All the music on A Closer Listen wishes to communicate with listeners. Some of it also thinks about communication – the processes, technologies, difficulties, and contradictions that happen when information is transmitted. Last year, one album channelled the radio waves of an imaginary abandoned village. Another album paid homage to the shortwave number stations used to send encoded messages. Traditional radio programming plays a relatively small role in twenty-first century communication. But radio remains evocative to artists. Is it the tangibility of knobs and antennae? Or nostalgia for a technological era so recently left behind?
At the start of Thomas Dimuzio’s new album, it sounds as though multiple radio receivers are being retuned. Whining, fuzzy static competes with chopped fragments of speech. An other-worldly rumbling eventually grows in volume and pushes aside the other sounds. Just as this seems resolved, warbled echoes of popular song throb their mangled way into the mix. This pattern continues across the twenty-minute track. A clean signal prevails (sometimes a single tone), before new transmissions amass in bass-heavy ripples or chattering incoherence.
The two tracks of the album are named “Lower Haight” and “Upper Haight”, in reference to Dimuzio’s resident San Francisco. These two areas centre on the infamous Haight Street, a 1960s hotspot for drugs and underground culture. The album certainly captures some of psychedelia of this lineage. Meanwhile, the album title nods to Adolph Sutro, 1890s mayor of the city and namesake to its historical district and tower. But what is implied by the geographic specificity? Is Dimuzio tuning in and out of the multitudinous lives in his urban space? Or does he catch the right frequency for an aural archaeology?
The second track does less shuttling between the loud and the quiet. It builds steadily, spoken and sung fragments meeting textures of ponderous synth, waves of electrical interference, and the purposeful whirring of one machine calling out to another. This comes to a climax as one loud source of static noise reaches velocity, then zips out of perceivable space. A disbanding network of machines seems set adrift in the final moments of the record.
Of course, the vehicle Dimuzio uses to navigate his city is not a regular transistor. It is a Buchla synthesizer – another native of San Francisco. Since the late 1980s, Dimuzio has experimented with an array of genres and approaches, as well as building a reputation as an accomplished sound engineer. This is his first album made entirely on a Buchla, where his techniques include “textural looping” and the use of an in-built FM tuner module. The two tracks on this release were recorded in live takes, with the tuners introducing unknown variables on the fly. Wherever those transmissions originate from, Dimuzio’s talent is in synthesising them into his strange and exciting soundscapes. (Samuel Rogers)