Dirtwire’s “trans-global” music fills up The New Parish
on January 24, 2014
One of the most unexpected moments of Dirtwire’s performance at The New Parish last week occurred halfway through the set, when the duo, comprised of Bay Area mainstays Evan Fraser and David Satori, began playing one of the songs they recorded last year in collaboration with the legendary Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar.
Ondar, who passed away in July 2013, has a voice that sounds like it was dredged up from another world; it is gnarled and stony, rough-hewn and complex. It is not the type of voice that anyone would anticipate being blended into a song anchored by a pulsating polyrhythmic beat, let alone a banjo or a jaw-harp. It is not the type of voice that would usually make you want to dance.
But that’s exactly what happened at the downtown venue. Perhaps unaware of the singer’s demise last summer, or maybe just more concerned with dancing and throwing their hands in the air, the crowd screamed their approval.
Ondar’s vocals for the song were recorded last year after a house show in Marin where the Siberian celebrity, who has invited comparison to John F. Kennedy, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, had performed with Fraser. Satori recounts that after his performance, they snatched him away from the party, led him to an empty bedroom and, with a single microphone, recorded Ondar singing a couple of folk songs. Satori insists that it was by no means a field recording; from the beginning the intent had been to collaborate.
With these recordings in hand, the creation of “Taiga” proceeded the way virtually all of Dirtwire’s songs do: with the addition and subtraction of layers and sounds, constructing a collage of instruments, trying to not overdo it while still filling the space that the song requires.
Fraser and Satori are at heart explorers and collectors of sounds. Their cavernous recording studio on the Oakland / Berkeley border is full of instruments from around the world: in the center of the room an old resonator guitar rubs shoulders with a n’goni, a lute-like instrument from Burkina Faso that sounds like a harp. Just a few feet away is a traditional drum kit, albeit one complete with electronic accouterments.
Their palette is limitless; the real skill comes in making sense of the chaos, of knowing what to cut and what to keep.
The duo has been playing music together for fifteen years; Dirtwire has been one of their many projects for almost ten. Often they will get together and jam, recording everything. With the assistance of the computer program Ableton, they can isolate bits and pieces of these recordings, looping and manipulating them, shaping them into cohesive, structured songs.
Fraser argues instruments from the same continent tend to easily fit together; the “risky thing is introducing music from other continents on top of it.” It’s a gamble. It’s a question of trial and error.
Satori and Fraser label their genre as “world music.”
“It’s outdated,” Satori says. “It means any kind of music on planet Earth…Limp Bizkit is world music in Russia.”
Instead, the group prefers the term “trans-global: “musics that are traveling back and forth [across the world] within each other.” That’s an accurate description of the songs that make up both their self-titled debut LP, released in 2012, and their upcoming EP. Instruments collide in unexpected ways, but they never pull you in opposite directions.
At the New Parish, the duo ended on a high note. Finally making use of the drums and cymbals assembled on stage, they crashed through the unreleased “Cumbia Pulque.” The crowd danced along, propelled forward by a rhythm that was incredibly familiar yet hard to identify.
“If [listeners] can’t describe it, that’s great,” Satori adds. “That’s the best thing you can do.”
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