❉ An at times dark, ambient journey into the centre of human consciousness, but also humane and inviting, with a delicate lightness of touch.
Last year I was lucky enough to be sent a pre-release copy of synth musician Rob Gould’s reworking of the seminal Van de Graaf Generator album Pawn Hearts. At the time, I called it a ‘gentle homage’ and a ‘subtle re-imagining’ but also as a ‘joyful, wildly enthusiastic’ album, played by a musician who was clearly a master of his craft.
Great though that release was, however, it remained a cover of another artist’s work, with the built in limitations of such a project, making it difficult to tell just how good Gould really was, technical ability aside. This year, Fruits de Mer Records, who released Pawn Hearts, have gone a step further and put out a double CD, marrying Gould’s extended 2007 piece Dome, with a 2022 sequel, imaginatively entitled Dome II.
The original 2007 work Dome, was partially recorded in the Devonshire Dome, a gigantic eighteenth century stable block with a massive unsupported stone dome in Buxton. By that time a deserted former hospital, Gould was given full access to the building and grounds and took advantage of the obvious unusual acoustic properties of the dome to create a half hour musical piece, later expanded in the studio, which concerned itself with the structure of the human brain, in an at times dark, ambient journey into the centre of human consciousness.
It’s a gorgeous, layered piece, originally presented as four distinct tracks, but on this new release presented as a single 45-minute track. In one way, this does the full suite a minor dis-service, as it ignores the distinct break between the studio based first part and the live recording of the second (the only named track, The Soft Centre) and third sections, in which the biological notes of breathing and a steady heartbeat give way to Gould and vocalist and flautist Natalia Brightmore’s less naturalistic collaboration.
While the sections are distinct, there’s no obvious way to tell which was recorded in the studio and which live, and even within individual sections, the range and scope of instrumentation, approach and even genre changes on a minute by minute basis, so perhaps it’s not as important as all that to label any one element. Either way, the suite passes in a series of sometimes intimate, but often sweeping and grandiose miniature electronic pieces, building and falling away, without ever falling into repetition. The influence of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream is evident throughout, but Gould adds his own stamp to the music so that this never devolves into slavish imitation.
While the original Dome wore its komische influences on its sleeve and used them to roam wherever Gould’s music took him, Dome II begins with a more melodic, dare I say it structured, feel. New touchstones have been added – primarily, Mike Oldfield (there’s a moment round the 21-minute mark where I swear he directly channels Tubular Bells) and later Jean-Michel Jarre (check out the distorted vocals over heavy strings ten minutes in, for instance). But for all that, it’s still clearly an album cut from the same cloth as its predecessor: spacey and heavy at points, conjuring up images of unfeeling electronic processes, cold stars and vast expanses of near emptiness, but also humane, and warmly inviting at others, with a delicate lightness of touch. Like the first album, Dome II builds from a beginning filled with soft, quiet piano passages to embrace driving synth lines, and soaring, elegiac chords, but it also finds time and leaves space for sombre moments of reflection.
It’s a worthy successor to the first Dome and one which more than deserves this 15th anniversary release.
❉ Rob Gould: Dome I & Dome II will be available as a double CD on Fruits der Mer’s ‘Strange Fish’ label as a limited run from 5 June 2022. Click here to buy/pre-order.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas