I’ve always found books more interesting and enjoyable than film or tv, because I almost always prefer the images my imagination can conjure up from the words on a page than that which is presented to me. Similarly, I often find instrumental music more evocative than that with vocals, allowing my mind to wander and wonder in unexpected directions. It’s no surprise then that I’ve been a fan of Italian duo Daal for many years now, with their intriguingly titled (mostly) instrumental releases, and Daedalus felt like the album that Davide Guidoni and Alfio Costa had been leading me to all along. Every labyrinth has its centre, and with Daedalus it seemed I had found Daal’s. The only trouble is I was almost 90 per cent sure I was entirely wrong. It was as if I had seen two and two, and had somehow managed to make five. I knew it was improbable, because two and two make four – and yet, I could so easily join the dots to make five seem entirely reasonable. In the end I sent my review to Davide, and let him let me down. Two and two make four, not five. I was (as I already was almost sure I was) wrong. It would have been easy to simply rewrite my review, but music can be a very personal thing, and interpreted and experienced by different listeners in different ways. We all choose our own path through the labyrinth, and this is mine.
I was late to seeing the intertwining levels of meaning (if they even existed) in Daal’s releases. It took until 2018’s Navels Falling Into a Living Origami for me to start making connections. It is almost inarguable that both the artwork and titles of much of Daal’s discography share imagery. That didn’t mean there was also shared meaning, but my mind ascribed meaning – whether it was there or not. I even couldn’t help wondering if the previous Nodo Gordiano album (H.E.X.) was also part of the foreshadowing to Daedalus. After all, the ‘X’ in H.E.X. on that album stands for ‘Xoana’ – wooden cult images from Ancient Greece, associated with (yes, you guessed it) Daedalus. So here we are, with what ostensibly is an album about the classical mythology surrounding Daedalus, his labyrinth, and his son, Icarus (two plus two equals four). But the artwork and titles of this album, taken along with the artwork and titles from previous releases suggested to me that the labyrinth is that of human variation, of the human genome, of DNA, and of genetic modification (two plus two equals five).
Perhaps it’s because my introduction to Daal was Dodecahedron (2012). Its cover art implies that the dodecahedron in question is the “Platonic solid”. Of the five Platonic solids, Plato associated each with one of the four elements. Each, that is, except the dodecahedron, which he claimed the gods used for creating the constellations of the heavens. With the zodiac symbols on the cover, this seems a fairly safe interpretation (two plus two equals four). But I’m determined to crack a code, even if it doesn’t exist. The dodecahedron is not just the building block of space, but of life! In the geometry of DNA, its double helix consists of stacked dodecahedra that rotate along the molecule (two plus two equals five). The inner cover art and CD for 2014’s Dances of the Drastic Navels shows the navel as a labyrinth. Navels Falling Into a Living Origami from 2018, has a title that references previous Daal titles, and connects them neatly (two plus two equals four). But the navel shell is an origami design, that looks like the (not paper) shell on the cover art (showing its umbilicus). Furthermore, the manipulation by nanoscale folding of DNA is called, yes, DNA origami – living origami, if you will. And you’ll never guess what one of the most revolutionary DNA origami design algorithms is known as? Ok, you might. Yes, it’s Daedalus. (Two plus two equals five).
Regardless of whether or not I was right (I was not), the labyrinthine nature of Daal’s music is completely suited for Daedalus. All labyrinths have an inherent duality, embodying simultaneously great artistry, design, and order; and confusion, chaos and dissonance. Daal’s music has also always had the same duality, being both beauty and beast chasing itself through complex patterns that beguile and bewilder in equal measure. Without ever really sounding like either, there is surely a good deal of influence from Pink Floyd and King Crimson, and for added colour, perhaps a little Tangerine Dream. I could probably draw a list of A to Z of artists I’m reminded of – or, at least Art Zoyd to Zappa. But Daal really do sound like no other band, and for that I’m glad as I doubt I’d keep coming back to them otherwise. The biggest attraction for me has always been the drums and percussion of Davide Guidoni. I hate to play favourites, because Alfio Costa is as essential to Daal as Davide (or otherwise it would be only Da), but I can only be honest. The rhythm section (either the drums, bass, or both) is invariably where I’m most drawn to in any music. And Davide is cooking up a storm from the very first track. (Yes, I’ve taken a very circuitous route to arrive here at the opening number, but such is the nature of a labyrinth.)
Throughout history the labyrinth has been a symbol of journeys, so it makes sense that Daedalus begins with a Journey Through the Spiral Mind, or, at least, the first part of it. It begins with a noise I can’t help but think sounds similar to that you hear when you put a shell to your ear, invoking both the navel shell of Daal’s past, and the labyrinth of the human body, found in the inner ear. Eerie string sounds come in atop a more melodic keyboard line – beauty and, if not the beast, something potentially sinister in the shadows. Then the drums, those glorious drums. All the while, regardless of what anything else is playing, that simple melodic keyboard line draws you in and on, on and in, spiralling gently but assuredly, and keeping order amidst the surrounding chaos. Sometimes, but never quite, drowned out, that constant melody is our Ariadne’s thread, keeping us safe as we journey deeper into our own spiral mind. At university, in one of the psychology papers I took, we were taught about the Minotaur as a metaphor for internal struggles, so as the tension in the track is ratcheted up, and as the sense of running from something – something unseen, but nevertheless malevolent – it seems as appropriate as it is palpable. Then have we reached the eye of the storm, as everything suddenly feels safe and gentle, with a beautifully Floydian passage? Of course, just as with the eye of the storm, once one reaches the centre of a labyrinth (even a metaphorical one inside ourself), there is still a need to find a way out again.
Before we continue that journey, though, are a couple of tracks that suggest they are about the mythological son of Daedalus, Icarus (two plus two equals four). Yet Icarus is an interactive web server for RNA analysis, and Ikaros is a DNA binding protein (two plus two equals five). Painting Wings could so easily refer to the studies of butterfly genes, where scientists have literally painted their wings, after isolating and switching on and off the genes responsible for the wings’ colour variations. Before we’re Painting Wings, however, Icarus Dream[s], and it seems his is a particularly violent dream, with much thrashing about. Again, there is an easing, but with no part two later on, this gentle lull soon turns more sinister, though never reaching the earlier torment. Painting Wings is then beautifully airy and ethereal to begin with, before becoming heavier. A wonderful pairing of tracks, followed by a number which is a pairing of tracks in itself! If Labyrinth 66 is not named for the artwork by Mark Wallinger, the artist behind the installation of 270 labyrinths adorning the London Underground stations, then it is a marvellous instance of serendipity.
As mentioned earlier, labyrinths have long been a symbol of journeys, and for Wallinger they were an appropriate metaphor for the daily journey commuters embark upon while traveling on the Underground, Labyrinth 66, the artwork, can be found at The Elephant and Castle station, so perhaps the two parts of Labyrinth 66 are somewhat reflective of the double barrelled place name? Or perhaps they are indicative of the two locations often assumed to be possibilities for the location of Daedalus’s Labyrinth? The gateway to the Labyrinth, depending on which tourist trap you’re visiting, is said to be either in the basement of the palace at Knossos, or in the cave system nearby. (Whichever one you choose, it is still Underground.) It’s easy to hear the Elephant in the first part of Labyrinth, with its slow and heavy, plodding sound. Though it’s also like hearing one’s own heartbeat in great whooshy waves, or perhaps echoes of the navel shell of living origami. The pace picks up for the second part, and it could easily be mistaken for a different piece. The Castle? The Palace of Knossos? It certainly sounds regal and majestic. The two contrasting halves abut each other as perfectly as did the two previous pieces of music.
After the shortest of the tracks that make up this album (“short”, but sweet!), we are back in the spiral mind for part two of our journey. As expected, once we leave the more peaceful centre of the labyrinth, it’s not so quiet. But what I didn’t expect was to hear the closing theme of the first part reprised in a more strident and fashion. It takes the quiet meditative passage and turns it into something jubilant and celebratory – before it all falls away, and we are off and running again, to find our way out of the spiral mind, picking up Ariadne’s thread on the way out. The two parts of Journey Through the Sprial Mind perfectly bookend the album, but there are three bonus tracks on the physical release – including the Minotaur for those who were wondering where it had got to. All three bonus tracks are as good as any on the album proper, making the CD well worth purchasing, if you can still find a copy. I don’t think Daedalus is my favourite Daal album, but it’s definitely top three, and given the consistent high quality of their releases, that’s high praise indeed.
01. Journey Through the Spiral Mind, Part 1 (14:10)
02. Icarus Dream (7:30)
03. Painting Wings (9:22)
04. Labyrinth 66, Parts 1 & 2 (13:07)
05. In My Time of Shadow (6:30)
06. Journey Through the Spiral Mind, Part 2 (7:50)
~ Bonus tracks (CD only):
07. Minotaur (4:20)
08. Sunrise (6:43)
09. Moonrise (6:35)
Total Time – 66:07
Davide Guidoni – Acoustic & Electronic Drums, Djembe, Darbuka, Frame Drum, Electronic Percussion, Loops, Keyboards, Noises
Alfio Costa – Piano, Mellotron, Hammond Organ, Farfisa Organ, VCS3, Minimoog, ROLI Seaboard, Rhodes Piano, ARP Solina, Honer Clavinet, Keyboards, Noises
Ettore Salati – Guitars
Bobo Aiolfi – Fretless Bass
Record Label: Ma.Ra.Cash Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 13th May 2022