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Slow But Steady

WONDERS OF WONDERLAND Chicago post-rock veterans Tortoise waited seven years between albums, but percussionist Dan Bitney tells Steve Bell that their inherent weirdness allows them to do as they please.

UNDERTONE Technology and circus collide in this bold and beautiful fusion of the electronic and the acrobatic. Using live triggering tech to create constantly dynamic soundscapes, this experimental production showcases the possibilities on the bleeding edge of performance innovation. When & Where: 24 – 27 Nov, Brisbane Powerhouse



or a while it seemed that the fertile career of Chicago post-rockers Tortoise might be gradually winding down, with years having passed without new music and its members spread far and wide (and many immersed in other projects). But when Chicago’s department of Cultural Affairs And Special Events commissioned them to write a collaborative suite it sparked a new rush of music, resulting eventually in their seventh studio album, The Catastrophist. “We’re part of the creative music community and the jazz community in Chicago as well as the rock community and the people from the city’s cultural department just wanted us to play with a handful of people from that community,” recalls percussionist Dan Bitney. “So we wrote what was a suite — just a concert really of new material — and it wasn’t as edited and some of it wasn’t as thought out, but it was fun and a good experiment to do. “We’d never worked like that — we’d always made these records and then learned how to play them on tour — so it was a great experiment and it gave us the base of the material, but we still really had to make it sound like us when we were working in the

studio. It was really just a little bit of a leg-up for starting a new record.” Two of The Catastrophist’s songs feature prominent vocals, a notable change for the predominantly instrumental act. “There was initially an idea of having a big vocal record but we really didn’t get as many responses from people as we were hoping,” Bitney admits. “But I love both pieces: Rock On [featuring US Maple’s Todd Rittman] is probably the weirdest one just because it’s a [David Essex] cover, but we only play that one [live] in Chicago really with [Rittman]. The other one [Yonder Blue featuring Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley] is in our set as an instrumental, and it’s super fun too just because it reminds me of old R&B.” And Bitney has a fascinating theory explaining Tortoise’s longevity. “I hesitate to say it’s a democracy but it’s pretty close — it’s not like there’s a leader. [John] McEntire handles a lot of the engineering and recording and stuff, but there isn’t like the wanker frontman getting mad at somebody for being weird,” he chuckles. “Also I think that it’s just the arc of our career — we were just weirdos making weird music and then people liked it, so it wasn’t contrived in any way. If we were trying to be big we would sound like Nirvana, but instead we were, like, ‘Let’s put vibraphone with two drums and two bass players!’ That’s what I’d say: not having a frontman and always just doing what we wanted, and we were lucky that people liked it because it’s weird music. It’s strange music.”

When & Where: 6 Dec, The Zoo

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The Music (Brisbane) Issue #132  

The Music is a free, weekly magazine of newsstand quality. It features a diverse range of content including arts, culture, fashion, lifestyl...

The Music (Brisbane) Issue #132  

The Music is a free, weekly magazine of newsstand quality. It features a diverse range of content including arts, culture, fashion, lifestyl...