Kyle Bobby Dunn, "The Cohesive Redundancies I-IV"
Now complete, Dunn's sprawling and epic "The Cohesive Redundancies" series takes the composer's love of massive statements to its logical extreme (and perhaps even beyond it).¬† Spanning four albums of wildly varying lengths, Dunn's sustained examination of "futility and beauty" feels somewhat reminiscent of The Caretaker's "Everywhere at the End of Time" series, as each section feels like a deeper stage of deterioration and mutation than the previous one. Given that, the first installment of the series is the one that will most appeal to fans of Dunn's usual distinctive ambient/drone fare, but listeners amenable to more radical sound art will find the rest of the series to be quite a fascinating (and oft-challenging) rabbit hole to explore as well. In fact, it is even a challenge to determine which album is the most dramatic outlier in Dunn's oeuvre, as the series alternately delves into tender piano elegy (TCR: Deuxi√®me), an extended deconstruction and reworking of a single piece ("Fantasia on a Theme of Affection") from TCR-P1 with collaborator Simon Stader (TCR III), and an '80s Italian noise tape and Giallo-inspired cannibalization by Thomas A. Brust (TCR IV). That said, Brust's contribution is quite something indeed, clocking in at a confrontationally monolithic four-hour tour de force of cold and blackened industrial-damaged drones.
For the sake of simplicity, it is useful to divide this overwhelming opus into two categories: the melodic/expected side of Kyle Bobby Dunn and the radical deconstruction of Kyle Bobby Dunn (I am surprised that the latter has not been an album title yet). It is still quite a challenge to make any general statements about this series, however, as even the first two installment are wildly different from one another, but listeners merely hoping for Dunn‚Äôs usual brand of sublime ambient will not want to venture any further than the first installment (reviewed separately here). It is admittedly a bit more "durational" than some of the composer's previous fare (the album's drifting and dreamlike centerpiece clocks in at nearly an hour), but it is a strong stand-alone album that checks nearly every box of my personal "classic KBD drone" checklist: an elegantly minimal processed guitar theme lazily winding across a stark and somewhat cool backdrop of lingering haze, tape hiss, room tone, and enigmatic buried sounds (it is no coincidence that Dunn lists "mic placement" among his instrumental credits). The "redundancy" bit of "The Cohesive Redundancies" starts to sneakily manifest itself with the surprisingly brief Deuxi√®me, which Dunn describes as a "somber piano epic for the late and lovely Joni Sadler" (a fellow Montreal artist in the Constellation milieu). "Threnody for Joni" is an unusual piece for Dunn, as it calls to mind a version of Harold Budd that is stretched and dissolved into a semi-ambient haze. While I have no idea if "Threnody" literally blossomed forth from one of the pieces on TCR P-1, it at least feels like an expansion and evolution of the Budd-like passages in "Pavane for the Internal Monologue."
When the colder, industrial-tinged thrum of the third installment's "Hamstrung at Heathrow Airport Horn Suite" arrives, however, things veer decisively into more unexpected and unusual territory and only get darker and more gnarled from there.As Dunn puts it, Stader's transformations examine "sadness and suffering in more brutal detail" and "take variants from the previous sessions to create new works."In more concrete terms, it is an unrepentantly challenging album that demands almost superhuman patience from listeners, as TCR III's four pieces are chilled, aggressively minimal, and glacial in pace, but they can also be quite beautiful in a bleak way.My favorite piece is "Complex Illumination on a Theme (variante automnale)," which my notes alternately describe as "grainy dreamlike billowing with a bit of sizzle," "slow-motion breaking waves," and "fluttering and flickering ghosts trapped inside a single frayed and dissolving drone." Other pieces call to mind a slowly burning incense stick, a shimmering fog rolling across a windswept prairie, or the slow/durational cinema of James Benning.Admittedly, it takes some time to adapt to the near-geologic time scale, but acquired tastes can offer deeper pleasures than lower hanging fruit and I would say that is true of TCR III: someone, somewhere will likely emerge from the album with a blown or at least permanently reconfigured mind.Dunn, of course, did not stop decide to stop with that dark horse contender for best album in the series though.Consequently, we also have the certain-to-be-polarizing TCR IV.
I personally still have no idea what to make of the series' massive final installment, as I certainly enjoy its grimy and lurid Italian inspirations, yet generally enjoying an aesthetic and wanting an overwhelming four-hour dose of said aesthetic are different things altogether.Then again, maybe they are not, as TCR IV features two or three pieces that unexpectedly transform into something quite good after 10, 20, or sometimes even 30 minutes of noisily droning near-statis.It almost feels like Brust decided to willfully alienate every last weak-willed or impatient listener before unveiling all the cool shit (an endearing move, if true).Do the extreme durations make the payoffs more satisfying?I honestly have no idea, but pieces like "In the Dead of Night Thru the Vast St. Mary" definitely get somewhere compelling if I am willing to stick around long enough.Beyond that, TRC IV will hold a lot of appeal for anyone craving the sounds of a KBD album being bulldozed by a harsh noise set.I cannot say I was craving that myself, yet there are plenty of rewarding moments that call to mind a contact mic‚Äôd biplane smashing into the ground in extreme slow motion, a dub remix of an earthquake, or someone tenaciously adjusting the tracking on a VCR in hopes that a more melodic piece will emerge.Regardless of how much I will ultimately warm to the unrecognizably ravaged mutations of the third and fourth installments, "The Cohesive Redundancies" is one hell of an admirable achievement.It is probably is not the series of albums that anyone knew they wanted, but that is how great art works: something novel smacks me in the face and I am then forced to reevaluate what I thought I knew and liked.This series may be an exhausting and prickly artistic statement, but it is also a wildly ambitious, bold, and mostly successful one as well.
Samples can be found here.