Switched On: Toby Wiltshire – Shunyata : Emptiness (Cue Dot Records)


reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Cue Dot model deserves some examination, for this is no ordinary record label. It is a not-for-profit organisation, run by Paul Scott in Derbyshire, and is fronted by the flagship Cue Dot Series, now up to seven records strong. This is an opportunity for collaboration within electronic music, and the participating artists are given full control over the content and titles. The artwork, however, follows the same distinctive and particularly attractive circle pack design, best explained in the press release as ‘representing the infinite possibilities opened up through an electronic palette’.

The seventh in the series is given to Leeds-based composer Toby Wiltshire, who responds with an album using Buddhist imagery and concepts as its stimulation. Wiltshire’s free-standing style allows for slow, untethered musical movement, adding field recordings, modular synths and software to the equation. It is music for mindfulness, but with a license to develop along the way.

What’s the music like?

Wiltshire achieves a very appealing blend of stillness and activity in his work, which immediately carries the promise of outdoor activity. This in itself is stimulating, given the amount of time we have all spent indoors over the last 15 months, so the running water and soft, sleepy tones of Mist Clearing On The Mountain give the listener a chance to acclimatise to the new surroundings.

Wiltshire works and intertwines the seven recordings with the ease of a man who has been composing for 20 years, and he knows instinctively how to let the music breathe as much as it needs to. There are no explicit melodies but there are thoughts and moods that recur as each track proceeds, each keeping a firm grasp on tonality.

Running water and soft tones are also an appealing feature of Floating Consciousness, aptly named, with harmonics on the stringed instruments that give a glint to the edge of the overall sound. Karuna holds a beautiful poise, shifting slowly in the equivalent of a soft musical breeze, while Glimpse uses higher, quite shrill pitches but counters them with sounds in the middle distance. Orange Light is lovely, painting a series of closely matched, complementary musical colours like a Rothko painting.

One of the most restful scenes is found within Sakura, where bird-like noises call across the rippling texture. We could be in a vast cave, or out on the edge of a swamp in the rain – both examples of the pictures Wiltshire’s music forms in the listener’s mind. The Wave And The Water brings everything to rest at the end, with the gentle undulations implied by the title gradually evening out.

Does it all work?

It does – and if anything could be extended to an even longer piece of work. Yet Wiltshire leaves the listener wanting more, and as his work responds to repeated listening, it is easy to go round again immediately – a good state to be in. Talking of states, you will certainly end this album in a calmer condition then when you began it!

Is it recommended?

Very much so – and if like me you are using this as a point of entry to the Cue Dot series, it works as a starting point from which to enjoy the other six. There is much to admire about this label, and we will explore more in due course, but for now the wide open stage is Toby Wiltshire’s, and his music is very easy to experience and admire.

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