Dean De Benedictis: Salvaging The Present
Spotted Peccary Music

Describing Dean De Benedictis as an ambient-electronic artist doesn't quite cut it. As the nine productions on his Salvaging The Present show, it makes more sense to think of him as an electro-acoustic sound painter, someone who works with tone colour and arrangement much as an abstract visual artist might when confronted with a blank canvas. To be more precise, a typical work by the Southern California-based De Benedictis is less emblematic of the Colour Field style, given its emphasis on swaths of flat, uniform colour, than one where multiple hues appear in micro-detailed configurations. Put simply, Salvaging The Present favours intricate, multi-layered tapestries over monochromatic displays.

The amount of detail in a De Benedictis production can be staggering. In the opening minutes of “To the Ends of Elation,” for example, processed flutterings of acoustic guitar emerge alongside snippets of vocal choirs, piano, and synthetic treatments; a crisp electronic pulse and neon-lit synthesizer flourishes eventually emerge to bolster the music's lulling flow, and the listener's attention never wanders when the music engages the senses with a non-stop parade of stimulation. On “Micro Souls Anthem,” De Benedictis's artful hand is demonstrated in the way he organizes a plenitude of vocal, percussion, and synthetic elements into a dizzying swirl without sacrificing coherence in the process. Always in motion, the tracks undergo constant metamorphosis as they make their way through journeys of six- to nine-minute durations.

Though he's certainly capable of engaging the listener by himself (he's credited with concert flute, grand piano, guitar, harmonica, hand percussion, cedar flutes, and minor vocals), De Benedictis brings a number of guests on board to add to the display. It's great to see bassist Percy Jones (Brand X, Stone Tiger) participating, and individual tracks are elevated by the contributions of others. “Never the Sacred Stretch,” “The Purity of Season 279E,” and “Whisper County” are enhanced by the lyrical string flourishes of Angelo Elonte (violin) and Peter Ludwig (cello), while Jim Goetsch (sax), D'Von Charley (native flute), and Lisa Claire Mitterer (vocals) also make their presence felt.

For the most part, Salvaging The Present teems with energy, its seventy minutes vibrant and alive. Yet De Benedictis sometimes balances the restlessly mutating tracks with an occasional ambient episode—even if the moment doesn't last long. While “Pagoda Tiempo,” for instance, is marked by serenity during its opening minutes, it gradually swells in ominous portent when wailing synthesizers and bowed strings darken the skies. He's no doubt been influenced by others—that bubbling sequencer pattern pulsating through the undergrowth of “Night Arch” is vintage Tangerine Dream, and the track even hints at a dub influence—but the action-packed panoramas on Salvaging The Present show him invigorating the ambient genre with enthusiasm, imagination, and conviction.

November 2016