Former loop-loving Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong’s Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy completes his trilogy of albums that has included 2010’s excellent Infinite Love and last year’s not as good but still decent Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads. And on only a few listens, it’s clear that Mediation Of Ecstatic Energy is by far the most dynamic of not only these releases but of Wong’s entire career, not only on an instrumental level, but on an emotional level. It invites the prospect of getting lost in the universe of stories Wong creates.
Experimental guitarist Dustin Wong's solo albums have always managed to tap into a well of deeply expressive emotional shades using a relatively minimal toolkit. Armed mostly with just a guitar, any number of pedals, and the occasional spare drum machine, Wong crafted epic and sprawling fits of joyful expansiveness like 2010's Infinite Love and Toropical Circle, his colorfully unfolding 2013 collaboration with Takako Minekawa. Right on the heels of that collaborative effort comes the lengthy solo excursion Mediation of Ecstatic Energy, a mostly instrumental exploration of looping, repetition, and cycles that occasionally congeals in near-pop moments of rhythm and melody.
Looping pioneers like Terry Riley, Fripp & Eno, and Manuel Göttsching recorded their live input onto a segment of repeating tape to establish a foundation that could hang and evolve in the mix behind lead improvisations. Dustin Wong, decades later, uses a Boss RC-2 Loop Station to catch his riffs, melodies, and progressions, and send them spinning back to him in seamless 1- to 16-measure intervals. As the mechanism that enables self-accompanying performance shrinks from a reel-to-reel tape deck of substantial mass and technological requirement into the foot-friendly chassis of a guitar pedal, Wong distills his predecessors’ live-layered explorations into shorter passages of harmonious “pop” or “rock” guitar music.
I saw Dustin Wong open for Beach House last year. Well, I walked into the Wiltern in Los Angeles a little late and so I heard his wild, huge guitar sound, seemingly playing five dizzying parts at once, first. Later, when I read that Wong was the guitarist of the defunct, crazed, experimental Baltimore rock band Ponytail it made more sense, but as I made my way in I was surprised to see Wong was set up on stage by himself, bobbing his head in time to his own beat.
Dustin Wong's solo work-- mostly instrumental, heavy on blankets of overlapping guitar loops-- is executed with a sense of glee and confusion that's akin to watching a small child endlessly wrapping toilet roll around themselves. Wong took a similar approach during his time with Baltimore art punks Ponytail, although that band had a greater sense of abandon than his more studied output on his own. Mediation of Ecstatic Energy is the latest LP in a rapid-fire set of releases that have come from him since the dissolution of his former band.
It's misleading to think of Dustin Wong as an explorer. Too often he's been dubbed as such, 'expanding' or 'exploring' the sonic possibilities of his chosen instrument and a handful of pedals, yet he's doing nothing as scientific, methodical or tangible as mere exploration. John Fahey famously explained how he “heard an orchestra in [his] head” while playing, but Wong's guitar is not so much a baton as it is a paintbrush.