New York based minimal/experimental composer Kyle Bobby Dunn is a bold man. A minimalist composer aping A Young Person’s Guide To from the legendary composer/fingerpick-guitarist John Fahey’s amazing Table of the Elements’ “A Young Person’s Guide to John Fahey for a multi-disc compilation is bold. Not that Fahey’s the only person to ever use that sly little title piece, but in the world that Dunn inhabits, it can’t be a mistake. Phill Niblock did it too, but that came after a long line of well-received records. At 24, Dunn could be touching on Niblock as well as Fahey. It also takes a bold man to release such spacey, ethereal compositions with such subtle, delicate yet powerful craftwork.
The first four tracks of the first half of A Young Person’s Guide is a re-release of sorts from Dunn’s 2009 Moodgadget .mp3 album. The pieces are worth a physical release, to be sure. This mini-album at the beginning of the Guide shows the key to Dunn’s aesthetic: using traditional orchestral instrumentation to produce ambient, electronic-sounding soundscapes. Much like Stars of the Lid, these ambient drones swarm and swoon, bigger and wider into an oblivion of sound.
The first 13 minutes of the album expand in swirling drones, a mystic tube of smooth, liquid noise. In a sense, its perfect “sunset on the porch while reading a book” material. It’s difficult to pick out individual instruments or sources of sound, but there are horns of some kind, strings of another. But the dissonant, faraway strings that take up the focus at the 14 minute mark are nervous, jarring. These minutes of anxiety don’t push or strain either in volume or intensity though, instead slinking around for a while before fading away. Next, “The Tributary (For Voices Lost)” follows a similar thread, swimming along in a swirling river of mellow sound.
Each and every sound dropped in between the two albums sounds meticulously crafted and placed where it belongs. Sometimes this exactitude gets a little taxing: the sci-fi zooms and swirls of “There Is No End to Your Beauty” follow a near-pattern that grows and shrinks in a completely non-shocking passage of time. Everything sounds, well, beautiful, but there’s no shocking moment, no revelation or stunted expectation.
“Small Show of Hands”, though it ends the first disc, opens the second half of the project with its concise, polyphonic flow. The droning bass notes that pitch in under the ethereal tenors towards the end of the track are sublime. Sounds and tones change consistently, yet there’s never a moment where you hear a string note struck or a horn note blown. The sounds exist in their own metaphysical world without any earthly hand causing them. The heavily textured “Last Minute Jest” is perhaps the album’s strongest moment. The sounds are part piano, part wind, part plucked string, all combining in a surreal soothing piece.The piano on “Sets of Four (It’s Meaning Is Deeper Than It’s Title Implies)” is downright gorgeous, sunken and watery.
Some of these descriptions may have sounded a bit New Age-y, and I’m loathe to admit that the difference between the worlds of New Age and minimal composition isn’t as great as some would like to claim it is. Often, pieces found on this Guide and by other composers are designed around creating a specific tone, the tone then outweighing all other aspects of the music. And Dunn does this masterfully, to a T. If you’re in the mood for the often calm, meandering, mellow atmospheres on the album, these discs are hard to beat.