Bluefat Archive November 2008




Hecuba:

Great power must use power wisely


Hecuba by Anita Webber

photo: Anita Webber

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When it comes to getting profoundly immersed in a piece of art or music, one method is to allow yourself to get a bit baffled by what you're trying to perceive лл but just a little. You do want to fall into a hole, but you want to know that you can still crawl out of that hole eventually and see all your friends again. Because it's lonely at the bottom of an art hole. Los Angeles beat-combo/art-and-film aggregate Hecuba is a prime source for such satisfying confusion. This duo comprises the very interesting Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley, who began their fertile creative partnership in a steamy bog in the deep, deep South. After a move to NYC, where both were involved in various visual-art endeavors, the pair decided to pool their inspirations into musical form.

Their move to California brought new methodologies and has helped the duo's flair for exceptionally nonclichd musical hybrids blossom in Sir, on the hugely relevant Manimal Vinyl label. Sir is the first of a planned series of "concept" EPs from Hecuba; this one includes a reinterpretation of the title track by Lucky Dragons. Additional remixes have been done by the pair's wiggy pals Butchy Fuego and Haz'm.

The pair's newish full-length Paradise on that very same Manimal label extends Albuquerque and Beasley's densely conceptualized meltdowns of manifold and juxtapositional relationships of pure tonality and texture and compulsive beat with arcane shards of vocal utterance hovering above love, desire, distraction and thirst for revenge, all sort of granulated so you fall through the cracks between the atoms, perhaps finally feeling an intense need for more book learning, foreign films and sexual intercourse. (The beats are Dionysian; the auras and vistas are Apollonian and PBS-science-show-from-the-early-'70s.)

So strange and eclectic and genuinely dramatic, Hecuba's evolving live shows are visually arresting affairs of beautifully bizarre costumery, choreographed gesture and projected filmworks; such multihued, heady events showcase a rather woolly punky proggy rock with downtempo doo-woppy-dubby electro-gospel-hip-hop overtones, as you might say.

"I was born in Montgomery, Alabama," says Beasley, "and my first musical experiences were singing in the church choir. But I didn't make music again until later in my life лл I was doing visual art and making films. That's kind of where we get the most cinematic parts of what we do, I guess."

Beasley did time in Chicago, and while making a movie in New York he met Albuquerque, who'd auditioned for a role in the film and ended up with the lead. "It was an art kind of film about alien abductions and how people use it as a way to express other traumas," Albuquerque says. The pair started working on music the first night, and have not stopped since.

The couple's art backgrounds come into play in their strikingly visual live events, yet their visual art also affects their music's very sound. That's because, says Albuquerque, art and music, if not two sides of the same coin, at least share a similar spirit.

"Music is basically the format we're doing our art in," she says. "We were happy doing film, but when we started doing music, everything just clicked: This is a way to communicate without a bunch of money involved лл you can just get straight to people."

For visual artists used to laboring in despairing obscurity on projects that can take months to finish and years to get a response, the idea of presenting their art via music is an appealing one. But for Hecuba, the music will never follow the concept, exactly. "We do come from a visual-arts background," Albuquerque says, "but it's important to us to make, like, musical music. We're not just like a crazy-art thing.

"A lot of times we think of Peter and the Wolf," she adds. "It's completely musical, but it's enormously visual."

Hecuba take not the biggest but a sizable and discerning chunk of artistic influence лл Robert Wyatt and Charles Ives, Stanley Kubrick and Patti Smith, Pharrell and Aphex Twin - and rub it together intelligently. One of Beasley's springboards was 1960s and '70s soundtrack composer Wendy Carlos, whose Switched-on Bach made a big impression. "Somehow, that made total sense to me, because there's a purity of sound: the most beautiful synthesizers, and then this classic songwriting, mathematical and pure.

"It came from a different place, and it was able to touch anybody. It was so musical and so incredible that something went way above all the ideological things and just touched everybody."

Sounds like Hecuba.

"Sometimes our music's weird, I guess," Albuquerque says, "but we're trying to skip all the rules. It's an exciting time.