Online musical collaborations are this century's jam sessions. Zipping sound files over the 'net has become increasingly common. It can greatly facilitate the creative process and diminish interpersonal friction—as well as factoring out body odor, beer farts, and halitosis as impediments to harmonious coexistence. Vermont's Greg Davis and Paris's Sébastien Roux exploited these benefits to glorious effect on their 2005 CD, Paquet Surprise. Now they're touring together to see if their e-mail magic will translate to meat space.
Laptop savants Davis and Roux met in Paris while the former was performing at the Confluences festival in April 2004. They discovered they were fans of each other's work (with good reason—both are masters of less-is-more tone poetry); when Davis returned home, the duo began exchanging sound files, with no set agenda. Their swapping lasted over a year and produced the excellent Paquet Surprise.
"I never set out to make a statement or a certain kind of music," says Davis. "I just like to make music and I'm involved in all types of music all the time. With this project, the only idea I really had was to keep the music fresh and flowing and surprising; take some chances and really expand and get into an open situation."
Are there any pitfalls to working together online instead of in person? Or is this method better than being in the same room?
"This was the first time I had ever worked on a collaboration online," Davis says. "I enjoyed working this way with Sébastien. It seemed natural and it all flowed well, right from the beginning. It never seemed forced or like we needed to be together in person to make certain things happen. It was nice to send files back and forth and add to them or process them or edit them and trust that the other person was going to do something great with it as well. It was wonderful to hear the tracks evolve and take form into the final pieces. I wouldn't say that working this way is better or worse than working together in person. It's just a different way of working."
Paquet Surprise smoothly resolves the tension between song structure and drone, as well as between organic and synthetic sources. The disc can be enjoyed for its beautiful tunes and/or admired for its rigorous sound design. Both artists play to their strengths; the result is a gorgeous bliss-out record that can appeal to electronic-music academics and unschooled devotees of minimalist laptop emissions.
"I was able to focus a bit more on instruments, arranging, and compositional aspects and move away from... computer processing," Davis says. "Since Sébastien has such a gift for processing sounds, I let him handle a lot of that territory. The main idea of the record when we were making it was to completely surprise each other each time we sent sound files back and forth. [As] evidenced by the amount of sounds and processing and editing and structuring, you can hear that there was a lot of time and effort put into the record."
Davis—who studied classical and jazz guitar at DePaul University—has been garnering praise as a folktronica master, elegantly threading acoustic guitar and field recordings into complex digital matrices that make you want to row your boat gently down the stream. His Arbor and Curling Pond Woods albums idyllically unite the seemingly incompatible tribes of Incredible String Band fans (Davis covers that psych-folk group's "Air" on the latter disc) and IDM geeks craving intimacy with G5 PowerBooks. On his 2004 disc for Kranky Records, Somnia, Davis executes the sort of ravishingly vibrant drone-scaping that tickles the neck hairs of people into laptop-gazers Fennesz and Tim Hecker, and John Cale's New York in the 1960s recordings on Table of the Elements.
After interviewing Davis twice now, I intuit that he harbors altruistic, even quixotic, hopes for his music's impact on listeners. "I've always hoped that music can help people positively open up their ears and mind and heart and soul and life. To help people realize that all sound is music and wake up to the life they are living. Although I've never expected people to have a specific emotion or reaction to my music, I hope that each listener will get what they want (or don't want) out of the music and have their own experience based on their own unique human situation. Emotions lie within the listener, not in the sounds. So as a musician/composer, I like to create a space with sounds in it for a certain duration that we can all get immersed in... and have our own special experience."
What a philanthropist.
Another musician generous with his talent is Ben Vida (AKA Bird Show). A member of Chicago pastoralists Town and Country—whose forthcoming Up Above is their best album yet—Vida excels on his own, as evidenced by his solo debut disc Green Inferno. Acutely attuned to transcendent textural engineering, Vida merges Terry Riley's divinely whirled organ tones and Jon Hassell's hazy, otherworldly atmospheres with Asian and African percussive accents. Bird Show's music is a timeless celebration of drones' majesty and gentle rhythmic transportation. DAVE SEGAL
Greg Davis, Sébastien Roux, Bird Show, and Yann Novak play Sat Jan 7 [not Jan 6 as we printed in the paper edition] at Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 322-1533, 8 pm, $5-$15 sliding scale, all ages.