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Clogs: Opening Up the Possibilities

By Published: March 20, 2006
AAJ: There would be almost infinite ways, wouldn't there?

PN: Well, there might have been a manner in which one should be playing it. And probably Luca is doing it in that fashion, basically stating the chords in an arpeggiated fashion. And that's an interesting link between that period and now, and jazz for example. Early in the seventeenth century, they invented a way of notating chords—figured bass, it's called.

AAJ: "The Song of the Cricket" is a song I like very much. The strings and bassoon sound oddly effected on this one and I suppose they're building over Bryce's guitar vamp in a long, slow crescendo. They're very ghostly, and when your guitar joins into that crescendo it's almost Sonic-Youthish. Then there's that sprightly little ethnic coda that finishes this one off. Any insights?

PN: Two ideas, you know. I thought of the piece, especially the opening material, when I was just sitting down in Red Hook in Brooklyn. It's kind of desolated, dilapidated old port, or was at that time—now they're turning it into gardens. But I was just sitting there by myself late one night, just listening to this cricket, and I had this weird kind of idea: what does a cricket actually sound like to itself? This generated the idea that maybe it thinks it's making some fabulous, symphonic epic thing. Then the last section is just a silly little coda—humorous coda.

AAJ: "Canon" is composed by you and Charles-Eric Charrier and Rasim Biyikli, who are the duo Man. They don't play on it, though. This piece has drums—or rather, drum—melodica, electric guitar. Basically a vamp of sorts is repeated until a melodica, who I assume for some reason is Rachael—

PN: I'm playing that this time, actually.

AAJ: Anyway, that melodica gives us that melody. I think there's a bassoon in there as well. This one seems all about repetition and layering of a great depth of instruments that rise and subside in the foreground and background.

BD: That came out of that same period that "Kapsburger" did, when Luca was there. We were working with this group Man. The bass line [sings it]—that's the canon. So it's another kind of classical behavior where we're layering, like a canon, around. That bass line is written by this French bassist, Charles, and Padma wrote the melodies over it. It's the kind of music that Clogs actually hasn't done much of; a very repetitive, almost more rock behavior with a drum beat.

PN: It's a huge drum he's using.

BD: Big concert bass drum, yeah.

PN: If you get to hear this in a room with very cool speakers you can hear a lot of stuff going with—the skin.

BD: When we play that piece, it's really one piece with the next piece on the record, which is called "5/4." They're always played together. Again, kind of two sections. What's interesting about the bass line of "Canon" is that that bass line was written by Charles, the French guy—it's written to "Swarms," which is another Clogs piece from Lullaby For Sue. It's a kind of minimalist piece in five. So he actually composed that bass line to one of our other songs and then we created a new piece out of it.

AAJ: I find "2:3:5" pretty difficult to describe. It sounds like a Clogs piece, and there's chiming electric guitar, bassoon and strings, but it's not really definable to me. I do think it's got a looming sadness that turns pretty ecstatic towards its end and I believe it's constructed of instruments repeating phrases that interlock with each other—they sort of drift onstage and then wander off. How is a song like this put together?

PN: We were touring one of these endless rock tours [with The National], Bryce and I, and we were at a horrible pit stop in the middle of nowhere somewhere. Bryce comes up to me and says, "what would this ratio sound like?" The 2:3:5. We went away and we thought about it and I took Bryce for a walk. We were walking the fives and clapping the twos and the threes—and then we forgot about it. But I went back to Australia and realized that this is actually not a difficult rhythm and that a single instrument can do this rhythm if we put it in 5/4. So I found some very simple ways of playing it, very simple left-hand behavior. [To BD:] Right?

BD: Yes. The guitar plays this ratio and there are three rhythms in each measure. So if you listen to it, you can either feel the five, the three or the two, based on the notes. So we built a piece out of that. And you're right—I would say it has minimalist characteristics due to that layering of rhythms. But there's also quite a lot of improv—the steel drum, the violin and the bassoon. And then there's a vibes part.

PN: There's a stop—the vibes comes in with the "dum-dum-dum."

BD: Yeah, the end of the piece changes meter; it goes into three.

PN: And we top-and-tailed the rhythm; took the first beat off and the last beat off and it's in a 3/4, so it's still the same rhythm—it's just top-and-tailed. I think that's a pretty important piece for us, just, you know, in our gigging and how we felt about that and what that meant in our central repertoire. It turned us a little bit in another direction, I think, and we really enjoyed playing it during that period prior to the record when we were touring in Europe.

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