Alex Dowling shares new single ‘King Of Thumbs’

Alex Dowling press photo
Photo credit: Emma O'Halloran

Irish composer Alex Dowling has shared new single and video King of Thumbs, which is lifted from his forthcoming debut album ‘Reality Rounds’, due out January 31st, 2020 via Carrier Records. Check out the video via YouTube below.

‘Reality Rounds’ was written for four vocalists (who each use customized wireless controllers to manipulate their AutoTuned voices in real-time) and synthesizer (performed by Grammy-nominated composer/pianist Pascal Le Bouef).The album was recorded and filmed live, and in full, at Princeton University by Four/Ten Media.

Dowling built King of Thumbs around an imagined deck of cards that the performers recite at the beginning of this ritual. Halfway through, a startling interruption transports the listener to a new sonic environment where the choir’s whistling is transformed into a flickering texture, a type of artificial birdsong. The music has echoes of Aphex Twin or Oneohtrix Point Never seen through the prism of Bjork’s Medúlla

After years of experimenting with electronic vocal effects to extend the capabilities of the voice, Irish composer Alex Dowling has announced his debut album, ‘Reality Rounds,’ via Carrier Records. Written for ‘AutoTune choir’, the work was performed live by four singers, each controlling their own vocal effects in real-time. The innovative use of electronics allows for a stunning array of sounds from rapid flickering textures to unusual tunings that would be impossible for a normal choir to sing. Breaths build into propulsive rhythms by imprinting amplitude modulation on the singers’ voices (Channeling II) and two-voice hocketing with delayed harmonizers forms complex interlocking patterns (God Rays). 

Influenced by the writings of Yuval Noah Harari, ‘Reality Rounds’ is a future ritual of ‘Dataism’, a new religion that worships the eternal flow of data. The performers’ voices are digitally extended beyond their physical boundaries allowing them to connect with the information stream and become imbued with its spiritual presence. To begin, a form of séance is enacted where the performers chant symbolic playing cards in order to connect with the ‘Great Data Flow’. From this, streams of information cascade through the singers creating a swirling blend of thoughts from the mundane to the profound, like fragmented memories ricocheting in the subconscious. They give praise for the vast data centers that sit underground like inverted cathedrals (“Bless Room 48 and the Citadel in Reno” in Atoms), and sing hymns for Instagram filters (‘Vesper’) and the fear of isolation (In Silence, In Cold).

‘Reality Rounds’ was recorded and filmed live at Princeton University in early 2019. The film of the performance builds on the ritualistic aspects as the singers sit in the vast darkness, huddling around a flickering ‘digital fire’. Singers control their own effects, using repurposed Bluetooth controllers concealed in their hands, eliciting a sense of magic as the underlying technology remains completely hidden. There is inherent mystery to the music as the sensuously layered harmonies emanate from the performers as if through some unseen force. 

The style could be described as ‘absurd melancholy’, with obscure references and non-sequiturs weaving in amongst this deliberate, solemn ceremony. Dowling deftly combines the voice with electronics creating hybrid timbres that traverse the liminal space between organic and synthetic. The digital processes never mask the singers’ fragility, always allowing a fleshy human side to offset any electronic austerity. Deep bass growls rumble underneath angelic counterpoint while rippling waves of sound morph into subtle whistling and breaths. A fascinating cross between Stockhausen’s ‘Stimmung’, an electro-futuristic Meredith Monk, and a digitally rendered Roomful of Teeth, this work attains a rare feat – the creation of truly live, human, electronic music. 

Reality Rounds cover artwork

The full album and video of ‘Reality Rounds’ will be released digitally and on CD January 31st, 2020 via Carrier Records. Preorder the album here: