- Though their first record came out some six months earlier, Voices from the Lake, a collaboration by the Italian techno artists Donato Dozzy and Neel, really came to life last summer at Labyrinth in Japan. This was where they debuted most of their work together, playing live in the closing slot on the second night of the festival. Even if you've never been to Labyrinth (this reviewer hasn't), it's hard to imagine a better time and place for this particular duo to perform: a softly lit gathering on a wooded mountainside, with their subtle but immense sounds flowing through a supposedly peerless sound system.
By the time this happened the new album was already finished—Dozzy and Neel had recorded
it earlier in the summer in Rome and used it as the basis for their live act. If they'd wanted to, they could have played it pretty much as is: even listening at home on headphones, Voices from the Lake has the effect of a meticulously planned stage performance, with every loop forming an essential piece of a larger composition. It's not an exaggeration to say it tells a story—it follows an unmistakable narrative arc, leading us through a carefully paced sequence of scenes, almost like some kind of wordless, abstract musical.
This level of complexity wouldn't be possible in most producers' hands. As an art form, techno often strives to make something emotionally engrossing without using conventional stimuli like melody or lyrics. Dozzy and Neel have clearly nailed this part of their craft. Most of the sounds on Voices from the Lake have no reference point in the material world (no pianos, strings, hi-hats, snares, rim shots, etc.), but somehow they still manage to be incredibly expressive: one beat sounds uneasy, while others seem determined, weary, contemplative, optimistic and so on.
The album has a strong visual element as well. Dozzy and Neel have an incredible ear for sound design (Neel has also mastered many of Dozzy's past records, including his album K, along with numerous other releases on Prologue), and this allows them to give each moment of the album a vivid foreground, middleground and background, each with countless details to pick apart. The mind's eye has a lot to work with, though it's never clear exactly what. At times the scene could be lush and organic, most notably on "Circe," which is loaded with distant wails and chirps that conjure up a teeming rain forest (call me crazy but I hear a cricket on every off-beat). Other parts of the album are colder, more metallic, with sonar beeps and vague industrial imagery. The album weaves between the two seamlessly, and often paints a landscape that's somewhere in the middle.
These details make Voices From the Lake captivating from one moment to the next, but there's
a broad compositional element that keeps the whole thing moving. More than having just a beginning, middle and end, it has an introduction, several chapters and an epilogue. Each unfolds elegantly into the next using a system of tension and release. To take a simple example, the first
20 minutes feel like an overture—in "Iyo," we get a writhing synth tone that signals the start of something, not unlike the groan of an orchestra warming up. In the next track, "Vega," the drums take on a greater sense of urgency, but the feeling of anticipation remains. Only with arrival of a steady kick drum and a soothing pad, three tracks into the album, do we feel that things have really begun.
This isn't so different from how composition works in most techno tracks, except that here the process is spread out across a much longer period. Each song on Voices from the Lake is between four and nine minutes long, and most of these work in groups of three or four to set the stage for a single peak moment. The most memorable of these moments is "S.T. (VFTL Rework)," a new version of a song Dozzy recorded for an earthquake benefit compilation called Composure: Ambient Techno for Japan. By the time this track comes in, some 30 minutes into the album, we've gotten used to the idea that rhythm, texture and atmosphere might be all we're going to get. This makes the arrival of smooth major chords, slowly cascading into the mix, truly climactic. Suddenly the album has an emotional dimension you didn't see coming.
In a way there's nothing radical about Voices from the Lake. Rather than thinking outside the box, it decidedly works within techno's basic fundamentals: sound design, linear rhythms, slow build-ups, etc. But this is an important part of what makes the album exceptional. With nothing more at their disposal than techno's characteristically sparing palette, Dozzy and Neel have built something so rich that it has the feeling of a feature presentation. It's hard to imagine something so purely techno having more impact than this.
05. S.T. (VFTL Rework)
07. In Giova
08. Twins In Virgo
09. Twins In Virgo (Reprise)