We’ve covered music from the Drone genre a few times here at Living With a Nerd, but we’ve never covered anything remotely like Kyle Bobby Dunn’s tunes.
The first thing you will notice about A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn (and Mr. Dunn’s music in general) is how unconventional it is for the genre. Rather than presenting a wallpaper of sound that is unchanging (or repeats the same undulations), Dunn’s music ebbs and flows organically and, generally, unpredictably. There may not seem to be much structure here initially, but if you listen closely, you will find all of his tracks to be precisely built, with different textures flowing together not only naturally, but logically. In this way, Dunn’s music is similar to the classical composers he cites as he primary inspiration: he hasn’t arbitrarily chosen to layer different sounds together, nor has he just sustained notes while shifting their tonal qualities. Instead, Dunn seems to approach song structure with a calculated and definite purpose. Nothing is wasted: were you to remove a single layer or note from any of his tracks, they would crumble apart. The attention to detail and gentle caress he places upon his textures is unlike anything I’ve ever come across. This isn’t just music; these are experiences translated into music.
Many of the tracks are quite lengthy. “Butel”, the first track (and by far my favorite), clocks in at just under 17 minutes. The song’s base is made up of sustained notes that rarely overlap each other, yet frequently change. The up-front portion of the texture is a combination of a slowly undulating note and a different undulating note that moves at a different pace. Generally, this pair is made up of a high-end and low-end series of notes…nothing uncommon, right? Well, where the magic of this track happens is in your mind: aurally, you know you’re hearing distinctly different sounds. Somehow though, Dunn has managed to make you think you’re actually hearing a single sound. It can sometimes be very difficult to differentiate between layers in a texture, and generally you can only focus on one layer at a time if you’re listening analytically. With “Butel”, however, I find myself able to process every layer of each texture simultaneously, without any need for repeat analytical listenings. Despite the complexity present in this track, you can actually hear everything there is to hear the first time through. This not only speaks to the minimalistic simplicity of the track, but also to the masterful pairing of different tones and textures.
(Side note: it’s entirely possible that the next track was done with actual instruments, rather than a synth. If that’s the case, my sincere apologies to Mr. Dunn…with your stylings, it can sometimes be impossible to tell the difference!)
“Small Show of Hands” starts with a soft layer that overlaps itself. Notes slowly shift back and forth over a base made by a sustained note taken from the same synth patch. This track represents my favorite style of drone: much of the entire track sounds like it was done with a single synth patch (or type of instrument)… I could be wrong here, there may be different synth patches (or instruments) used for this texture, but it honestly sounds like the same patch (or instrument) is used throughout the track. This technique takes a lot of skill to use successfully, as it’s easy to make something that just sounds like sludge. Much like every other track on this album though, it sounds cerebral, relaxing, and brilliant.
“Sets of Four (It’s Meaning Is Deeper Than Its Title Implies)” uses a traditional-sounding piano, with organized short stabs making up the bulk of the soundscape. It sounds like there’s some artificial hiss added in to help fill out the silent portions between each stab (it’s also possible that this track was recorded by setting up a microphone on an actual piano, and the hiss is just a part of the recording process. Either way, it helps provide a foundation, and prevents there from being too much quiet space.) I’m not sure what the portion of the title in parenthesis is referring to, but if the “feel” of this track is any indication, I’d say it’s in reference to someone Dunn knows or knew. Don’t let its delightful nature fool you: this is an emotionally fueled track, one which seems to have been calculated to elicit an uncontrollable response from the listener. At least, that’s what I get from it.
Kyle Bobby Dunn’s music is beautifully arranged, and represents everything that I love about this genre. Sit back, relax, and float away.