Duane Pitre's droning dichotomy

Former pro skateboarder and post-hardcore guitarist goes experimental

Duane Pitre first found recognition as a pro skateboarder with Alien Workshop in the mid '90s, but music has always been on the New Orleans-based guitarist's radar. As a former member of the now-defunct San Diego post-hardcore act Camera Obscura, Pitre has cultivated dense, urgent, and finely textured guitar tones that are a far cry from the wiry, frantic lash of his SoCal hardcore peers. With a calm demeanor that belies his hardcore roots, Pitre charts out expansive sound experiments that go as deep upward and outward through space as they go inward. Having ventured out as a solo artist focusing on abstract sound and experimentation for more than a decade, Pitre's refined ambient work has seen release by some of the most revered experimental labels around, including Important, Root Strata, and Sonic Meditations. On the road, performing numbers from his latest album, Bridges (Important), Pitre talks about his initial flirtations with abstract sound, recording as a solo artist, and teaching bowed guitar to pre-teens.

When did you start thinking about more abstract sounds and begin recording solo material?

I was interested in the abstract quite soon after I began playing music, with the first chance to really explore it being in the band I played bass in prior to Camera Obscura. This band dabbled in American-shoegaze and pseudo-pop sound structures, and between the songs when playing out live, I had an old vintage suitcase full of thrift store-bought gadgets such as a toy record player with a quarter-inch jack I had custom installed, gigantic tape players, weird mixers, etc. I'd make tape collages prior to the shows and play those mixed with LP locked grooves. So I was creating these abstract noisescapes and presenting them in these tiny little windows of opportunity I was given from the band. The guitarist/singer and a very good friend — who was more into the songs — would look at me like, "OK, dude, it's time to move on to the next song." I wanted the soundscapes to go on for way longer.

In Camera Obscura, we had this part in one of our songs that was a wall of noise. It was essentially one dissonant chord and a wash of cymbals and this would go on for a bit with Bill Lamb, drums cueing us back into the song. Again, I always wanted this to go on way longer than some of the others like Michelle Maskovich, keyboards wanted. So my interests of long-form abstract compositions started many years ago, and it took me going off on my own, which started in about 2000, to actually be able to accomplish such a thing.

What's different about having others come in to record parts of your albums and recording an official collaboration?

For the former situation, I am the director; they're my compositions so I'm in charge. That said, my work often utilizes structured improvisation, so there are certain freedoms that the performers have. But if we record a take where some things were done that I didn't like, then those takes simply don't get used. For the Feel Free sessions, we recorded several takes of the piece, live and in its entirety. Then I choose my favorite parts from each take, ones that all worked together beautifully as a whole. Then the engineer/producer spliced them all together Teo Macero-style.

As for collaborations, this is a time to let go for me, to allow some things to happen and just exist, even if they are not the exact way I would have done them on my own. It's about sharing as well. I've done a few great collaborations over the last year, and I have some more lined up. They are really good for me, they help me learn and to experience music in a way that I've not had a chance to do in many years, since the old "band days." They help me grow as an artist.

Bridges attempts to bridge Eastern and Western modes of music. Is this a new approach for you?

It is not a new approach for me per se, as traditional world music has been a big influence on my work over the last eight years or so. But with Bridges, I approached this aspect with clear intention, whereas with past works it just happened, without thinking about it too much. Also, with Bridges, I wanted to connect these Eastern world music traditions with more "proper" Western traditions such as chamber and old church music — this is something I'd not done in the past, at least not with intention.

What's your instrument of choice?

If I had to choose one instrument, it would be bowed guitar, something I've been doing for 13 years now. It's quite special to me. I view the bowed guitar as a different instrument than a straight up guitar. That approach — for me — is totally different.

I played a lot of bowed guitar on a recent collaborative studio recording with Cory Allen in Austin, Texas. I explored some new ways (for myself) of approaching the bowed guitar and I'm quite pleased with the results and the record. It has me excited about the instrument and the approach again, which is good timing because in September I'll start teaching an experimental guitar class with an emphasis on bowed guitar to 8- to 10-year-old kids at New Orleans' top charter school.

What's next for Duane Pitre?

Lately I'm interested in being within myself, allowing my mind to go where I want to, within a performance, and to not have to worry about directing other performers, which never allows me to truly let go. I'd like to get lost in what I'm doing, to be a part of that exact moment, with everyone else in the space.