Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

My Education/Theta Naught provides impressive collaborative improv

August 29, 2011

Although I don’t feature it very often on Independent Clauses, I love improvisational music. I was in an art-rock band for over four years that mostly did improvisational music, and thus acquired the taste. It’s very hard to do well: to end up with listenable improvs, the members of the band have to know each other well enough to predict familiar patterns in unfamiliar compositions. Band members have to read each others’ minds.

With tons of practice, lots of jams and a good knowledge of music theory, however, it is possible to create spontaneous music that doesn’t sound like a jumbled mess. My Education/Theta Naught proves it in their Daytrotter session, which (I’m told) is improvised.

But My Education/Theta Naught isn’t one band: it’s two collaborating. That makes this Daytrotter session even more incredible, as they definitely haven’t had the years that many improv units have to gel effectively. But the post-rock that the two bands collaboratively craft has builds and swells that lead into sections of near silence, all seemingly coordinated perfectly. “Careful With That Saw, Ryan” is a gorgeous piece of post-rock that could rival any of the major bands in emotive power, especially with the swooning strings.

But it’s “Dingerland” and “En Masse” that capture my attention, as they are complex indie-rock jams that move a lot faster than “Careful With That Saw, Ryan.” The amount of difficulty in composing these pieces on the fly jumps up exponentially when members have to make decisions very quickly and in a very loud situation. But the band handles it excellently, building to roaring conclusions that feel very right.

As a longtime improv guy, I enjoyed hearing the drummer move through natural progressions of pattern and volume to take the band to the conclusion of “Dingerland”; there’s little that’s more enjoyable than hearing something that you know should be happening happen correctly. In that regard, it was just plain fun to listen to My Education/Theta Naught’s collaborative Daytrotter improv: I was looking for the markers, and they were there.

If you’re into experimental indie-rock or improvised music, I would highly recommend this to you.

*ps: This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a Daytrotter session, and I did it because of the nature of improvisational music: these songs don’t exist in this way anywhere else.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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