Andrew Dobson has been recording and performing his particular take on classically-influenced electronica as Digitonal since 1997. Part of the late phase of UK melodic electronica, he came to prominence on the seminal Toytronic Records Neurokinetic compilation and a debut album, 23: Things Fall Apart, on the label shortly afterwards. Since then he has recorded for Seed Records, Cactus Island, Uncharted Audio and long-time home Just Music who released album Save Your Light for Darker Days in 2008, followed by retrospective compilation Be Still My Bleeping Heart and recent studio album, Beautiful Broken. He has also turned in remixes for a diverse range of artists, including Max Richter, B12, Kirsty Hawkshaw, Alice Russell, Talk in Colour, LJ Kruzer and Flights of Helios.
Charting a line from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Michael Nyman to the melodic IDM of Plaid and Boards of Canada, Digitonal is recognised for being one of the forebears of the neoclassical sound, fusing classical instrumentation with contemporary electronic production techniques.
Andy Dobson kindly agreed to answer a few questions before his gig at Yaga Gatherting this weekend.
Hello Andrew, thank you for taking your time to answer my questions.
What are you up to now?
I am putting the finishing touches together for our performance at the Yaga Gathering this weekend!
You’re a classically trained musician. Does this background help you to compose/produce better music? Have you ever thought that maybe sometimes it is better not to know that for example Do sound great with Mi and Sol (C + E + G)?
Having a classical background never makes “better” music. What it does mean is that I think a certain way musically. That can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s great for understanding the structure of certain kinds of music, and being able to draw on a really wide gene pool for inspiration. On the other hand, it can limit my ambitions when I experiment. It’s hard to explain because it’s just something that I’ve always done, as far back as I can remember. It’s as natural as breathing. But then when I’ve collaborated with different types of musician – from Arabic violinists to completely non musically trained producers – it blows my mind how differently they think musically. Always learning.
Your track Drencrom introduced me to a Toytronic label and I am very grateful for that. Why did Martin and Chris decide to stop releasing new music in your opinion?
I really don’t know. I know Martin moved back to Europe and, I think, lost interest in music. Chris kept things going for a while. Mostly I think that it’s time had simply come and gone, like a lot of labels back then. Sometimes I think they say what they set out to say and then quit whilst they’re ahead. It was a really special label to be a part of. Every single release is incredible.
Please tell us about the remix you did for Max Richter. Were you commissioned directly by him? Why did he choose Digitonal? Did you have complete artistic freedom or were there any special instructions/wishes?
The remix request came through my label, Just Music and it was commissioned by Deutsche Grammafon. I had complete freedom to interpret the piece. I was already a bit obsessed with the From Sleep album, and that track in particular. My background is in early music so I knew Grace Davidson’s voice very well. I don’t even know if Max has heard it!
Which artist (dead or alive) you would like to collaborate with the most? Why?
I’d really like to work with more vocalists and songwriters. Would have loved to have produced something for Gravenhurst. His voice haunts me still. Liz Fraser, obviously, and Mozez. Mostly though, I want to write more things for choir, so perhaps The Sixteen or Stile Antico.
What are your favorite albums of 2017 so far?
Clocolan – Nothing Left to Abandon is my album of the year by a mile. Also Ocoeur – Reversed and Hotel Neon – Context.
Now you have two decades of making music behind your back. Looking from current perspective, what would you’ve done differently if you could turn back time?
I would have done more. I would have worked harder, to the point of obsession. I would have focused on nothing but music whilst I still had the time and freedom. I would have said yes to every opportunity and I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.
When was the last time that you did something for the first time?
Last year, when I started learning the cello. It’s been my main source of sanity since.
What do you know about Lithuania?
Very little. A long time ago I did some tracks for Sutemos who were a Lithuanian netlabel putting out some fantastic music. I’m really excited to come and play there finally!
What can we expect from your live performance with Dom Graveson at Yaga Gathering festival?
A real journey. It’s not often we get to play a long set. We’ve been experimenting a lot lately with improvisation and some pretty major remixes of the material. Nothing will sound like it does in the studio recording and we’re going to go really deep into each track. A lot of it will be new things, sitting firmly in the IDM territory. Looking forward.
Digitonal will be playing the Chill stage at 00:30 on the Saturday morning of the festival with a deep, part improvised, 2 hour journey into their version of psychedelic electronica.