I really like not knowing anything about a piece of art when I go into it. It gives me the freedom to draw my own conclusions without being clouded by what someone else (including the artist) has told me I’m meant to feel. As far as I can tell from the liner notes, Dog Hallucination is one D. Petri, or maybe also someone called Doggy P. Lips, and that’s all I know. It’s constructed from washy layers of effected guitar and what may be keys, field recordings, the occasional fragment of found sound, and sparingly used percussion, but this release is not really about what instruments it’s made from or the technicality of the specific notes played. This release—like all good music, of course—is all about what it makes us feel.
The album (or EP—it’s only twenty-four minutes long, but with a piece like this, record-shop terms like ‘album’ or ‘EP’ feel empty and meaningless) begins with some field recording-type sounds of piano playing and singing—something quaint with Olde-World character, bringing to mind a session in a retirement home. Then a sample enters, lifted from the amazing film Jacob’s Ladder, one of my favourite movies of all time:
‘…and he said, the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul.’
Which sets the scene perfectly, as this release feels like it’s all about memory and attachment, and how it slips away. Maybe it’s about the onset of dementia and watching someone you love slowly lose all the personal memories that make them who they are, or retain only the childhood memories that made them who they were; maybe it’s about being that person, slowly becoming more and more lost in a haze of fleeting half-snatched memories—the line between then and now dissolved; maybe it’s about when someone has died, and all you have left of them are the memories, crystal clear, as though they have just gone away for a while but will be back one day, beaming and tired, ready to tell you wonderful stories of where they’ve been while you’ve been self-absorbed and crying.
Or maybe, of course, it’s not about any of these things, but I think I’m on the right track: the magnificent and generous artwork for the tiny CD is littered with photographs of old journal entries, ghostly pictures of blurred older women (grandmothers? mothers? deceased? lost?), transparent and phantasmal, overlaid over photos of solid stone and reliable dirt, as though reinforcing this idea of memory as being transient and unreliable. The exquisite packaging also comes with a blank but stained piece of hand-cut cloth and two pressed, dried leaves, delicate and smelling of (I’m reliably informed by folk more herbaceously knowledgable than myself) sage, the herb that the more new-age people I know bundle together and burn to ward off evil spirits, and welcome friendly ones.
Is this album directly linked to specific ghosts? The liner notes say ‘For Bonnie Lou and Betty Lou’, and I’m assuming these are the ghostly women who float so tenuously over the rocks and earth in the photos. The liner notes also mention ‘personal cassette recordings by Betty Lou Scott circa 1979 and 2005‘, again reinforcing this idea of memory, loss, and the act of holding on (or trying to). Not knowing these women, listening to Serving Two Masters feels like being allowed into something very private and personal, but at the same time, absolutely universal: every single one of us grieves and tries to remember (or forget), but the ways we go about it are intensely our own. On this release, we have been let into something special, I think, and it’s an honour that feels very warm, welcoming, and very, very real.
The untitled fifth track (they’re all untitled, adding to the personal unguided nature of the release) incorporates personal cassette recordings from 1979, with the aforementioned Betty Lou Scott introducing herself (‘My name’s Betty Scott, I presume you know yours’) and letting us in on some home-spun philosophical advice for how live a good life, before ending with, ‘seems like there was something else I wanted to tell you, but what in the world was it?’—the perfect captured moment between remembering, forgetting, and being aware that you’ve forgotten. Suddenly, the piece breaks down into gibbering multi-layered fragments of speech (swirling phrases that caught my ear: ‘she was a monster, I was so frightened’, ‘too familiar with her face’, ‘grabbed her and smashed her through the ceiling’, ‘I love you, all my children, and my grandchildren’, ‘goblins will get you if you don’t watch out’, ‘goodbye’), and the confusion is palpable.
This is an incredibly evocative release. Sounds drift and break down, guitars drenched in reverb and fractured with little glitchy texture effects play and then decompose—and are given room to decompose—making the sonic equivalent of a haze, a mist, a disorienting fog. The empty spaces slowly fill up with white noise as the fog thickens, and the original sounds distort and disintegrate; suddenly a rhythmic loop appears, pulling it together again against acoustic guitars and simple drums and bells. There’s another scratchy cassette voice saying, ‘I don’t want to tell you right now, so I guess I’ll shut this off, wait until another time to talk to you, okay?’ … and the album ends.
And all we are left with is our memories, and our questions, trying to work out what it all meant, and how it all went by so fast.