Brooklyn-based electronic and experimental artist Robert Pepper of Pas Musique returns this Sunday, May 8, for a set of drones, beats, and ambient majesty at Eyedrum. Since 1995, Pepper has led Pas Musique through various incarnations, all the while collaborating with the likes of Rapoon, Z’ev, Faust, Jim Tuite, and more. For this show, Pepper is performing a solo set.
This show also marks the debut performance of the Taylor / Burland guitar duo, featuring ambient-drone artist, noise music fixture, and producer Ryan Taylor, whose credits include working with Rat Mass, Blackfox, AkuYou, Sensitive Chaos, and Eldorado Omega. Scott Burland is the former theremin half of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel. Together, they’ll explore the spacious, subtle ambiance of resonating steel strings.
.document features Elliott Brabant of Michael Cera Palin. Meaning of Everything is the guitar-based project of Mykel Alder June (formerly of Mice in Cars).
MESSENGERS FROM AFAR: Frank Schultz (left) and Scott Burland of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel.
It’s ironic that 2020, a number that universally signifies clarity of vision, brought to a head one of the most clouded years of recent history. Now, as a global pandemic winds down and the dust settles from a chapter of full-throttle socio-political tumult in America, it’s no surprise that the news media and one of Harvard’s brightest astronomers (Avi Loeb) are pointing to the skies with claims of seeing visitors, messengers from afar?
With their latest album, titled ‘Oumuamua, Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel has crafted an album that communes with the vast and mysterious space where human consciousness and the cosmos collide. Scott Burland’s swirling theremin wails and Frank Schultz’s lap steel textures and movements in songs with titles such as “Ceres,” “Vesta,” and “Enceladus,” are intuitively tailored to resonate with the imagination just as humankind seems fixated on asking bigger questions about the universe in which we live.
Burland and Schultz took a few minutes to talk about ‘Oumuamua, which arrived recently via Stickfigure Records.
How did the concept behind ʻOumuamua come about? Was it something you had in mind going into the recording or did it come about in the editing process, after the music was recorded?
FrankSchultz: After the music was recorded and mixed. Since Halocline was about water related phenomena, we thought we would tackle space. We looked at atmospheric phenomena and those names did not really ring true, then went down the whole “we are space dust” path and landed on the vehicles that would have brought those elements/materials to earth (asteroids and comets).
ScottBurland: We came across ‘Oumuamua after the music was recorded and agreed that there would be some sort of space theme as the music is “spacier” than most of what we’d done before.
Were you aware of ʻOumuamua as it was passing through our solar system, and the dialogue that it caused as it sped up while leaving our solar system?
Schultz: Was aware of it when passing through, but not so much the speed up on exit and the controversy surrounding it.
Burland: I had never heard of ‘Oumuamua until we came across it during our research. But once we came across it, it was like wow! A Hawaiian word for “a messenger from afar, arriving first.” Exciting!
It is rich fodder for the imagination. In academic circles it seems to have removed a bit of the stigma surrounding sincere discussions and speculation about the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence, while not being too committed to one answer. It also seems like a nice metaphor for the realm of music in which DfTaLS exists (IE. I often think about this group as coming from the context of Eyedrum and the improv nights that went on there for so long. The music was sophisticated and appealed to something of an academic mindset, but it was also irreverent).
Amid the media’s recent obsession with UFOs and UAPs, ʻOumuamua feels timely, like it reflects a lot of people’s headspace and curiosity. Is that a happy accident, or do you find yourself pondering questions about the cosmos more often these days?
Schultz: Happy Accident. But pondering the cosmos is always a good thing.
Burland: It was a happy accident. It could be argued that our music is space music, or “spacey,” though when we rehearse or perform, we’re not necessarily thinking about that. We try to clear our minds and have no agenda. What comes out comes out. But perhaps UFOs and UAPs have a subtle influence over us in an unconscious way. Space is the place!
How did you approach this music differently from your more recent releases, like Halocline and 10?
Schultz: Much less editing. We took pieces as a whole, no overdubs, no other instrumentation. Compared to Halocline and 10, it is stripped down to the core.
Burland: I don’t think our approach was any different. We often record rehearsals and pore over the recordings and decide if it’s release-worthy. For example, all of the music on CD1 was recorded on Christmas Day 2020. Frank texted a day or so later and said, meh, not so great. But a day or two later he texted and said he was able to work some magic and it was interesting for me to listen. I was able to recognize the basic framework of what we’d done, but it had transformed into something I found much more listenable.
Do you think of this as being more refined from what you delivered with Halocline?
Schultz: No, but I generally don’t analyse or compare our music. I leave that to the pros.
Burland: It’s quite different from Halocline, I think. I’m not sure I would say more refined, but I think the music explores the space that it created. It’s as if we happened upon a nice moment and rather than try to change it or evolve it, we stayed a while and explored that moment.
What was the first piece of music that you recorded for this album? Was that the catalyst from which the rest of the ideas here were born?
Schultz: “Ison,” “Sliding Spring,” and” Enceladus” were all recorded on October 8, which would have been the earliest date. The first CD was all recorded on December 25 and the rest of the songs were recorded on Dec. 2. We did not sit down to record for an album (which we did do for 10), but upon listening back to the various recordings we decided that they should be released. So, there is not a song or series of songs that intentionally influenced the other recordings.
Burland: I agree with Frank here, and will add that we didn’t start out thinking about releasing a double CD, but it seemed appropriate after having listened to the music. There seemed to be a common (though unconscious) thread.
One of the most compelling aspects of DfTaLS’ music has always been the strong emotional reaction the music draws out; and it is an enthralling experience that demands your attention. Just a few minutes ago I left the room while the song called “Enceladus” was playing. I had to take care of some fairly important business. I was in an entirely different room of the house, and the music was still affecting me so severely that I had to come back into my office and pause it in order to concentrate on the task at hand. Have other people described having similar reactions to the music?
Schultz: Well thanks for saying that. I have a friend who ran out of a show because it was freaking her out. 🙂 Hi Katie!
Burland: That is high praise indeed, thank you! I’m always humbled when people talk about the experience of listening to our music, whether it’s a live performance or recorded. We’re just a couple of guys who’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’m always pleased to hear when someone says that they felt something while listening. It’s what keeps me going, keeps me involved. The simple fact that people come out to hear us perform and buy our music and are compelled to write about it or play it on their radio program, I dunno, I am so grateful for that.
DfTaLS’ Scott Burland (left) and Frank Schultz. Photo by Chad Radford.
What is your headspace like when you’re creating this music? Do you feel like you’re in control, or is the music in control of you?
Schultz: Typically our best work comes from being guided by the music and getting completely lost in it.
Burland: The bar is always set to be controlled by the music. There are moments when I get goosebumps, though they are fleeting. Forever chasing the dragon.
DfTaLS’ latest release, titled ‘Oumuamua is a 2xCD recorded during the fall/winter of 2020, released by Stickfigure Recordings. The music takes a deep dive into the imagery and the mystery surrounding the interstellar traveler after whom the album takes its name. Check out the first single, “Vesta,” posted above.
W8ing4UFOs will close out the evening with a set of songs from their 2020 release, Don’t Let The Asshats Burn You (Striped Light). Press play below.
The show will take place in Railroad Earth’s backyard performance space. Bring a lawn chair. DfTaLS will kick things off around 8:30-ish p.m. Donations support RRE and W8ING4UFOs.
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In the visually stunning BBC One documentary series Planet Earth, Sir David Attenborough describes a mesmerizing scene in which underwater caverns play tricks on the eye. “What seems like air … isn’t. It’s just another kind of water,” Attenborough says as he describes a phenomenon called halocline, a point at which freshwater and saltwater clash, like oil and water, maintaining separate densities. It is rich fodder for the imagination, and the title of Duet For Theremin and Lap Steel’s latest album. Theremin player Scott Burland and Lap Steel player Frank Schultz are back with an eight-song masterpiece of haunting, luminous atmosphere.
In the Fall of 2019, a chance meeting—sharing the stage at Louisville, Kentucky’s Kaiju—with vocalist Dane Waters gave rise to a collaboration in which she weaves her voice into songs with titles such as “Maelstrom,” “Swell,” and “Fata Morgana.” The result draws out an unforeseen abstract aquatic theme pulled from the depths of the subconscious, manifesting itself in fluid musical movements.
On the heels of the album’s May 16 release, Burland and Schultz took a few minutes to talk about working with Dane Waters, what the music means to them, and letting the music drive the concept.
Halocline describes what happens when two bodies of water are separated because of different salinities. How does this apply to the record?
Frank Schultz: The music drove the concept, not the concept driving the music. I had been watching a lot of Blue Planet and Planet Earth in the evenings during the time I was starting to put the album together, and the music seemed a perfect fit to the many faces of water. Water is one of those weird things that you can’t live without, sometimes it’s hard to live with, and sometimes it’s a killer. The illusion of a halocline is beautiful, but can be very distracting and deadly.
Scott Burland: Naming albums and song titles has been a challenging—though fun—process for us over the years, and this time the whole concept fell into place once Frank mentioned halocline to me. The music on this album varies from murky to clear, sometimes even in the same song. To me, some of this music sounds like it was recorded underwater. Or lends itself to imagining oneself moving around surrounded by, or completely underwater.
How does this expand upon your body of work and everything that you’ve accomplished with your previous recordings?
FS: I think it is our best body of work so far. It has connections to previous work, but goes in several different directions.
What are these different directions in which you see the music going?
FS: As far as a long term direction, who knows. We play, the music comes out, we record it and put some of it out. There is no preconceived notion of a path or direction.
SB: I think it fits nicely into our larger body of work. When 10 came out, I remember feeling like there was a certain maturity in the music. That’s definitely true of Halocline. There are no gimmicks per sé, it’s just the instruments, filtered through our approaches, and voice. It stands on its own and it seems a logical extension to our arc. I’d add that the majority of the album is sonically abstract, though there are moments of familiarity and traditional structure, or at least our version of that.
FS: There are several moments in the album when everything falls into place and still gives me goosebumps. Favorite songs change over time, at least for me. Current faves are “Maelstrom” and “Dissolver,” but I have a crush on all of them.
SB: I’m a big fan of the title track. When I hear it, I think wow, we did that? I don’t have a clear memory of recording it, it was just some random Wednesday, early in 2019. I appreciate that I’m working with someone who I can collaborate on a piece such as this, with no road map, no clear beginning or end and listen back and agree, hey that’s not half bad. “Brinicle” is another favorite, it’s both still and in motion and I have at least a vague memory of recording that one!
What did performing with Dane Waters bring out of DfTaLS?
FS: We met Dane in Louisville when we shared the stage with her in 2019. We were both floored by her performance. Floored enough that the two of us agreed, without any hesitation, that we should meet with her the next day and ask her to be on the album. She said yes! We fleshed out around 18 songs, got them down to nine songs we agreed on, and sent her three of them to record vocals. We ended up using all the songs for which she contributed vocals. Of course, once I received her recordings, it affected how the songs were treated and mixed.
SB: After that Louisville gig, Frank and I were asking ourselves why we didn’t invite her to join us for our set. Second best was asking her to contribute to the record. I think she adds a human quality to the album which isn’t exactly lacking in our previous efforts, but it’s just more in the forefront here. She slipped right into the spirit of the thing, I liked the way her voice reacted harmonically to the theremin and I appreciate the thought that she put into it. We look forward to sharing a stage with her at some unknown point in the future.
Collaborations can often underscore one artist’s vision, or open up to the whole group making room for happy accidents, so to speak. Be it Jeff Crompton’s contributions to “Absinthium” on 10, filmmaker Robbie Land’s visuals, or working with Bill Brovold, the Shaking Ray Levis, and more on your 2011 album, Collaborations. What are the benefits of bringing outside influences into the realm you’ve created with DfTaLS?
FS: Kind of two camps here: Crompton and Dane recorded their pieces after the fact, so not really anything that influenced our playing. Robbie—we never see his films while we are playing, so not much influence, although we love when it happens, we just feel better knowing it is there, as does the audience. The Collaborations album was the one where we did live recordings with all the folks. So we were all influencing each other. In general, we enjoy collaborating with folks because it tends to bear lovely fruit and furthers our musical relationship and connection with those folks. Improvising with new folks is a chance to open your ears and learn something.
SB: This is the first time we’ve collaborated with someone without being in the same room, so the rules were different. On paper, there’s an immediacy that’s missing but in this case I think Dane nailed it with the vocals, almost as if we had recorded it together. Frank and I know the limitations of DfTaLS and an advantage of bringing someone else in is that the other people don’t necessarily know or even want to know those limits. It offers a fresh perspective, which gives us “permission” to stray from our comfort zone. To say it breaks up the monotony seems a little harsh, but surprise is good and we’ve been doing this long enough that introducing something new and/or unexpected keeps the fire going.
FS: Collaborating is part of our nature.
SB: It seems that we are able to fit into a variety of sonic scenarios, so I would say that collaborations allow us to expand on what DfTaLS is, and a glimpse into what it might become, or could be. Having time these last couple of months to contemplate even my own relationship to music has been eye-opening. Trying to strip everything away and then slowly reintroduce things to see what resonates. It’s a process. It’s hard to imagine my life without DfTaLS, so I am trying to figure out what it really means to me, what it means to Atlanta, to the region, and beyond. So it’s difficult for me to articulate the true nature of DfTaLS. Still working on that.