Dictaphone: Goats & Distortions 5

German group inhabits a twilit sound world where loops of old dictaphone recordings are embellished with guitar, reeds and strings


Labelling music can be a perilously reductive pastime, and since their formation in 2000 the sui generis Belgian-German ensemble Dictaphone have attracted more labels than most. Dark jazz? Contemporary classical? Minimalist electronica? Experimental sound art? Rather than shoe-horning their genre-fluid music into any kind of false taxonomy, let’s just say that Dictaphone engender a sense of ambiguity that will feel reassuringly familiar to followers of contemporary European jazz.

Originally inspired by the pioneering post-industrial electronica of the 80s Brussels scene, Dictaphone’s earlier recordings certainly reflect some of those influences. Always seeming to grow organically, and avoiding obvious extremes, chief architect Oliver Doerell builds atmospheric sound collages using sampled layers and loops incorporating grainy old found-sound dictaphone recordings. His economical guitar, bass and skeletal beats often introduce a sense of forward motion and scale, while the contrasting analogue timbres of Döring and Stolze are given freedom to embellish and explore.

Following in a broadly similar vein to 2017’s APR 70, Goats & Distortions 5 is distinguished by Döring’s official debut on bass clarinet. Its dark woody presence sounds perfectly at home against the backdrop of Indian drones on Island 92, while his lyrical clarinet is nothing short of sublime on Il Grande Silenzio, where Doerell’s ghostly undertow brings some of the album’s most fascinating and unexpected sound combinations. Tempête Et Stress has the feel of a classic ballad, albeit one which is enveloped in a shroud of muffled and degraded sound, while the hypnotic grooves of 808.14.4 are archetypal Dictaphone. Elsewhere Helga Raimondi’s voice can be heard on Your Reign Is Over, but unlike Mariechen Danz’s poetic cameo on 2012’s masterpiece Poems From A Rooftop (Sonic Pieces), the effect is rather more textural than lyrical.

This is absolutely gripping from first to last, and with Denovali recently reissuing the group’s entire back-catalogue, there has never been a better time to immerse yourself in Dictaphone’s unique twilit sound world.

O.; Island 92; 808.14.4; Goats & Distortions 1: Tempête Et Stress; Il Grande Silenzio; M.; Goats & Distortions 2; Your Reign Is Over; Griot Dub (38.00)
Oliver Doerell (elg, elb, elec); Roger Döring (ts, as, ss, cl, bcl); Alex Stolze (vn); Helga Raimondi (v) on track 9. Berlin, no dates.
Denovali Records den381