John Davis

Ask The Dust

Californian John Davis digs up the sun-baked dust with his shovel of micro-tonal sound; deep inside the dirt, there is an incredible amount going on. It is a whole new world, like that of Fraggle Rock, where the underground caverns resound with the occasional song of the dirt; micro-tonal life has never been healthier or in better shape.

“Just one small block of forest soil, a square foot one inch deep, contains an average of 1,356 living creatures: 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 19 adult beetles…not to mention another 2 million fungi and algae discernible only by an electron microscope”*.

If we transfer this thought – this ecosystem – to music, we end up with Ask The Dust. Under the microscope, Ask The Dust becomes a thriving, intricate maze that will leave the so-called scientists of sound running for the hills.

A native of Northern California, Davis constructs his music out of complex, minuscule structures. Second after second, the sound artist’s monument of drone begins to manifest itself. His love for experimental music shines through the dust-covered surface, so much so that the aforementioned drone may be a musical dedication to the meticulous art; his dialect voices itself in a precise fashion. It can seem like an alien tongue to the uninitiated, but the longer you’re in the dirt, the more the music begins to come together. Davis never lays waste to the root of its musicality. There are, at times, melodic flourishes that break through the structures of sediment, relentlessly shattering the rock.

Running alongside the intrinsic, sometimes obsessive attention to detail is a reclining, casual haze, as if some of the music has spent too long under the sun and has begun to melt at the sides. Tonal dribbles that were once drones work their way to the fore, looping in reverse under the pressure of burning heat. The music is a wide expanse that depicts the dry desert regions, silent views that take in monolithic canyons, the dusty, humid air vacant of life above.

Ask The Dust has an impressive roster, made up of guitar, piano, field recordings and Blacet synthesizer modules. Davis fuses the compounds together and then moulds them into an interesting, thoughtful listen. Repeated listens force the shy sounds to the surface. One play-through is not enough; the sounds rise up out of the ground if you let them. They have always been there.

The hiss of a rattlesnake leads to a sedate state, the peaceful poison coursing through the veins. Chiming pipes twirl in the air. A stuttering rhythm runs parallel to the drone, creaking telephone lines tangling the channels of electricity. The skittering shriek of chaotic noise is caught up in a frenetic whirlwind, the levitating cable close to snapping against the throb of a deep bass.

The climate is like that of California. It ranges wildly, from the heavy rainfall in the north to the deep heat in the sizzling south. Ask The Dust travels along the road that links the two, but it is saturated with the day’s afterglow; the arid tones seek out the water supply. The cooler ‘Palestrina’ brings with it some coastal fog and some electronic precipitation that falls onto the rough foundation of drone. Splashes of synth lines drop into the worn road, forming tiny puddles that look like the rock pools of suburbia. The clear, guitar-led notes ring out with a bright sustain, seeking out the truth of the sunlight.

‘Synecdoche’ begins with a light, sparse piano melody. The tanned tape loops seem content to sprawl out. Quickly turning the track on its head, the piano is abruptly silenced, interrupted by the clanking dissonance of a field recording. It seems to lock the piano away, chained once again to its lonely way of life, forgotten by the very music that gave it life. The track then veers into drone territory. The kind drone goes deeper, into a place of serenity. Strange lights surround the music, prismatic colours swaying in the breeze. It only gets stranger – Ask The Dust closes under hypnosis, when a woman’s encounter with an alien planet comes to light. The recollection breaks through the subconscious sediment, her own shovel kicking up the dust.

* Brian Doerksen – Make Love, Make War

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