Recommended Listening: Dylan Henner - Great Prairie Plains: Studies of American Minimalism
We first heard of Dylan Henner last summer when he released The Invention of the Human through AD 93. The song titles got us, really. Strung together they formed quite a run-on sentence about a renegade peach tree, a mischievous raccoon, rumbling trains, singing frogs, and a pristine valley landscape. The presentation came across as strange and sort of silly, but the chaotic scene described in that exhausting stretch of a sentence was not at all reflected in Henner's ambient music. The Brighton-based electro-acoustic composer, a promising new voice in the experimental music scene, showed a unique flair as well as an impressive ability to paint vibrant sonic constructions. We loved this left-field, Fraktur-emblazoned album (linked here for those curious), and couldn't wait to hear more.
So we were pretty excited when Dauw Label (who we've featured already this year), reached out last month with new music from Henner. Officially announced today and released a week from now, Great Prairie Plains is a tribute of sorts - a cover album comprised of two longform works originally written by a couple of masters of American minimalism. Henner selected these two pieces, specifically, due to their influence on his musical life and education. His reimaginations are lively and bright, and you can really feel Henner's love for the undulating compositions with each note he plays.
Dylan Henner, from Dauw Label.
On US 26 (which connects Idaho Falls with Jackson, Wyoming), rodent-like varmint scurry across the highway like little daredevils. Obviously, they have much more of a claim to the open prairie than cars do, but the constant swerving to miss these little fuckers really puts drivers on edge, focusing attention away from the natural beauty all around. The perfect soundtrack to this high-stakes slalom would be Henner's cover of Terry Riley's In C. Marimba is the featured instrument on this 22-minute composition, the mallet strikes mimicking the pitter patter of paws on asphalt. The rising and falling flow of the song makes it an engaging listen, and for a minimalist track, it feels quite busy. Some light synth and piano add texture, filling out the recording quite nicely. Riley's signature sound was shaped by scenes of the American West, and you can hear these images come to life on this oft-referenced composition.
Further southwest, U.S. 50 is nicknamed "the loneliest road in America," and while it bisects a desert rather than a prairie, it is minimalist to an extreme degree. When you leave Hinckley, Utah barreling straight toward Ely, Nevada, you'll see Wheeler Peak to the south, but absolutely nothing in your way. All civilization vanishes. Henner's second cover includes such an arc - a driving piano melody falls away, leaving only a warm drone. The track is a cover of Su Tissue's 2nd Movement from her mythologized Salon de Musique, and Henner has done her piece great justice. Desert landscapes often evoke minimalist aesthetics, so we hope that Henner, who matched his album with a prairie ecosystem, will forgive us for veering astray.
This pair of minimalist covers is breathtaking. Henner continues to evolve as a musician, and this album of appreciation would make both Terry Riley and Su Tissue beam. Find it next week (March 2nd) through Dauw Label's Bandcamp, and we hope to hear a lot more from Henner in the near future.