Dictaphone: Poems From A Rooftop
Sonic Pieces

Poems From A Rooftop brings a number of things into sharp focus: no musical outfit's sound more powerfully evokes film noir than does Dictaphone, and, further to that, no group melds electronics and acoustic elements as seamlessly. Stylistically, the group's sound is jazz-inflected, often exotic, laden with mystery, and heavy with atmosphere. The music's cinematic undertone is also reinforced by track titles, with “The Conversation” and “A Bout De Souffle” overt references to Coppola and Godard films. The album title, however, originates from a different source, originating as it does from Iran's so-called ‘green revolution,' where people, afraid to venture out into the street, protested their oppressive regime from their rooftops.

Strings, electronics, electric guitar, drums, acoustic bass, and clarinet (a signature sound) figure heavily into the music Oliver Doerell and Roger Doering have crafted on three albums (including the latest) during the past decade. Now expanded upon through the presence of new member Alexander Stolze on violin, the group's sound has refined itself over time, such that the album's nine settings unfold with a natural logic and ease; of course what might seem effortless is actually the product of many years' work. Adding to the music's rich fabric, an occasional voice sample appears (a speaking voice during “Poem From A Rooftop,” for example) and, in a particularly ear-catching turn, the vocalizing of Mariechen Danz to “Rattle.”

The nocturnal jazz-blues settings “A Bout De Souffle” and “Au Botanique” are representative of the haunting Dictaphone style, embedding as they do serpentine clarinet figures within dense arrays of electronic textures, stark bass lines, and percussion elements. “Rattle” likewise stands out, not simply because of Danz's brooding vocal, but due to the rhythmic charge of the drums and vibraphone and the insistent interplay of violin and clarinet; the addition of horns to the latter also emphasizes the group's jazzier side. It wouldn't be overstating it to say that this latest collection is not only the group's most seasoned and mature but also its finest to date, and, based on the evidence at hand, the idea of bringing Stolze into the fold was a masterstroke.

April 2012