It’s hard to parse exactly what you’re listening to when you immerse yourself in Jason Doell’s new recording, Becoming In Shadows ~ Of Being Touched. The old adage about never judging a book by its cover may often hold true but somehow Xuan Ye’s beautiful design speaks volumes about both the sonics and structure of this bewildering document by the Toronto-based composer and sound artist. Though the imagery is blatantly computer-generated, it’s rife with references to vegetation, bones, water, and buildings. Similarly, one of the most beguiling aspects of Doell’s music here is the friction that builds up between its organic surface and the elusive, unruly quality that permeates just about everything else. Piano is audibly the album’s lone instrument, but even with that anchor of familiarity, one still finds themselves confronted with something disorienting, but utterly captivating—tangled layers, meandering forms, subtle idiosyncratic manipulations. Doell’s performance brims with improvisatory warmth and bears the unmistakable physicality of a human interacting with an instrument however there’s another far less comprehensible force at play—a mystifying undertow that pulls the ear toward murky sonic depths.
The process that birthed this album—his vinyl debut—unquestionably plays a key role in establishing the feverish liminal space it inhabits. While in a winter residency at the Banff Centre, Doell began each day limbering up with some freeform playing at the piano that had been provided to him. The instrument offered the perfect tool for such open-ended forays —as a guitarist primarily, it liberated him from his internalized technical vocabulary, and yet as a seasoned composer he also had enough keyboard facility to get lost in his own spontaneous playing. From the outset, these daily sessions were recorded, just in case they yielded raw compositional material. Yet, as he captured more of these improvisations the motivation behind the exercise shifted from warm-up to explicitly accumulating piano recordings. This culminated in him digging out a dilapidated piano that had been buried in a snow bank expressly to record it.
It wasn’t until he returned home that he discovered just what to do with all the raw footage he had collected. Doell had been developing an algorithmic compositional tool for himself that would generate music based on a user-defined catalogue of sounds and various parameters. Each of the three pieces found on Becoming In Shadows ~ Of Being Touched was spawned through exploring this very software. Yet in spite of them being produced through this process, Doell seems to have little interest in making this about the technology. Instead, he lets the distinctly alien character of computerized decision-making imprint itself upon the material to spellbinding effect.
The album is due for release April 21, 2023 with noted American imprint Whited Sepulchre, home to music from Joy Guidry, Endlings (the duo of Pulitzer Prize-winner Raven Chacon and John Dieterich), Lake Mary, and claire rousay.
Over the past 15 years, Jason Doell has become an integral member of Canada’s experimental and contemporary music community. Though he remains an active participant among strictly musical circles, his areas of interests distinguish him given their tendency toward the interdisciplinary, including site/context-specific works, live coding, and signal chain manipulation. These preoccupations have yielded a number of major projects such as beneath a landscape, a 30-minute open-instrumentation work commissioned by Toronto’s INTERsection festival and unveiled in a subway station, the sprawling online interactive work TURNONANDBENOTALONE presented by the Music Gallery, and the algorithmic piece to be talking about something that is unlikely to happen which debuted at MaerzMusik in Berlin. He is a member of the duo Invisible Out alongside multidisciplinary artist Xuan Ye (who provide this album’s cover art) and the trio Nidus with writer/ sound artist Marc Couroux and Matthew Ramolo (AKA Constellation Records’ Khôra). Doell has also worked with several notable ensembles and performer such as Quatuor Bozzini, contaQt, Continuum, Thin Edge New Music Collective, junctQín, Yang Chen and Cheryl Duvall. In 2014 he was the winner of both Toronto Emerging Composer award in and NonClassical’s International Composers’ Competition.