Around the world, dreams have long fascinated artists and inspired their creative pursuits. How these fictions of the unconscious mind can feel both phantasmagorical and real, how they’re able to twist, bend and expand time itself, or the relation that they may carry to our waking life are questions that have inspired the likes of Debussy to Dalí to Kafka. Likewise, these musings have served as the starting point for Dobrawa Czocher’s debut album, fittingly titled DREAMSCAPES. For it, the Polish cellist and composer takes listeners on a journey through unconsciousness exploring through sound the mystical richness of reveries.
At the ripe age of just 30, Czocher already has an accomplished career in music. After having graduated from two prestigious music universities – Chopin University of Music in Warsaw and Hochschule für Musik in Detmold – she went on to become a member of Junge Deutsche Philharmonie and later the principal cellist of the Neue Philharmonie Berlin as well as the soloist at Szczecin Philharmonic. During those demanding years, Czocher acquired a deep understanding of the classical repertoire and excelled as a leading cello player. It was together with good friend and fellow Pole pianist, Hania Rani, however, that Czocher first ventured into composition. The duo’s first collaborative project “Biała flaga” would go on to truly change the musician’s perspective from being solely concentrated on developing instrumental skills to wanting to express herself more freely and the resulting album was highly-acclaimed in Poland as well as catching the attention of critics abroad. This was followed by Czocher and Rani’s second album, “Inner Symphonies” which went on to be released by Deutsche Grammophon and achieve worldwide recognition. Apart from Czocher’s obvious technical prowess with the cello, which she has been developing since age 7, it is the naturality with which she mixes philharmonic music with more alternative approaches to recording and sound that have really captured the public’s imagination so far. DREAMSCAPES showcases just how comfortable the cellist is at oscillating between classical and contemporary music, and it’s possible to hear within the music influences that range from Brahms to Philip Glass to GoGo Penguin. For the album, Czocher worked with German producer Niklas Paschburg, who employed layering techniques to lend a cinematic quality to the music.
Although not strictly linear, the 10 tracks on DREAMSCAPES do follow a natural order. The journey begins with ‘Prologue’, which with its high flageolets open up wide, spacious sounds that allude to the act of falling asleep and entering the world of dreams in all its limitless wonder and mystery, “The feeling and atmosphere suited to an opening, not knowing yet what sort of adventure is still ahead to experience,” says Czocher of the piece. The music gently lures listeners into this alternate universe, with repetitive motifs, improvisational arpeggios, mysterious basslines and glissandos painting increasingly fantastical landscapes with every new track. As cinematic as the music is, it also goes beyond visuals to touch and ponder on deep feelings. On “Forgive”, Czocher touches dark depths of the soul, as if she were questioning the very meaning of dreams and how they may serve their beholder in mysterious ways, “Are we able to work on our subconsciousness in a dream? Maybe sleeping is a moment when we are actually connecting with it and it gives us special possibilities to work on inner dilemmas?” wonders the composer. Drawing clearly from Glass’ string quartets, the piece uses repetition as a way to hypnotically draw listeners deep into these reflections as well as her soundworld.
While the first half of the album is given mainly to the creation of rich atmospheres, colours and textures, the second half of DREAMSCAPES is where the action really kicks off. “Voices” is undoubtedly the climax of the journey – multi-layered and complex, the piece offers a kaleidoscopic vision of musical motives “like many voices which are trying to push us in some or another way,” adds the cellist. The fast and dynamic nature of the piece is given by a light playing technique called the detache bow stroke, which yields a dramatic effect – not quite nightmarish but certainly bewildering. The piece is followed by “Lullaby” which provides a much-needed relief. Long, peaceful and lyrical, the piece is an ode to the universally accessible magic of slumbers. There’s a clarity to the cello’s voice here, as if it were pointing to the truthfulness, even if ephemeral and fugitive, that dreams can provide. “Prayers” carries forward the lyrical nature of “Lullaby”, yet an intensity, built with arpeggios, starts to simmer around the melody. Immersing listeners in a trance-like state, the piece meditates on the journey so far with Paschburg’s providing the spiritual inflections of the piece. DREAMSCAPE’s last piece, “Epilogue” is the only piece on the album with no post-production at all. “Epilogue” represents a return to waking state, a sobriety that lacks the full-blown fantasy of dreams, where Czocher uses pizzicato lines on the cello to simply sing the melody.
This return to “reality” isn’t fully restrained however, it wraps up the album with more questions than conclusions. “What happened in a dream, are we still there? Are we the same people? Did it change us? Where did we go?” provokes Czocher.