As anyone who writes about Buke and Gase is obliged to do, let’s begin by explaining the New York duo’s name. The name Buke and Gase comes from the two self-made instruments that create most of the band’s sound. The buke is a baritone ukulele invented by Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Arone Dyer (right), and the gase, invented by Aron Sanchez (left), is something of a half-guitar-half-bass. Running their instruments through an elaborate rig of homemade pedals, Dyer and Sanchez manage to achieve a seamless mixture of art-pop songwriting and experimental limitlessness.
On Saturday, April 4, Buke and Gase will join critically acclaimed percussion quartet Sō Percussion on the Walker’s McGuire Theater stage to present a new collaborative work. The performance is a part of a weekend-long mini-festival copresented with the SPCO’s Liquid Music Series celebrating the music of composer/guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has worked closely with both Buke and Gase and Sō Percussion over the years.
Ahead of next week’s performance, Performing Arts Interns Sam Segal and Mark Mahoney had the chance to ask Buke and Gase some questions about their compositional strategies, their collaborative process with Sō Percussion, and what led them to invent their own instruments.
Aron, you built instruments for the Blue Man Group for a period, and Arone, you’ve worked as a bike mechanic. It seems that one thing that characterizes all of your creative output, mechanical and musical, is a certain spirit of invention. Why have you embraced this DIY approach? What does it allow you to accomplish musically that conventional instruments and approaches couldn’t?
Aron Sanchez: Well, we’re only two people and we don’t want to play to a track; we want to perform all our sounds because it’s fun and presents us with interesting challenges both musically and technically. The “DIY approach” is just a matter of course. I think most musical projects are “DIY”—artists have to figure out how to achieve their particular musical expression. Ours logically extends to the creation of instruments and other technical devices, because other people don’t already make the kinds of tools we need to create our sound.
Arone Dyer: Having been a bike mechanic mostly speaks of my desire to do work that requires manual skill and understanding of how things work. Ultimately, this way of thinking has seeped into every millimeter of my existence, and without it as a philosophy I would be someone very different.
When many people first hear your music, they assume it’s coming from a band comprised of several people. Is that kind of expansive sound something you strive for? How does that sound get translated into a collaborative context with a group like Sō Percussion?
Sanchez: Sure it is. We like expansive. We get excited by hearing ourselves sound bigger than the two of us (we also like sounding as small as we are). With Sō, we try to blend in and not take up as much space as we do when we usually perform.
Dyer: We strive to create music that we enjoy performing and listening to, regardless of how expansive it is.
Has it ever felt like the uniqueness of your instruments has overshadowed the other elements of your music in the press?
Dyer: Yes, often, although it can be considered to be a “Chicken Vs. Egg” complex; how could we make the music we do without the instruments we use, and likewise, why would we think to create new equipment and instruments without playing and noticing the need for change or addition to our sound palette? Some say “Boredom is the mother of invention,” but perhaps for us it’s more that our curiosities are the mother. The Big Mother. At this point our instruments are quite solidified in their virginal sonic range, and most of our invention/additions are along the lines of enhancing usability and expanding post-instrument sonic expression. As far as this being the pinnacle of interview and article content, it feels likely that since instruments and inventions are such tangible, material subjects, it’s easier for the press to focus on those, rather than questions directed more toward the intangible, such as lyrical content, creative inspiration, and intended direction. It bugs me, but I also understand that some bubbles just aren’t easy or comfortable to pop.
How did the Sō Percussion collaboration first come about? What can we expect from your performance together on Saturday night?
Sanchez: In 2013, the Ecstatic Music Festival in NYC approached Sō and B&G about doing some sort of collaboration. Ecstatic usually pairs different artists together to either create something new or collaborate on existing work. B&G and Sō took the opportunity to collaboratively write new material together over the course of some months, meeting and sending files back and forth. What we will perform at the Walker is a result of that work.
In an early iteration of Buke and Gase, you guys played with a drummer. What initially led you to pare down to a duo, and why have you now decided to return to using live percussion?
Dyer: Correct. We were playing with a drummer, and then that was simply no longer the case. We made the decision to remain a duo for many reasons, starting with the discovery that our music was just fine without one. B&G and Sō Percussion remain as two separate groups who come together to perform music we had created together, and we still don’t have a drummer.
Aron, you’ve said in the past that electronic music is a huge influence on you. Did you try to give this collaboration the feeling of a piece of electronic music played on organic instruments?
Sanchez: Yes, I’ve always been interested in the translation of electronic sounds and processes into the world of hands-on instruments, and definitely this is something we try to bring to the table. Regardless, our “organic instruments” are highly electronic to begin with, taking into account all the digital processing we use to add different dimensions – they sound completely different when un-plugged. Recently we’ve been taking that some steps further, actually using computers and synthesized sounds that we control with our instruments or feet.
Arone, did you change the lyrical process at all when you knew you were writing for this collaborative effort, rather than another Buke and Gase record?
Dyer: No, although I may have subconsciously toned down the variety of the subject content. It was quite a fluid, of-the-moment process this time around.
In 2009, Bryce Dessner and other members of The National came to one of your shows in Brooklyn, and they were absolutely floored. What has your relationship with Bryce been like?
Sanchez: Yes, Bryce and Aaron Dessner came to one of our first shows that their sister Jessica had booked at a little venue in Ditmas Park called Sycamore. It was super early days for us, but they were nonetheless impressed and asked if they could help us out, which led us to releasing three records on their label. Bryce is awesome of course and working with his label Brassland has been a huge influence on our success as a project.
Finally, on the video for your NPR Tiny Desk Concert, YouTube commenter ‘travelswithcharley4’ opined, “If they collaborated with the red hot chili pepper, i think that’d be awesome.” Can you comment on this?
Dyer: Chili Peppers are spicy, and, no doubt, were we to collaborate with them, our faces would be red, beading with sweat, and our heart rates would be higher than normal due to the capsaicin receptors located on our tongues reacting to high amounts of SHU. This might not be a good idea…
Buke and Gase will perform with Sō Percussion as a part of the Walker’s and Liquid Music’s The Music of Bryce Dessner program in the McGuire Theater on Saturday, April 4 at 8 pm.