Margaret Dygas: How Do You Do

One is first struck by the distinguished presentation of Margaret Dygas's first full-length release How Do You Do, and then hopes that the musical content will be as impressive. The Japanese imprint PowerShovelAudio pulled out all the stops in issuing the recording as a hard-cover booklet containing thirty-six pages of colour photographs taken by Dygas (apparently the label is not just a record label but a company that publishes art books and cameras, among other things). The Berlin-based producer and resident Panorama Bar DJ (whose discography includes releases on Contexterior, Non Standard Productions, and Perlon) took as her inspiration for the project a book about body language called People Watching by British zoologist Desmond Morris, and each of the eleven tracks is tied to a quote from the book and based on a different emotion (each one relating to a chapter or idea from the book).

That How Do You Do isn't a straight-up techno release is made clear at the outset when “Note Note Note,” a dense collage of bird sounds, classical strings, voices, traffic noise, and speakers, opens the album. “Introduction” spins its wheels with five minutes of rather directionless piano playing before the album proper comes into focus with “Baton Signals,” where the first true indication of Dygas's sonic talents appears. Minimal techno rhythms drift in and out of the aquatic mix, movements mirrored by piano fragments, found sounds, and myriad other treated elements. A more prominent dance character asserts itself during “Maybe May Be” when a snappy house pulse extends throughout the nearly ten-minute piece, but Dygas's penchant for electronic experimentation is present too in stabbing organ splinters that ricochet like so many asteroids. “Pg 21” likewise undergirds its wealth of piano splashes and textures with a bottom-heavy house pattern that's appealing. The album works best during thumping tracks like “Salutation” and “Veering Intention” where the songs' aggressive beats and rhythms don't take away from the otherwise abstract character of the material but in fact lend it added heft. A not unwelcome left turn of sorts is also taken when How Do You Do shifts into dub-techno with “Barrier.”

Generally speaking, the tracks don't follow a conventional narrative script that includes build-ups, drop-outs, and climaxes. Instead, they meander and flow, with musical fragments and field noises dropping in and out of the mix. That's both a plus and a minus, as the material on the one hand unfolds in unexpected manner but on the other sometimes lacks clear directional focus. Perhaps a better overall impression would have been left had some of the lesser tracks been omitted. No one would be any the worse if “Introduction” were removed, and the four minutes of acoustic bass and keyboard noodling accompanied by ambient noises (coughing, and what sound like kitchen noises) that is “You're In My Shoes” could have been omitted as well.

January 2011