Legend has it that Pythagoras lectured to his students from behind a curtain, and for good reason: the Greek philosopher and musical theoretician believed that his physical presence would hinder his students' concentration. Pythagoras' insight--that focusing on a single sense intensifies perception--is easily forgotten in our retinal age of TV, movies, JumboTrons, and freeway billboards. Despite the danger of diverting listeners' ears from the music, musicians of all stripes have felt the crush to conform--or at least cough up some sort of visual accompaniment, which, depending on the genre, might entail mounting a flashy stage show teeming with dancers, artfully packaging CDs in hand-woven burlap, or wearing formal concert attire.
A few musicians refuse to capitulate to the audience's thirst for a visual connection. In France's decades-old tradition of Acousmatic Art, the music has no visual accompaniment. Other experimental musicians and sound artists take a similar approach, from performing in total darkness to blindfolding everyone in the audience, to remaining behind a barrier such as a curtain, umbrella, or screen.
Seattle's Omake & Johnson joke that their performance at Polestar Music Gallery will take place behind a screen due to their "distractingly grotesque material appearance, outstanding warrants, and infection control procedures." I suspect the real reason is to focus the ears on this electro-acoustic duo's quiet palette of enchanting timbres, which straddle the boundary between electro and acoustic sound with field recordings, found objects like rocks and feathers, and humble drones. They tell me to expect "a scrabbling walk in the dark of some ever-unknown sanctuary," an apt description for their compelling work.
Omake & Johnson perform Sun Aug 4 at 8 pm, at Polestar Music Gallery, 1412 18th Ave (at E Union St), 329-4224, $6.