Is this music? Is this static? If I'm asking these questions, doesn't that automatically disqualify it from being music? These are the questions I bombarded myself with while listening to What We Mean By Hot and Cold, the debut double-LP from local electro-acoustic duo Wroom. The impossibly long album (107 minutes!) is basically a series of humming, distorting, melodic loops of bassy buzz, whirs and clicks. You don't hum along to it, you don't tap your foot to it, and you don't listen to it. As I eventually learned after spending some time with this album, these sounds just sort of happen to you, much in the same way as the works of other musical experimentalists like John Cage, Lou Reed and Brian Eno do. I was just beginning to realize the beauty of this when I interviewed Rian Callahan, who, along with Nigel Barnes, makes this so-called music.
Riff City: I've gotta tell you, man. I hated this album before I liked it.
Rian Callahan: Why's that?
Well, it requires a very patient listener, which I sometimes am not. Do you think that there are enough patient listeners out there to warrant the time and effort it takes to make this music?
I guess I want to believe there are. It's true that it doesn't instantly reveal itself. I think a lot of people have gotten into it by putting it on while they're doing something else.
In that way it's reminiscent of early Brian Eno stuff, like Music for Airports.
Certainly we are influenced by the earlier Eno stuff. There's something very interesting happening there where initially it appears to be very static, then the more you listen to it you pick out these different parts and textures that are changing. And I think that's something that Nigel and I are both interested in.
When you're dealing with textures and not lyrics, how do you name songs?
Well, the name's not always descriptive of the song. Sometimes it's more descriptive of the time when the song was written.
Can you remember any of those stories? What about the song title "Time-Released 'Fresh' Scent"?
Well, the studio in Nigel's basement was right next to the washer and dryer. And sometimes that would be going when we were recording and so that would become kind of an additional instrument. So he had this box of laundry soap. And it's a special kind of laundry soap that has this very particular smell, and one of the features that's listed on the side of the box was "time-released 'fresh' scent."
So the washer and dryer is actually in the background of some of these songs.
Yeah, and occasionally his furnace would come on, too, since that was on the other side of the recording space. It would come on and we would just leave it on the track because we kind of liked having it.
How very John Cage of you.
Well, none of the tracks are silent.
Wroom plays with Non-Polar Thursday, Oct. 20, at Holocene. 9 pm. $5. 21+.