Sometimes when your summer days are much busier than you’d like, it’s nice to be transported, if only for an hour or two, to a calmer place with no deadlines, no rush hour and no answers, right or wrong. That’s what I most enjoyed about the inaugural gig at the new Thursday “adventurous improvised” music nights at the Khyber Pass Café in St. Paul. The summer-long series started June 12 with the Adam Linz / Paul Metzger Duo. Metzger plays a modified banjo; Linz plays an upright bass, often in a modified way.
Their improvised set was created based on a set of African field recordings from the 1950s. I know very little about Africa or the music and sounds of Africa, but I learned to appreciate “The Voice of the Natural World” at a TED Global talk last summer where Bernie Krause spoke about his experience recording wild soundscapes. Listening to his talk, I began to appreciate how my hearing had not been a tool I used to observe my surroundings they way I used vision. I listened, especially to music, but rarely to the world around me.
Thursday night was an opportunity to listen to the world around me, which for two hours was really the world around Africa 50-60 years ago. Using the instruments in non-traditional ways Linz and Metzger interpret the sounds of Arica in an intriguing way. Tapping the edge of the banjo with a small drumstick (akin to a tipper used with a traditional drum called a bodhran) brings a rain sound. Lightly beating the strong of the bass from close range with the bow sounds like shuffle in the forest.
One of the recordings played during the intermission. It was interesting to hear the original and to the recognize what part of the performance replicated the sounds and what is more of a reflection or interpretation of the sounds. Clearly they had done a lot of research on the topic, there are talented musicians and it made for a deeper experience for the listener. Like listening to a foreign language, the listening could simply enjoy the cadence or make an effort to understand what was happening and be transported to a place where the field sounds of Africa are the voice of the natural world.