Lost in music: duets

Sunday 16 October 2022

I’ve been listening to a lot of music without having time to write about it, so now I’ve got them all muddled together in my head and I’m trying to sort out what’s what. Some of it’s not doing much for me, so here’s some of the things that got my attention, even if it’s through beating me over the head with extravagant noise like Kyle Motl & Carlos Dominguez’s Field of Fried Umbrellas. Motl plays a double bass through distortion pedals while Dominguez plays a ‘feedback mixer’ which sounds like it has a few extra distortion and modulator pedals plugged into themselves. The album’s blurb throws out some nice theorising behind the music, talking about “acoustic and electroacoustic phenomena” and “interaction between certain modes of bass playing and feedback structures”, which might be why this high-falutin’ excuse for noisy fun hangs together so well for so long without becoming a chore to listen to. For five tracks on an LP-length tape, recorded over one day/night in the hipster mecca of Boca Raton, Florida, Motl and Dominguez keep moving from one idea to another before you can start to analyse them too much. These are crude tactics but they’re used effectively here to keep immediate sonic impressions foremost in your mind.

While sorting through these I’ve just realised that most of them are from Tripticks Tapes and these are all duets. Duets can be the bane of an experimental musician’s livelihood, where bookers keep setting you up on blind dates with random musos and the results are often just as productive. Camila Nebbia (tenor sax) and Tomomi Kubo (ondes Martenot) “first met the day they started recording at Tomomi’s studio in Barcelona” – it doesn’t say who put them up to this, but it all worked out astonishingly well. As wacky a pairing as Motl and Dominguez’s bass/feedback, Nebbia and Kubo’s Polycephaly goes in hard with the psychedelia on the opening tracks, with Kubo’s exuberant streams of sci-fi exotica given a pop-art sheen by Nebbia’s sax licks. Both use loop pedals and reverb, which do a lot of work later on to smooth out the initial roccoco playing into strange and highly evocative textures, moving beyond the initial novelty of the pairing (and, y’know, the ondes Martenot). By the last couple of tracks things have settled down a little, allowing Nebbia some solos while Kubo provides an otherworldly accompaniment in the background.

Besides Motl’s double bass, I’ve got two sets of bass duets here. Both are live performances. Amanda Irarrázabal and Nat Baldwin’s Grips is another first-time meeting in which the Chilean and the American engage in a grouchy but good-natured argument for the better part of half and hour, each one jumping over the other to rebut the other while elaborating their own part. It’s a packed conversation. By contrast, the duet between Bára Gísladóttir and Skúli Sverrisson, recorded at the Louth Contemporary Music Festival this June, pairs two short sets of Gísladóttir’s acoustic bass with Sverrisson’s electric instrument. In Live from the Spirit Store Gísladóttir, whose work I know only from her enigmatic and slightly threatening compositions, lays tropes and embellishments over Sverrisson’s heavy washes of ambient fuzz. The electric part dominates, chorused to provide a kind of slow cantus firmus, while the acoustic adds more poignant overtones and dips into the electric texture for additional shifts in tone and direction. The second set is half as long and offers less of a contrast than a repeat of the first, but cast with a more urgent and confronting perspective.