Rocking out and breaking boundaries: A genre-bending amalgam.
The self-titled debut by New York-based electric guitar quartet Dither is a genre-bending amalgam of post-rock, noise, minimalism, and experimental music. Influenced as much by Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine as it is by contemporary classical, minimalism, and guitar experimentalists like Derek Bailey and Marc Ribot, the music comfortably straddles the ever-closing gap between academic music and noise rock.
Dither opens with “Tongue of Thorns,” a heavily distorted layering of guitars and thudding bass drum by NYC-based composer Lainie Fefferman. Built on a cycle of droning single chords, the piece is reminiscent of one of Glen Branca’s noise jams or the slow builds of Godspeed You Black Emperor. The guitars churn out incessant post-punk streams of 8th notes while polytonal chords clash against one another.
“Vectors,” by Jascha Narveson, offers an excerpt of antiphonal conversation between bent strings and detuned notes. Built largely around a single motif, the composition slowly deconstructs and rebuilds itself as an increasingly claustrophobic layering of loops that ends mid-phrase.
“Pantagruel”—composed by Dither’s own guitarist Joshua Lopes—is part Mario Brothers soundtrack, part deconstructive jazz, part classical minimalism, part Black Sabbath sludge. Knotted guitar lines break for alien howls; delay-pedaled motives swirl dreamily around one another.
The album’s centerpiece is the four part “Cross-sections” by New York composer Lisa R. Coons. “Entropion” opens the cycle. Part tangled free improvisation, the piece gradually coalesces into and deconstructs from a minimalist chromatic run passed between the instruments and punctuated by noisy and detuned chordal stabs. “Aphonia” alternates single guitar notes with cord/pickup noises, bubbling electroacoustics and fret sounds in an intriguing stream-of-conscious composition that gradually builds into layered see-saws of long glisses before ending in an art-damaged free jazz freakout.
“Cross-sections” continues with “Prolix,” a haunting minimalist movement in which dark chord progressions move in and out of phase with one another under ominous swells of feedback. The piece disintegrates into an unsettling tapestry of chromatic lines and tape sounds before moving to spacious, quiet hums of distortion that conjure images of a post-apocalyptic dreamscape. The cycle’s closer, “Venial,” simmers with a quiet David Lynchian quality—single guitar notes float aimlessly in space over carefully spaced film noire diminished chords.
Dither ends with “exPAT,” by composer Eric km Clark. The composition is a relentless nine-minute battle of droning, chugging guitar distortion, clashing dissonances, spastic chord stabs and thundering tremolo. The performers are instructed to wear earphones and headphones playing back white noise, making it so they can’t effectively hear or communicate with one another. The result is an invigoratingly chaotic punk rock mess—an apt closer for an album that draws equally from modern noise rock and the more “academic” canon of modern classical.
Like so much modern music, Dither draws indiscriminately from influences across the board. This is certainly academic music—each of the four performers and all of the composers involved studied music at a collegiate level. However, Dither also illustrates the ever-increasing incorporation of “non-studied” industrial music, electroacoustic tinkerings and experimental rock into the modern composer’s vocabulary. While this bending of genres is nothing new—think of Sonic Youth’s take on John Cage or Frank Zappa’s heavily-orchestrated rock acrobatics—it’s a reminder that so-called “new music” need not be the exclusive fare of university intellectuals. It can also be the output of a youthful ensemble that enjoys rocking out as much as it does breaking boundaries.