TROY — When musicians are looking for players to explore the musical unknown, sometimes an email is all that’s needed.
“I was working at a day job four years ago, when suddenly I had a strong feeling that I had to start a band,” said tenor saxophonist and composer Travis Laplante, founder of Battle Trance, which shares a double bill tonight with the group Bearthoven at the Experimental Media and Performance Arts Center.
Bearthoven and Battle Trance
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: EMPAC, 110 Eighth St., Troy
HOW MUCH: $18-$6
MORE INFO: 276-3921, www.rpi.edu
He immediately thought of tenor saxophonists Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner. Although he didn’t really know them personally, he said, he knew that, like him, they’d attended music schools for jazz performance.
“I found out how to reach them, emailed them, and asked them to join a band,” Laplante said. “They agreed. It’s still mysterious to me how it all worked out.”
He didn’t have a standard saxophone quartet in mind. Instead, he wanted the group to “break down the walls and limitations of the instrument” with acoustic music that he would write.
“The saxophone has untapped potential,” he said. “It’s capable of a vast array of sounds. And with all of us playing tenor, it allows us to devolve our own identities and act as one sound with similar timbres.”
The result was “Palace of Wind,” an approximately 42-minute piece that explores layers of sound through multiphonics, harmonics, continuous sound achieved through circular breathing, quarter tones, and extended techniques that include slapping keys and untypical articulations. The music can sound hypnotic and meditative with its close harmonies interspersed with moments of silence to edgy and discordant as the parts separate.
It is the only piece the group currently plays and has recorded (New Amsterdam Records, 2014). Battle Trance has performed the work throughout North America hundreds of times.
“It’s evolved. We’re more deeply connected with each other’s subtlety of sounds to fine-tune the balances,” Laplante said. “We’re also in greater physical shape with the technique and play with more ease.”
That includes having great stamina because extensive circular breathing is taxing.
“When you’re streaming arpeggios, moving your fingers, and using your embouchure muscles in dynamic extremes through 20 minutes of circular breathing, well, we’re drenched in sweat at the end,” Laplante said, laughing.
Bearthoven’s efforts are in complete contrast. Made up of pianist Karl Larson, bassist Pat Swoboda and percussionist Matt Evans, the group seeks to make their instrumental trio, so typical to jazz, not sound like jazz.
“We’ve been lucky and have had 15 commissioned pieces,” Larson said. “There are some jazzy sounds, but more it’s driving minimalist music or experimental with extended techniques and a rock band ethic.”
The trio, all music-school trained, met in 2011 at a Bang on a Can summer festival and “hatched the idea” of a band. Initially, composer friends wrote pieces for them with performances in lieu of payment. As the group gained a following with more concerts and tours, they’ve been able to pay for everything, Larson said.
“Some of the music is weirder and some accessible,” he said. “We’re always trying to broaden its appeal and open it up to more people.”
Among the works Bearthoven will play tonight are Brooks Frederickson’s “Undertoad” (2013), Anthony Vine’s “From a Forest of Standing Mirrors” (2014), Fjola Evans’ “Shoaling” (2014), Ken Thomson’s “Grizzly” (2014), and Adrian Knight’s “The Ringing World,” which premiered in February.
As for the name: A bear was running around the woods that naming day.