Duet finds new depth in droning ambiance

These two numbers reach beyond the 26-minute mark, building with the slow, and wide-eyed psychedelic ambiance that Burland and Schultz have mastered over the years.

Image DfTaLS with Helton and Bragg by Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel

Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel hit the road this month, trekking across the Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern states, with guitarist Bill Brovold opening and sharing the stage on most nights. Before leaving town, though, the group unveiled two new numbers, both recorded in May of 2014 for Theremin player Scott Burland’s 52nd birthday.

Simply titled “DfTaLS, Helton and Bragg 1 and 2,” each of these two numbers reaches beyond the 26-minute mark, building with the slow, and wide-eyed psychedelic ambiance that Burland and lap steel player Frank Schultz have mastered over the years. To call this music experimental is a bit of a misnomer at this point: Through releases such as 2012’s Collaborations CD, or the various recordings documented on Duet’s Bandcamp page, these two have developed a musical language all their own. The billowing textures they create rise and fall, caught forever in a struggle between blissful atmospheres and hair-raising anxiety. Losing oneself in the music almost always entails a trip to the edge of one’s psychological comfort level before being placed right back where the trip began.

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What pushes their droning resonance to wholly new places here is their collaboration with guitarist Colin Bragg and percussionist Blake Helton. By and large all four players come from backgrounds steeped in musical experimentation and the avant-garde; the latter two come from jazz and Krautrock-inflected stylings respectively. Together, they summon a deeply meditative sound that is at once chaotic and sedate, and indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Collaboration has long been the means by which Burland and Schultz consummate musical friendships, be it with Brovold, members of Chattanooga, Tenn.’s Shaking Ray Levis, Rob Rushin, or other acts. “Improvising with others can be a really intimate experience," Burland says. "At its best, it creates what William Burroughs called the third mind. An entity separate from the personalities involved in playing the music.”

Within the first few minutes of “DfTaLS, Helton and Bragg 1,” the sound comes across a bit more electronic in nature. It’s a totally improvised set. The pairing with Helton and Bragg beefs up the music’s presence with a mire of rhythms and sounds. And with each passing listen, layers upon layers are continually revealed. It’s never the same listen twice, as drones harmonize with dissonant, motorik rhythms that fade like radio waves from a dying pulsar hanging somewhere in the inky blackness of space. The staccato rattle of Helton’s drums, weighed against the lilting tones of Burland’s theremin, and the interplay between lap steel and guitar take shape with an engrossing presence that binds both pieces together for a nearly hour-long plunge into sonic dark matter — the intangible fabric of the cosmos.

Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel plays Eyedrum on Mon., Sept. 28, with Andrew Weathers, and again at Oakland Cemetery on Sat., Oct. 31, with Ghosts Project.

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