Throwing Snow’s fourth album is the audiovisually-augmented Dragons, a work that occupies the space between science and ancestral wisdom. It links music back to its prehistoric capacity for transmitting knowledge to new technology that can untangle the complexity of the contemporary world. Dragons’ ten tracks of heavy primal rhythmic productions incorporate the physicality of acoustic sources, from ancient ritual instruments to modern drum kit, and each track is accompanied by visuals generated by a neural network.
Throwing Snow, aka Ross Tones developed Dragons’ neural network with artist, designer and technologist Matt Woodham. The structures and changes in Tones’ music trigger corresponding changes in accompanying moving images, which combine life in three scales, from microscopic views of rocks to large scale maps. “Everything that happens musically triggers the algorithm to do something,” Tones explains. “This isn’t controlled or predictable, and the music becomes an instruction for the algorithm to make its own decisions about datasets, images, speed, movement and other manipulations.”
The tracks on Dragons match Tones’s ambitions for the album in weight but not complexity. They are intentionally dazzlingly simple in their means, for maximum effect, with repeating motifs, locked basslines, cosmic patterns and full-frequency mids. Often built from four or fewer elements, Tones allows sound to accumulate into his unique take on ritual music for the 21st century. Throbbing ritual dances contain half-remembered earworms revealing glittering night skies of synthesizer patterns – ‘Halos’ stabs and stutters like a dance atop a longbarrow; ‘Purr’ reverberates in silky vibrational motifs; the heavyweight ‘Brujita’ is nu-metal for a past-future ceremony of uncertain purpose.
Tones says he often uses his music as allegory and container for the concepts and theories he’s immersed in – he studied astrophysics, and is fascinated by crafts, archeoacoutics, history, evolution and psychology. In Dragons, he wanted to explore the purpose of music from the beginning of human history. “We have Palaeolithic minds but find ourselves in an increasingly complex and interconnected world,” Tones explains. “Music and art have always been ritualised as a tool for memory, knowledge and emotion, and humans make sense of existence by using tools. Songs were tools of understanding, passed down from our ancestors. Now, things are complex and interrelated, so we can’t use that ancestral knowledge, and need to invent new tools – that’s where machine learning comes into it.”
As is typical for Tones’ Throwing Snow project, the album contains a bold and eclectic mix of instruments, from a bodhrán and daf to cello, with their uses rooted in their inherent acoustic properties. Tones also essentially built his own sample pack for the percussion patterns, working with drummer Jack Baker (Bonobo, Kelis, Alice Russell, Planet Battagon) on an intensive two-day session.
Tones is a Houndstooth stalwart, and Dragons is his fourth full-length album on the label, along with a string of 12”s and EPs. His first album was Mosaic in 2014, followed by Embers in 2017, and Loma in 2018. Originally from the North Of England, for the last few years he has worked from The Castle, his studio an hour outside Bath, where he can both forage his own food and find the headspace to make music and experiment with modern technology. He is currently recording a new album with his trio Snow Ghosts, and a soundtrack for a Netflix documentary.
Dragons is a new form of inter-disciplinary album, which is neither wholly electronic nor acoustic, sonic or visual, and pulls from an equally diverse range of inspirations, from texts such as Steven Mithin’s The Singing Neanderthals and Margo Neale and Lynn Kell’s Songlines to the 1982 animated film Flight of Dragons. “I’m into putting music back into history,” Tones explains. “I want to make you think about what music is, what its purpose has been. I’m asking about the scientific aspect to folklore and ancient knowledge, and looking at why it’s still useful. This album is a doorway – if you choose to listen like that.”