Isnaj Dui – Dioptrics

Isnaj Dui - Dioptrics

Isnaj Dui – Dioptrics

A singular quality of the great, maverick World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer was to make the complexity of his games appear effortless. In displays of near-Mozartian simplicity all of his moves seemed to happen exactly ‘just in time’, entirely belying the inherent intellectual and creative oomph necessary to achieve such a high level of play. To the eternal chagrin of his rather toiling fellow Chess Grand Masters, Fischer barely seemed to be thinking at all. As with ‘Mad Bobby’ in chess so, in music, with one Katie English (AKA Isnaj Dui).

Also a creative force in, with and behind (variously) littlebow, Doomed Bird Of Providence and The Sly And Unseen (among others) the near ubiquitous English has been pursuing her mainstay course as Isnaj Dui for a decade now, accounting for nine album releases of consistently high quality, including the high and lonely-cityscapes of Abstracts On Solitude and the rigorous beauty of the ‘circle of 5ths’ twelve part month-cycle that comprises Duodecim. Utilising a musical palette dominated by flute (predominately bass flute), a collection of home-assembled electric dulcimers, cello, electronic bits and bobs, vocal puffs, clicks and pops all fused by a gloriously individual approach to production, Isnaj has become one of those strange birds that simultaneously flies both above and below the critical radar, variously appearing on her own FBox imprint, the ever excelling Hibernation and an early doors foray with the ultra-hip Home Normal. Indeed, English herself tends to play the critique game (at the risk of mixing my sporting metaphors) with a very straight bat. A recent Wire interview found a well-intentioned journalist attempting to pin the underlying Isnaj sound ethos upon Katie’s edge-of-the-moors Halifax habitat. English’s ripost; that she’d just recently moved there after years in central London and in fact grew up in Enfield, moved me to some slight pity for the writer. Lord preserve us from writing about music that’s just ‘about music’! There’s only so many ways one can just say ‘it’s very good’.

With Dioptrics (the study of refracted light, apparently) the Isnaj project dips into the creation of the decoratively dissonant, which is not an easy cake to bake. Compared to previous incarnations, this impulse locks into a funkier, warmer, lo-fi and ‘up close’ feel, presenting a tightly-structured work with barely a negligible moment. Stand outs included the pseudo hornpipe that is “Morning Chores”, a simultaneously comic and bizarre puppet-dance of a tune, slightly reminiscent of Moondog at his most concise and one of nature’s repeat-play tracks, the hide and seek atonal and mocking flutes of suspense soundtrack waltz “Flea Circus” and the strangely unrelaxed ebb-and- flow-beauty of the more chamber-orchestral “Potential Difference”.

English would make a superbly imaginative and highly eccentric architect. There’s both a balance in her constructions and an engaging willingness to actually foreground her methods and materials that create a rough beauty with a deep spirit. Possessor of a high degree of synaesthesia (whereby the brain processes sensory input in a cross-wired way, resulting in the perception of sound as a colour, etc.) the sense emerges, from Isnaj music, that English as a composer may be ‘seeing’ musical structure in a heightened manner. It’s typical of her economical style that the minimum amount of components are deployed in each piece, the key factor being (taking us back to Fischer) that each element, whether music or textural, consistently excels in its chosen role, creating a feeling not so much of minimalism as assiduous streamlining. Indeed, whereas most recorded music tends to have an over logical and predictive, additive, quality to it (largely due to how recording processes steer musicians, not vice versa) this feels almost subtractive in its nature. In Isnaj Dui arrangements any musical motif that occurs seems, almost teasingly, to reappear less often than expectation demands of it, thus drawing the listener into an ever higher level of attention.

At the risk of being abstruse it’s as though the problem solving principle of Occam’s Razor has been rendered into musical form; the fewer the components and the tighter the structure the more persuasion to be found and to be felt. Remarkably (and crucially) it amplifies the fact that this is a music designed to please and to entertain, never to simply rejoice in its own, undoubted, cleverness. A truly original, high intelligence, album of great allure and embedded with little ‘perfect moments’ that don’t so much earworm you as slip down your synaptic pathways.

Now, who’s for a nice game of chess?

FBox Records