INTERVIEW: Dextro | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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An Hour Is A Sea is the title of a poem by Emily Dickinson,” explains Ewan Mackenzie, the multi-instrumentalist and one-man musical polymath behind Dextro. “It’s a play on the psychology of time; I like the idea that an hour can become a vast sea, musically and psychologically – but I also think this idea reminds us that we are often out of sync with deeper ecological timeframes.”

Moreover, this 19th Century verse provides the title for Mackenzie’s newest full-length; his most focused and explicit exploration to date of a recurring thematic thread. “I’m particularly engaged with modern day human-centric notions of time and how they tend to obscure our awareness of – and engagement with – deep time,” he elaborates. “I guess the Dextro material tries to subtly pull our attention towards wider contexts in terms of both time and ecology, where we can appreciate our existence in relation to much bigger systems.”

Although An Hour Is A Sea is only his fourth album under the Dextro moniker, the project dates back as far as 2001, when Newcastle-based Mackenzie still resided in his native Scotland. “I still use some of the same methods, but it’s come a long way from using just an Atari ST and a sampler! I think a few fundamentals have remained though, in a commitment to experiment and deconstruct sound, and the manner in which rhythm remains key even though the ambient parts are more ‘ambient’ than before. I obviously have different gear now too, and there are a few magic boxes that I am very fond of.”

I like the idea that an hour can become a vast sea, musically and psychologically – but I also think this idea reminds us that we are often out of sync with deeper ecological timeframes

In many ways his most eclectic and enveloping work to date, the new record’s dramatic, ethereal swathes of sound stem from a meticulously crafted base. Ostensibly, its two lengthy, drone-heavy pieces are awash with E-Bow guitar and synth, yet this sonorous melange also seamlessly incorporates violin, acoustic guitar, piano and found sound samples; all while drums provide an essential, often hypnotic shot of dynamism.

“I don’t tend to think about it in terms of either electronic or traditional instrumentation, but rather what works for the story or the music,” he says. “A key aspect though, is whether it can be performed live, and so I try to make sure that doing it live is feasible, and that Dextro is more than just a studio project.

“In the past the live performances have always, to some degree, fed into the records. Yet on this occasion I felt that recent live material was closer to what I wanted the next release to sound like than ever before. Making the record was mainly about developing the structure of that material and bringing it to life. I wanted to create something with a more sprawling musical theme – there are a series of ‘songs’ within each piece, yet they necessarily interconnect and speak to each other.”

While Covid-19 has put paid to any live plans, the current crisis offers An Hour Is A Sea a unique window in which to dazzle – an opportunity to be wholly absorbed by listeners passing weeks in isolation. Lofty yet concise, it’s an ambiguous, shape-shifting sonic collage; a captivating return from one of the region’s most elusive yet consistently rewarding creators.

An Hour Is a Sea is released on 8th May through 16k Records and Inverted Grim Mill Recordings

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