ratcheting, creaky, but propulsive electronic percussion. Dobson brings in a simple melodic line over the top, that moves through different timbres, and is encircled by contrapuntal sequencer patterns in a delirious arabesque.
“Gold of the Azure” is an epic track shifting through multiple movements. It begins in ambient space, handpan drum hits echoing in timed delays the distance, synth pads filling the space like the soundtrack to dawn. A handpan ostinato emerges as loops weave on top of each other in an array of polyrhythmic designs. It ends in an overt homage to Philip Glass, with an organ motif redolent of Glass’s “Koyaanisqatsi.”
Minimalism, especially from Glass and Steve Reich, has always been an influence in Digitonal. You can also hear it in the percussive track “The Dance’s Pattern.” Using his modular synths, Graveson creates a cyclical bed of little percussion sounds against a pizzicato string-like pattern that builds in layers.
Set the Weather Fair expands on the sound that Digitonal has been creating since the early 2000s. Dom Graveson brings a sometimes-lo-fi approach to sound design that beautifully frames Dobson’s melodies. The album has a depth and spatial resonance that lets the melodies and grooves embrace you. If you need something to set the weather fair in these turbulent times, this is it.