Michael Scott Dawson: music to listen to
(We are busy bodies)
Released April 1, 2022
Buy on Bandcamp
Music For Listening is the second solo album by Canadian sound artist Michael Scott Dawson. Just like spring, it’s cool and airy and those ethereal sound waves just demand that you immerse yourself completely. Gordon Rutherford review for Louder than War.
Spring is the most wonderful season of the year. Every morning, always earlier, dawn rises on our sleeping souls. Mother nature’s perfect awakening – birdsong – is triggered by these clearer skies. Michael Scott Dawson’s second album, Music For Listening, is a spring album. It is the sound of optimism and hope, freshness and lightness. Everything is bright. Everything sparkles. Everything is fragile in its novelty. And there are birdsong everywhere. Literally. Dawson’s inspiration for Music For Listening came from a phone call to his ninety-five-year-old grandmother. As she spoke, she mentioned birds singing outside her window, prompting Dawson to unearth a field recording he had made of birds singing a few years earlier. He had abandoned that particular project because of the crackle of bugs attacking the microphones. Somehow, now seemed like a good time to resurrect those recordings.
I discovered this Canadian sound artist for the first time last year, thanks to his role in the free jazz collective Peace Flag Ensemble. Their excellent first album, Noteland, has been reviewed by yours truly on these same pages. Dawson’s solo work is different. With these projects, he creates minimalist ambient soundscapes that you can easily immerse yourself in. Interestingly, Dawson chose to take a slightly different path on Music For Listening than he took on his debut, Nowhere, Middle Of. Gone were the synths, his primary instrument, in favor of resonant guitar codas. These are complemented by tape loops, manipulations and the aforementioned field recordings, combining holistically to create a soothing and ethereal sound.
Long after the needle has left the turntable, these birdsongs persist. They dominate this album without ever dominating it. They’re the very first thing we encounter on the opening track, No Rave, and the last thing we experience (aside from the sound of footsteps on a gravel path) on the album’s closest track, The Sentimentalist. . After birdsong, the most notable thing about Music For Listening is the complete absence of any beats. It’s not unusual on ambient albums, but there’s something about the space left by their absence on this collection that’s quite striking. The sense of minimalism is amplified, creating this valley of tranquility. Nothing moves, not even a mouse (click). This is ideal because you wouldn’t want any kind of extraneous noise cluttering up those delicate sound waves. Just as rhythms can bring a sense of urgency, their absence allows the sound to drift unhurriedly.
Perfectly encompassing the immanent essence of this disc, the track titled Places I’ve Loved, People I’ve Been. There seems to be a chasm, an anticipation, between the resounding notes of Dawson’s guitar. He lays this sonic tapestry before us in a masterful way, almost demanding that we stop what we’re doing and absorb every note. Equally impactful is Two Solitudes, which comes as cascading crystals. The title is taken from a quote by Rilke, which Dawson explains as “somewhere I heard love described as ‘two solitudes'”. Those pesky bugs I referenced earlier bring a wonderful sense of depth to this particular track, contrasting with Dawson’s melodic guitar lines.
Music For Listening was mastered by Taylor Deupree, who previously worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto. I don’t know how much Deupree influenced the creation of these tracks, but there is unmistakably a similarity between Dawson’s compositions on this album and certain aspects of Sakamoto’s work, especially those tinges of oriental mysticism given off by the chiming notes of Dawson’s guitar. It’s also reminiscent of Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, the 2021 album by Californian electronic musician Forest Robots. Both corpuses have a certain numinous ambience, both give the impression of being bathed in light. Both are outdoor albums, operating in vast open spaces.
Music For Listening is a very good ambient record, imaginatively composed and performed with incredible musicality. It’s pretty gorgeous everywhere. Rest assured that the fact that it is a spring record will not prevent you from enjoying it in winter. Far from there. However, it is a mood disc. I strongly resent the opinion of many that ambient is “elevator music”. No more than hip-hop or metal. I stress this because Music For Listening can only be truly enjoyed when, unsurprisingly, one listens. Perhaps that is why he bears this particular title. What that means, however, is that he’s unlikely to be a constant presence on his deck for months to come. But for those times when you want to be transported to another place, drifting and wallowing in those wonderful soundscapes, it’ll tick all the boxes.
Michael Scott Dawson is on Instagram.
We Are Busy Bodies is on Bandcamp, TwitterFacebook and Instagram.
All the words of Gordon Rutherford. Other writings by Gordon can be found in his archives.
Gordon is also on Twitter as @R11Gordon and has a website here: https://thedarkflux.com