Margaret Dygas Margaret DygasHow Do You Do
This is a strange thing. And I say “thing” because it isn’t exactly an album, even though music is the main ingredient developed here by someone who is currently one of the resident DJs of the club Panoramabar in Berlin: Margaret Dygas, whose real name is much more labyrinthine, Malgorzata Dygasiewicz. There is also photography, in the form of 32 photos taken by the artist, and which come inserted in the packaging of the CD as a sort of booklet, and especially text that’s connected to the sounds like a Siamese twin, a background of anthropological reflection that Dygas extracts from the book “People Watching” (2002), by the controversial zoologist Desmond Morris. This book is an interpretation of body language and how it conditions and directs communications between living beings, humans and animals; it’s a book that in theory has nothing to do with either techno or house, but which Dygas declares to have helped her to integrate and find warmth when she moved from London to Berlin to extend her musical career to a new city. In this sense, the contents of the book guide the album’s message: there are phrases taken out and associated to each one of the songs–“the man who laughs too loud and too long at a mildly amusing joke is immediately suspect,” for example, is what comes after the title of the second-to-last track, “Hidden from View”– and the title is on one hand a polite greeting in English, and on the other a double entendre about the inextricable methods that Dygas has followed to give shape to this music.
Because “How Do You Do”, beyond the photos—some of them very lovely, others a real stereotype of landscaping (or landscape detail)—and beyond the concept hidden behind the booklet, the value lies essentially in the sound. It’s strange, because Dygas emphasises especially the zoological and social part that led her to explore Morris’ thesis, but in reality there is nothing of this in the dodecaphonic piano sequences, the muffled beats, and the long fragments of silence or pause that adorn what is perhaps the best techno-avant-garde album since the denser, more liquid (and therefore mercurial) releases of Ricardo Villalobos, “Achso EP” (Cadenza, 2005) and “Vasco” (Perlon, 2008). Margaret Dygas surrounds her tracks with improv and contemporary music adornments that we imagine are hers, as there is no reference to samples taken from any recording or to composers to whom she sees fit to give a shout-out. But you can hear echoes of the dodecaphonic, random composition methods of Schönberg, as well as dissonant harmonies and thick textures of violins or pianos that could have been put out by Morton Feldman. Unlike Villalobos, who has always wanted to distance himself from contemporary composition and to link his minimal-house to classic American minimalism, considering himself a dance producer above all, without wanting to go from a club to an art gallery, Margaret Dygas does seem willing to take this route. “You’re in My Shoes” is four minutes of interlude created from noises and random notes, without anything more than the mechanisms of improvised or concrete music, something that you will never find in the work of the Chilean DJ, however hard you look. Perhaps Tobias Freund, from the duo .nsi, has played an essential role in that union of conservatory textures and techno beats, contributing ideas, precisely, to the song mentioned above.
But beyond this, “How Do You Do” also offers other moments of interest. The intro, which might remind one of that of “Little Fluffy Clouds” (The Orb) in its use of the voice of nature documentary narrator Richard Attenborough and a generous number of field recordings, is only a way of starting, a smoke screen, a gesture to the book by Morris that the album is based on. Starting there, Dygas implements minimalist beats typical of labels like Cadenza or Contexterrior, with pianos struck randomly, dissonant chords, jazz codes ( “Hidden from View”) and, once in a while, classic references to deep or highly intellectualised techno like Plastikman ( “Veering Intention”) or Vainqueur ( “Barrier”), before finishing with another of the substances that make this album one of the most singular, daring, and different dance albums of 2010: “Janina Says… Something” half a minute of near silence that closes with a sound that is the same distance from self-absorbed Berlin clubbing as it is from the theories of John Cage. Is Margaret Dygas’ work pretentious? Of course it is. But the result lives up to her intentions, not as suggestively as Bruno Pronsato, but richer than the techno of the majority of her neighbours. It’s easy to connect dance music and the academy and to shoot yourself in the foot in the process (or to look ridiculous as a result). The hard thing is to make “How Do You Do” and to get the album to stand up to repeated listening.