Experimental musicians really don’t like to make things easy on you when you’re a music writer. Some people are happy to sit down with a relatively blank canvas, close their eyes, and apply their own experiences to the aural path that has been laid, whether or not that crumbling dirt road was intended to be theirs to walk or not. However, others crave context; after all, what’s the point to eloquently crafting an exquisite hardcover box with a brilliantly considered pull-stick for the record sleeve if you don’t want people to have a more concrete vision for the fragile journey housed within?
There is a rather complex, surreal, and youthful story to act as the foundation for Raymond Dijkstra‘s latest creation, Ce phénomène négatif d’une manière satisfaisant (This Negative Phenomenon of a Satisfactory Manner), which was again issued through his own Dutch Le souffleur imprint, yet the artist has inexplicably chosen to leave the story out of the release itself, opting to include it only on the label’s archival website page for the work rather than applying it to the opposite side of a one-sided insert that otherwise only pictures alternative artwork. It may seems like a small detail to miss, but when we’re talking about a minimal album without definitive form or lyrical value, context is—quite literally—the world. Forcing your audience to go online to make a piece of art whole defeats the purpose of a physical version to begin with. It would seem that a man like the Friesland-born Dijkstra would understand this, as he goes to great lengths to explain his love for a complete package on Le Souffleur’s mission statement page:
“There is no reason why music should be published as a multiple and not as one sole original work of art. Especially the editions of 1-10 ex. carry the personal hand-print of the artist by means of hand-executed artwork. One of the fine characteristics of the work of Dijkstra is the full integration of sound and image. The visual artwork is always done by the artist himself; music and image stem from one whole universe, inside the artist. One continuum.”
Currently residing in Amsterdam, Dijkstra has mostly stayed true to his personal solitary vision over the years, opting to retain full control of his work by releasing the vast majority of it through Le souffleur, and the visuals therein hint that, even when he has rarely chosen to branch out to other imprints like Dekorder and Crouton (after all, what self-respecting experimental musician turns down an invitation from the incredible Jon Mueller?), he has had a controlling hand in the entire process. As the title hints, Ce phénomène négatif d’une manière satisfaisant is a bit of a fragmented, mildly maddened journey through specific moments in Dijkstra’s youth. While the album cover and alternative artwork do a fantastic job of elaborating upon the beginning of his story, Dijkstra describes it best when he says:
“I remember having walked that road adorned with beautiful old Oak trees in my hometown in Friesland… the road swirling through a landscape now filled with old big 19th-century houses, some in Jugendstil style, others in a more classical style, but everything was softly pulsating… It was covered in strangeness and my walking was slow…“
Indeed, the entire album is absolutely awash in a gentle, calm blanket of genuine peculiarities that are dominated throughout by a noticeable pulsing / warbling that, while changing in tempo and severity on side B, never leaves the listener. It’s a constant presence, and while it is distracting to the point of annoyance at first, once your ears get accustomed to it, this effect really does help bring out the surrealist intensity behind the music. Both Timo van Luijk (one-time member of the important Noise Maker’s Fifes) and well-traveled spoken-word artist Frédérique Bruyas accompany Dijkstra here on his drift into memory, each providing a crucial single role at specific respective moments in the album, yet it is the headmaster himself who has created the heart of what amounts to a beautifully complex record that never lapses into becoming needlessly overwhelming like so many other experimental efforts. Ce phénomène négatif d’une manière satisfaisant is laid-back to a fault, and would almost be meditative if it didn’t require active participation to enjoy what it has to offer. I can’t help but feel that more variety is needed to bring his work to a higher level, as by the end of the record it did begin to take on a “more of the same” quality that was likely detrimental to any future choice to return to it, but after nearly a decade and a half of evolving as an artist, Dijkstra has really begun to hone in on what makes his work special and how he can bring that to the forefront of his artistry.
A1) Ce phénomène négatif d’une manière satisfaisante
A2) Démence sénile
B1) Comme je descendais des fleuves impassibles…
B2) paNa pakShiNaaaM