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Humane Digitization: Bolstering the Acoustic with the Electronic in Daniel Wohl’s HOLOGRAPHIC

Posted February 3rd, 2016

Much of the talk about Daniel Wohl’s latest album Holographic points to the artist’s proficiency in seamlessly melding the digital with the analog, employing his background in composition, and interest in electronic music to create something unconventional and adventurous. This, however, just feels like scratching the surface. Wohl has a remarkable talent for blending those elements, but such a concept is not exactly new to music. So why, despite this, does Holographic feel so contemporary? What I often find most striking on the album is those instances when he lets the veil slip: a momentary interjection of a vibraphone, a sudden crash of breaking glass, a mournful bowing of a violin. These moments of unmanipulated instrumentation help mark the listener’s path through Wohl’s labyrinthine compositions, and imbue the work as a whole with a sense of unpredictability. These moments can jar, they can bring relief, but regardless of the outcome they ground us in the work’s human reality while its immersive digitally altered atmospheres swell all around.

Final Cover

Daniel Wohl’s Holographic, out now via New Amsterdam Records. Cover: “The AK-47 vs The M16.” Design by DM Stith. Photo by Nathan Lee Bush.

While the initial recordings may be organic—such as the gentle drone that opens “Replicate, Pt. 1,” recorded by a microphone placed on a resonating snare drum—Wohl alters and layers these samples until their sources become indecipherable. “I’ll process it in different ways, and stack up the recorded versions against the live, acoustic performance to create a sort of augmented reality,” the composer revealed, speaking to The Boston Globe, adding, “When you listen to the album it’s kind of a mystery as to what’s being played live and what’s electronic.” This process yields innovative, slyly disorienting results, with each track possessing its own enchanting ambience, echoing the works of influential compositional and experimental music innovators, both forebears and contemporaries. “Formless” is marked by the ebbs and flows of a muffled beat, recalling the loop-based works of William Basinski and ambient techno explorations of Wolfgang Voigt. “Pixel” flies by in a gleeful rush, like a toy piano ensemble covering one (or maybe all) of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano. The chopped and screwed, otherworldly vocals of “Source” nod to the sonic experimentation and voice manipulations of Katie Gately and Holly Herndon, but utilizes them to much different ends.

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