Dali: The Endless Enigma Reviews


Dreams Word Issue No. 9 Fall 1990

Well here it is, you fans of gooey watches and propping crutches! Here's the international multi-artist tribute to the late, great surrealist painter. Nine synth artists have contributed individual works based on their impressions of certain Dali paintings. All are as layered in meaning and detail as the paintings themselves. Michael Stearns sets the mood for the rest of the CD with his piece titled Tuna Fishing. It is mysterious, ambient, and at times discordant with many sound effects added to the brew. Michel Huygen's The Great Masturbator plays with the speeds of it's sequences and off-kilter patches. Walter Holland's Shades of Night Descending is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Inventions of the Monsters by the four-piece Djam Karet features guitar feedback, slowed voices, animal noises, and a main melody that can get somewhat repetitious after awhile. Loren Nerell's Impressions Of Africa has two main melody movements. The first is an excellent sound collage anchored by a tolling church bell, the second is a kind of percussive waltz. Klaus Schulze, who admits in the liner notes to being a "mild Dali fanatic" (Naw! Really??) contributes Face Of Mae West. This piece won't disappoint any of his fans. Steve Roach ends the CD with three shorter pieces, two of which are collaborations with Robert Rich. Birth Of Liquid Desires is an extremely dense tone cluster as is the Roach solo The Disintegration Of the Persistence of Memory. Rinocerotic Figure of Phiias - Illisos sounds like an amplified mouth eating toast. It concludes the tribute with an appropriate sense of mystery.

There are only two flaws that I think keep this album from perfection. One, the liner notes don't show prints of the titled paintings. Unfortunately, getting permission to do so would have bankrupted the project. (Believe me, they tried. -ed) I suggest you find a picture book on Dali. You will find, however, a beautiful reproduction on the cover of the painting Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing A Piano. The second flaw is a surprising sameness in technique. The artists created their pieces completely independent of each other, then sent the tracks to Coriolis to put on the album. The sampled and processed sounds found on so many of the tracks - while used in many fascinating ways - in some ways tend to become redundant as the CD spins on. Still, the album shows how much influence this painter has had on so many musicians. Each track taken individually makes this album worth owning. - Mike Birchet

The Union 12/3/90

A Tribute To Dali: Musicians Use Salvador Dali's Paintings as Inspiration

More than two years in the making, Dali: The Endless Enigma brings together an international group of electronic musicians. Released by Coriolis Records, the CD includes 10 selections, each inspired by a specific painting by the Spanish surrealist.

Listening to the CD, the similarity in the sound of the pieces stands out the most. Many had bizarre vocal and water sounds. This surprised me since each piece was produced separately.

The first piece, Tuna Fishing by Michael Stearns, reflects a lonely ocean, with angelic choirs, whispering surf, and a distant trumpet. "As the music happened, I could feel memories and mysteries, and into those wove the elements and a lullaby," Stearns said. The elements seem at odds toward the end of the piece, with the call to a bullfight, and sounds of fireworks.

The Great Masturbator, created by Spanish composer Michel Huygen, begins with a delicate melody, quickly overrun with washes of sound placed against a background of disjointed metallic percussion seems to give the piece motion, but in all directions. Finally breaking through, the clear, light melody returns.

Walter Holland, producer for the project, selected Shades of Night Descending. Beautiful and dreamy, his music blends violin and electric guitar against synthetic flutes and strings.

Djam Karet, a Claremont, CA based progressive rock group, contributed Inventions of the Monsters. Again, the water sounds which ripple with guitar arpeggios and E-Bow screams blend with bell-like synth tones. Unearthly, unintelligible voices speak to each other as strange animal sounds provide a counterpoint to the chiming melody. The group used the painting as a musical score, reading it from left to right.

Loren Nerell begins his piece, Impressions of Africa with church bells, wood flute, rattling and a drum tapping lightly. Salvador Dali speaks his wife's name as ethereal voices call gently. Wind seems to carry the sounds of children singing, as a native jam session begins in earnest, playing a light, joyful melody backed by intense primitive drumming.

Probably the best known composer on the project is Klaus Schulze, a founding member of the German synth group Tangerine Dream. He describes himself as "a mild Dali fanatic." By far the strangest and funniest, his piece Face of Mae West begins with breathy female voices and a male operatic voice singing 'Ohhhh.' It has a flutey lead line with a drum machine keeping time, and an edge to the whole thing that drags the listener along by the hair until this classical Spanish guitar plaintively picks a melancholy folk tune, oblivious of everything else.

Assumta Corpuscularia Lapislaqulina, selected by Bo Tomlyn, because of his difficulty in pronouncing it, shows a meditative figure, trapped in a fish thank, with bones exploding out from the body, Tomlyn believes that Dali's meaning is that "any man who does not take the time to meditate on life would eventually go to pieces, for Man, no matter how hard he works, is in his own fish tank." Deep, huh? Tomlyn uses the name of the painting in the piece, which is mostly articulate arpeggios. The name, Dali, is sung rather pleasantly throughout.

Birth of Liquid Desires, co-written by Steve Roach and Robert Rich is a strange, almost drone piece, but there are elements that move and shift, voices that sing, wind that whips, hearts that beat. Roach, who credits Dali for inspiration beyond the scope of this project, said "upon the phantastic discovery of Dali's work, it seemed like some strangely familiar schematic of an inner life completely understood, unspoken and well lived in." Rich describes Dali as "Glurp."

Roach chose one of Dali's most famous paintings, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory as the basis of his second piece. A swirling montage of synthetic chimes and cuckoos run through the work, and a sad wash of chords seem to mourn the death of time. Rhinocerotic Figure of Phidias' Illisos', the last cut on the CD, another Roach/Rich collaboration, also has weird animal sounds and speech.

Taken as a whole, this CD should be applauded. Because it's centered on the works of Dali, it has diversity, unity of theme, and develops a consistent sound. All of the tracks are mastered digitally, and some are completely digital. The booklet is 10 pages long, but because of cost restraints, does not include photos of each painting used as inspiration by the composers.

If you enjoy electronic music, or the work of Salvador Dali, this CD is for you. Sander Wolff

Audion Magazine No 17, January 1991

What better subject could have been chosen as the theme for a compilation like this? A compilation that draws together original music by four of the leading pioneers of synth music: Klaus Schulze, Michel Huygen, Michael Stearns and Steve Roach, together with some lesser known but equally pioneering Americans. One of the greatest surprises is that of Djam Karet presenting themselves as a synth band! But why not?

Initially I expected the Dali theme to be an excuse for lots of weirdness, and although much of the music does have a strangeness to it, it always remains well within melodic realms. Th CD starts with Michael Stearns' Tuna fishing, a very graphic musical interpretation, vivid wedges of sound, water, great thunderous crashes, and some really off-key analogue synth. Complimenting well, Michel Huygen interprets The Great Masturbator (there's already been enough jokes about this title!) most mysteriously, recalling the atmospheric music of very early Neuronium. Shades of Night Descending from Walter Holland (owner of Coriolis) is more impressionistic, musically a Pink Floyd/Tangerine Dream hybrid, not unlike Wavestar's Moonwind track I suppose. Djam Karet's Inventions of the Monsters is very guitar based, but fits in perfectly; moody, shimmering, evolutive - I think there's an underlying message in the sound effects used too. Impressions of Africa is the perfect vehicle for Loren Nerell's current ethnical experimentation, abstract at the beginning, tribal at the end. Klaus Schulze's Face of Mae West was sneaked out between contracts, and goes to show that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve musically combining abstract and rhythmical elements quite uniquely. Bo Tomlyn is a new name to me, but based on Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazullina (a Dali picture I don't recall) he has a very interesting style, towards the realms of early Steve Roach. Talking of whom, Roach is honoured by having three tracks at the end, on two of these he teams up with Robert Rich. The strangest and most fascinating however is his solo, a visualization of The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory.

As compilations go, this must be one of the finest the synth medium has every had to offer, with not a catchy melody or disco-rhythm within earshot. I'd recommend it to anyone that arbitrarily thought real synth music had died with the advent of computer disco that so often masquerades as synth music these days. Of course, anyone with an adventurous ear should check out this fine collection of music. Alan Freeman

Sydney Morning Herald 4/16/1991

It is one of the absurdities of modern music that having crafted a piece of instrumental music, a composer then has to dream up a suitable label or title. Given that most composition emerges from essentially abstract enthusiasms - a passion for a sequence of notes, an interest in the interplay of sounds, a curiosity about the musical qualities of a particular instrument - the task has about as much sense as trying to label a beautiful view or an interesting experience.

So how do musicians come up with titles like Birth of Liquid Desires, The Great Masturbator, or The Persistence of Memory? Easy. You become part of a musical project inspired by the paintings of Salvador Dali.

The result, Dali: The Endless Enigma, is one of the most satisfying and imaginative recordings to emerge from the ambient genre in the past decade. All those abstract synthesizer washes and pretty effects are subsumed as nine musicians bring their talents to bear on 10 of Dali's paintings.

The compositions are superb. Dali's interplay between visual jokes and the dark undercurrents of dreams seem to be ideally suited to the musical interplay between light melody lines and sonorous synthesizer washes.

Steve Roach, who masterminded the project and performs on three tracks, seems to sum up the value of Dali as a source of musical inspiration when he writes: "Saturated with sound and intensely personal, his paintings were the first real music I ever felt." Confirmation, once again, of Walter Pater's famous observation that "all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." Equally, Bo Tomlyn, when writing about his composition Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina, notes: "I saw a meditative figure with bones exploding outwards from the body. I heard the sombre drone of tranquil meditation with the sound of arpeggiated, harmonically brittle bones moving throughout." It is easy to see how Dali can be such a powerful inspiration.

This is one of those projects where, because inspiration is so strong and so distinctive, the compositions hold together like a single statement. While there is great diversity it is all underpinned by the unique vision of Salvador Dali. Highlights include Michael Huygen's sinister mood piece The Great Masturbator, Walter Holland's haunting Shades of Night Descending, and Loren Nerell's Impressions of Africa, which uses African voices and the repetition of Dali's wife's name to great and subtle effect.

This is an electronic masterpiece creating fabulous musical landscapes out of Dali's disturbing images. It is hard not to have a slight twinge of regret that no-one felt inspired to the cover art - a painting entitled Atmospheric Skull Sodomising a Grand Piano. But surely this is an area which should not be restricted to only 10 paintings. Bruce Elder

CD Review May 1991

Salvador Dali was one of the most musical of painters, using the imagery of instruments to populate his canvases and painting with a euphonious flow of line and form. It's little wonder that the surrealist was a favorite of composers and musicians, most recently Edgar Froese (the founding member of Tangerine Dream who played music at Dali exhibits) and Brian Eno.

Now a group of Southern Californian synthesists and a few European counterparts continue the tradition with Dali-The Endless Enigma, a series of tone poems based on individual Dali paintings. These synthesists are inspired by the floating, surreal and fantastic images of Dali, but also his sense of eroticism. The cover image is Dali's Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Piano, and it looks just like it reads.

Michel Huygen, from the Spanish group Neuronium takes on The Great Masturbator, and his piece speeds up to an orgasmic crescendo, emerging into sheets of high, synth-string cascades. German synthesis Schulze's vision of Face of Mae West rambles through out-of-tune voice samples that eventually emerge into one of his own patented, hypnotic grooves. Bo Tomlyn also favors distended voice samples that bend and slur over metallic, often arrhythmic cycles. There's a sense of twisted sexuality here, but they're not as enticing to hear as Dali's images are to view.

Taking a more serene approach is Michael Stearns, whose Tuna Fishing creates a fog-enshrouded harbor of lapping waves and seagulls, with muted French horns and snatches of bullfight trumpet. Beneath these ethereal sounds he sends out sub-sonic booms with the beam, an unusual stringed instrument made from an aluminum C beam.

Both Walter Holland and the progressive ensemble Djam Karet create romantic, Pink Floyd-inspired spacescapes on their works. On Shades of Night Descending, Holland's sustained chords and sparse guitar gradually give way to dirge like drums with synthesizer filter sweeps through massive chords that seem to leave trails behind them. Djam Karet creates an otherworldly wash of intertwined feedback guitars, running water, rushing wind, and a slow piano ostinato. The group claims that the work actually follows Dali's Inventions of the Monsters from left to right. It certainly creates a sense of movement and transition.

Only Loren Nerell keys into the primitive, African side of Dali's work, with a percussive piece called Impressions of Africa.

Dali concludes with a trio of works by Steve Roach and Robert Rich that tunnel through the darker eroticism of Dali. Birth of Liquid Desires swirls with synth drones and cyclical voices intoning a distant chant. Recorded during their sessions for Strata, it explores many of the same dark interior moods, as does Roach's solo The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. And on Rhinocerotic Figure of Phidias' Illisos'. They actually sample Dali's voice. John Diliberto

i/e Magazine Winter 1992

Could this very well be one of the best synth/EM compilations the field has ever spawned? After numerous listens, it is apparent that each artist was not only deeply inspired by Dali's phantasmagorical imagery, but used his work as a benchmark to further inspire them to create some of their best work. The entirety of this CD offers a great variety of styles, shapes and colors, and singling one artist out over another is physically impossible--all of the inclusive works are of that high a quality. Walter Holland's Shades of Night Descending is a powerful mix of Floydian guitars (a la Shine On You Crazy Diamond) thunderclaps and Lyle Mays-inflected bloopy synths. Djam Karet reveal a quieter side to their psyche with the hypnotic and tense Inventions of the Monsters, seven minutes of oscillating, grating metallic guitar chords, twisted and frought with tension, and all the whole eerie electronics play in the twilight. Loren Nerell gives his Impressions of Africa, and the percolating combination of ancient bells/chimes, unearthly synthetic winds, and wispy, mysterious percussives makes for a truly aural travelogue' interesting, since Nerell professes to never have visited the continent! Michael Stearns offers glimpses of yet more of his trademark deep space excursions on the atypically titled Tuna Fishing, punctuated by drops of murky water in the synthwash. Spain's own Michel Huygen interprets The Great Masturbator as a sad and forlorn declaration of independence, as mournful synths and crystalline fragments of glissando figure prominently, a step away from Huygen's usual merger of synths and high-energy sequencers. Klaus Schulze retains his current 90s travelogue of percussives on The Face of Mae West, while Bo Tomlyn's shifting synth sounds scrape, arch and bend their way up into the heaves, as a sequencer babbles amidst the hushed voices of Assumpta Corpusculaia Lapislazulina. Finally, Steve Roach and Robert Rich collaborate on two Dali impressions, while Roach has a go at a solo rendering of The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, forceably mixing alien, granite-like chunks of electronics that suspend themselves in the galactic void, dimming images slowly dying out. Rhinocerotic Figure of Phidias Illisos incorporates almost Adrian Belew-designed rhino sounds, although here realized on keyboards, in a surreal cage of bottomless chasms of electronics. Birth of Liquid Desires continues the work of the duo explored on Strata, layering various organic percussiions within electronic blankets, as strangled, echoing cries drift aimlessly, out of reach. Marvelously executed and intelligently well-conceived, Dali: The Endless Enigma is a stellar example of intensely thought-provoking imagery coupled with compelling, instrumental visions. Darren Bergstein










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