Jordan Dykstra: Audition

The cover portrait gracing Jordan Dykstra's Audition suggests shyness and self-effacement, but there's nothing timid about the composer-musician's thirty-eight-minute recording. He's contributed string arrangements to other artists' work, among them Dirty Projectors' “Stillness is the Move,” but Audition is the sound of Dykstra coming fully into his own. Issued on the Portland-based Marriage Records label and created during Dykstra's stay at a friend's farm on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, Audition is a solo recording in the truest sense as it features little else than Dykstra's viola playing, the instrument often multiplied so many times it approximates a full string section.

Dykstra, who originally hails from Sioux City, Iowa and began playing the viola twenty-five years ago, was in the midst of pursuing a formal education in music composition in Southern California but then abandoned it, a move that in turn allowed Audition to come into being. Its five pieces are perfectly tailored to the vinyl format, with four pieces of modest duration followed by a side-long setting.

An arresting opener, “Rolling Thundara” plays like a statement of purpose in its exotic build-ups of glissandos and high-intensity attack. It's not quite Tony Conrad territory, but it is powerful, especially in those passages when Dykstra layers bluesy expressions over the keening drone. It's refreshing to hear that his formal training hasn't prevented him from infusing his playing with a raw quality that can at times sounds rustic. Dribbling water introduces and concludes “Swell Drifts and Disintegrations,” but, frankly, there's no need for any other sound to be present than the viola. Here's a case where Dykstra initially strips the material down to its essence to allow the mournful interaction of a handful of overlaid parts to work its magic before fleshing out the arrangement with strings and a plucked bass line.

But the coup de grace in this case is “Yellows,” a hypnotic, eighteen-minute setting that blossoms slowly. Opening with a funereal bass pulse and showers of plucked strings, the material initially suggests the fluttering of hummingbirds before the addition of a lurching rhythm and harmonium-like tones transforms it into a pastoral meditation. Dykstra exercises great patience in the way he lets this remarkable piece develop; great control is shown in the way each section evolves into the next, and the mutating drone flows with the naturalness of a country stream. Though “Yellows” might be pitched at a relatively quiet level, there's nothing shy about it.

October 2014