Donato Dozzy & Neel

Voices From The Lake

Sound travels differently underwater. Water’s higher density allows vibration to travel around five times faster than through air, reducing the time lag between the arrival of a sound at each ear, and making it more difficult to locate the direction of its origin. As a denser medium, it also changes attenuation across the frequency spectrum. Higher frequencies die away more quickly than in air, but low frequencies, with their longer wavelengths, can travel for miles with relatively little drop in intensity (the reason why whales communicate over long distances via subsonic and infrasonic song). All of which changes the way we perceive sound underwater: our auditory systems, having evolved over millions of years for optimal use in air, are ill-equipped to deal with these differences. Immersed in water, where low frequencies are channeled through our bones directly to the inner ear and the volume of higher frequencies is reduced thanks to a middle ear amplifier adapted for use in air, we’re faced with an unfamiliar and disconcerting sonic environment, where everything is suffused in a constant low-end rumble and where cues we would usually recognise as one thing actually signify something entirely different.

Donato Dozzy’s music has long been concerned with dropping the listener into just such a soundworld. The Italian producer’s slowly churning, trance-inducing dance music (the wonderful term ‘headfuck techno’ has in the past been thrown around to describe his sound) constructs environments where all is not where it seems: where hi-hats scrawl outward into long rips like droplets of dye falling slowly through fluid, where isolated kickdrum hits soften around the edges and blush outward into the surrounding ambience. Like any good hypnotist, he keeps his rhythms consistent enough to lull, but in flux enough to prevent the brain from being able to predict their next move and thus switch off entirely. In Dozzy’s drowned world the mind is lured into a suggestible semi-sleep state, in which rhythmic elements are allowed to assume new forms, until each component of the music transforms into something else: a hi-hat cracks like a snare, a tom billows like a bass note, drum hits become glottal stops, entire swarms of percussive fragments coalesce into long wisps of melody. On 2010’s K album everything was frequently drenched in great algal blooms of synth that suffused the mix and slowed its momentum to a mere drift. In contrast J, last year’s collaborative mix with Cio D’Or, released as a response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, felt unencumbered by the drag of the medium surrounding it, to the point where techno’s rhythms were master of, rather than slave to, the water in which they frolicked.

As if its title wasn’t self-evident enough, Voices From The Lake, a joint effort by Dozzy and frequent collaborator Neel, doesn’t stray too far from the life aquatic. A recording/refinement of the duo’s performance at last year’s Labyrinth festival in Japan, it’s an unbroken 70 minutes of music, its track divides feeling practically inconsequential – except, perhaps, for their usefulness as skip markers: in the modern world, is it tough to expect listeners to find an unbroken stretch of time during which to absorb a record that unfolds this delicately? Despite the proliferation of free DJ mixes across the internet, the way we’re now demanded to consume them is fragmented and pockmarked with distraction. Social networks, message boards and email inboxes don’t maintain themselves, after all. So, more than any of Dozzy’s music so far – but a natural culmination of the Italian producer’s history as an after hours DJ at Berlin’s Panoramabar and crafter of slow, immersive techno – Voices From The Lake is a love letter to slow, concentrated listening.

In that context, his mimicking of the sonic properties of an underwater environment feels very much like an effort to detach a listener from the distractions of on-land (and online). Each track in succession is ushered in by the addition of a new puzzle piece or two, pushing transitions into the realms of the imperceptible, unless you’re listening on a player that adds an irritating blip between tracks. Melody arrives both implict within the chatter of struck percussion and in the form of background ambience, long eddies that curl into earshot from source unknown and expand to fill the mix, often across two or three tracks. Patience is a virtue here. It takes until the middle of the album’s fourth movement ‘Circe’, before melodies begin to prickle around the edges; it’s not until halfway through the fifth, ‘S.T. –VFTL Rework-‘, a full eight minutes later, that they reach full capacity and draw the album into hitherto unexplored territory.

Techno, with its much vaunted affinity with sonic fictions and alternate futures, often trains its eye on the farthest reaches of the cosmos. The history of Detroit techno in particular is littered with interstellar debris – ‘No UFOs’; X-102 Discovers The Rings Of Saturn; Interstellar Fugitives; ‘The Final Frontier’; ‘Cosmic Cars’. Outer space provides a perfect blank canvas upon which to project the notions and imagery of the future so strongly associated with the likes of Juan Atkins and Underground Resistance. The genre’s plunges into the depths of the sea – a far closer but equally expansive unknown – tend to be less often discussed, but are just as significant. In the last few months alone we’ve had two major reissues of nineties techno intimately linked with the ocean – Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller‘s gathering of early Drexciyan communiques and Porter Ricks’ dub-techno opus Biokinetics. The former’s intricate mythologies, still concerned (like Drexciya’s Detroit contemporaries) with technological futures, were beautifully contrasted with the latter’s more elemental stirrings, which whipped up volatile currents and deadly undertows.

Voices From The Lake falls closer to the latter than the former, in that it’s less concerned with taming the tides than simply evoking their physical properties. It’s still fundamentally fictional, in that the pinprick clarity of its contents imagines what the underwater world might sound like, were human ears only equipped with the right evolutionary gear to receive it in high-definition (instead of the muddy directionless rush we hear when dunked in a swimming pool). But like all techno, which is used to suspend normal notions of time in a club environment, the underwater sensory confusion of Voices From The Lake is used as a means to create a similarly time-stretched effect. Dozzy and Neel’s resonance chamber might be fluid-filled where Panoramabar is air-filled, but both spaces serve much the same purpose.

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