Kyle Bobby Dunn

Meet Montreal volume musician Kyle Bobby Dunn

The neo-classical minimalist is launching a record in a swimming pool today. We spoke to him about 9/11, our generation’s perpetual sadness and creating art from boredom.

Kyle Bobby Dunn
Kyle Bobby Dunn

Canadian artist Kyle Bobby Dunn spent a few years doing the Brooklyn thing before returning to the Great White North.  Happily based in Montreal for the last year, KBD celebrates the release of his epic triple LP/double CD album Kyle Bobby Dunn & The Infinite Sadness, released by Students of Decay, with a truly special performance in the Piscine Schubert today, presented by the Suoni per il Popolo festival.

Dunn’s music progresses very slowly and is driven by subtle changes in volume, as long drawn out chords melt into one another.  His new record was made entirely in Montreal with just his electric guitar and a loop station. Much of the composing happens in his head, and he makes only minor adjustments to the songs once recorded on his computer.  Rather than evoking the more common metaphor of painting with sound, Dunn likens his composition style to drawing.  As it is very minimal in nature, the changes that do occur are more bold in impact.  To a casual listener, The Infinite Sadness won’t seem like much of a radical break with his past output, but in fact the shorter track lengths and increased role of the loop make this record more dynamic and moving.

Dunn resists characterizing his music as drone, a tag that seems difficult to get away from.  Understandably so, as his music consists of attackless-swells and reverb drenched tones that unfurl very gradually. On the surface at least, the comparisons to Stars of the Lid don’t seem too far off.  Though this might imply “drone” for many, his touchstones are very different, and a closer listen reveals different aims. “I just think all terms don’t apply to me anymore.  Composer certainly doesn’t apply, performer/musician doesn’t even apply. If I’m any kind of a musician, I’m a volume musician.  It becomes harder and harder to label it or talk about it.  But maybe that’s also what is important about it — there’s still some energy there to create, or to be creating.”

Eliane Radigue may be the only composer who works with drones that he really enjoys, because he recognizes in her music an emotional core that resonates with the listener.  That’s what motivates Dunn to make music, a necessity to channel his own “intense emotional” experiences into song.

Rather than the usual suspects, he cites Elmer Bernstein’s score to the original Ghostbusters film as a favourite for its affective power, in the melding of weird synth parts with orchestral music.  He even used a motif from “Dana’s Theme” as the root of one of his own compositions.  Dunn is unusually comfortable in his identity as an artist, and doesn’t seem at all interested in trends or breaking out of his habits.  This can be a double-edged sword, but his confidence in his identity as a composer has allowed him to develop a nuanced idiom and refine his voice as a composer in a way that few young artists have.

His worldview seems to have taken shape early on, and the obvious nod to the Smashing Pumpkins goes deeper than the tongue-in-cheek references that tend to populate his back catalogue. Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness was the first double album he owned, and it underscores for him the prevailing mood of our generation.  “The title was a realization that we exist in a sort of infinitely sad state, and that embracing that is the only thing we have.  Sadness doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing.” 9/11 was a profoundly felt event for Dunn, and further underscored what he describes as the onset of a period of mass confusion, and in turn, boredom.

Contemplating boredom is a beautiful thing, and is perhaps why Dunn loves the winter so much, as it allows time for deep concentration.  “Boredom also comes from your alienation. Because you find something funny and somebody else doesn’t, or because you love something and somebody else doesn’t agree with your love. If somebody says ‘there’s no reason for you to be sad,’ you just have to find a sad state of boredom.  There’s a lot of that in what I do.”

Earlier records, like Ways of Meaning or Bring Me the Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn, had an airy quality, ethereal chords that seemed to drift away just as soon as they took shape.  The increased prevalence of the looping technique on The Infinite Sadness grounds the development of each song in the rhythm of these fragments being repeated.  “On the new songs, if you really do listen, I felt like I was creating drunken dance songs. So sad and drunk, you should just start dancing.”  Seems perfect for a pool party.

Montreal itself has its own rhythms, and this is part of what inspired this latest phase in Dunn’s career.  Upon moving to the city, he found himself very inspired by the streets, the alleys, the landscape and the city’s unique energy.  While composing one of the 19 tracks on his latest album, he imagined it “sounded like distant horns on the streets of Montreal in the early 1900s.”  This sort of imagery, combined with his emotional state at the time, inspired the feel of the record. He found that the scale and density of Montreal grants the city a very human sense of community, making possible the communities that have fostered and produced such good art for decades now.

For his performance during this year’s Suoni festival, Dunn was determined to do something special, something in keeping with the spirit of the city that’s inspired him so much.  Most of Suoni takes place in their family of venues: Casa del Popolo, la Sala Rossa, Il Motore and the new la Vitrola.  But Dunn has increasingly felt the limitations of rock clubs for presenting his music.

“Any small space doesn’t seem right anymore, where people are in a predicable environment, standing with their drinks or just socializing. This event is more of an actual event — people will hopefully take something away from it, and also be an important part of it.  So if nobody shows up with their swimming suits, I’m going to be really depressed for the rest of the year.  Maybe the rest of my life.”

It was important that they find a functional pool so that the audience could be swimming during the performance. To make the event even more significant, Dunn  brought in one of his oldest friends to accompany him on synth.  “[Josh] had a hand in producing and helping with the entire record, so I thought it’s be fitting to have him to play live with.  Plus we’re old friends and we’ve never played live together.  [We] are going to play in our bathing suits.  It’s going to be a really sexy show for really unsexy music, that’s the great contradiction.  Playing in a swimming pool thing if something I had a dream about years ago.  Sometimes dreams do come true.” ■

See Kyle Bobby Dunn today, Sunday, June 15, 5:30 p.m., at 3950 St-Laurent. Bring your swimwear. Check him out.

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