Wild clusters of notes tumble from the piano, rough-hewn chords from some barroom stride player drilled into uneven chunks before being lobbed into the air. They’re muscly and dissonant, but melodic too, odd-shaped but always tessellating into beautiful, random patterns.
Only about a third of the pieces on Delphine Dora’s L’au-delà use the piano as their primary instrumentation, but these are the pieces that stand out, at least at first. Dora’s playing meets at the junction of Monk’s broken physicality and the minimalist, hammering repetition of Terry Riley’s Keyboard Study No. 2, the density of the latter crossed with the fluid breadth of the former, all the while holding a jewel-like glint of beauty close to its heart. It’s there in the warm, swirling world of Jaillismentes Cathartique, the gusting flurries of piano and clamouring voices a benevolent storm that wrap us in thick clouds of colour and texture. Primitive State of Terror II is the dark flipside of this fever dream, a chorus of wraiths yelling out from the gloaming as the juddering, repeated chords threaten sensory overload.
Gradually, however, the other, non-piano pieces coalesce into a kind of mosaic. Some, such as A la dérive, nod towards the sun-drenched ecclesiastical warmth of Dora’s tape with Sophie Cooper, Distance Future with its shifting, soft-edged organ figures. Others have a harsher mood, summoning gothic visions of late-night terrors. Melancholia is aptly named, the gloopy thickness of its organ and synth layers building an appropriate mood of locked-in stasis. Le monde à l’envers brings retro electronica into the mix, although the bleeps and pitch-bent notes have less of the comforting nostalgia vibe of those old Radiophonic Workshop vibes, evoking instead a kind of apocalyptic systems crash.
Hovering above and around all of this are Dora’s vocals, slipping between the blocks of sound in the piano-led pieces like a water over a limestone pavement, elsewhere hanging weightless in space as the instrumentation morphs and shifts beneath. The vocals, with their contrasting lines of high-pitched ululations and spoken stream-of-consciousness monologues, are in the tradition of experimentalists like Meredith Monk or Annette Peacock. But Dora ups the melodrama and anxiety to a new pitch, multi-tracking herself to pack each piece full of sonic information. That combination of vocal and instrumental overload puts immense pressure onto the fabric of songs such as Les chevaux de feu, pushing them almost to breaking point. Listening to this piece is like trying to walk to the shops after a night on the whisky, the alcohol-induced euphoria fading into an unbalancing dizziness, internal and external stimuli colliding into a hellish miasma of light and sound. Idiosyncratically brilliant.