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Chicago Underground Duo: Two Voices, One Sound

By Published: April 3, 2006
AAJ: Before I mention a single piece from the new album, I want to say that this is one of the albumy-est albums I've heard in a long time; I really hear it as one continuous musical experience—a journey of sorts into some deep area and maybe a reemergence back out. Did you conceive this as a single body of work?

CT: Yeah, that's the way we really thought about it—like a collage. It's this single piece of all these different elements. Originally we were actually going to have one track, and that was going to be forty minutes long. We decided it'd be better to break it up a little bit and have the different tracks. It really is a record that we would like people just to listen to from the beginning to the end rather than listen to individual tracks, because that's the way we sort of put it together.

RM: Actually, I think almost all our records—for me, almost all the Duo records—have been conceived as a whole, as parts of a whole. I don't know who these people are, but it seems like critics criticize us for the fact that perhaps on a given track, there isn't enough development in something, whether it's a minimalist piece or some kind of improvisation or even written pieces. For me, the development is the entire record.

So yeah, I think it's consciously thought of on all four of the records. Certainly on this one; maybe this one even more. When we started the recording of this record, we had quite a few songs that we had played for two years live that we had intentions of recording. It turns out we didn't use any of that material at all. We ended up improvising and coming up with brand-new ideas and that's how the record came to be. But it was certainly meant to be one continuous flow.

AAJ: This record really feels live to me. I don't hear a lot of overdubbing and suspect a lot of it was done in real time, just the two of you playing. Is this true?

RM: Yes. I think almost all the tunes were not overdubbed—I think on one of the songs I added one pretty subtle cornet thing with ring modulator. But everything else, yeah, like the second cut, the long title track, is actually one continuous improvisation. And most of them were first takes. Chad plays vibes and drum set together; even on "In Praise of Shadows, there were no overdubs. I was playing keyboard stuff—harpsichord, celeste and piano at the same time, and I had my trumpet there too, so that's why you don't hear those instruments when I'm playing the cornet. I think 90% of it was no overdubs and over half must be one-takes.

I mean, to me that means nothing. People seem to enjoy knowing those things. "Oh, it's one take. That's amazing. I was listening to that trumpet player, Arve Henriksen. He did a solo trumpet record based on Japanese flower gardens. But it seemed like they kind of went out of their way to say that there were no overdubs on it. And I think Chad is pretty proud of that too. Maybe it's a matter of information because a lot of people think he overdubs stuff—the vibes lines—but he doesn't.

But it doesn't matter to me if it's one take or fifty takes or if it's completely chopped up. To me, it's the end result. The reason why it gets archived on some kind of thing you can hear back is because it sounds the way we want it to sound.

AAJ: I don't think this is the jazziest record, whatever that means these days, but I like how it gives this feeling that the two of you are just making music without worrying about what kind of music it is. I hear African and so-called world music influences, but I never get the impression you're thinking about that beforehand.

CT: Yeah, well, that's correct. I think what we were thinking about was just the sound of the different elements of the record. It's a lot of different-sounding things. We were thinking about that more than, say, "we're going to go from this style to this style. We just wanted a lot of different sounds—and for it to feel organic too. The one thing that was sort of challenging with this record is that the compositions were not dealing with harmony or melody. The last several records we did had some really strong melodies, but with this record, it's just these little pieces and they're mostly dealing with sound, rhythm, color and texture. Just the bare elements, so it was challenging to put that together.

RM: The only thing that happens is, of course, that when we step into the studio we bring our own experiences in there. I think Chad happened to be checking out quite a bit of mbira music of, I think, northwest Africa, before we went in, but it wasn't like, "oh, let's do a northwest African mbira piece. It was more like, "let's try this thing I've been working on.

So he was interested; he put the mbira on his floor tom, which gave this eerie kind of reverb and stuff to it, and then we did quite a bit of post-production, although the post-production is very subtle. It still sounds exactly like an mbira. But the point is we never do say, "oh, let's do a jazz tune, let's do something with an African rhythm.

For some reason, ever since the first record, 12 Degrees of Freedom, we've been able to just exist in a space musically—and not musically, at times—with the real freedom of just being able to make sounds. I don't even know if it's music sometimes; I use the word "sound a lot, because sometimes what people consider music, whether it's melody or rhythm or harmony or whatever—sometimes this music doesn't have any of that.

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