Isnaj Dui: Dioptrics
Dioptrics' CD is housed within a hand-printed sleeve that's clearly home-made, but its lo-fi presentation is anything but a turn-off; if anything, it adds to the release's charm in making it feel as if the copy has been personally prepared for you by its creator, Katie English. And, in fact, that is the case, as the UK-based musician/composer has issued the recording, her ninth Isnaj Dui album, on her own FBox Records in an edition of 200 copies. The brief articulated by English for the label pitches it as one focusing on “a more natural side of electronica” as opposed to the more inorganic sound associated with pure laptop-based music production.
Certainly Dioptrics is a strong selling-card for the label's position as well as a powerful statement in support of English's artistry. Hers is a thoroughly distinctive music, one immediately recognizable as English's alone. A key reason for that is the prominent role accorded the flute (she's a classically trained flautist); the instrument also is complemented by home-made dulcimers and electronics, the sum-total of which goes a long way towards distancing her sound from others. Bolstering that distinctiveness are marked Balinese gamelan and folk influences, which when integrated into her stark electro-acoustic settings makes for a truly remarkable result.
The gamelan dimension arises noticeably during “Hoop Diving” in the clip-clop rhythms that lilt alongside the hypnotic flute melodies. Elsewhere, wiry flutes and decrepit, calliope-styled keyboards wheeze through “Morning Chores” like a work song by some long-vanished tribe; the buzzing cry emanating from “Scatter and Drift” suggests the expressions of an even more ancient civilization (in that regard, it makes perfect sense that English titled one of the tracks “Ancestral Paths”); and “Potential Difference” offsets the ominous burrowing generated by electronic noises with the brighter timbres of the flute. As serious as it is, Dioptrics isn't without a playful moment or two, as evidenced by the inclusion of the haunting folk chant “Flea Circus.”English's music exudes an appealingly out-of-time character, and a macabre quality emerges at times in these settings in a way that makes them feel like mini-soundtracks for a Brothers Grimm tale or a film by The Brothers Quay. Unusual sounds, both acoustic and electronic, rise mysteriously like smoke from the center of her dark forests, prompting speculation as to the kind of creatures lurking within. It's a modestly timed recording at thirty-seven minutes, but there's more than enough material included for Dioptrics to make its compelling case.