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Hear No Noise
Metavari host a unique series of art exhibits in Fort Wayne and beyond
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
In 2008, Metavari, a Fort Wayne-based instrumental “post-rock” band, was performing at Down the Line 2, an annual fund-raiser for the Embassy boasting a line-up of original local bands paying tribute to their influences.
Though Metavari’s inclusion that night alongside the Possum Trot Orchestra, I, Wombat, The B-Sharps (with Kenny Taylor) and Moser Woods was hardly unusual, the artist Metavari chose to cover was enough to make even the most open-minded musicologist scratch his or her head in puzzlement — The Beach Boys.
And not just The Beach Boys. Metavari would be performing Pet Sounds.
Just to re-cap, this was an instrumental band tackling a group renowned for their distinctive vocals.
But anyone who caught the set heard something remarkable. Metavari wove the Beach Boys’ original recorded vocals with their own original music to create intricately layered arrangements that made you hear some of these classic songs with fresh ears. To pull off such an ambitious performance requires a lot of skill, not just technically but musically. It also requires a lot of guts (“Messing with Pet Sounds?! Who do you think you are?!”). But the three members of Metavari — Nate Utesch, Ty Brinneman, and Andrew McComas — are, in their own unassuming way, pretty ambitious when it comes to their music and what they do.
With over two years of performing and touring under their belt and an E.P. (Ambling) to their credit, Metavari is finally set to release their first full-length album — Be One of Us and Hear No Noise — this month. It’ll come out in the US on Crossroads of America Records, a Bloomington-based label noted for signing the band Husband & Wife and re-releasing the vinyl version of Starflyer 59’s debut LP Silver.
The band is also in negotiations with Japan-based label A Friend of Mine records about releasing the album in Japan, complete with custom packaging and bonus tracks.
And as befitting a different kind of band, Metavari are taking a different kind of approach to mark the release of their album: Metavari is both hosting record release shows and curating a series of art exhibits centered around the theme “Hear No Noise.”
The exhibit features artists from six different US cities — including Louisville, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh — and three countries. Bass player Ty Brinneman says the band contacted a host of artist friends via e-mail and asked if they’d like to contribute. “When we sent out the e-mail, we said this is the title, ‘Hear No Noise’. What does ‘Hear No Noise’ mean to you? I feel like most of the people we sent it to came back with a good amount of excitement.”
“We felt like we wanted to reach out to all the friends and people we knew who were artists because we really liked the idea of having this project represent the pieces of the community and the friendships and relationships we had,” adds Andrew McComas, Metavari’s drummer and guitarist. “It centers around the idea of community and relationships. Art is really meaningful to us, and we wanted to draw on that.”
The open house for the Fort Wayne version of the exhibit happens at Artlink on Friday, August 14, and the exhibit will be available until August 16. It features artists such as Rebecca Stockert, photographer Joel Faurote, Daniel Dienelt, Sommer Stark and others. “This is an opportunity to showcase the work of many emerging artists, which speaks to the core of Artlink's mission," says Artlink director Deb Washler.
A proper CD release show follows a couple weeks later on Friday, August 28 at Cinema Center Tech on the Indiana Tech campus.
“I thought the concept was fun, sort of like when Nate (Utesch, Metavari’s keyboardist, guitarist, and programmer) and his friends ran the SOMA gallery and had the ‘Forgiving Van Winkle’ show,” says Joel Faurote, explaining why he was interested in participating. “The art gallery opening to coincide with the album is an interesting way to explain the meaning of the album title — I'm not even sure if they have a solid explanation for it, so why not have others give their interpretations?”
Patrick Taylor, an artist and photographer originally from Fort Wayne and now living in Brooklyn (“he gave us a place to stay in New York while we were on tour” says Nate Utesch) says that he simply liked the idea of an entire show inspired by music. “I personally believe that most young artists are often more inspired by the music they are listening to than other artists.”
While the collaboration between music and visual art isn’t all that unusual, Taylor believes there’s something about the kind of instrumental music Metavari makes and their approach to what they do that makes it especially appropriate. “To speak in literal terms I'm constantly listening to Metavari's albums in the studio,” he says. “I look at their shows like a piece of audio art and when combined with their video pieces that are shown during the performance it becomes a nice visual and listening experience. I enjoy the idea of a show inspired by the phenomenological aspect of their music. Because the album is ambient and absent of lyrics it really opens up the artist to being able to interpret the music how it hits them — creating a blank page for creating.”
All the members of Metavari are involved in Fort Wayne’s art scene; Nate Utesch and Ty Brinneman were involved in the SOMA art gallery. Musically, Metavari is pretty meticulous in all aspects of their performance and composition, and the soundscapes they create in the studio and live are particularly suited to conjuring evocative imagery. “The words you would use to describe a film score are probably some of the same words we’d use to describe how we write and what we do,” says Nate Utesch.
Utesch adds that the band has never played without video accompaniment. “For the most part, we actually collect and edit pieces in synch with each song and perform it every time,” he says.
The video pieces can get pretty elaborate; the band has even been experimenting with video that reacts to the music in real time. “There’s a couple computer programs Nate came across, straight-up computer program, where you put a musical piece to it and it causes the images to ‘pop’ and do weird shapes,” explains Andrew McComas. “When we discovered it, it was kind of like a missing element in what we wanted to do. It gets me so geeky excited, because it kind of completes our performance,” he laughs.
The meticulous approach to the visual part of a Metavari performance is amplified to the nth degree when the band is composing or recording. To try to simplify it as much as possible, the band processes, manipulates, and edits a wide range of audio material — from “found sound” to actual instruments — to get the sounds they want.
Be One of Us and Hear No Noise was recorded in starts and stops over the past year. The band tracked the album in the basement they use as a rehearsal space, and sometimes sent raw tracks to a studio in Colorado Springs where they were “re-amped” using different natural environment techniques. Utesch gives an example: “We just did a really basic recording of all the pieces of (McComas’s) drum kit and they condensed it and compressed and would play it in a tiled bathroom or an open area and record the reverberations and use it to get natural effects.”
“90% of the programming isn’t a drum kit or handclaps,” Utesch continues. “We recorded things breaking and hitting and found samples of organic things and cut it and spliced it and used those to make the beats, so even those are organic.”
The album also features contributions by Nashville musician Timbre Cierpke, who has worked with indie bands mewithoutyou and Anathallo, on harp and vocals. “Basically, we made synths out Timbre’s vocals and harp playing,” says Brinneman.
McComas says the band is proud of the fact that for all the technology Metavari employs, the sound of Be One of Us… is very analog. “These simple effects like reverb and delay were accomplished through natural reproduction in sound.”
If all this sounds like it might be difficult to reproduce on stage… well, sometimes it is. One of the criticisms of “post-rock instrumental bands” — a category that, for lack of a better term, Metavari identify with — is that the layering of sounds, the use of computers and programming, the reliance on absolute precision, doesn’t leave much room for improvisation during performance.
Metavari say they spend a lot of time thinking about how their pieces work in a live set, and try to avoid getting too complicated. And as to the charge that post instrumental rock bands stick too close to their recordings, that what you hear on record is what you’re going to hear during a performance, Metavari says improv is simply not what they do. “We’re not a jam band,” McComas says. “When we write a song, it’s pretty structured, at least to our standards. We feel pretty complete about the piece before we play it for people.”
“We definitely view playing live more as we’re performing pieces than we are just playing songs,” says Brinneman. “It’s more someone getting to experience these pieces with us.”
Brinneman’s comment is telling. What Metavari (and bands like them) might miss in spontaneity they perhaps make up for in inclusiveness. There’s a sense of being enveloped by the music rather than played to, and it’s this element that seems to have inspired many of the visual artists, regionally and in parts of the country where Metavari has toured, to participate in “Hear No Noise.” “Really, anything Do it Yourself is based on community, and the music and young art scene in Fort Wayne (and New York for that matter) are rooted in community, making friends that share interests and trying to make something good that previously didn't exist in that area,” says Patrick Taylor. “Nate and Ty have both been involved in creating the young art scene in Fort Wayne with the Soma Gallery and music in various bands. For young artists the idea of community is integral to both development in the work and as a support system.”
The band says they haven’t seen many of the pieces for the shows. Artist and curator Rebecca Stockert says that for her piece, she took the phrase “Hear No Noise” pretty literally. Her piece is an abstract watercolor portrait of locally-based photographer Daniel Dienelt (who we wrote about in FWR #128 and who also has a piece in the show). “My image isn’t very concrete,” Stockert says. “It’s got elements of street art, that kind of idea. It wasn’t so much that I was thinking of Metavari’s music, just the idea of ‘Hear No Noise.’ But their music has a lot of the same elements as visual art. The elements are so basic. It’s more intuitive.”
Fort Wayne artist Sommer Stark, who hopes to create a wall-mounted installation composed of polyester and cotton thread on site the night before and morning of the opening, was very intrigued by the phrase “Hear No Noise.” “It can be interpreted literally or abstractly, as an asset or a hindrance, and etc. I love that is has that polarity,” she says.
Rima Warren, a photographer from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania who is the editing manager of the online arts and culture magazine Pop Damage, has an altogether different take on the phrase. “I’ll be submitting three pieces that are a part of a work-in-progress series currently entitled ‘Famous Feet,’” she says. “Each piece is a photo of a musician tapping his or her foot on stage as a way of concentrating on the music. To me, the tapping of musicians' feet is their way of drowning out the distractions of a venue in order to fully focus on the song, the beat, the melody — in order to ‘hear no noise,’ if you will.”
Even with the release of Be One of Us and Hear No Noise and the accompanying tours, performances, and art shows ahead of them in the next few months, Metavari is still working. The CD release party at Cinema Center Tech will feature some new material in the form of an EP the band created with “found sounds” from their last tour. “We did field recordings of people, streets, whatever,” and edited together and scored the field recordings from the tour on to an EP,” says Nate Utesch. “For this performance, we’re going to open the set with the score to these field recordings, and then go into the album.”
“Even though there are songs that we have played that are going to be on the album, this adds a little extra,” adds Brinneman. “They’re going to be hearing some stuff they’ve never heard before.”
Hear No Noise art exhibit
Friday, August 14 6 pm – 9 pm at Artlink, 435 East Berry Street (exhibit runs through August 17)
CD release party
Aug 28 @ Cinema Tech in the Indiana Tech Andorfer Commons
Doors: 8, Show: 8:30
Cover: $3 or $10 includes CD
Indiana Tech Students: FREE or $7 includes CD
For more on Metavari, including music, tour dates, and other info, go to www.metavari.com or www.myspace.com/metavari