Writing about wordless music is difficult.
You’d think, at this point, five years in to my ‘career’ as an internet music writer, that it maybe would have become slightly less difficult, or at the very least, less daunting.
But it hasn’t.
Writing about a wordless form of music like jazz is difficult and daunting because jazz, at its core, is a thinking person’s music—and I often feel that I am not smart enough to ‘get it,’ as it were.
But I try. I put the headphones in my ears, and I put my fingertips to the computer, and I hope that what I write, delete, re-read, edit, and write again, makes sense in the end.
Writing about ambient and experimental music is difficult because you wind up—or at least, I wind up, writing about the feeling that the piece in question evokes. You can talk about the instrumentation, sure, if you can discern clearly what instruments are even being used, or what sounds are being manipulated; but in the end, it comes down to what the piece does to you.
Clocking in at 40 minutes, ambient and experimental guitarists Kyle Bobby Dunn and Wayne Robert Thomas have, in short, created two works that it is all too easy to become absolutely lost in.
Hailing from Ontario, Kyle Bobby Dunn has been slowly building a vast body of work since the early 2000s, coming in to his own with the audacious full length collections A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn, from 2010, 2012’s Bring Me The Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn, and his definitive artistic statement (so far), 2014’s triple album, Kyle Bobby Dunn and The Infinite Sadness. While creating glacially slow, multi-layered guitar drones that move along at the pace of the director’s cut of a foreign documentary about molasses rolling up a hill, the thing that makes his work so compelling—aside from just how breathtaking it can be—is his oddball sense of humor.
Released via the Whited Sepulchre label, Dunn is paired with a like minded composer, Wayne Robert Thomas, for a limited edition split 12” LP—Dunn’s “The Searchers” taking the A side, and Thomas’ “Voyevoda,” found on the B-side.
Thomas, based out of Indiana, plays what he describes as a ‘slow it the fuck down’ style of music, and has been actively releasing efforts for the last six years.
In a way, “The Searchers” and “Voyevoda” aren’t so much inverses of one another, but they are complimentary compositions—with Dunn’s reaching a cacophonic peak of dissonance and tension, and Thomas’ gliding along with a much more pensive, reserved, and possibly more meditative tone.
“The Searchers” begins in almost as a whisper—Dunn takes his sweet time bringing in the already large sounding drone, letting it build fluidly and slowly over the course of the piece’s first minute. From there, it’s like a free fall that continues to gain momentum until the resolve, 20 minutes later. He holds the original tone until almost the three minute mark before things start to expand; slowly, at first, but then, as “Searchers” unfolds and unravels, the ocean of noise that Dunn creates crests to torrential levels before he lets the sound dissolve into the ether.
“Voyevoda” begins in a similar way—though tonally different, it shimmers in a reserved, cinematic way as Thomas fades it in. That shimmer gives way to a low rumble after about two minutes, and for the rest of the piece, he shifts the tenor back and forth, slowly and deliberately, creating a warm and inviting, yet slightly melancholy sounding atmosphere—something akin to the work of the Tape Loop Orchestra’s masterful In A Lonely Place.
Outside of a brief, one-off single released last year, “The Searchers” is the first new, long-form piece of music from Kyle Bobby Dunn in four years; it goes without saying that it is a welcome return.
And The Infinite Sadness is an auspicious and tough act to follow, but “The Searchers” is exemplary in showing that over the last four years, Dunn has not lost his ability to find the balance between the harsh and dissonant, with the alluring and gorgeous, all while attempting to explore the space where all of those things collide.
Not to be outdone, Wayne Robert Thomas holds his own with “Voyevoda.” The press release that accompanies this split 12” states this is Thomas’ first vinyl release—as a relatively new artist with a smattering of efforts to his name, it is certain that this won’t be his last vinyl release either. Already boasting a very apparent confidence in his technique and ability to sustain and captivate for the full side of a LP, Thomas is a performer who will only continue to grow and mature with time.
Experimental, ambient, and drone-based music like this is, clearly, not for every listener.
It takes patience, but it also takes a great deal of trust—you have to believe that the performer in question isn’t just making 20 minutes of noise for the sake of doing so; no, you have to have faith that they are going to take you somewhere. Both Dunn and Thomas are intelligent enough of composers and performers to understand that, and on their respective pieces, they effortlessly unlock the evocative nature of this very specific genre of music. “The Searchers” and “Voyevoda” are both, in their own right, transcendental moments that pack more emotional weight than some music with words is capable of.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he’s been contributing to Bearded Gentlemen; and for nearly as long, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine. Since the summer of 2017, he began contributing “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing has also appeared in The Wagazine, and in River Valley Woman. He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.