Composer, multi-instrumentalist, and field recordist Dialect talks about his loop pack STRATA and how he found fertile ground in systems theory, birdsong and sine waves.

In his early 20’s, Andrew PM Hunt (aka Dialect) performed Terry Riley’s minimalist composition "In C" with friends. He discovered a new approach to music, where fragments of melodies are played independently of each other, and performers move through the score at their own pace.

“It has this sort of chance element, but it's so nicely designed that no matter what happens, it's going to be beautiful."

Dialect’s loop pack STRATA sees him explore this concept while remaining true to his pursuit for unaccustomed sounds.

“Initially, it was a challenge because I typically don’t work with loops; they aren’t part of my music, or at least that’s what I thought. I realised throughout the process that I work with these over-layered sheets of sound. I had the idea to design a pallet of sounds that interact with each other and can be played in any order. By having these sounds mapped to a keyboard, I could combine anything and create new combinations.”

We caught up with Dialect in Liverpool from his basement studio.
Your work has the feeling of interconnected layers of sound: instruments and textures bouncing off and informing each other. Is this an aesthetic choice or is there a deeper principle to your compositional approach?
When I was working on my last album, "Under~Between", I read the book "Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory" by Joanna Macy. The book explores the links between the Buddhist concept of co-dependent arising with the 20th-century idea of cybernetics. As a musician who combines technology with acoustic and traditional instruments, I was interested in ideas related to systems theory regarding how information flows. The book drew connections that proved insightful when designing the sounds in my arrangements and thinking on a technical level to make sounds happen.

On the record, there are acoustic instruments triggering samples, synths and keyboards. These, in turn, respond to the acoustic instruments that triggered them — entering into feedback dialogues. My track "Flame Not Stone" has a prolonged section of MIDI feedback on the digital piano. The piano’s output comes into my computer which reads the audio and turns it into MIDI. The computer then sends the MIDI back into the piano. The computer ends up making mistakes and sending stray notes back to the piano. It sounds like the piano is fighting itself!

I was also influenced by birdsong. When jays are in mating season, they go from sounding like crows to what I can only describe as music — you wouldn’t believe it’s the same bird. Their songs are very musical with unusual melodic leaps. I’d go out with a field recorder and my binoculars, not necessarily pressing record, but just to listen through the headphones. It's very different to experiencing sounds normally. Obviously it’s louder, but on headphones you’re drawn to a different hierarchy of sound.
Each bank of sounds in STRATA has a strong sonic identity. What were you trying to convey through the different loop collections?
Again, I ended up drawing on inspiration from the natural world. If I’m reaching for a sound, I want it to feel like it has a story or has lived a life. Sounds that are heavily textured or have been distressed often imbue that quality.

Partly for my own benefit, I’d think about ways that I could conceptualise the different sounds that I worked with. I split the pack into three sections: UNDERLAND, STRATA and CANOPY. UNDERLAND holds these encompassing, dark and subterranean sounds; STRATA contains sounds that I consider to be the bedrock of a track; CANOPY embraces foreground and high-frequency colour textures.
Does STRATA link conceptually or aesthetically to your previous release "Under~Between"?
It’s funny, they both had similar starting points of being inspired by the natural word and a back and forth between the organic and digital. However, it felt separate from my previous work. "Under~Between" has a clean palette of sounds; while it has some natural sounds, it was very much a record that I made on a computer.

For STRATA, I wanted to do something a bit different and not look at a screen the whole time. I decided to work with a 4-track recorder, cassette loops and a rougher palette of sounds.
You mentioned wanting to escape the computer. How do you go about doing this?
For "Under~Between", I made these MIDI controllers that are gesture and sensor-based. They were a big part of shaping that record. It, very literally, allowed for these fluid motions and these gestural sweeps in some of the programming and effects.

I didn’t use the MIDI controllers so much for STRATA. However, I used these catering bowls and a few other homemade instruments — some of them are pretty rough!
Do you have any essential gear you use to distress and distort your sounds — to achieve that feeling of them having "lived a life"?
Yeah, for STRATA I was running a lot of sounds through a Boss ME-50 pedal that I’ve had since I was 15. It has featured on every project that I’ve been involved in. It’s a pre-digital multi-effects stompbox; you’ve got all the Boss pedals in one housing. It has an intense compressor that I think sounds great when you put drums through it.

I also used an Alesis MIDIVerb for its gated reverb and set it all the way wet. Driving the input hard causes it to distort. As it’s an early-digital piece of kit, it has a low-resolution saturation that’s really gnarly.

I’ve also got this 4-track cassette player that has this unique, tapey warble and compression. The 4-track has a simple but amazing EQ with two controls: treble and bass. The curve of the treble boost makes things sound super crispy. I sometimes use it as a preamp before going into the computer.
When your sounds arrive inside the computer, do you reach for any software in particular?
I track everything into Ableton because it’s what I know. I use a basic Ableton sine wave a lot. I love the sound — it feels infinite. You are listening to pure oscillation! People have been working with sine waves forever. It has a legacy of its own in electronic music. I like bringing sine waves into whatever my context is.

I also use Max for Live. It’s nice to be able to make your own sequencer that is based on randomly changing numbers or basic LFOs to control synths, samplers or hardware. In Max, you can quickly throw something together and get it working. I love it for that.
How has it been working with CYCLES? Have any areas of it particularly stood out to you?
CYCLES is fun to use as a polysynth. I recorded an old Yamaha keyboard into the 4-track tape recorder and put it into CYCLES. I got this brilliant warble at the start of the note before it stabilises.

The effect engine also sounds amazing. It would take so much plugging in and troubleshooting to get those types of effects outside of the software. You can dive in and manipulate the effects instantly.
You created a piece called "An Edge, A Fold" for the launch of STRATA. What was the concept behind the track?
I used piano and saxophone as organic elements and then used STRATA to bring in this dialogue with the digital world, creating a sense of space around those instruments.

The loop pack allows me to establish a textural ambience that can be minimal but still put you in a place. It’s great because I can afford to be reserved with what I’m doing musically on top.
Dialect's loop pack STRATA is avaliable now.

Interview by Joe Dean
Photos by Marieke Macklon
February 2022