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Hecuba: Tranforming the Visual into the Musical 

Hecuba, transforming the visual into the musical

Wednesday, Nov 12 2008
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When it comes to getting profoundly immersed in a piece of art or music, one method is to allow yourself to get a bit confused by what you’re trying to perceive — but just a little. You do want to fall into a hole, but you want to know that you can still crawl out of that hole eventually and see all your friends again. Because it’s lonely at the bottom of an art hole.

Local beat-combo/art-and-film aggregate Hecuba is a prime source for such satisfying confusion. This duo comprises the very interesting Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley, who began their fertile creative partnership in a steamy bog in the deep, deep South. After a move to NYC, where both were involved in various visual-art endeavors, the pair decided to pool their inspirations into musical form.

Their move to California brought new methodologies and has helped the duo’s flair for exceptionally nonclichéd musical hybrids blossom in Sir, on the hugely relevant Manimal Vinyl label. Sir is the first of a planned series of “concept” EPs from Hecuba; this one includes a reinterpretation of the title track by Lucky Dragons. Additional remixes have recently been done by the pair’s wiggy pals Butchy Fuego and Haz’m.

click to enlarge LAUREN DUKOFF - Hecuba, transforming the visual into the musical
  • Lauren Dukoff
  • Hecuba, transforming the visual into the musical

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Strange and eclectic, Hecuba’s evolving live shows are visually arresting affairs of beautifully bizarre costumery, choreographed gesture and projected filmworks; such multihued, heady events showcase a rather woolly punky proggy rock with down-tempo doo-woppy-dubby electro-gospel-hip-hop overtones. (If you know what I mean. No?)

“I was born in Montgomery, Alabama,” says Beasley, “and my first musical experiences were singing in the church choir. But I didn’t do music again until later in my life — I was doing visual art and making films. That’s kind of where we get the most cinematic parts of what we do, I guess.”

Beasley did time in Chicago, and while making a movie in New York he met Albuquerque, who’d auditioned for a role in the film and ended up with the lead. “It was an art kind of film about alien abductions and how people use it as a way to express other traumas,” Albuquerque says. The pair started working on music the first night, and haven’t stopped since.

The couple’s art backgrounds come into play in their strikingly visual live events, sure, yet their visual art also affects their music’s very sound. That’s because, says Albuquerque, art and music, if not two sides of the same coin, at least share a similar spirit.

“Music is basically the format we’re doing our art in,” she says. “We were happy doing film, but when we started doing music, everything just clicked: This is a way to communicate without a bunch of money involved — you can just get straight to people.”

For visual artists used to laboring in despairing obscurity on projects that can take months to finish and years to get a response, the idea of presenting their art via music is an intriguing one. But for Hecuba, the music will never follow the concept, exactly. “We do come from a visual-arts background,” Albuquerque says, “but it’s important to us to make, like, musical music. We’re not just like a crazy-art thing.

“A lot of times we think of Peter and the Wolf,” she adds. “It’s completely musical, but it’s enormously visual.”

Hecuba take not the biggest but a sizable and discerning chunk of artistic influence — Robert Wyatt and Charles Ives, Stanley Kubrick and Patti Smith, Pharrell and Aphex Twin — and rub it together intelligently. One of Beasley’s springboards was 1960s and ’70s soundtrack composer Wendy Carlos, whose Switched-on Bach made a big impression. “Somehow, that made total sense to me, because there’s a purity of sound: the most beautiful synthesizers, and then this classic songwriting, mathematical and pure.

“It came from a different place,” he adds, “and it was able to touch anybody. It was so musical and so incredible that something went way above all the ideological things and just touched everybody.”

Sounds like Hecuba.

“Sometimes our music’s weird, I guess,” Albuquerque says, “but we’re trying to skip all the rules. It’s an exciting time.”

Hecuba have embarked on a West Coast tour with Lucky Dragons and Pit er Pat. They perform Fri., Nov. 14 at the San Luis Obispo Art Center; Sat., Nov. 15 at the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz; and Sun., Nov. 16 at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco.

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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