During first few minutes of a recent Skype interview with Durham folk-rock band Megafaun and Berlin composer Arnold Dreyblatt, Brad Cook and Dreyblatt don't answer a single question. As the Megafaun bassist and renowned avant-garde innovator wait on Cook's brother and bandmate Phil to join the call, they busily hash out details for their upcoming collaborative performance. Dreyblatt checks to see if Cook received recordings and sheet music; Cook puts together plans for Megafaun to pick up Dreyblatt at the airport.
When Megafaun and Dreyblatt perform Saturday at Raleigh's Long View Center, their collaboration will bridge continents, genres and generations. The American-born Dreyblatt is a minimalist-minded composer with a propensity for immersive texture and rhythm as well as a past with a unique tuning system and specially fretted guitar. Megafaun adds its own experimental flourishes to music, but the trio embeds them within populist rock and ramshackle bits of Appalachian old-time.
Initially teaming up in 2008 when Megafaun backed Dreyblatt on a North American tour, they will rekindle their creative bond in Raleigh. Along with retoolings of their previous work, they're preparing a brand-new piece that features a prototype slide guitar built by the synthesizer masters at Moog Music.
When Phil Cook joins the conversation, Megafaun and Dreyblatt discuss their triumph over the physical and stylistic divide between them.
Independent Weekly: Listening to both your music separately, it can seem surprising that you found each other as collaborators. How does it make sense to you?
Brad Cook: The music was so intriguing to us, and it continues to be. It's so instinctual. There is something very physical about the music that Arnold makes that we just always really appreciated. I always felt like that was a type of music we could see ourselves playing. Of course, the only person you can do that with is Arnold because nobody sounds like Arnold.
Arnold Dreyblatt: I've worked with my own ensembles for years, often called The Orchestra of Excited Strings. But starting maybe 10 years ago, I started opening it up and working often in a workshop situation and meeting new musicians often from various backgrounds. The music represents a certain generation and another time. What happens when it meets music from a very different generation with very different experiences and influences?
[With Megafaun,] I realized that there's a folk element and instrumentation that was available to me. We did a piece with banjo and mandolin. The other thing that was special was that these guys have such a wide musical background. They're familiar with avant-garde. They can play folk music and rock music. They're songwriters. They're incredibly flexible and just put their heart right into it.
Independent Weekly: It seems like you guys have a really natural connection. How has that contributed to the new work that you're preparing?
Brad Cook: It'll be a combination of revisiting some of the things we've done in the past, and it'll be trying to do something new together too, which is something really exciting. I think that it's a true collaboration in that we're really working together and continuing to push forward and try new things.
Arnold Dreyblatt: I've never actually worked with this kind of a group, you know, that's been playing together and so tight for so long. That's also something that's really unusual here. We haven't worked together for a long time, so it's going to be interesting. The beards are gone, I noticed when we met in Munich recently. I know what's changed about me.
Brad Cook: Have you grown a beard, Arnold?
Arnold Dreyblatt: I think the main thing is they have some experience playing with me, which will hopefully bring us to a new place.
Phil Cook: Arnold, I have a fake beard that I made for you that you have to wear.
Arnold Dreyblatt: I think that'll make me a little uncomfortable. They're a little insecure without those beards.
Independent Weekly: Talk about the pressure and excitement of bringing your ideas together for a festival performance where there's a little more attention than with a regular show.
Phil Cook: We had a similar situation last time. Granted, it was a house show that we started it off with. But at the same time, we had the same amount of time to prepare—even less I think. We just developed a rapport.
We had to learn how Arnold's music worked last time, had to learn how to play that guitar that he has—the frets are spaced totally different. That probably took a whole day to get that down and start to learn the music. Once that was in our heads, then it's intuitive. It's way more about the fact that Arnold's music is harmonically excited music. It's all about how the harmonics work together, and when you combine different notes and different tones together, the upper harmonics shift and resonate in the room in different ways. So every concert that we did was a little different. It's instinctual and intuitive.
That's what I see in Arnold's music: You change modes, and all the sudden new harmonics come alive in the room. And you can really hear it. When it's live, you can really hear it.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Across a wire."