Earlier this week I spent some time talking with Brooklyn-based, custom-instrument-packing duo Buke and Gass as they crossed the border from Canada to America in their tour van.
Part one of that interview focused on the duo’s unique instruments – the buke (pronounced “byook”) and the gass (“gace”) – and the effect they had on making music together. Today, we focus on their influences, why they work better as a duo, and making all that racket live.
In the song “Red Hood Came Home,” from your new album Riposte, there is what sounds like a tenor sax on that track. Is that actually a tenor sax, or is that another instrument that you guys built yourselves?
AD: No that actually is a saxophone. We had are friend Colin Stetson play on a few of the tracks on this new album.
Cool. Are there any other additional artists featured on the album?
AS: No, he’s the only one.
Everything else is the two of you?
Are their any unique hurdles to playing with other musicians given the one-of-a-kind, instruments that you play?
AD: Not regarding the instruments, no.
AS: That is the only time we’ve worked with someone else. Early on, before we even made our first EP, we were playing with a drummer, so we were a three piece at one time.
And did that not work out musically, or were there other reasons why you guys parted ways?
AS: Musically, it was fine. He decided not to continue with the project, and that was one of the reasons we started developing the percussion parts for what we do.
AD: We decided we didn’t need a third member (laughs).
Fewer people are always easier to coordinate when making music, so there are definite advantages. Arone, it’s interesting that you said there are no hurdles involved in playing with other people that stem from your instruments. It sort of implies there are hurdles that come from something else. Is there a kind of special connection or chemistry that you have with each other when you’re playing. Is that something that affects playing with other people?
AD: I wouldn’t say that it’s the chemistry that Aron and I have that makes it difficult to work with other musicians, I think that’s it’s more in the writing process Arone and I tend to be very analytical and we really work, we really pick a song apart in order to write it. I think that can be kind of hard to deal with if you’re another musician. Between Arone and I there are plenty of cooks. You know what I mean?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s important to understand that about the way you work.
AS: We’re both similarly anal, in a complementary way (laughs). At times in other projects I’ve been in with other musicians I can be kind of intense, you know?
AD: And same with me.
AS: Yeah, same with Arone. But somehow with the two of us it works.
The strong personalities don’t clash?
AD: We don’t kill each other too bad. (Laughs). We’re still alive.
Is your recording process different from the way you perform live? Arone mentioned that a focus of the band is trying to create as much sound as the two of you can in real time. When you were recording the album did you stick to that aesthetic and play as you would for a show?
AS: We try to do as much as we can live in the recording process. Usually that means us playing the Gass, Buke, and percussion at the same time. Then we’ll do the vocal later.
AD: And the bells later.
AS: Right, and the bells later. Just because it’s easier to record that way from a technical standpoint.
To avoid sounds bleeding into the vocal mics?
AS: Yeah. But at its core, the recording is just trying to capture what we do live.
AD: With some embellishments of course.
AS: Right, we have some small additional things happening, but overall we try and keep it simple.
And to go back to this discussion of loops; I know you don’t use them at all in Buke and Gass, but you guys were mentioning that you had worked on other projects that did incorporate loops. To my ear, it does seem like the sound of Buke and Gass is a bit informed by mechanized musical styles. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? Is that an aesthetic that you’re drawn to at all? Do those styles inform your playing at all?
AD: No, they don’t inform mine. I think our music is similar to the way we built our instruments in that form follows function. Our music is the bi-product of our instrumentation and how we work together. It’s not that we’re trying to capture or even create something derived from a loop idea. When we write we improvise and we’ll record it. On occasions where we don’t immediately like the entire improvisation and want to turn that into a song we’ll take a part of an improvisation and expand on that, which maybe sounds like a loop, but I don’t think so.
AS: Well, okay. I actually completely disagree with you.
AD: Oh. [laughs]
AS: The things that I like to play and the type of ideas I like to arrange for our music have come from my interest in mechanized music or computer music. And I draw inspiration from that. Maybe you don’t, Arone -
AS: But I’m totally into that stuff. And I’m totally into being able to… I’m less interested in being able to use computers in my music and more interested in being influenced by what that kind of composition can do and being able to play that live with real instruments interests me a lot.
AD: Well, I can agree with that.
AS: I used to do a lot of electronic music on my own and listening to a lot of that stuff I always had fantasies of taking something like an Aphex Twin piece and performing that live with an orchestra or in some other capacity involving live musicians. Those kinds of ideas interest me a lot. I feel like I take those ideas into consideration when creating music for Buke and Gass.