Roger Doyle - The Electrification of Night [Silverdoor - 2019]The recent announcement that Roger Doyle is to receive the honor of Saoi, the highest award open to an Irish artist, is recognition of a lifetime of musical creativity encompassing theatre, "cinema for the ear", the massive electro-acoustic project Babel, and most recently the electronic Opera Heresy, on the life and death by fire of the renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. In between these signal achievements Doyle has also put out a steady stream of records developing the possibilities of combining acoustic and software instruments, electronic processing and the human voice. He has retained a fascination for language (musical or otherwise), a facet of his work most expansively realised in the 5CD Babel project.
His most recent release The Heresy Ostraca (2018) deconstructed the studio performance of the Heresy opera into short fragments, which Doyle recombined using his innovative approach to sampling technology. The result is more than a "remix" and in some respects compliments the approach taken on his Passades series, where small fragments of vocal or instrumental sound were hugely extended in duration, layering textures and harmonics upon each other. However, unlike Passades the Ostraca fragments retain their short punchy duration, allowing the composer to create complex rhythmic and harmonic patterns that imply constant movement, in contrast to the intense focus and time suspending effects of the Passades material.
In some ways The Electrification of Night is something of a compendium of Doyle's composerly styles and preoccupations in electronic music over the preceding three decades. As always there's the fascination with the possibilities of software instrumentation and what we could call "the human element". While there's far less emphasis on vocal performance - certainly when compared to Frail Things in Eternal Places (2016) - Doyle never departs fully into electronic abstraction, and even primarily percussive pieces like You Not You and Neutropenia retain an organic quality which keeps them on the fleshy side of the man/machine hybrid.
The composer's signature style is evident from the first piece, the title track, which opens with a series of layered freeze frames of harmonic textures, which together form the structure through which comes the more recognisable sound of the clarinet. Short phrases or gestures weave through the architecture of electronic sounds, sometimes blending in, at other times becoming more distinct and melodic. Like all Doyle's work he ranges considerably across light and shade, interspersing upbeat, rhythmic or melodic pieces such as Gate Crash with darker, more mysterious combinations. Dark Tongue has "software duduk" duelling with heavily treated vocal samples, producing arabesques of exotic glossolalia. While on Second Oak a solo piano calls out from the dark, recalling the taut, suspense filled atmospheres of Doyle's "Cinema of the Ear", the M.R. James like ghost story The Room in the Tower.
Most of the 14 compositions on The Electrification of Night are under the six minute mark, which with the variation in styles makes for an energetic and attention gripping experience. No suggestion of the "concrete fatigue" sometimes associated with contemporary electro-acoustic music. Where the composer does decide to linger, as on The New Triangle and the penultimate piece Malpassion we find him refining techniques developed during the years of the Babel and Passades projects. Glacially extended samples combine to form complex webs of timbre and texture. The architectural motif, so central to the idea of a musical tower of Babel, here furnish Doyle with another fantastical imaginary space, within which the mezzo soprano Caitriona O'Leary sings; her voice smudged out of all locution, set against the swirling electronics, as if a celestial being were trying to communicate in a language beyond mortal understanding. Conversely the opening minutes of Malpassion are all skittering electronics and playful keyboard melodies. The piece subsequently opens up allowing keys and percussion space to breath and the arrival of another of Doyle's Heresy collaborators, soprano Daire Halpin. The last minutes of the piece offer a cryptic clue to the album title; a voice, as if from an old public service film discusses the link between the electrification of homes and the decline in the number of hours people sleep. It's a neat piece of theatre near the end of a record that principally showcases Doyle's instrumental and production prowess.
There are many other surprises across the near 70 minutes of The Electrification of Night, the whole of which emphasises Doyle's mastery over his chosen form. Now entering his eighth decade Roger Doyle's work continues to refine and innovate; a singular voice in modern composition and electronic music who is long overdue greater recognition beyond the shores of Ireland.