Dog Mountain: a sparse, minimalist album commenting on borders, boundaries and divisions

Laurin Huber, Dog Mountain, Switzerland, Hallow Ground, vinyl LP (2021)

With a name like “Dog Mountain” and a photo of a shuttered house taken on a somewhat bleak day just after a spell of rain, this album sure doesn’t scream “appealing”. Opening track “Raja” can be quite forbidding in its own way too, starting out quietly with a repeating two-note melody on guitar and then gradually relying on long drawn-out synthesiser drones and field recordings. The guitar melody changes as the track progresses, with a corresponding increase in tension.

Welcome to this second solo release from Swiss-based composer / producer Laurin Huber, working with recordings of acoustic guitar and synthesiser, tape loops and feedback, and field recordings based around a theme of geographical divisions and borders resulting from past political processes and decisions, and social constructions. All four tracks on the album have titles referring to borders (“Raja” means border in Finnish and Northern Saami) or border towns. The second track “Nickel” refers to the town Nikel on the Russian-Norwegian border and, fittingly, juxtaposes tapes of frizzly white noise and tape loop recordings of melancholy drone. “A Town is not a Town” is structurally similar to “Raja” in relying on a simple repeating melody loop, this time made up of synth-based notes and ambient effects, while a shrill and insistent siren drone and various noise effects do battle over the top.

Most tracks are quite short but closer “Storskog-Borisoglebsk”, referring to the border between northern and eastern Europe and Russia that goes all the way from Storskog on the Russian-Norwegian border down to Borisoglebsk near northeast Ukraine, is a stolid and steady seven-minute piece of musique concrete and drone elements. The issues of artificial and arbitrary separation explored earlier on the album come to a head on this track. For much of its length this track builds up quite a doleful atmosphere, with a sense of sometimes overwhelming loneliness and isolation. A smidgen of derangement appears as the track reaches its climax.

It’s a very sparse and minimalist recording yet with a lot of detail and depth in its stark soundscapes. Huber demonstrates that in the world of pure sounds, there are no real boundaries and what we think of as restrictions, borders and limitations, not to mention all the groups and categories that rely on such delineations, belong to an artificial world superimposed on real physical geography. I do wish the album had been a bit longer and the tracks less set in their ways as static pieces of layers of drone and loops. Given the album’s themes though, the shortness and the lack of further development of the tracks may be justified: borders have the purpose of restricting movement and meetings of disparate elements that could merge, create new and fresh ideas and concepts, and lead to collaboration and convergence rather than maintain division.