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Jon Dale - Last Blues LP

Jon Dale - Last Blues LP

De La Catessen

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"More closely resembles a force of nature than any expression of human experience ... the occasional crush of static ... gently churning ... enveloping the listener in a vaguely comforting presence that feels transportive even when it's going nowhere."
-Emily Pothast, The Wire

"Jon Dale collapses old dichotomies (such as organic vs. inorganic and heavy vs. light) into a pure horizon of tone with only guitar and a little harmonium. Sonically, it makes me think of a middle point between if Organum snuck into the studio to remix Glenn Branca, and what I imagine the electric synapses firing off in Raymond Roussel's brain would've sounded like if committed to wax cylinder. Which is to say, it sounds rad." -Ben Chasny, Six Organs Of Admittance



Ask Jon Dale about his late 1990s-early 2000s music project Moth and he’ll answer with a degree of haziness that can’t really be explained by the passing of time alone. To be sure, these recordings are historical artifacts, but maybe the real reason they evade discussion is because they are snapshots of something timeless; something Moth didn't so much “create” as momentarily tap into.

I met Jon in Adelaide sometime during the 2000s, and knew him at first as someone with an unparalleled knowledge (and collection) of experimental music. Even video-chatting with Jon today, it’s hard not to notice the stacks of records behind him overtaking the screen (and quietly wish there were a spare few days to ask him what they all are). Back in the day, Jon was one of the few people I could talk to in depth about my burgeoning interest in La Monte Young. Not only was he aware of the composer (and in possession of several rare recordings of his music), he could also alert me to a dozen or more related artists who weren’t mentioned in the text books. His knowledge was exhaustive and, frankly, a little intimidating.

Jon was also instrumental in bringing a great number of interstate and international artists to Adelaide: Chris Smith, Dworzec, Dean Roberts, Oren Ambarchi, to name a few. I, along with countless culture-deprived Adelaidians, discovered so many artists through the performances Jon coordinated. I also had the privilege in later years of performing supporting sets for a couple of them. In Jon’s words: “I had a rule that if you organised the show you didn't play the support. You've already made the connection with that artist, so offer the support out to other people so they can make that connection too.”

Jon’s selflessness is also the reason a year or so went by before I even knew Jon made music himself. When I found out he did (probably through someone other than Jon) I fell in love with it.

A significant number of Moth recordings that were making the rounds in Adelaide—some of them official releases on Jon’s own Rhizome label, others possibly unofficial CD-Rs—found their way into my collection over the years. Sometimes they didn’t leave my CD player for days at a time, filling my apartment with rich masses of sound, recognizably guitar-based yet somehow so much more expansive, emerging often out of only a few loose performance rules, like “no touching the guitar strings,” “no changing of tunings,” “no overt dynamics,” that all seemed geared towards minimizing human intervention and letting the sounds just “be.”

At a time in Adelaide when it seemed so much local music was overly weighed-down with “expression,” Jon’s decidedly non-narrative leaning was a real breath of fresh air to me. Jon recently recalled something said to him by Kurt Ralske of Ultra Vivid Scene: “If music tells a story, that story is grafted onto the music. It's not in the music.” Expanding on this Jon informs, “I didn't want to create something that was expressive of some damn experience I was having. I respected sound too much to always want to insert that into it, to impose my lived experience on frequencies.”

It’s no surprise that Jon includes among his influences a long list of experimental filmmakers, including Marie Menken, Rose Lowder, Malcolm LeGrice and Tony Conrad, who approach their visual material with a heightened sense of immediacy and reverence. Filmmakers for whom color, texture and form are engaging enough without having to shape them into some kind of “story.”

The immediacy of Moth’s sound world is undeniable. The word “world” is deliberate, as the tracks comprising this collection are less compositions to observe and appreciate from the outside than they are spaces to inhabit. Indeed, it is from the vantage point of habitation that you might experience the sounds as sounds, rather than as “signs” pointing to this or that meaning (as if sounds possessed any inherent referential capabilities to begin with). If you find the lusciousness of Track 5, or the vibrant, kinetic flow of Track 3, as comforting as I do, for example, you can be sure it is not because some rational process of decoding told you it was a comforting class of sound, it is because the sound literally comforts you. The frequencies are working on your body.

I keep returning to Jon’s quote: “I thought these sounds should be allowed to do their thing and run their course without me getting in the damn way. I liked the idea of this music being something you just happened upon, it existed before you got there and kept going after you left…I’m lazy, maybe?” Although to me there is a reverence and dedication embedded in Moth's approach that is quite contrary to Jon's wry allusion to laziness. It is a dedication present, too, in the careful selection of these tracks from the Moth backlog by De la Catessen founder Luke Altmann, to whom we can all be thankful for bringing this material back to our collections, or to our collections for the first time.

If this is lazy, then it is a fierce and beautiful laziness. The kind of laziness needed in order to clear a path for the exposure of details normally obscured by our active, meaning-seeking brains. To anyone holding this record I issue the following invitation: give your trust over to these sounds, listen deeply and with curiosity, and let Moth lead you along this path. - De La Catessen