Strategy is the singular, long-running alias of Portland mainstay Paul Dickow. Originally conceived in 1999, Strategy came of age during the early heyday of Portland’s emergence as a hotbed of experimental DIY music culture, and has grown over a 20-year adventure. Despite the sense of ‘intention’ conveyed by Strategy’s alias, his musical creations originate in unexpected surprises and visceral exploration and discovery. Strategy’s omnivorous, unpredictable, multi-directional approach to genre has made him something of a cipher; while some artists use multiple aliases to cover diverse musical ground, Strategy’s discography is a puzzle consisting of interlocking and hybridized aspects of ambient, dub, techno, house, audio-visual performance, and noise. Strategy has emerged as an enduring figure with a strong cult following and sustained acclaim from music makers, DJs, and critics. With appearances at international festivals like Mutek, Sonar, New Forms, and Decibel, and 20 years as direct support for some of the most challenging international artists visiting Portland, he is considered both an ambassador for and champion of Portland’s electronic music community.
With acclaimed releases on Kranky, Idle Hands, Mule Musiq/Endless Flight, Further, Khaliphonic / ZamZam, DFA, and many others, Strategy is not only a music producer but a musician as well, who has had tenures in a variety of live bands and collaborations, instilling all his music with live and improvised musicianship.
The Babbling Brook was commissioned for an event called Currents in late January, 2020. The Currents series is a highly intimate, inclusive, invitation-based deep listening event in a cozy Portland home; the charge was to provide people with a meditative, immersive and highly personal experience. Poignantly, only four weeks later after performing this piece for a room full of people lounging on cushions, we were collectively contemplating the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., which immediately put a stop to events of this intimate nature.
This recording was improvised directly to stereo digital audio file using just a couple of looping devices, a filter box, and a mixer, mostly equipment I either salvaged and repaired, or built myself. The “babbling brook” effect is something I have tried to evoke for nearly 20 years of ongoing work in ambient music, and refers to the unique effect of listening to the movement of water in which there is continual, roiling change and chaos, but within a narrowed, highly specific range of dynamics and timbre – a sort of controlled, pseudo-random condition. The intent was to unfurl elements of a continually shifting sound collage in the manner that might recall the perpetual motion of the brook.
This concludes a long series of explorations of unsequenced, improvised approaches to music which does not commit fully to the traditional sense of “ambient” music as purely contemplative in nature, but instead offers moments of confrontation, surprise, dream logic, or disorientation interwoven with sustained, immersive elements.
I have never been able to achieve a meditative or 'mindful' state under any conditions except when listening to music. Deep listening is an act of defiance against the speed, appetites, and fragmented 'multi-tasking' demanded by the conditions of late capitalism. It is the only activity which has the power to slow or suspend the passage of time, and it's this magic that brings me back to longform improvisation and a search for a kind of ultimate 'fermata'.