Experiencing an unexpected tragedy or loss often provokes a period of self-reflection, a time to contemplate one’s own place and purpose in the world. That was true for El Ten Eleven’s Kristian Dunn. When a beloved family member passed, Dunn found his own reflections on life emerging in the music he composed. Those expressions led to the creation of Tautology — a sonic meditation on the arc of human life, composed in three parts.
Over the course of three discs, Tautology is, in Dunn’s words, “a representation of life from the teenage years, through middle-age, until the end of life.” The sounds on the album echo Dunn’s own experiences, veering from aggressive metallic riffs to blissful ambient soundscapes. And while there are shared melodies and harmonies through all three records, each one has its own distinct qualities: Tautology I, which represents adolescence, is angsty, aggressive and occasionally depressive; Tautology II is head-noddy and mid-tempo, and represents middle age; while Tautology III, quiet and ambient, represents one’s golden years.
The music on the first disc, Tautology I, has a heavier sound that might surprise longtime El Ten Eleven fans. “I wanted to represent what my teenage years were like, when I was full of testosterone and depression,” says Dunn. “When you’re a teenager everything feels so grandiose and dramatic.” The album’s second movement, Tautology II, reflects Dunn’s current state. “I’m middle-aged now, and this is the happiest I’ve ever been. I think that comes across in the music. This record is the one that sounds the most like the El Ten Eleven people are used to.” For the final chapter, Tautology III, Dunn composed a transcendent set of ethereal music inspired partly by the loss of a dear family member. “I don’t know what it’s like to be elderly. But my grandmother-in-law Frances McMaster was a very inspiring person. She died recently, and I was thinking about her a lot. She was really smart. She lived into her early nineties and she wrote her fourth book when she was eighty-eight. I’d like to be like her if I make it to that age.”
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