There’s long been a tension in experimental music between the artist’s vision and their ability to communicate it to an audience. The size of that audience is inconsequential. But it is generally accepted that failing to consider one’s listeners is an act of self-indulgence.
Which is to say that the avant-garde is often a balancing act, between personal expression and public appreciation. Dax Pierson has produced an album that tilts heavily toward the former while at the same time offering up a compelling invitation to the latter.
First, a word about Pierson’s remarkable story. The Bay Area resident spent the early part of the last decade working and touring with a host of bands: Subtle, 13 & God, Themselves and the Anticon Collective. That hectic pace came to a tragic end when a car accident – suffered while touring – left Pierson with a permanent spinal cord injury.
Of course the story doesn’t end there. Despite his mobility difficulties (including the paralysis of his fingers), Pierson has worked his way back onto the stage. He’s making electronic music now that can fairly be described as difficult. Defiantly so.
It’s also incredibly personal. Pierson says he’s out to “expand the dialogue around disability and electronic music” according to the notes provided by his label Ratskin Records.
He does that no more directly than in the album’s opener “A Snap of the Neck.” The title comes from a looped spoken word recording of his own voice: “Don’t take your physical abilities for granted, for you can lose them, with a snap of the neck.”
Another piece features a recording of Pierson’s doctor during an appointment. While clearly a detailed medical discussion, the physician’s voice strikes an interesting balance between diagnostic sterility and genuine caring. It is a remarkably intimate, disarmingly mundane look at life as a quadriplegic.
Which is precisely the point of Pierson’s “Live in Oakland.” Even his decision to record the music live as opposed to in-studio adds to the work’s naked honesty. The music’s lack of polish serves the content perfectly.
Put together, it all makes for a somewhat uncomfortable 44 minutes. Without question, Pierson has delivered exactly the album he envisioned. As challenging as this recording is at times, he’s very much worth the effort.