Producer and instrumentalist Andy Dobson has been writing and performing music as Digitonal since the late 90s. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with Egyptian session violinist Samy Bishai in a basement studio in Tooting, however, that the outfit’s collision of cinematic atmosphere, AI-era-Warp electronica and classically-influenced beauty fully took shape. Acclaimed releases for Toytronic, Seed and Cactus Island records followed, along with the building of an excellent reputation for dynamic live shows with their expanded line up, including legendary ambient vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw and harpist Kat Arney.
“There are aspects of Save Your Light For Darker Days that aspired to be a big symphony orchestra, kick-ass, film music kind of thing,” says Digitonal’s Andy Dobson. “We are called ‘cinematic’ a lot and there’s definitely a case for that, but having something that’s more intimate actually suits the vibe of a lot of the writing. It wouldn’t work if it was overblown.” In fact, this album has more of a pared-down, chamber ensemble economy of sound. Yet at times its electronics, beats and instrumental lines sketch out some pretty wide-open spaces.
There are strange and beautiful combinations of Dobson’s clarinet and Kat Arney’s harp, and the guitar on After The First Death, played by Joe Shrewsbury from 65daysofstatic, is fed through delays, giving it a glinting, hall-of-mirrors effect. There are lots of elements moving beneath the surface of the mix, including synths, loops, crackling static and vocal chorales.
Dobson has been recording and playing live as Digitonal since 1997. A classically trained musician, former chorister in the National Youth Choir, soundtrack composer and DJ, his own music is informed by his eclectic tastes. “I was listening to minimalist composition and listening to Electronica, and thought all I really wanted to do, rather than listen to the Orb sample Steve Reich or the likes of Plaid taking off Satie, was make those connections explicit in my own music. And I always wanted to work with classical musicians.”
A talented session violinist, Bishai possessed both the requisite musical chops and the desire to explore similar musical avenues. His instrumental abilities had been honed by having had his “ass kicked” by his teachers at music school in Cairo. “They gave me a really hard time. They could wither you with a glance. They were proper ex-Communist, ex-Moscow Conservatoire people. Very good for the technique, though.”
“Samy is definitely unique amongst classical musicians I’ve come across in being able to improvise, but also to understand where a track is going immediately,” says Dobson. “It’s an interesting combination on both of our parts,” Bishai expands. “We both betray our classical roots, but then we have each developed different ways of working through our different musical experiences.”