Dall is the creative force behind Dalhous—he writes, records and produces the music, while Ander works as an engineer, manipulating and generating sounds. Chatting before a recent show in London, they're serious and polite, softly-spoken with silvery Edinburgh accents. Dall does most of the talking, and he chooses his words with care. "I'm not into clearly illustrating things," he says. "I'm trying to be suggestive with certain imagery and sounds, to bring about a feeling relating to a particular place and time."
Dalhous's second album, A Will To Be Well, is alive with imagery, from the rugged Scottish landscape to Dall's ongoing interest in maverick psychiatrist R.D. Laing, but these images are viewed through a thick fog. An impenetrable feeling permeates their music. Listen to A Will To Be Well and you'll have trouble picking out any individual instruments or hardware—the sounds are strange and drawn out, their edges eroded. This can be put down to the duo's unusual production method, a process of sampling and resampling that disfigures their instruments beyond recognition.
"We'll have a song that is finished, and then we'll stick it into the sampler and start playing it on our MIDI keyboard, which generates a new song completely," Dall says. It's a process that explains the duo's dense, layered sound, as one of their tracks becomes one small fragment of a new, entirely different composition.
"If the original track was fairly complicated, when you resample it takes on a whole new rhythm and texture," says Ander. "We have some songs where it's samples over samples over samples, constantly resampling it until only a tiny part of the original remains. Then it all kind of…"
"It melts it together," says Dall.
These smeared, out-of-focus creations are in keeping with Dalhous's core musical beliefs. "I like it when I don't really know what I'm listening to anymore," says Dall. "I don't want to hear sounds I know: the bass guitar and the drums, the lead vocal. That's boring. The object of the game is to try and create something more interesting than that, so I'm interested in trying to manipulate any instrument I use into something completely different."
Together Dall and Ander have honed their tastes since meeting in high school. After playing in some "terrible bands," they retreated to the realm of bedroom production. They dabbled in film and music, producing movies and soundtracks. "Eventually we stopped making music for the films and just made music for the music," says Ander.
In some ways, A Will To Be Well is a return to those teenage years—fragments from these early experiments found their way into the album, albeit in heavily reprocessed form. The record retains some of the hallmarks of classic OSTs: sketch-like compositions, no vocals, short mood pieces that are always on the move.
"I watch a lot more films than I listen to music," says Dall, reeling off soundtrack artists like Vangelis, Fabio Frizzi and Goblin as key influences alongside synth explorers Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno and Jean Michel Jarre. "Their type of approach to music never gets old for me," he says. "The upfront and unashamedly simple melodies have a musicality to them which favours the power of a tune rather than anything overtly complex, in a way that a lot of modern electronic music tries to be everything but. I guess in that respect, the type of electronic music that I have consistently been interested in tends to be from the '70s and '80s."
Dall admits to being in thrall to decades past. "That general period is interesting because it's so long ago, before I was born, and I don't have any emotion towards it really, it doesn't mean anything to me. But intellectually it's quite stimulating. I don't know why but I like things that are a bit older, I don't want things to sound like they are brand new, because to me it sounds a bit sterile."
This nostalgic streak is also explored on Dalhous's cover art. Take the Mitchell Heiseman EP, released in 2012. The sleeve features a faded photo of a man smiling. The man is Dall's father, taken a couple of decades back. "I found these photos in the attic above his house, and they were bunched together in a black bag, but there was a leak in the ceiling so the photographs had been sort of glued together." Dall peeled the waterlogged photos apart, one by one, the stack of memories forever blemished. The way he describes this experience—peeling layers of photos to create a new end product—strangely echoes his production methods. Without this context, the sleeve feels slightly sinister—the record is named after a New Jersey man who published a 1,905-page suicide note online shortly before shooting himself.
Dalhous's live show also draws on its own form of degraded imagery. "I spend a lot of time processing visuals for the live show through video cassettes," Dall says. "I'll record from one cassette to another around 30-odd times and that disintegrates the image to the extent where colours are brought out and it looks like a painting. It's a lot more interesting to look at, and also makes what I'm trying to do with the music happen visually."
Ander continues: "It's quite similar to how the music is made. You're kinda filming something, and then filming it again and then again to get that grainy feel. Constantly using the same thing again to make it more interesting. Changing it, in a way you wouldn't be able to do in one take."
Some Dalhous live shows draw on clips taken from Asylum, a 1972 documentary observing the lives of mentally ill patients and therapists living together in a house. The psychiatrist at the centre of the film is R.D. Laing, a man with whom Dall seems endlessly intrigued. (A photo of Laing hangs in Dall's studio in Edinburgh.) "I've always been interested in mental health, so I guess it stems from that," he says. "Asylum was the first thing I saw that got me interested in him. Laing of course viewed things a little differently, there are countless others as well so he wasn't strictly alone in his thinking. I think the fact that he was Scottish caught my attention initially."
Dall's adoption of Laing as a kind of musical totem is part of a conscious attempt to distance himself from the bleak imagery associated with so much experimental music. "It's a cliché to use dark imagery all the time," he says. "The last thing I want to think about when I hear a record is a black room. For me that's not really inspiring, and I want to make it quite obvious that we're leading into something new, something unlike anything that we've done before."
Dalhous's methods—this process of sampling and resampling, recording and re-recording—supplies them with a unique end product. "Maybe it wouldn't be that way if we were legitimate musicians," Dall says. "But everything we do comes about by a happy accident, by doing something that we wouldn't normally do, by hitting some keys and seeing what the result is."
I mention that there's something about Dalhous's music that conjures images of a painter working on canvas. "Well, I'm a big fan of Francis Bacon because his paintings were all about happy accidents," says Dall, referencing one of Britain's most celebrated abstract artists. "That's how he painted because really he was a bad painter, traditionally speaking. But what he created was beautifully vivid and contorted."
Though every aspect of Dalhous—the process, the art, the themes, the final product—is deeply considered, Dall winces whenever our discussion becomes too conceptual. "Of course we reference stuff that interests us, but I don't think it's that relevant for most listeners," he says. "They don't have to dive into that to really get Dalhous. The music should stand by itself." For all the artistic comparisons, abstract recording processes and obscure imagery, when you boil A Will To Be Well down to its core essence—the music—you're left with a strikingly beautiful album.